Thursday, October 13, 2011

Art on Temporary Loan from Foreign Lenders - Immunity from Seizure and the Brogan Museum

According to a story published in The New York Times on October 11, 2011, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Florida requested that the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Florida retain a painting on loan from Italy while it is determined whether Girolamo Romano’s “Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue” was unlawfully taken from a Jewish family during World War II. The news article suggests that a federal immunity law might have been used by the museum to protect the artwork from any possible seizure.

Because the information presented by newspaper could be misconstrued—as noted by some members of the American Bar Association’s Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee—it is worth discussing what the federal law is and how it works.

Congress passed a statute in 1965 entitled Immunity from Seizure Under Judicial Process of Cultural Objects Imported for Temporary Exhibition or Display (22 USC § 2459). Lawmakers wished to promote the importation of fine art for the benefit of Americans by encouraging foreign art lenders to feel confident that their cultural works would not become entangled in litigation once on American soil. The statute protects from judicial seizure imported objects of cultural significance intended for temporary, nonprofit exhibition. The law prevents a civil litigant from seizing temporarily imported fine art to satisfy a judgment in a lawsuit, for example.

The immunity protecting an object of cultural significance is not automatic, which is why museums that accept foreign art on temporary loan should always consider applying for it. Any immunity that is granted is specific to the artwork; the immunity does not apply broadly to the museum as the Times article reports.

In order to acquire this immunity for an artwork, a museum should submit an application to the US Department of State at least six weeks prior to its importation. The application should contain ten pieces of information that include a description of the item covered, its provenance, its exhibition location, a description of the object’s cultural significance, and a description of why the temporary exhibition is in the national interest. By Executive Order 12047, the President of the United States has authorized the Director of the US Information Agency “(1) to determine that any work of art or other object to be imported into the United States within the meaning of the Act is of cultural significance, (2) to determine that the temporary exhibition or display of any such work of art or other object in the United States is in the national interest, and (3) to cause public notices of the determinations referred to above to be published in the Federal Register.” The USIA director must consult with the Secretary of State and may consult with others, including the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the Director of the National Gallery of Art.

For the Brogan Museum to have taken advantage of seizure immunity for the Romano painting, it would have had to apply for it.


Photo of the Brogan Museum permitted to be used under Creative Commons license.
Description: Tallahassee FL Brogan MOAS01.jpg
Tallahassee, Florida: The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science
Date: 24 May 2011(2011-05-24), 14:10:25
Source: Own work
Author: Ebyabe

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