Powers of Deduction

You donate a valuable work of art and expect a big tax break. Here’s why you may not get it.

When we last had seen Mr. Watson, he was a struggling sculptor in upstate New York, but the recent death of his grandparents in a freak mudslide spelled the end of his financial woes. He was now rich. Very, very rich. And on top of a bulging bank account, he was the proud owner of a museum-quality art collection. Continue reading “Powers of Deduction”

Artistic License

Merchandising artwork can be very lucrative – and riddled with hazards. How does the law protect ideas, both business and creative?

Some of our clients fly private jets, while others, we fear, may soon be driving yellow cabs. But most share a common goal (in addition to wanting crack legal advice): to profit in some way from the art world.
Roger was no exception. He came to us with questions about his business plan, which involved licensing images created by popular artists to makers of products and apparel. The problem was that Roger didn’t know a product license from a driver’s license. His previous attempts at licensing artworks had ended in disaster. Most recently, he had sought to reproduce landscape paintings on backpacks. The concept was so clever that the first artist he approached stole the idea and had the merchandise manufactured himself. Roger never saw a penny. Continue reading “Artistic License”

The Origin of Species

A prize purchase becomes a shipping nightmare because it uses ivory from a protected animal. How can you avoid being ambushed?

The call came via satellite phone from our client vacationing in Zimbabwe, and he was furious. His safari was nearly ruined, he said, when he learned that an antique scroll he had just bought at auction in New York could not be exported immediately to his home in Europe. Continue reading “The Origin of Species”

Loan Security

A painting you’ve lent to an exhibition is suddenly subject to a legal claim in that jurisdication. The museum agrees to return the work, but is it still at risk?

The first call from one of our European clients came on a Friday afternoon, just as we were about to leave town for a short vacation in Italy. He was already enjoying his own holiday in Monte Carlo, and we had a bit of trouble hearing him over the din of his yacht’s engine. Continue reading “Loan Security”

Evaluation Risks

An art expert gives you bum advice that ends up costing you dearly. Do you have any recourse?

Lawyers are good for many things—or so we have been told—but in our experience, they often make terrible clients. Such was the case with a young attorney who came to us for advice on a possible lawsuit against an auction house specialist who, he claimed, had incorrectly valued a painting he owned. Continue reading “Evaluation Risks”

Hot Stuff

There’s a lot of stolen art out there. As a buyer, how do you minimize your risk?

Sometimes it is not sufficient simply to look a gift horse in the mouth; one may also have to check for missing teeth. This was certainly the case with an important 19th-century painting of a thoroughbred that a trustee of a museum client of ours recently offered to purchase for the institution. The problem was that the painting’s provenance had suspiciously large gaps, and the dealer selling it said that he could not fill in the missing information. The museum’s director believed that something about the proposed sale seemed fishy, and both she and the trustee asked for our advice. Continue reading “Hot Stuff”

Selling Smart

You’ve decided to put that precious painting up for auction. So you just sign the consignment agreement and hope for the best, right? Not necessarily.

Our firm frequently represents would-be consignors to auctions and, on occasion, auction houses themselves. In these dealings, we are often surprised to find that even the most sophisticated collectors lack a clear understanding of the dynamics of the auction process in general, and the all-important consignment agreement in particular. In this area, ignorance is definitely not bliss. Continue reading “Selling Smart”

High Anxiety

Suddenly collectors are considering the real possibility of their art being destroyed by terrorists. What insurance is available, and is it worth the cost?

In our practice, we have found that Murphy’s Law (“what can go wrong will go wrong”) applies in more cases than any legal statute we know. This is especially true in the art world, where today’s collectors are justifiably concerned about the safety of their artworks in these increasingly dangerous times. Continue reading “High Anxiety”

Image Control

When a collector proposed selling T-shirts and posters based on art she owns, it seemed like an enterprising idea. But there was a catch.

In our practice we sometimes find that the information our clients neglect to provide us is actually more important than what they do tell us. This is especially true in the tricky area of intellectual property rights. Why are lawyers always the last to know? Continue reading “Image Control”

Road to Recovery

You’ve located a valuable painting the Nazis took from your family. But 50 years have elapsed and the current owner insists it’s rightfully hers, is it?

We have found that, on occasion, being lawyer-columnists for Art & Auction can have unanticipated consequences. Recently, we received a telephone call from one faithful reader who said he had a claim involving an Old Master painting looted by the Nazis—not our everyday client problem. Continue reading “Road to Recovery”