Monday, February 12, 2018

$6.7 million in damages in the 5Pointz case (UPDATED)

Story here.  I've got to say I did not see that one coming.

From the opinion (reproduced here):  "If not for Wolkoff's insolence, these damages would not have been assessed. ... Given the degree of difficulty in proving actual damages, a modest amount of statutory damages would probably have been more in order."

UPDATE:  Brian Frye:  "Thankfully, this is why we have appellate courts. VARA is a stupid law, but not even VARA is this stupid."

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento:  "[I]t wouldn’t surprise me if this case grabs Congress’s or the Trump Administration’s attention. Otherwise, my bet is that this case is appealed."

Friday, February 09, 2018

BREAKING: "Berkshire Museum Victory" (UPDATED 3X)

Andrew Russeth:  "Berkshire Museum Victory: Massachusetts Attorney General Agrees to Art Sales, With Rockwell Going to Public Institution, Some Conditions."

More later.

UPDATE:  Immediate reaction from Deaccession Police Headquarters:  "Floodgates opened."  "Once again, an attorney general has been a lapdog, not a watchdog."  "An ethical travesty."

On the other side, Brian Frye tweets: "MA AG finally knuckles under & tacitly admits it has no legal authority to stop the Berkshire Museum from selling art."

UPDATE 2:  Yale's Will Goetzmann, assuming that the buying public institution is Crystal Bridges, says: "A move from MA to AK makes both better off. Why not?"

Yeah, why not?  Remember there are two ways to look at these situations. One is to weigh the actual costs and actual benefits and try to determine whether, on balance, all things considered, the sale is a good idea. The other is to take it as a given that the guidelines of certain professional organizations carry serious moral weight, such that their violation is an "ethical travesty."  (And "pity" if you don't see it that way.)

Another example of the latter approach is San Francisco Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais, who says the settlement "looks like complete capitulation to" the museum, and then adds: "I am sorry for your loss, Pittsfield."  But why aren't we also happy for your gain, Bentonville, Arkansas, or Los Angeles, or wherever the Rockwell ends up?  Why don't they cancel each other out?  Why do only the losses count?

UPDATE 3:  "Debacle."

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Museum industry standards on deaccessioning are inflexible and antiquated."

Nina Simon, executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art, has an interesting piece in the Berkshire Eagle arguing against "clinging to outdated deaccessioning policies" and suggesting that "instead of fighting to protect an imperfect and antiquated rule, we could create new rules — rules that put the public trust, not objects, first."

She's a little vague about exactly what those new rules would be, but they seem to include a version of the Ellis Rule:

"Other nonprofit industries have done this. Accredited American zoos, for example, have a strict policy that governs how animals move from one institution to another. If your zoo no longer plans to exhibit giraffes, those giraffes don't suddenly become fungible assets on the open market. They become tradable assets within a controlled market — with other accredited zoos, who will care for the giraffes as well as you once did."

Is the tide turning? I think the tide may be turning.

AG requests one-week extension of Berkshire Museum injunction

Reports the Berkshire Eagle, which adds that "because the museum does not oppose the request for an extension of the injunction, it is expected to be approved."

And a reminder from the Eagle about the AG's role in the dispute:

"In his Nov. 7 decision to deny the first request for an injunction against the art sales, Judge John A. Agostini questioned whether [AG] Healey's office was committed to its probe, citing what he saw as its 'initial indifference to this litigation.'

"The judge used 15 pages in his 25-page ruling to fault work by the Attorney General's Office on the case, suggesting it was 'dragged into' the case, exhibited 'faintheartedness' and didn't seem to think it would find grounds to support its objections to the sales.

"'In this litigation, the AGO is a reluctant warrior,' Agostini wrote."

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"But in the supercilious guild of museum elitists, deaccessioning items from a collection for any purpose other than acquiring more important items is a hanging offense."

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes about "the dogmatic world of the deaccession police, [where] the Berkshire [Museum] would be better off dead if the price of staying alive for decades to come is to sell some artworks today."

He singles out captain Christopher Knight, who "sneered that the museum’s board had 'lost their minds' for not realizing that they had a duty to go out of business":

"'Don’t sell the art. Do close the museum,' he commanded. 'Spend the next several years responsibly overseeing the dispersal of the collection.' Elizabeth McGraw, the museum’s chairman, tells me people have said the same thing to her face. A Berkshire socialite confronted her at a reception: 'I think the museum should close, and the art should stay in the public.'

"But does anyone believe that culture and the arts in Pittsfield will be better off if the Berkshire Museum agreed to commit a genteel suicide and let its treasures be parceled out to other institutions? When the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, facing a similar financial crisis, closed its doors in 2016, its collections were dispersed to venues in North Carolina, upstate New York, and Washington, D.C. Almost nothing remained in the Massachusetts community .... Is that really what the condescending pooh-bahs of museum propriety wish for Pittsfield — not the loss of 40 items, but of all 40,000?"

And he has this to say about the Massachusetts AG:

"Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office oversees nonprofits and charities, was notified of the museum’s deaccessioning plans in June, weeks before it was announced publicly. She rightly raised no objection. Not until four months later, did Healey’s office act. ... [I]t’s hard to escape the conclusion that Healey’s investigation became a quest to find something, anything, to justify her belated opposition to the Berkshire’s plan. It isn’t only museum partisans who say so. Ruling on the initial request for an injunction in November, Superior Court Judge John Agostini pronounced it 'bewildering' that Healey would try to stop the sale when her office 'has uncovered no evidence of bad faith, no conflict of interest, [and] no breach of loyalty.'"

He concludes:

"The injunction expires Jan. 29. What happens next is anyone’s guess. But this much is clear: Each additional delay brings the Berkshire’s demise closer. Nothing is going to hurt Norman Rockwell’s paintings. But the museum he loved enough to give them to is fighting for its life, and time is running out."