In response to concerns that poaching of African elephants is rapidly driving the species to extinction, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued Director’s Order No. 210, which tightened previous practice involving the import, export, and sale of African elephant ivory. The changes met with considerable resistance from a wide range of persons, including museum professionals, musicians, antiques dealers, and collectors. There has been not only consternation, but also confusion about what these changes mean for many transactions involving objects that may contain ivory components.  I have previously discussed these changes here and here.

To help provide some clarity on what precipitated these changes, what the changes are, and what impact they may have, I spoke with Craig Hoover, Chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Trade and Conservation Branch, for a brief Q&A.


Continue Reading U.S. Ivory Regulation: A Q&A with Craig Hoover, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

InstrumentsBefore the new rule went into effect, objects at least 100 years old that are either made of African elephant ivory or included ivory components were exempt from the general Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ivory prohibition.[1] This changed dramatically under the original version of the rule that was issued in February, which (i) wholly eliminated the antique exception for commercial transactions (i.e., sales), and (ii) retained the antique exception for non-commercial transactions only if the object has not been sold after Feb. 26, 1976. Recognizing that the “non-commercial movement of musical instruments and certain other CITES pre-Convention” objects are not “contributing to the poaching crisis or to illegal trade,” the service amended its earlier order.

As modified in May, the rule now allows qualified antiques to be imported for non-commercial purposes (loans, traveling exhibitions, etc.). However, no commercial importation of any African elephant ivory is allowed, even if those objects would otherwise qualify as antique.
Continue Reading U.S. Criteria for The Antique Exception to the Ivory Ban

Over the last decade, art authentication experts have left the field at alarming rates, declining to give opinions on works for fear of expensive litigation. The suits brought against them have not only been for negligence or malpractice, but for statements of professional opinion. They may also have liability when stating that a work of art is not authentic and this causes a loss to the owner or someone else with an interest in the work. When an expert states that a work is not authentic, the dissatisfied owner has a number of different legal theories to choose from as a basis for a claim. Typical bases in recent cases have included defamation, libel, slander, unfair business practices, unfair competition, and disparagement. The core distinction in many of these doctrines is whether the speaker gave an opinion or made a statement of fact.      

It is not unusual for the authentication of the work contemporary artists to be placed in the hands of a specific group of experts, often the artist’s friends, family, or gallerists. In some forms, the practice derives from the European droit morale, where the right to authenticate works lies exclusively with the artist, who has an absolute right to declare a work inauthentic. In France, for instance, where the right is perpetual, the right to authenticate works passes through the artist’s estate to either family or close friends. U.S. practice tends to be concentrated more in artists foundations, which often work with scholars to establish and confirm the artist’s authentic oeuvre.     
Continue Reading Authenticity and Attribution

In the press and in popular culture, art theft and art forgery tend to be linked, and are often glamorized to a greater or lesser extent.1 The reality, however, is usually far more mundane, if not outright seedy (although efforts at recovery often have admirable, even >heroic overtones). In recent years, there have been several highly-publicized instances of forgery, including the sales of fake works by modern masters like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock that brought down the eminent Knoedler Gallery, and the extraordinarily successful fakes of the German painter Wolfgang Beltracchi, who after his fraud was disclosed, became the subject of many press articles, newscasts, and even a documentary, “Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery” (2014).

Unlike art thieves, however, art forgers and art fakers sometimes go on to a secondary career as fake-artists in their own right, enjoying a kind of glamorous notoriety, as Beltracchi has done. But Beltracchi is not alone in this. John Myatt now sells his “legitimate fakes,” Others have included Elmyr de Hory, Eric Hebborn, whose posthumous reputation as a master forger resulted in a recent auction of a number of his drawings in the style of old masters, and Mark Landis, who, somewhat uniquely, donated his faked works to museums. Perhaps the most famous forger was Hans van Meegeran, who forged Vermeers in pre-war Germany, selling one to Hermann Goering. Fakes and forgeries are even not infrequently the subject of exhibitions highlighting the forger’s own art. Some commentators have even suggested that fakes may be “the great art of our age.”     
Continue Reading Authenticity, Fakes and Forgeries

As the City of Detroit’s (the City) bankruptcy case enters its final phase, and confirmation of its plan of adjustment seems all but certain, the future of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) appears assured. This has not always been the case, since how the DIA’s valuable art collection would be handled was a key point of contention between the City and several of its creditors. In retrospect, the struggle for the future of the DIA is interesting for several reasons. The first of those reasons is now likely to remain an unanswered question: Had the City wished to sell all or part of the DIA’s collection, could it have done so, or was the collection (or certain parts of it) held in charitable trust or otherwise subject to enforceable donor restrictions? It is an important question, not least because the law addressing the question of enforceability of donor restrictions (particularly in bankruptcy) is sparse and inconclusive. The second reason the DIA discussion continues to be interesting is for the light that it sheds on how art is valued. Art appraisals are seldom public documents, and competing appraisals that include critiques of the other’s assumptions, methodologies, and conclusions, are rarer still. The third reason the DIA discussion has been important is for its focus on the role of art (specifically, publicly-available art) in a city’s self-image and life. This part of the discussion has played a small role in the case directly, but has played a much larger role in the public discussion surrounding the DIA.
Continue Reading Art Valuation: The Detroit Institute of Arts