This article is thshutterstock_35931382e second in a five-part series discussing the restitution, repatriation, and return of cultural objects. Each part addresses a different category of return. The first article in the series available here, addressed the restitution of stolen cultural objects. This article is the continuation of Part 1 and discusses developments in the restitution of cultural objects taken during World War II. The remaining articles address: (1) the restitution of illicitly excavated and/or illicitly exported cultural objects, (2) repatriation of tribal and indigenous cultural objects, and (3) the return of cultural objects removed during colonial occupation.

Museums’ Use of Technical Defenses: Von Saher and Beyond

The question of museums waiving defenses, as the AAM Standards suggest, has emerged as an important point of conflict in Nazi-era restitution cases. In a few instances, museums have filed quiet title actions against restitution claimants, asking courts to issue declaratory judgments that the museums have good title to the objects and/or the claimants’ rights have been lost due to statutes of limitations or laches. [See, e.g., Toledo Museum of Art v. Ullin, 477 F. Supp. 2d 802 (N.D. Ohio 2006); Detroit Inst. of Arts v. Ullin, No. 06-10333, 2007 WL 1016996, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 31, 2007); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston v. Seger-Thomschitz, Case No. 08-10097-RWZ, 2009 WL 6506658 (D. Mass. June 12, 2009); Museum of Fine Art v. Schoeps, 549 F.Supp.2d 543 (S.D.N.Y. 2008).] Such cases remain rare, and are controversial. [See, e.g., Grosz v. Museum of Modern Art, 772 F.Supp.2d 473 (S.D.N.Y. 2010); Simon J. Frankel and Ethan Forrest, “Museums’ Initiation of Declaratory Judgment Actions and Assertion of Statutes of Limitations in Response to Nazi-Era Restitution Claims – A Defense,” 23 DePaul J. Art, Tech. & Intell. Prop. L. 279, 281 (2013).] However, museums asserting statutes of limitations and laches defenses – what have become known as “technical defenses” – rather than allowing cases to be decided solely on the merits is not less controversial. [1]


Continue Reading The Restitution, Repatriation, and Return of Cultural Objects: Restitution of Cultural Objects Taken During World War II (Part II)

shutterstock_249573721This article is the second in a five-part series discussing the restitution, repatriation, and return of cultural objects.  Each part addresses a different category of return.  The first article, available here, addressed the restitution of stolen cultural objects.  This article discusses developments in the restitution of cultural objects taken during World War II.  The remaining articles address: (1) the restitution of illicitly excavated and/or illicitly exported cultural objects, (2) repatriation of tribal and indigenous cultural objects, and (3) the return of cultural objects removed during colonial occupation.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, some of the most important developments in the restitution of cultural objects and other assets confiscated in the period surrounding World War II have occurred only within the last decade or so.  Some restitution was done, of course, at the conclusion of the war.  The cultural objects that the Allied forces recovered were returned to the countries from whose citizens or museums they had been taken (in a process known as “external restitution”), for those countries to then return to their owners (“internal restitution”).  However, those actions were complicated by the loss of people, records, communities, and communal memory.  They were also complicated, prevented, or delayed by the resistance of governments and legal systems to adequately address the question of restitution, as well as a variety of political complications, not least of which was the Cold War, which locked people, cultural objects, and information behind the Iron Curtain.  It took a combination of the end of Communism (with the unlocking of museums and archives in the former Soviet territories), the publication of pioneering studies of Nazi-era looting, and the persistent efforts of organizations like the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Congress to raise public awareness of the continuing problem of restitution.  The statements of principles, statements of ethics, settlements, and court decisions have produced (and continue to produce) a profound change in the art trade and museum practice with respect to the understanding and treatment of confiscated and duress sale cultural objects.  These efforts have produced an on-going reassessment of the question of restitution, whose effects will be felt in many other restitution contexts as well.


Continue Reading The Restitution, Repatriation, and Return of Cultural Objects: Restitution of Cultural Objects Taken During World War II (Part I)

We typically believe that if we entrust our property to someone else to sell it, the property remains ours until it is sold. However, this may not always be true. If the party into whose hands property has been entrusted files for bankruptcy, the entrusted property may be deemed to be property of the debtor’s bankruptcy estate and the bankruptcy trustee may have the right to sell the property and the debtor’s secured creditors and judgment creditors may even have a higher priority to receive distribution of proceeds from the property’s sale.     

This type of transaction is a “consignment,” which the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) defines as “a transaction. . . in which a person delivers goods to a merchant for the purpose of sale.” UCC § 9-102(a)(20). To qualify as a consignment, the consigned artwork must have a value of not less than $1,000 and must not be “consumer goods.” UCC § 9-102(a)(20)(B). “Consumer goods” are those which are “used or bought for use primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.” UCC § 9-102(a)(23). Although many artworks will be considered consumer goods, particularly those consigned by art collectors, artworks that are held for investment purposes or which are consigned by art dealers, corporate entities (i.e., corporate collections), or museums are not consumer goods. Also, the party to whom the artwork is consigned (the consignee) must deal in artwork of that kind, must not be an auctioneer, and must not be generally known to sell artworks owned by others. UCC § 9-102(a)(20)(A).     
Continue Reading Art Consignment