It was a rather dismal week for art news – in fact, hardly any of the headlines have brought any cheer to the thousands of art business owners and art patrons following the market this week. Word got out that New York’s most prominent arts institution is facing a budget crisis so insurmountable that they may need to start charging admission for the first time in its history, while South Dakota faces an almost certain depletion of its arts budgets, one that threatens to shutter a variety of its cultural institutions. Meanwhile, NPR reports that middle school students aren’t getting any better at conquering the musical and visual arts, while Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses made headlines for canceled auctions and questionable valuations.
The week in art news may have you feeling gloomy, but don’t spend too much time moping: Frieze Art Fair is just around the corner, and Artrepreneur will be covering the big-name sales, attendance rates, and anything else you need to know to successfully manage your art business.
Budget Woes Plague Arts Programs Across Nation
Crippling Debt Crushing the Metropolitan Museum of Art
A multimillion-dollar budget deficit may force the Met to start charging entrance to its famed museum, a practice that has never been in place at the Met thanks to an 1893 statute mandating that the museum would always remain free of charge. Right now, visitors to the country’s most prominent arts institution can pay a “suggested” fee – but rarely do. Charging a mandatory admissions fee would have a tremendous impact on the Met’s bottom line – in the last few years, they’ve had to lay off staff and reduce the number of annual exhibitions. But the building is owned by the City of New York, and there’s sure to be plenty of public debate about whether an admissions fee is appropriate – especially because the City gives the Met nearly $26 million a year to maintain it. Via The New York Times
Raising a Generation of So-So Artists
The U.S. public school system has long been shifting away from visual arts and music education to apply more of its limited federal budget to math or science, and the results are beginning to show. A survey of eighth-grade students across the nation, conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, demonstrates that students’ abilities in the finer arts are remaining increasingly flat. Factors such as a student’s gender, region, and access to free or reduced price lunch all played a role in whether or not a student showed promise and a dedicated interest in the visual and musical arts. Via NPR
South Dakota May Lose its Arts Institutions
When people of South Dakota voted for Donald Trump in last year’s election, they did not expect that he will want to eliminate the arts endowments that primarily support their art institutions. With less than a million people, South Dakota “received the fifth-highest amount of federal arts money per person in the nation last year.” Rural states like South Dakota could have a big impact on the endowment elimination decisions. The state arts council was almost eliminated once, in 2009 during the recession, but instead, a tourism tax was raised in order to preserve the spending. If the local art institutions, such as the Matthews Opera House, Black Hills Symphony Orchestra, or the Dahl Arts Center, won’t receive their grants, they may not be able to afford to remain opened. Via The New York Times
Major Blows for Storied Auction Houses
Christie’s Cancels June Auctions
Christie’s auction house in London has canceled their post-war and contemporary June auction sales, stating that the auction house prefers to shift its calendar to two main seasons, in May and October. According to a press release issued by Christie’s, the Spring and Summer art fair calendar is simply too full to truly compete, and the shift will allow their collectors to focus on one exciting art acquisition at a time. Artnet noted, however, that neither Sotheby’s nor Phillip’s auction house will be following suit – their June auctions will go forth as planned. Via Artnet
A Tax Judge Questions a Sotheby’s Expert’s Opinion
Taxes are complicated, and they become more so when there’s multimillion-dollar artworks involved in calculating them. According to a recent Tax Court ruling, a Sotheby’s valuation on a Pieter Bruegel painting was valuated at a far lower price than its actual value in an attempt to curry favor with the painting’s seller and give them a nice little break on their estate tax (You can read Art Law Journal’s useful primer on estate taxes and the sale of artworks to get a better handle on why that matters.) Sotheby’s has said it plans to appeal the judge’s ruling, stating their expert was right on the money with his valuation, and that their contention can be evidenced by the Sotheby’s auction results. However, the Tax Court is seeking an estimated $781,488 in estate taxes from the painting’s seller, so it’s likely that this case will go on for years to come. Via The New York Times
Copyright Infringement and Looted Art
Michelle Obama Muralist Actually Stole the Original Image
A mural of Michelle Obama dressed as an Egyptian queen appeared on Chicago’s East 74th Street in 2016, but it turns out the muralist wasn’t the original author of the striking image. Instead, the image was copied from an Ethiopian art student named Gelila Mesfin, who originally posted the picture on her Instagram account. Mesfin was never credited for her work by the mural artist, Chris Devins, who claims he didn’t know who the original image was by and has since credited Mesfin. Devins’ use of Mesfin’s image is blatant copyright infringement, and Mesfin deserves more than just credit for her work, as we frequently state on Art Law Journal. Mesfin released a statement that she was in touch with Devins, and communicating. She also asked her followers to “keep this positive towards him.” Via Bustle
Auction House attempts to sell Nazi-looted painting
An auction house in Vienna is garnering some unwanted attention for attempting to sell a painting that was indisputably looted during World War II. Im Kinksy‘s Old Master’s sale featured Bartholomeus van der Helst’s Portrait of a Man until just before the auction was to take place, and was estimated at being valued between $16,000 to $32,000. Taken from the Schloss family in 1943, the sale of the painting isn’t exactly legal. Plenty of trials and tribulations have transpired surrounding looted Nazi art, as we’ve discussed extensively on Art Law Journal. However, the auction house claims that Austrian law shields “good-faith” buyers who purchased the work unwittingly and with no knowledge of its Nazi past. Good faith perhaps, but bad taste? Most certainly. Via Artnet
How do this week’s art news headlines affect your art business?