10 November 2012

Don't blame the lawyers

Certain vested interests like to blame lawyers, or their clients, for litigation.  As if it's unjust to get redress for wrongs suffered or contracts breached. 

In recent months a number of authentication committees have decided to disband because of the perceived risk of claims arising from their work.  One, the Warhol Foundation, has been through the mill in defending itself from anti-trust claims brought by a collector who claimed that authenticity was being denied to maintain high prices.  More obvious potential claims would be for getting the authenticity wrong, or misdating where the date can affect the value.

But are authenticity certificates that important, at least for someone buying a work?  Having a certificate must be better than not, unless and until it is shown to be wrong or false, when authenticity of the work is then put into question.  Many are not issued by formal committees or foundations associated with the artist’s studio or estate, but by experts and lesser beingsThey may or may not be worth having, but a seller should produce the certificate, whilst not warranting its content.

However, if a certificate is issued or refused improperly, or falsely created, or wrongfully produced, and that causes an innocent party to lose money, then someone deserves to be sued, but I suppose we all have our vested interests in this debate.

14 August 2012

Judging attribution

As I've remarked before, court judgments in art cases are always a good read for anyone interested in art.  The background in Mr Justice Newey's 43 page judgment, in the much awaited Vekselberg case, is no exception, and it will be a useful source for students of the works of Russian artist Boris Kustodiev. 

The court held that the painting called Odalisque, bought by Victor Vekselberg's company Avrora for £1.7m at Christies, was not attributable to Kustodiev, and so was a fake.  It did so applying the civil law burden of proof, which is "on the balance of probability". That means at least 51% sure.  It has been reported that Avrora alone spent over £1m on lawyers and experts to get that result, and no doubt Christies' costs were similar.  I'm not sure what alternatives there could be, but litigation is a very expensive way to determine attribution, and even then it is only based on a judge's best guess, based on the evidence before him.

20 May 2012

What's in a name?

Dream Bags and Jaguar Shoes were adjacent shops in London's Shoreditch, an area that has become a trendy and artistic neighbourhood in recent years.  The two shops were acquired in 2001, knocked into one and turned into a cafĂ©, bar and art gallery.  The old shop signs were left in place and the venue used the name "Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes", but known as "Jaguar Shoes" to visiting hipsters like Natalie Portman, Amy Winehouse, me and Beyonce, as the entrance is under that sign.

14 March 2012

Valuation: negligent or not unreasonable?

An interesting valuation case has just been concluded: Coleridge v Sotheby's [2012] EWHC 370 (Ch).

It concerns the Coleridge Collar.  That is a gold chain of office that was worn by the judge Lord Coleridge while he was Chief Justice of Common Pleas until 1880, when the post was abolished.  Historically, the chain had been passed from officeholder to officeholder for a nominal sum and so was always owned by the holder.  With no one to pass it on to, Lord Coleridge kept it.  It remained in the family, until it passed to the current Lord Coleridge.  In November 2006, he sold it privately for £35,000, on the basis of a valuation from Sotheby's of £25,000-35,000.  Two years later, the purchasers sold the collar at auction at Christie's for £260,000.  (report)

The main area of difference between the opinion of the appraiser at Sotheby's and the catalogue preparer at Christie's was about the age of the collar.  Sotheby's concluded that it was made in the late seventeenth century, whereas Christie's believed that it dated from the mid-sixteenth century.  Inevitably, Lord Coleridge argued that Christie's were right, but on balance the judge sided with Sotheby's on the point.  Even so, Sotheby's valuation looked remarkably low.

01 February 2012

Buying art and avoiding disputes

I've answered the following question for Spear's

As art has out-performed equities in recent years, I am thinking of buying art for investment. How can I avoid the sort of disputes I've seen reported where people buy art and then find out it belongs to someone else or it's fake?