Practice Area

Art and Museum Law

Our Art and Museum Law practice offers the sophisticated and focused services of lawyers who are experienced in art law, the art and auction markets, and the world of museums and other cultural institutions. That experience gives us a unique perspective on the legal and business issues that regularly arise in the art world, whether in the for-profit or not-for-profit sectors.

The lawyers who make up the practice come from a variety of legal fields and backgrounds—including exempt organizations, intellectual property, personal planning/trusts and estates, tax, real estate, and litigation. Because of their broad experience with law, the arts, art businesses, and nonprofit institutions, these lawyers are sensitive to the points of view and the special needs of museums, private and corporate collectors, artists and art dealers. They are also well positioned to address the real estate, tax, corporate, employment and litigation matters of our clients.

Participants in the art world face unique legal issues:

  • Museums face issues unique to their role as collectors and exhibitors of works of art, from negotiating complex agreements for the donation of large collections to the development of appropriate responses to claims that art was seized during World War II, looted from archaeological sites or imported illegally into the US.
  • When artists create, sell or display their work, they deal with standard contractual and copyright issues. But they also face questions about, for example, protecting their copyright when their images are appropriated by other artists; First Amendment issues when their work involves controversial subject matter; and moral rights issues when their work is altered or destroyed.
  • All participants in the art market - museums, foundations, auction houses, dealers, collectors, and artists - face “art-specific” issues when they buy or sell art. Is the art authentic? Is the art subject to political or legal claims of foreign governments? To what extent are the ownership rights of a collector of contemporary art limited by the rights of the artist or his estate?
  • Artists and collectors alike seek legal advice about the appropriate way to value art for a variety of purposes, including tax and estate planning. Artists and collectors also seek advice with respect to the formation of private foundations and museums. Executors and trustees for artists and collectors commonly face difficult legal and practical issues as they try to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities for safeguarding, holding and disposing of art and antiques.

Lawyers in our Art and Museum Law practice currently serve or have served on the Board of Directors of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, the Committee on Art Law of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the Committee on Copyright and Literary Property of the Bar of the City of New York and the New York City Art Commission. One member of the group is a former museum administrator, one teaches the Seminar in Law and the Visual Arts at the Columbia University School of Law, and another teaches Art Law at the Cardozo School of Law.

Work by our Art and Museum Law attorneys has included:

  • Represented a major investment banking firm which commissioned a unique large scale mural painting for the centerpiece of its new headquarter building.
  • Represented several real estate developers seeking to create signature artworks in their new buildings. The projects included negotiations with art advisors and consultants, agreements for the process of selecting the artists, and agreements for the actual commissions which required coordination with the clients, advisors, construction and architecture firms for the realization of the works.
  • Represented numerous clients regarding the authentication of works of art, particularly through the use of authentication panels. We have been at the forefront in this area, including cases involving the Jean-Michel Basquiat and Alighiero Boetti authentication committees.
  • Represented a major collector in litigation involving a winning bid at a public auction.
  • Represented two major New York City museums and a prominent Long Island museum in aspects of their highly publicized expansion and renovation programs.
  • Advising institutions about tax-exempt bond financing.
  • Negotiating multi-million dollar sales and purchases by museums, collectors and dealers.
  • Structuring complex gifts and “bargain sales” involving works of art, including issues involving the naming of buildings and galleries and restrictions designed to last in perpetuity.
  • Advising museums on the proper interpretation of restricted gifts.
  • Advising institutions regarding their tax status, including the conversion of institutions from private foundations to public charities.
  • Advising a museum about an arrangement that enabled a for-profit entertainment company to exhibit works from the museum’s collection.
  • Negotiating appraisal and consignment agreements with the major auction houses.
  • Negotiating private sale transactions.
  • Negotiating contracts between collectors and vendors of art-related services.
  • Preparing amicus curiae briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court and other appellate courts on behalf of several major artists in First Amendment cases challenging governmental regulation of the content of visual expression and symbolic speech.
  • Representing an artist before the U.S. Supreme Court in his successful First Amendment challenge to the refusal by a railroad to permit his artwork to be displayed in New York's Penn Station in advertising space paid for by the artist.
  • Advising major artists and photographers about their estate planning and the formation of foundations to preserve their artistic legacy.
  • Counseling museums about their legal responsibilities upon learning that items in the collection have a flawed provenance on account of alleged incidents of theft or looting.
  • Representing a well-known photographer in a copyright case against a painter and his dealer for appropriation of a photograph.
  • Defending a television network against a claim that a poster used in the set dressing of a sitcom was an infringing use that violated the copyright of an artist.
  • Representing the estate of an eminent art collector in controversies relating to the right to control and enjoy works of art left in trust.
  • Representing the estate of a famous collector of books and manuscripts in the administration of large, complex bequests to charity.
  • Representing an auction house in restructuring its ownership.
  • Preparing complex tax-free exchange agreements involving works of art.