“Art restitution is one of the few ways to make reparations to the many victims of the treacheries of World War II. Victims of Nazi-era art theft and their heirs should be able to successfully bring actions in the United States to recovery their possessions as this is usually one of the last options available for recovery. Claims concerning art restitution should be heard in U. S. courts and the statue of limitations and the U. S. Department of State’s Statement of Interest should not be used to preclude adjudication on the merits of these cases. The Court should assert their independence and refuse to dismiss these cases. Recent art restitution settlements and the U. S. Supreme Court’s current involvement shed light onto this topic and help the victims of art theft reclaim what rightfully belongs to them.”
Ms. Minton: In 2010 the World Jewish Restitution Organization found that out of many named Eastern European countries including Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and the Ukraine, only the Czech Republic and Slovakia had both enacted restitution laws governing art and were conducting provenance research. This is an important point as the former Soviet Union indirectly looted the Jews of their art which was confiscated and collected by the Germans during World War II. In many cases there are no records or unreliable records to prove provenance. With artwork now popping up in the United States with more frequency (whether on the auction block, in a museum or in a private collection) rightful claimants are able seek restitution in the U.S. Courts where the statute of limitations may have run out in European countries. Historically the European courts have sided with those that could prove they acquired looted works in “good faith”. Because of the complication in these legal cases involving issues such as the statute of limitations, international law and provenance determination, I believe you will see a general rise of interest in art law from the public. I first became fascinated by the procedural problems in my International Litigation class at Catholic University of America Law School in Washington, D.C. and continued my research after graduation.
Ms. Minton: In 2003, fourteen of Malevich’s works appeared for the first time in the U.S. On loan from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, they were part of an exhibition at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. How did this happen? Malevich became a Master of “Suprematism” in Moscow in 1915. In 1927 the Soviet government demanded he return to St. Petersburg when he was exhibiting his work at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition. The works were left behind with friends and he never returned to Germany, dying in 1935. Little is known how these works were scattered across Europe and then to Canada and the United States except that dozens of pieces were sold by a German architect to the museum in Amsterdam. So, yes, some of the art left behind was sold, at least a portion of it. Where and when these and other looted works will appear is part of the larger story of art restitution and its eventual rise in art law.
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