February 1, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Contributor Minton on Art Restitution of Nazi-era Looted Art

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Jennifer Ann Minton wrote an article titled “Art Restitution of Nazi-era Looted Art: A Growing Force in Art and Law” for the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime. According to Ms. Minton’s abstract:
“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.”
Jennifer Ann Minton is a transplant from Southern California, who decided to make Washington, D. C. her home after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000. She has worked at the White House and various U. S. departments. She received her J. D. from Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law.

ARCA blog: How would you explain to a layperson – someone who is only conversationally knowledgeable about art law – whether or not claimants have been successful in European courts in recovery Holocaust-looted art and why the American courts seem to be the answer for so many cases?

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.

ARCA blog: In your article, you discuss Malevich v. City Amsterdam, the facts of the case stretch back to the 1920s when Malevich was forced to leave an exhibition in Berlin and return to St. Petersburg. When the artist died in 1935, was the art he left behind still unsold? And then it was ‘on loan’ to various friends and institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York until his heirs began suing for recovery of the art after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

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.
To seek out this piece, and many others, consider a subscription to the Journal of Art Crime—the first peer-reviewed academic journal covering art and heritage crime. ARCA publishes two volumes annually in the Spring and Fall. Individual, Institutional, electronic and printed versions are all available, with subscriptions as low as 30 Euros. All proceeds go to ARCA's nonprofit research and education initiatives. Please see the publications page for more information.

0 comments:

Post a Comment