Archive for the ‘art’ Category

The Moral Commitment to Return Nazi Coerced Transfers of Art

May 1, 2019


Camille Pissarro

Camille Pisarro, Rue St. Honoré 1897, as shown on the collections pages of the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum

The moral commitment to return an impressionist painting sold under coercion was undermined by the law of Spain, according to a report by the Art Newspaper. The painting at issue, Camille Pissarro’s Rue St. Honoré of 1897, was forcibly sold by the original Jewish owner for a mere $360 so that she could obtain an exit visa to escape Nazi Germany.


The 1976 sale of the painting in New York to Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza raised “numerous red flags” said the judge in the case. Nonetheless, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Spanish law applied.  According to the decision, Spanish law requires that the buyer, Thyssen-Bornemisza, had to have “actual knowledge” of the earlier wrongful acts to effectively nullify the current ownership. The court did not find that there was actual knowledge of the earlier coerced sale, and therefore decided that the painting is owned by the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum of Spain.

Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, according to the museum’s website, originally consisted of “Europe’s largest private art collection.” The collection was purchased by the government of Spain and moved to Madrid in 1992. The painting was apparently purchased by Spain in either 1992 or 1993 from Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Although Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum already issued a “refusal to return the painting,” the judge’s statement implies that the right thing for the museum to do would be to return the painting to the heirs of Lilly Cassirer Neubauer. Given the prior refusal, this seems doubtful.

Spain is a signatory to the international commitment to return Nazi looted artwork, known as the Washington Principles. However, Artnet reports that Spain is one of a handful of countries that has “made the least effort towards upholding the Washington Principles and returning looted works.” The question is whether Spain will step up now and honor its “moral commitments” or not.


The Art Newspaper | Laura Gilbert May 1, 2019.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional

Washington Conference Principles on Nazi Confiscated Art, 1998, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State

It’s Been 20 Years Since the Creation of the ‘Washington Principles’ to Return Nazi-Looted Art, Artnet | Sara Cascone, Nov. 27, 2018


Polyester is Forever

October 7, 2015

Sotheby’s has reportedly sold a print of Robert Mapplethorpe’s 1980 photograph “Man in a Polyester Suit” for nearly a half million dollars ($478,000).


There are at least two things that this sale shows.  One, the increasing value of photographic works.  Two, despite the attempt to exploit art as a political tool, Jesse Helms and right wing conservatives ultimately failed.  Helms is dead and Mapplethorpe’s work lives on.

Artsbeat | New York Times

J.Paul Getty Museum Collection

Free Admission to PS1 for the Year

October 7, 2015

Today MOMA PS1 has announced that admission to PS1 will be free for New York City residents for the year, beginning on October 11th.  The free admission is the gift of Marina Kellen French, made in “honor of all New York City artists” and coincides with the 40th anniversary of PS1.

PS1 is located at 22-25 Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, Queens, and is usually open from noon to 6pm Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesday & Wednesdays).  It’s not clear yet as to how or if residency will be checked at the door, so consider taking a license or the NYC ID card.

For more information, see the PS1 press release at:


The Evolution of Art

August 25, 2012

Although it is fundamental that new art builds upon that of the past, it is not often that we have a clear and obvious example of this with near-immediate worldwide effect. Fortuitously, a new artwork, la Nueva version de Ecce Homo de Borja (AKA Furry Jesus) demonstrates that process quite literally.  The new work was physically constructed upon the old.

Both the new and old Ecce Homo are located in the Santuario de la Misericordia in Borja, Spain.  Although the city of Borja has apparently initiated plans to attempt a “restoration” of the foundational version of Ecce Homo by Elias Garcia Martinez, an online petition (several actually) have arisen in an effort to stop the hasty removal of the nueva Ecce Homo by Cecilia Gimenez.  One petition author suggests that the new work represents a subtle criticism of the church’s theology, creationism particularly.    The work can also be interpreted as a comment upon modern copyright law.  As a conceptual piece, (nueva) Ecce Homo is not only a physical work; the act of creating the work itself is fundamental aspect of its meaning.


In Artifactum’s view, we should not rush to erase la nueva [version de] Ecce Homo.  The place of this new work in the history of art and its value to world culture should be preserved.  Please consider signing the petition:

Additional coverage:

Huffington Post

New York Times

The Colbert Report

A Reprieve for Public Education?

April 24, 2012

According to SFGate, there is a new collaborative effort between public and private interests to restore art programs in California’s public schools.  Art education in California schools has declined since the passage of the notorious Proposition 13 in the 1970s and prior attempts to restore art programs have not been fully successful.  The circumstances apparently became worse in 2009 when schools were no longer required to use ‘art funds’ for actual art education programs.  With the budget shortages the funds were often allocated, by schools, to other areas.  Governor Gerry Brown is in support of the plan to restore art education.

Read more:  Effort Afoot to Restore Art in California Schools, Jill Tucker,, 4/23/2012