When a work of art is lent abroad to a museum for display, is it safe from seizure?
The legal owners of the art normally are forbidden from claiming their art while it is on display, but, according to The New York Times, American museum directors feel the need for stronger protection because "entanglement in costly ownership battles" looms as an ever-present threat, and subsequently museums are more hesitant to make loans.
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To beef up protection of borrowed artwork, a bipartisan effort has begun to further protect international art loans. While the bill went through the House of Representatives in March, it has hit a snag in the Senate among protesters saying that it doesn't go far enough with its protections. The Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act, sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and partially written by the Association of Art Museum Directors, would block claims for recovery except those made by families whose art was looted by Nazis in World War II.
As attorney Charles Goldstein, chief counsel at the New York-based Commission for Art Recovery, explained to WNYC, the bill would not cover "art sold under duress by families fleeing Germany, taken from Jews before the start of the war or looted by countries that were arguably not German allies."
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who say the bill already goes too far by granting special treatment to certain people. Why should only victims of the Holocaust be singled out and not those other atrocities? Corinne Hershkovitch, a lawyer in Paris who specializes in recovering plundered art, told The New York Times, "There should be a common system for all looted art. If you offer protections just for one group, it will seem illegitimate."
Jo Backer Laird, a lawyer who specializes in art law, told the The New York Times that the pending Senate bill was founded on the view "that the Holocaust is simply different... [It] has a compelling philosophical and moral basis -- but one that may be more difficult to justify and implement as a matter of law."
Whatever the decision, the Senate certainly will set an interesting precedent for the future.