Welcome to my Art Law Blog

I am fortunate to work in a very exciting and newly developing area of law. I specialise in art law, am a practising barrister with 16 years experience and have worked in art law since 2010.

The development of my practice probably coincides with a wider phenomenon – which is the “professionalization of the art market.” The art market has expanded significantly, with many new international art buyers who come from professional backgrounds and from the financial sectors and with this comes expectations that art businesses – galleries, art advisers, agents, auction houses will conduct their business’ in a professional way too.

 

There have also been some significant scandals in the art market that have been well reported by the art press, who have highlighted the various risks that can arise.

There for instance has been the Knoedler Gallery Fakes scandal, the Beltracchi forgery gang, the Bouvier scandal that has opened up the world of the free trade ports and the questions of whether excessive commissions have been charged to a collector client. There have also been a few high profile cases involving auction houses, high profile collectors and galleries.

Lawyers have played an important part in this professionalization process.
When I started this journey, I was often asked by people within the art sector – “what is an art lawyer?” and “why do I need one?” I was told by more established dealers that they knew their clients and did not need to change their business practice to include more formal contractual relations.

This attitude has changed. With the growth of the art market over the last ten years, with galleries and auction houses now doing new business with people they do not know, the “gentleman’s agreement”, is no longer viable and understanding very clearly the nature of the terms of the agreements between parties has had to develop.

The art market has opened up considerably, with the growth of on-line auctions, on-line art selling websites, many world-wide art fairs, new international galleries and artists now selling their works directly online, we call this the “democratization of the art market.”

However with this comes various risks to potential buyers, who are inexperienced in art buying and are not conducting any proper due diligence before making purchases. Equally sellers, who are new to the business also many not have done adequate checks before selling an artwork.

For instance if you have not checked the condition or authenticity and attribution of the artworks adequately or not conducted any due diligence on the sellers or buyers, you may end up with a fake or wrongly attributed artwork or artwork in a poor condition and therefore not worth the price paid or selling something that is not what it was purported to be and therefore leading to potential financial and legal risks.

There are numerous laws that apply to transactions between all the parties and also specific rights and protections for consumers.

There is a common misconception that an oral contract has no binding effect because it is not in writing. However what is actually stated about an artwork can form the terms of an agreement and if any representations are wrong then there can be legal consequences such as a potential claim for breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation or misstatement for example.

Dealing with a consumer who is ignorant of the art market, is very different to a connoisseur collector who knows precisely what to ask before making a purchasing decision. However there are still obligations to all consumers and to not make any misrepresentations about artworks.

Over the years our case load has expanded and our team has grown. I work within an award winning art law team of 6 barristers, all with specific commercial law expertise and have handled art specific cases and cases involving classic cars and other luxury assets.

In any one month we have 3 or 4 cases on the go and work as a team.

We attract non-contentious litigation work and litigation work mostly from international art collectors, art dealers, art agents, UK based and international lawyers, artists. We also advise museums and auction houses and public bodies.

The cases we have worked on reveal the inherent problems that can arise in the business of art such as:

  • Disputes over ownership
  • Auction/gallery/expert issues concerning breach of contract, negligence or misrepresentations on attribution, value and/or condition
  • Stolen art or Nazi looted art
  • Fakes and forgeries
  • Export bans on banned items such as ivory
  • Customs issues, such as exit permits for antiques and taxes and tariffs
  • Cultural heritage claims
  • National Treasure Laws
  • Copyright and IP issues
  • Will and probate disputes
  • Tax related issues ( we work with specialist tax lawyers).

For details of the cases we have worked on click here:

We operate in a highly specialised niche area and are responding to our consumers’ needs by looking at ways we can usefully assist the art market and develop services that actually cater to client needs.

We have modified our business model and developed an expert due diligence group designed to help our clients with a one stop shop for safe due diligence checks to be undertaken prior to high value sales transactions taking place.

We have also developed an art specific mediation service to help issues be resolved discreetly, in a cost effective way with the assistance of professional independent legal advisers. For more details about the Art Due Diligence Group and our mediation service click here.

I am passionate about this area of law and feel that we are well placed to educate on this subject, bring to new audiences awareness of the problems that can arise in the art world and hopefully this will lead to potential risks being averted.

We are here to assist and educate on the business of art and provide services if needed.

For people just interested in the business of art and art law, hopefully you will enjoy our blog articles that are often non-legalistic and designed to flag issues of awareness. The news stories provide endlessly fascinating reading, no case is ever the same and usually has its curious twists and turns.

There are also many important developments in this area – such as in the antique sector in the trade in ivory, the illicit trade in stolen artworks, appropriation art and copyright law.