ANN: Research project on international practice in the restitution of Nazi-looted art: “Restatement of Restitution Rules”

In April 2019, research began at the University of Bonn on international practice in the restitution of artworks stolen under the Nazi regime. Head of the research project is Prof. Dr. Matthias Weller, who holds the “Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach professorship for civil law, art and cultural property law”.

The project aims to provide a comprehensive, comparative analysis of international practice in the restitution of Nazi-looted art. It aims to establish a generalized set of rules on how decisions are made based on considerations of fairness and justice. Once established, these rules can be used as guidance and support for those who make decisions and recommendations on matters of restitution. The project focuses on those countries which, in line with the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, have established restitution commissions as alternative mechanisms for resolving ownership disputes. The countries in question are Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. 

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TIAMSA Blog: Creativity is Human, But Technology Helps to Sell – The Impact of AI Art and Blockchain on the Art Market By Claudia S. Quiñones Vilá

In August 2018, Christie’s New York announced that it would be auctioning a computer-generated artwork created by a Paris-based art collective named Obvious (https://www.npr.org/2018/10/22/659680894/a-i-produced-portrait-will-go-up-for-auction-at-christie-s). At the time, this was seen as a novelty and regarded with interest, but not overly so. However, the portrait, titled Edmond de Belamy, shattered records when it sold for $432,500 – well above the initial estimates of $8,000-$11,500. Since this extraordinary event, there has been much discussion in the art world regarding the nascent field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and what it signifies for the future of contemporary art (https://www.christies.com/features/A-collaboration-between-two-artists-one-human-one-a-machine-9332-1.aspx).

Meilan Solly, “Christie’s Will Be the First Auction House to Sell Art Made by Artificial Intelligence.” Smithsonian Magazine, published August 21, 2018.
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/christies-will-be-first-auction-house-sell-art-made-artificial-intelligence-180970086/.

Obvious is comprised of three 25-year-olds, which accounts for their reliance on digital technology and philosophy: “The whole process is about humans having as little input as possible in the finished piece,” and “engag[ing] in exploring the interface between art and artificial intelligence.” Obvious utilizes algorithms that are self-taught, as opposed to programmed, and fed with thousands of images until the system creates a new image that can fool itself; in other words, until the system is unable to differentiate between a generated portrait and a human-made one (https://www.npr.org/2018/10/22/659680894/a-i-produced-portrait-will-go-up-for-auction-at-christie-s). The crux of the matter is whether an algorithm can accurately reflect – and potentially replicate – the human mind’s creativity. (https://news.artnet.com/market/artificial-intelligence-christies-1335170)

There is a preoccupation underlying this phenomenon, namely: will AI art make humans irrelevant?  “We are redefining what art actually is for the 21st century… art is valued at what people are willing to pay for it.” (https://www.npr.org/2018/10/22/659680894/a-i-produced-portrait-will-go-up-for-auction-at-christie-s) This statement threatens to reduce art purely to its market value, over any intrinsic or aesthetic value it may possess.

However, there is nothing creative about AI per se. It regurgitates what it has learned. AI looks at many examples of human art and then produces something “new.” This is called Adversarial Reinforcement Learning; i.e., one machine tries to fool the other by creating human look-alike art. The other machine tries to distinguish between the two. Notwithstanding fears of AI-producing art, the recent sale of an interactive work by Sotheby’s London failed to meet the six-figure mark and sold for a comparatively modest $51,000 (https://news.artnet.com/market/artificial-intelligence-sothebys-1481590). Despite this downward curve, AI is still a useful creative tool for artists, who continue to explore interactions between digital and analog forms of art. Tatiana Mejia, manager of Adobe’s AI platform, sees AI as a potential for creative growth: “Creativity is profoundly human… AI cannot replace the creative spark”(https://www.theverge.com/2019/2/1/18192858/adobe-sensei-celsys-clip-studio-colorize-ai-artificial-intelligence-art).  There are many artists willing to exploit A.I. as a medium without ceding creative control over the end product, in contrast to Obvious, thus allowing for a more collaborative creation between humans and machines (https://news.artnet.com/market/9-artists-artificial-intelligence-1384207).

Naomi Rea, “Sotheby’s Is Entering the AI Art Fray, Selling a Surreal Artwork by One of the Movement’s Pioneers This Spring.” Artnet, published February 8, 2019. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/sothebys-artificial-intelligence-1460332
Sofia Crespo, {External_Anatomy 1020}, featured in Naomi Rea, “Has Artificial Intelligence Brought Us the Next Great Art Movement? Here Are 9 Pioneering Artists Who Are Exploring AI’s Creative Potential.” Artnet, published November 6, 2018. https://news.artnet.com/market/9-artists-artificial-intelligence-1384207.
 

In addition to AI, blockchain is another technology with concrete repercussions on the art market, particularly with the increase of online sales. It consists of “blocks” that store digital pieces of information from verified transactions; each block has a unique code and multiple blocks can be grouped together to form a chain.  Blockchain is a ledger: it transcribes transactions, it does not interact with art, but is relevant for the art market. Blockchain improves record keeping, the process of transcribing transactions, because it is immutable, incorruptible, and cheap in the sense that the process is cheap. You digitally sign the transaction and it is instantly verifiable. It is democratic in the sense that you do not need another authority to validate the transaction, but this transaction has nothing to do with owning art or producing art, while AI is a technology used to produce art.

Once added to a chain, blocks are very difficult to edit and impossible to delete, making them resistant to hackers (https://www.invesopedia.com/terms/b/blockchain.asp). Blockchain has gained immense popularity and is the subject of heated debates on the role of innovation and objectification of art, as well as to what extent the market can capitalize from this platform, where anything of value can be moved and stored securely and privately (https://hbr.org/2017/03/blockchain-could-help-artists-profit-more-from-their-creative-works). While some have categorized blockchain as “disruptive” and “inevitable,” it has the potential to transform the conception of ownership – through the use of shared buyers who each own a set percentage of a work (fractional ownership) – and provenance research – by allowing for a more transparent log of previous purchasers and sellers. Artory, a blockchain-based art registry, merged with Auction Club, an international auction house sales database, giving subscribers access to data over the last 40 years. Buyers are provided with a secure digital record of the history of each artwork, establishing ongoing provenance (https://thenextweb.com/hardfork/2019/ 03/22/art-auction-records-blockchain/). Nonetheless, blockchain is still vulnerable to forgeries, inconsistencies, and performance issues, and is of limited applicability to non-contemporary artworks (https://www.forbes.com/sites/zoharelhanani/2018/12/17/how-blockchain-changed-the-art-world-in-2018/#4507ec233074). The main issue with blockchain was succinctly defined by NYU professor Amy Whitaker: one cannot “expec[t] a technological innovation to solve fundamentally human problems. Even the most elegant software can’t change a thing if the people involved don’t want it to take place” (https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-of-blockchains-1411054). A full understanding of blockchain technology is needed in order to support emerging contemporary artists within the market, as well as inexperienced purchasers outside the niche of galleries, museums, and established private collectors. Blockchain therefore has the potential to democratize the art market further by allowing art to be shared outside traditional spaces, which challenges the status quo. For instance, last week, artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy launched a project for the Whitney’s new-media portal which allows anyone to make a pitch as to why they deserve donor credit for the piece, transmitted through blockchain and tracked through a ledger. This gives lay individuals the opportunity to think about patronage and institutional influence in addition to the right to sell, donate, or transfer their credit in perpetuity. The names of chosen donors will be displayed alongside the work’s physical copy, and included in the museum’s online inventory, making the project a relatively communal experience (https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/public-private-key-whitney-1491694).

NAKAMOTO by CryptoGraffiti, featured in Jason Bailey, “Why Use Blockchain Provenance For Art?” Artnome, January 29, 2018. https://www.artnome.com/news/2018/1/26/why-use-blockchain-provenance-for-art.
Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott, “Blockchain Could Help Artists Profit More from Their Creative Works.” Harvard Business Review, March 22, 2017. https://hbr.org/2017/03/blockchain-could-help-artists-profit-more-from-their-creative-works

Both AI and blockchain have one element in common – the human element. Neither can exist or continue to develop without real human interaction. Technology might blur the line between art and science fiction – not to mention creative and generative processes – but without an author or audience, including sellers and purchasers, it does not reach its full potential. It will certainly be interesting to see how these two digital tools influence the art market, and how they interact with artworks and each other.

Special thanks to Sebastian Korbei for his suggestions about Blockchain and AI.

Claudia S. Quiñones Vilá is a licensed attorney in New York and Puerto Rico with experience in civil international law and an interest in the art market, illicit trafficking of cultural objects, sustainable development, urban law, and public policy. She currently works at Amineddoleh & Associates, a leading NYC legal firm dealing in art and cultural heritage disputes for high-profile clients, including the Cultural Ministry of Greece. In 2018, she completed an internship at UNIDROIT in Rome focusing on cultural property, specifically the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention’s applicability to private art collections in the US and Latin America. In 2019, she received honors for her master’s thesis on cultural heritage legislation and policy in the EU as part of the EUPADRA MA/LLM program hosted by LUISS Guido Carli University (Rome), the Universidad Complutense (Madrid), and the University of London.

MEMBERS ANN: Patrons and Lovers of Art: Art Institutions, collecting and the wealth of empire in early nineteenth century London, 23rd May 2019, London

The foundation in Britain of a National Gallery in 1824 was commemorated in a remarkable painting by Dutch artist Pieter Christoffel Wonder, Patrons and Lovers of Art (1830).

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ANN: Responsible Art Market Conference New York Thursday, May 23, 2019

SAVE THE DATE
Responsible Art Market Conference, New York
Thursday, May 23, 20191:30 pm–5:30 pmColumbia University

The Responsible Art Market (RAM) Initiative is coming to New York! Join us for the first US RAM conference organized jointly with Columbia University and PAIAM.RAM is the first of its kind, non-profit, cross market initiative formed in Geneva, Switzerland in 2015. Its mission is to raise awareness amongst art businesses of risks faced by the art industry and to provide practical guidance and a platform for the sharing of best practices to address those risks. RAM’s founding members span the entire spectrum of the art market and include art businesses, institutions and attorneys.

To date, RAM has published two sets of practical guidelines and checklists (downloadable free of charge on its website) which are increasingly used and referred to in Switzerland and Europe: the Guidelines on Combatting Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing and the Art Transaction Due Diligence Toolkit.

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PUB: “The effect of experts’ opinion on prices of art works: The case of Peter Brueghel the Younger” by Victor Ginsburgh (ECARES Université libre de Bruxelles) ; Anne-Sophie Radermecker (Université libre de Bruxelles) ; Denni Tommasi (Monash University)

Journal: Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Volume 159, March 2019, Pages 36-50

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PUB: ‘How to become a judgment device: valuation practices and the role of auctions in the emerging Chinese art market’, Socio-Economic Review, 16 (3), 2018, pp. 459-477 by Svetlana Kharchenkova & Olav Velthuis

We are very happy to let you know about this publication by Svetlana Kharchenkova & Olav Velthuis!

This article studies the role of judgment devices in the emergence of markets for singularities. In particular, it seeks to understand how specific judgment devices become dominant in resolving uncertainty within these markets. Building on Karpik’s seminal theory, we argue that institutional environments (e.g. government regulations, political-economic factors, the level of informality within business environments) as well as the level of expertise of consumers, co-determine which devices come to be used in new markets. Empirically, we focus on the emerging market for contemporary art in China. While auctions and auction prices are widely used in valuing contemporary art in China, this is highly illegitimate in international art markets. We argue that auctions act as a judgment device in China because of strong government backing, because other validating organizations, such as museums and art critics, are seen as untrustworthy, and because auctions send strong, easily interpretable signals to novice collectors.

More information can be found here!