Responsible Art Market (RAM) Conference 2020: New Guidelines for the Changing Art World
Review by Claudia S. Quiñones Vilá
On January 31, 2020, the Responsible Art Market (RAM) held its annual conference in Geneva, Switzerland. This year’s edition focused on the launch of RAM’s Guidelines for Experts Authenticating Works of Fine Art and the importance and challenges of authentication for the art market. Comparative panels discussing new anti-money laundering regulations as well as expert liability provided a lively counterpoint to the discussion, with practical examples and varying perspectives. The conference program illustrates the breadth of participants and topics from across geographical boundaries.
The art world has grown remarkably over the past few decades. More than a market, it has become an industry with participants across varied fields. François Curiel of Christie’s Paris illustrated this point in his opening speech, commenting that when he first started out, there were no specialist art lawyers – and now they are indispensable for the functioning of the modern art market. Mr. Curiel also highlighted the complementary role of art market participants – including artists, dealers, auction houses and attorneys – in managing this complex and changing world.
Next, Anne Laure Bandle, Anne-Claire Bisch-Saffiotti and Aude Lemogne of RAM introduced the new expert guidelines and discussed each article. They stated that these are based on best practices and should be used on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the client’s needs and expectations. They further stressed that experts themselves should use common sense and self-assessment to avoid liability, particularly when establishing the scope of their competence. The following panel juxtaposed expert and market perspectives on the importance and challenges of authentication. Notably, Sarah Charles and Sharon Hecker gave practical examples of how forgers are using articles and materials published by experts to make counterfeits that can fool scientific analysis, such as mixing ancient porcelain into the area of an object forgers know auction houses test for authenticity. Ms. Hecker also mentioned the need to develop a firm legal standard or recourse to appeal an expert’s decision and that consulting with other specialists in a holistic manner should be encouraged to be as thorough as possible when issuing an opinion.
The third panel focused on a comparative discussion regarding expert liability. Each of the represented countries – US, UK, France and Switzerland – presented a case study concerning liability and related issues, such as catalogue raisonnés, auction sales, and dealer representations. These cases demonstrated the lack of a uniform standard of care for experts, with some national courts requiring gross negligence and others including freedom of expression and consumer protection in their analysis of liability. However, while a finding or opinion of authenticity does have a concrete effect on an artwork, it is always subject to change. For instance, the painting at the heart of the relevant UK case study was recently classified as being by a famous artist’s studio and sold the day before the conference, where it had previously been qualified as a copy.
Finally, the last panel concerned the national implementation of the EU’s anti-money laundering regulations in the UK, France, and Switzerland. Switzerland’s laws are the least strict of the three, with a 100,000 CHF threshold for cash transactions, while France’s AML legislation has included art market participants since 2001. Despite Brexit– which came into effect the day of the conference – the UK implemented new anti-money laundering regulations in early January transposing the EU’s Fifth Money Laundering Directive. The following year will be key for the implementation of these regulations as well as tracing their effect on the London art market, which is the second largest in the world. The British Art Market Federation recently published guidance for these regulations specifically tailored to art market participants (AMPs), in order to clarify their obligations. Notably, AMPs must now start conducting more stringent customer due diligence checks for transactions of 10,000 euros or more and register with the government in order to comply.
Mr. Curiel closed the conference by praising the participants and RAM for organizing such an interesting and useful event. He mentioned that while there will always be an element of risk present in the art market, cooperation and communication are key for establishing lasting beneficial relationships and combatting any uncertainty that may arise. Given the art market’s transactional nature, close attention must be paid to new regulations and trends, particularly those concerning anti money laundering measures. The synergies between art market participants and specialist art attorneys are more important than ever to achieve the goal of a robust and responsible art market.
Claudia S. Quiñones Vilá is a licensed attorney in New York and Puerto Rico with experience in art and cultural heritage law and public policy, including a prior internship at UNIDROIT focusing on the 1995 Convention and its applicability to private collections in the US and Latin America. She currently works for Constantine Cannon LLP in London, a leading art and cultural property practice. Her articles have been published in the Santander Art and Culture Law Review (SAACLR), /encactSCHOLAR, and the German Arbitration Journal. She is a member of the TIAMSA Legal Group, English Language Editor for SAACLR, and a Social Media Volunteer for European Heritage Times.