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5Pointz Artists Claim Final Victory as SCOTUS Denies Cert & Other Headlines

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by Jana Farmer and Nicole Haimson on October 16, 2020

image-3-440x292UNITED STATES

U.S. Supreme Courts Declines Certiorari in the 5Pointz Case
Two years ago, in one of the most important decisions applying the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) since its adoption, New York’s Eastern District awarded $6.75 million in statutory damages to 21 street artists whose aerosol works were intentionally destroyed by the owner of the buildings on which they were painted. VARA gives artists the right to sue to prevent the destruction of a work of “recognized stature,” and to recover money damages if their work is distorted, mutilated or otherwise modified to the prejudice of the artist’s honor or reputation.

On appeal, the Second Circuit upheld the award in favor of the artists, finding that the owner willfully violated VARA and whitewashed the works in an “act of pure pique and revenge.” Importantly, the court held that temporary artworks such as graffiti, which are frequently painted over by other street artists, can nonetheless achieve “recognized stature” within the meaning of VARA. With the U.S. Supreme Court declining certiorari, the Second Circuit precedent stands and the artists’ win is locked in.

Ban on TikTok and WeChat Halted … for Now
With global lockdowns disrupting virtually all in-person events, artists and museums have turned to social media platforms, including TikTok and WeChat, to create new content, advertise and host events, and make art accessible to a broader audience. Many have found commercial success on these platforms and the possibility of their shutdown threatens to destroy all that they built. On August 6, 2020, President Trump issued an executive order that would effectively ban TikTok and WeChat in the United States due to alleged data security concerns. Both apps have filed suit against the Trump Administration and were granted preliminary injunctions, temporarily halting the ban until the litigation is resolved. The fate of these apps remains undecided but may impact many artists and institutions that presently rely on them. 

America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2020, According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation
Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designates 11 historic places in the United States as being the most threatened. The Trust’s 2020 list includes the National Negro Opera Company House, built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1894, which housed the nation’s first black opera company. While designs are being prepared to salvage the building and honor its historical significance, it is currently deteriorating. Also featured on the Trust’s list is the West Berkeley Shellmound and Village Site in Berkeley, California, which dates back some 5,700 years to the Ohlone Indian tribe. After grave sites and thousands of artifacts were removed from the site, it was levelled in the 1950s. Despite the site being considered sacred by the Ohlone, it is privately owned and still being considered for development. The Trust is hopeful that its list will raise awareness about these sites and garner support for preservation efforts.

Cowan’s Repatriates Statute of Zuni War God
A wooden statue consigned by an Ohio estate to Auction house Cowan’s has been returned to the Zuni Pueblo of New Mexico. The statue of war god Ahayu:da is thought to have been removed from a holy shrine several years ago and fell into private hands. In Zuni culture, the gods are deemed to be living beings and of central importance. This statue was one of many that recently have been repatriated to the Zuni and other indigenous tribes, and its return comes on the heels of a proposed bill in California allowing Native Americans to recover their ancestral objects from institutions and galleries.


Prince of Prussia’s Legal Battle for the Return of Family Property
Court proceedings between Georg Friedrich Ferdinand, the Prince of Prussia and great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II (the last German monarch), and the German states of Berlin and Brandenburg were recently delayed. For over a decade, Ferdinand has been in a legal battle seeking restitution and the return of more than 10,000 family artifacts seized or lost after World War II. Whether Ferdinand and his family are entitled to the return of their property depends on the extent to which figures in their lineage are determined to have collaborated with the Nazis. German law allows families to reclaim expatriated property, but specifically exempts those whose ancestors “substantially supported” the Nazis. Prince Georg claims his family was at odds with Hitler and didn’t have enough power or influence to “substantially” contribute to the rise of the Nazi regime. The result of this legal battle has the potential to affect the collections of several museums and, if Prince Georg is successful, possibly remove this property from public view.

Building Decorated by Picasso Demolished, Triggering Protests
Despite ongoing protests, the Norwegian government has begun tearing down the Y-block office building in Oslo, part of its governmental headquarters in the city. The headquarters were damaged in the 2011 terrorist attack by Anders Breivik, when a car bomb was detonated. Prior to any demolition, Picasso’s The Fishermen, a sand-blasted 250-ton section of the building’s facade, and The Seagull, a 60-ton floor-to-ceiling drawing in the building’s lobby, were removed and relocated. Opponents of the demolition argue that the building’s brutalist architecture should be preserved, and that Picasso’s works and the building “belong together.” They also argue that tearing down the governmental headquarters is, in essence, a symbolic completion of what Breivik began, an effort to erase the symbols of democracy. Construction of the new headquarters is expected to be completed in 2025.

FIAC Art Fair Cancelled, Citing Pandemic
This year’s Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC), the contemporary and modern art fair that was slated to take place October 22–25, 2020, at Paris’s Grand Palais, has been cancelled. The decision came after a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Europe, including France, and new travel restrictions being instituted, despite which, the Vienna Contemporary, Austria’s largest art fair, went forward from September 24–27, 2020. Safety measures were implemented, such as time slots, offering digital viewings, reducing the number of exhibitors, focusing on local galleries and artists, and having local advisers present the work of foreign artists.

Art Community Demonstrates Support for Tate Gallery Strike
Hundreds of artists and patrons of the arts have signed a letter supporting the ongoing strike of the Tate Gallery’s employees. The strike surrounds Tate’s recent decision to eliminate 313 jobs from Tate Enterprises Ltd., the arm of its organization that handles catering, retail and publishing services for its four galleries, citing strained finances. While no Tate Gallery staff were expected to be laid off, protests began during Tate Modern’s reopening on July 31, 2020. Thereafter, Tate Enterprises voted to begin striking. The letter from the arts community calls for Tate to divert funds recently received from a government bailout to prevent job cuts, which they fear will disproportionately impact minority employees.


Banksy Purchases Refugee Ship
Using proceeds from the sale of his artwork, British street artist Banksy has purchased a French navy vessel to help migrants and refugees cross the Mediterranean from Africa. The vessel, adorned with Banksy’s own art, features the word “RESCUE’ and the image of a young girl reaching for a heart-shaped life preserver in black and pink spray paint. Named the “Louise Michel,” the vessel’s website states it will “uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice.”

Sudanese Court Convicts Performance Artists
A court in Khartoum recently convicted five members of a pro-democracy artist collective of disruption of public safety and nuisance after neighbors lodged a noise complaint while the group rehearsed for a play. The lawyers for the group allege the artists were beaten while in custody. Each member has been fined and sentenced to two months in prison. The group is known for being critical of Sudan’s former government and lobbying for judicial reform, and have lent assistance to other artists in Sudan. International and local organizations, including Human Rights Watch, fear the artists’ arrests will serve to curb free speech and artistic freedom in Sudan.


American Shoe Company Converse and Thai Artists Create Eco-Murals to Reduce Air Pollution
An eco-mural has been installed in Bangkok as the first initiative of Converse’s new community program titled “Converse City Forests.” A collaboration between Converse and two Thai graffiti artists, the mural depicts two hands reaching toward one another, intended to be a symbol of unity. It was painted using a “photocatalytic paint” that is said to clean the air by breaking down noxious air pollutants, such as smog. According to, the mural will have the environmental impact of planting 150 trees. Converse has facilitated the painting of additional eco-murals in Warsaw and Belgrade and is reportedly planning 10 more in cities around the world.

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