Mary Hallissey reports for the Gazette on an important conference in the ‘art law’ world.
A risky business
Litigation can have a devastating effect on the value of a work of art, argues London-based barrister and mediator at Art ADR Global, Nicola Wallace. Speaking at Art$ummit Ireland, held in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel on 3 November, she noted that litigation was a costly exercise, not just in terms of legal fees, but also in time expended and the risks to business and professional relationships.
“Litigation is quick to escalate. Parties taking strong defensive positions often trigger reactive responses. This can quickly lead to entrenchment,” she said.
Greenberg Gallery v Bauman
To illustrate the risks, Wallace referred to the 1993 Washington DC case of Greenberg Gallery Inc v Bauman. The plaintiffs were art dealers who claimed that a piece (for which they paid $500,000) was not the Alexander Calder work that they thought they were acquiring.
Greenberg Gallery invoked theories of fraud, breach of express warranty, and mutual mistake of fact. In the case, the judge went against a leading expert, while acknowledging that his decision would destroy the market value of the work. “This is not the market, however, but a court of law, in which the trier of fact must make a decision based on the preponderance of evidence,” he said.
Mary Hallissey is a journalist with the Law Society Gazette. In the latest issue, she explores this and other legal issues raised at the Art$ummit, from protecting copyright to moving high-value and delicate assets around the world.
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