"Nazi-looted art restitution - where do we go from here? An international perspective"
Was it the relaxed atmosphere of Miami beach, was it the very international setting of the UIA congress with 1000 lawyers from 83 countries and more then 40 other commissions (www.uianet.org) or the fact that the Art law Commission had invited speakers that are experts in the field for many years now - but I have never heard a more moderate discussion about the topic of Nazi-looted art restitution then here in Miami. And this although the experts represent different interests. There was Lawrence Kaye from the law firm Herrick Feinstein, New York who has represented for more than 20 years the interests of Jewish families and former owners of stolen art objects; there was "on the other side" Stephen J. Knerly from the law firm Hahn,Loeser&Parks, Cleveland and counsel of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and there were also experts "in between" like Monica Dugot from the auction house Christie's and Sharon Levin from the US Attorney's Office, New York. Europe was represented by Karen Sanig from the law office Mishcon de Reya, London UK and from the continent by the Italian lawyer Andrea Pizzi and me. (Andrea and I are also Vice-Presidents of the Art law Commission).
It was to the credit of the President of the Art law Commission, Howard Spiegler from Herrick, Feinstein, New York that after the country reports presentations a true discussion regarding perspectives in Nazi-looted art restitution ensued. While Lawrence Kaye focused on the responsibility of Courts to be "visionaire" in restitution cases, Stephen J.Knerly confirmed that US museums are principally open to mediating claims and called for more efforts in researching examples of "forced sale" and "stolen property". Monica Dugot too pointed out the need for more universal definitions or parameters for a "forced sale" or a 'sale under 'duress' as this would inevitably help in a more swift, just and fair resolution of claims. Christie's will continue to play its role as a facilitator in assisting parties in reaching settlements to Nazi era art claims and will also continue its program of due diligence for all objects consigned to the auction house. Sharon Levin explained in particular the proceeding and the financial advantages for families when they directly contact to the US Attorney's Office when pursuing their claims and reiterated that claimants should try to do so more often. Karen Sanig was optimistic about the slow but constant progress in UK with regard to the Spoliation Advisory Panel and the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Bill (Bill 35 of 2008-09) - two efforts that unfortunately are not very likely in Germany in the near future. Andrea Pizzi finally presented the new approach of Italian Courts which recently accepted a Restitution-claim in the basis of the Crime-against-Humanity rules. I look forward to Andrea Pizzi publishing on that decision.
While the panelists respectfully disagreed on a number of points , like f.e. concerning the admissibility of technical defenses (prescription, statute of limitation) in Nazi-looted art cases, there was a clear understanding and acceptance that professional and responsible work from all parties involved must be the basis for any discussion or claim re Nazi-looted art restitution. Therefore research and scientific cooperation has not only to deepen in the provenance field but still more in the legal area. Alternative Conflict Resolutions specifically targeted to these cases have to be developed. The new ICOM-WIPO "Art and Cultural Heritage Mediation Programme" is one step in that direction. And by this, may be one day a translation for the German word "Wiedergutmachung" will be found.
behind from left to right: Lawrence Kaye, Andrea Pizzi, Stephen J. Knerly
sitting from left to right: Howard Spiegler, Monica Dugot, Sharon Levin, Karen Sanig, Claudia von Selle