New Legislation to Protect Foreign Art Lenders From Lawsuits on U.S. Soil

03 Apr 2012 7:55 AM | Anonymous

New Legislation to Protect Foreign Art Lenders From Lawsuits on U.S. Soil

By Laura Gilbert 4/02 5:08pm

When the Stedelijk Museum loaned works by Malevich to the Menil, a legal battle was sparked. (Photo by Eric Arnau/Flickr)
Eight years ago, while a group of paintings by the Russian modernist Kazimir Malevich was on loan to the Menil Collection in Houston, the artist’s heirs, who had been attempting to recover them, sued the city of Amsterdam, home to the Stedelijk Museum, which had loaned the works. In 2005 the U.S. federal court hearing the case ruled that even if loaned art could not be seized under federal law, the presence of the artwork in the U.S. could still provide a basis for suing the foreign-government lender for damages. The decision effectively opened up a new path to allow litigation for chasing wrongfully taken art, and some foreign governments refused to lend to U.S. museums out of fear that they would be hauled into court.

That may soon change. A new bill seeks to effectively overrule the court’s decision in that 2005 case, Malewicz v. City of Amsterdam. Passing it would give American museums something they’ve sought for yearsundefineda law that would grant foreign governments nearly unqualified immunity from lawsuits when they loan preapproved artworks.

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