Friday, September 25, 2009

Christie's Off The Hook For Selling Nazi Looted Art To Innocent Purchaser

In Doss, Inc. v. Yoon Young Im, a case decided by Chief Judge Loretta Preska of the Southern District of New York on September 23, 2009, Christie's successfully fended off a claim from a purchaser who'd bought what turned out to be Nazi looted art for $235,000 at a 1991 auction in New York.

The case arose when in 2008, Doss, Inc., the purchaser of a Marie Laurencin Portrait from Christie's tried to sell it through Sotheby's. Sotheby's researched the artwork and found that it had been looted by the Nazis from the well-known Paris art dealer Paul Rosenberg. Sotheby's informed Doss Inc. (the would-be seller) that the artwork was stolen.

Doss then sued Christie's for breach of warranty. The problem is that New York's U.C.C. Section 275 provides a four-year statute of limitations for breach of warranty (claim for breach of warranty must be commenced within four years of tender of delivery of the goods).

Once the four years runs, a seller of stolen goods is off the hook in New York, as far as New York's U.C.C. is concerned, unless some tolling principle, such as fraudulent concealment. New York is a buyer beware state. But it would certainly be surprising if Christie's didn't know what it was selling when it put the work up for auction in 1991.

Auction houses and museum have been peddling the fiction that Hitler's art looting was not "discovered" until the mid-1990's. But the Nurember trials covered these crimes on the front pages of the New York Times and such authors as Janet Flanner covered Nazi art looting activities in depth in an extraordinary three-part series in the New Yorker magazine in 1947. Museums and auction houses would prefer to forget about such works as David Roxan & Ken Wanstall's groundbreaking report based on the Art Looting Intelligence Unit's Reports - The Rape of Art: The Story of Hitler's Plunder of the Great Masterpieces of Europe (Cowan-Mc Gill New York 1964). Flanner's accounts of artworks being uncovered in salt mines together with gold teeth removed from Jewish corpses is a chilling reminder of how the Nazis intertwined looting and murder.

The truth is, museums, private owners and auction houses have been waiting for a couple of generations of Jews to die so that they can safely peddle and display the looted artworks held in their collections.

Christie's didn't know it was stolen in 1991 when they sold it? Horsefeathers!

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