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News roundup: Ownership and value – art’s eternal questions

May 1, 2018
Peter Paul Rubens' painting of his daughter will be sold at Christies in JulyWho owns an art work and how is its value decided? Often debated in the art world, these questions have been raised anew by some recent news stories.
 
Precedent has been set to answer the ownership question in the animal kingdom. According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, non-humans do not have the right to sue for copyright infringement. This ruling arises from a dispute between photographer David Slater and the monkey Naruto, who was represented in court by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Naruto took a selfie using David Slater’s equipment and PETA claimed the monkey owned the rights to the image.  
 
From selfies to self-portraits; Frida Kahlo’s art is famous for depicting the physical and emotional turbulence that characterized her life. The face and body that she so candidly depicted is now being sold by Matel in doll form as part of its Inspiring Women series. However, a temporary injunction against sales of the doll in Mexico has been won by Kahlo’s great-niece over claims that the dolls misrepresent the artist. 
 
As the Guardian reports: “In a Twitter post, the family’s official account, @FridaKahlo, wrote that a Mexico City judge had ordered the Frida Kahlo Corporation to stop using the ‘brand, image and work of the illustrious painter Frida Kahlo’ without permission from the owner of the rights.”
 
The issue of who owns what is also raging in the world of historical artefacts. The U.K.’s Scotland Yard is working with the governments of Egypt and Sudan to create a database of pharaonic antiquities that have been traded or kept in collections since 1970. This is the year of UNESCO’s Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The database, which will record 80,000 objects, is aimed at helping police and enforcement officers to track down provenance. 
 
The German government is also investigating provenance,  having provided grants to the German Lost Art Foundation. The funding will enable museums to research the provenance of artefacts from former colonies in cooperation with the countries of origin. The foundation, which mainly focuses on Nazi-looted art, will now look at the provenance of Germany’s ethnological collections.
 
In the art world it seems that value is not, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. An artwork sold five years ago for US$ 626,000 and deemed “unexceptional” has gone up for sale with an estimate of three to four million pounds. The inflation is the result of expert analysis that revealed the painting is by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens. The portrait, believed to be of Rubens’ daughter, will be sold at Christies in London in July. 
 
A set of paintings that have dramatically lost value recently have now been removed from the Musée Terrus in France and handed over to the authorities. Around 80 of the museum’s 140 works by local painter Étienne Terrus are believed to be forgeries, or to have been falsely attributed to Terrus. 
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