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Sunday, January 8, 2012

THE LAW VS SCHOLARSHIP


The law vs scholarship
Taking academics to court over authentication issues is eroding independent expertise

By Georgina Adam and Riah Pryor. News, Issue 230, December 2011
Published online: 08 December 2011

The news that a leading scholar felt constrained by legal advice from giving a full opinion on a group of drawings attributed to Francis Bacon highlights a growing fear among experts that they might be sued for giving their opinion.

On the advice of lawyers, Martin Harrison, who has published widely on 19th- and 20th-century art and is the editor of the Bacon catalogue raisonné, will only go as far as saying that these drawings, which some suspect are fakes, are “unlike any authenticated works”. An open seminar on these drawings is due to be held at the Courtauld Institute on 25 January.

A similar problem arose concerning a group of newly discovered “Degas” plasters last year. Opinion is divided over their authenticity, but a number of those expressing doubt, including the Degas scholars Richard Kendall of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts and Patricia Failing of the University of Washington, decided not to discuss the matter publicly.

“Many experts are reluctant to give their opinion in public because of the threat of legal action, which is in fact quite remote,” says Karen Sanig, the head of art law at Mishcon de Reya, London. “This perception is having a freezing effect on scholarship. It has [become] increasingly obvious as a problem over the past six months, partly due to the coverage of authentication issues in the press.” With the prices of 20th-century art rising so strongly over the past decade, it is little surprise that these disputes have become so heated.


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