AuthorKadhim, Noor


Elgar Practical Guides, 2019, ISBN 9781788979894, 456pp.


Did you know that you'd need to ask Campbell's Soup for permission if you wanted to put their soup cans in your artwork? Unless you're Andy Warhol. In practice, Campbell's were smart enough to realise that soup cans would sell much better if Warhol 'advertised' them in his artworks, so they let him off scot free.

Colourful anecdotes such as this, which highlight how the formalism of the law interacts with the realities of business, make Martin Wilson's comprehensive book, Art Law and the Business of Art, stand out. In fact, Wilson's USP is simple: he uses captivating stories, drawn from his extensive auction experience, and through them brings out the most relevant nuggets for everyone in the 'business' of art (from artists to collectors to auction houses and museums). The other great thing about this book is that it explains a huge range of applicable legislation and regulations affecting art market professionals in a succinct way. In other words, this book illustrates perfectly the marriage between law and business as it applies to 'art', in all its guises.


Martin Wilson has over 20 years' litigation experience, joining Christie's (London) legal department in 1998 after working for multinational law firms. He became Co-Head of its Legal and Compliance department, before moving to Phillips in 2017 to lead its legal department as Chief General Counsel.

Summary of the text

The book has eighteen chapters, divided by topic. Although it was to be expected that the author's auction house background would influence the book's focus on auction house practices, Wilson comprehensively covers many other important topics. The handbook also spans a broad remit including artists' rights, ownership and authenticity, private sales, Holocaust restitution claims, cultural heritage protection, CITES, freedom of expression and censorship, taxation, moving artworks (shipping, insurance, import/ export controls), museum purchases and deaccessioning, art investment funds, general anti-bribery compliance, data protection and confidentiality.

The style is simple and accessible and the author zones in on the most pertinent and contentious issues. Wilson makes clear what the purpose of each chapter is at its outset. Pragmatically, Wilson appears to have taken the view that there is no point talking about marginal or highly specific problems, or at least not in an overly detailed way which is a relief for readers if they have limited time and want to get straight to the point. This is a general work intended to encompass many areas and is concerned with highlighting the flagship concerns. It is also a lot more readable, as a result.

Wilson has also attempted to cover contemporary developments, which are becoming relevant for the next generation of art market participants. For instance, he discusses the consequences of current Facebook and Instagram policy for photography in the copyright chapter, as well as artificial intelligence-created works. An interesting development these days is the explosion of 'NFT' (non-fungible token) artworks; the book foresees these issues and others (such as the use of blockchain) and predicts the kind of issues the law will need to grapple with in due course. For instance, in the moral rights discussion, the effectiveness of such rights is gauged against challenges posed by modern times and the advent of the digital communication age. In the auction process, Wilson describes relatively modern developments such as guarantees and how they work, including their controversial aspects such as their opacity and perceived unfairness.

Another current issue addressed in the book is the oft-avoided subject of regulation in the art world. Notably, Wilson describes the European Parliament's actions in 2016 in producing tighter anti money-laundering regulations--expressly applicable to intermediaries in the art market (such as dealers/auction houses). From a compliance perspective, the fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive which came into force from 1 January 2020 targets art intermediaries, who will have to undertake customer due diligence. Wilson explains how this will likely affect an agent's ability to keep confidential the identity of their principal. There is also a chapter that deals with bribery, to complete the picture of the applicable criminal law that people operating in the still mostly unregulated art market must beware of.

Finally, the book has more than just a functional purpose. Wilson takes time to ask questions with a societal importance, and even raises...

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