Rosemont Art Advisory is extremely honoured to sit down and interview exclusively world’s most best kept secret in recovering stolen, looted, and missing works of art. A lawyer for over 30 years, Chris began his legal career as a litigator and became uniquely proficient in negotiating complex title disputes between collectors, dealers, museums and insurance companies, auction houses.
Christopher A. Marinello is one of the world’s foremost experts in Art Recovery International is a private company known for negotiating title disputes over stolen and lost art. Christopher Marinello has helped negotiate some of the most high profile restitution cases in recent years, such as the discovery and return of Matisse’s 1921 painting Seated Woman/Woman Sitting in Armchair, a Nazi-looted masterpiece discovered in a trove of art inside German collector Cornelius Gurlitt’s Munich apartment in 2012. In 2015, Marinello helped negotiate the painting’s return to its rightful owners: the descendants of famed modern art dealer, Paul Rosenberg. That same year, the company also helped recover and return a sculpture by Auguste Rodin which had been stolen and missing for 24 years.
We spoke with the stolen art expert about founding Art Recovery International, why due diligence is an important and inevitable step for everyone in the art world and what he finds most fascinating about his job.
Dear Christopher, how did you begin working in art law?
I initially went to art school and was not a particularly good artist. In fact, I was encouraged by others, including my art teacher, to study law instead.
My very first case out of law school was representing an art gallery in New York City.
I recall they were short of cash and paid me in artworks instead. The more I collected, the more work I did for artists, dealers, galleries and museums. I eventually developed a law practice to service the needs of my art world clients. They do tend to be a very needy group.
Art Recovery International is known to do a lot of work in the cultural heritage sector and resolving claims of stolen art.
Our speciality is in recovering stolen and looted works of art as well as resolving complex title disputes over fine art. We work closely with law enforcement and specialise in creative solutions that help our clients avoid expensive and time-consuming litigation. Our methods are always legal, ethical, and discreet.
We do know that you also help private collectors and you do quite a deal of pro-bono cases.
I obviously have a soft spot for young artists who have issues with their dealers or galleries but do not have the funds to pay a lawyer. I am also very interested in helping churches and cultural institutions recover objects that have been stolen. They often have nowhere else to turn. Virtually all my work in the cultural property sector is pro-bono.
Who are your clients?
I represent a large number of fine art insurance companies, family offices, Trusts, private art collectors, and families whose artwork was looted by the Nazis. Because of our success in this area, we get a lot of calls from art dealers worldwide who want to resolve issues over stolen or looted works of art in their possession. We are happy to take on these cases when the dealers demonstrate that they want to do the right thing and are willing to compromise. I’m pleased to say that we can fix almost any art related problem confidentially.
And what do you enjoy the most about taking on a new mission? How can clients get in touch with you?
I’ve always enjoyed developing the strategy to resolve complex art disputes. We are often approached by clients who have been bled dry by law firms charging exorbitant hourly rates while producing very little for the clients except unwanted publicity. Lately we have been hired by law firms who are looking for a more creative approach for their clients. Due to my extensive travel, the best way to reach me is through our website at www.artrecovery.com. With stolen art related matters, one has to be on call all the time and I tend to respond right away.
What is the main challenge you’ve encountered in recent cases through Art Recovery?
Lately, we have been involved in helping victims in some very high profile art fraud cases. Modern technology is a double-edged sword. It aids criminal fraudsters who have found new ways to deceive the art market. At the same time, technology is allowing us to track these fraudsters and provide some measure of justice for our clients. Law enforcement worldwide is generally understaffed and underfunded and needs to catch up with issues of high tech art fraud. Sadly, they still consider art fraud a rich person’s problem and tend to push these cases off their desk.
And are there areas where you feel the art market needs a global regulation, will it ever be regulated and if so how will it help the art market and its actors? Would such regulation help you and your clients? How can collectors be educated in compliance and due diligence
I know it’s quite fashionable to say that the art market is completely unregulated but almost every jurisdiction has significant regulations on the books that affect the market. The problem is that not everyone complies with those regulations and enforcement is pathetic. Due diligence has never been more important and it is not a foreign concept.
No one would buy a home without a proper survey and the purchase of a used car almost always involves a pre-check at a local garage. It’s the same with artwork. You must perform due diligence on the artwork you are handling as well as on the people you are dealing with. The non-profit Artive Database project is a good place to start. www.artive.org
What is your take on the newly appointed first court devoted exclusively to resolving art law disputes in the Hague, Court of Arbitration for Art CaFA?
I support any alternative to litigation of art related disputes. Litigating art cases is extremely expensive, time consuming, and damaging to the parties and the artwork itself. The only winners are the lawyers.
With regards to Nazi looted art, it seems that people are still hiding Nazi looted works of art, hoping that the victims or the claimants will go away, that they will lose interest, or lose their records, that the claim itself will change or that the law will change. How do you tackle such disputes.
These claims will never go away until the art world decides to deal with the issue head on. Hiding looted artwork, failing to disclose information, failing to perform proper provenance research is not addressing the problem. Many of my clients pass on their claims to the next generation of claimants who are willing to fight until justice is done.
I urge dealers, collectors, museums and governments to come forward now. By waiting, it is not going to get any better, I can assure you. I recognise that some possessors of looted artwork are good faith purchasers. We can offer anonymity throughout the process and a confidential settlement agreement resolving all issues.
What is your take on new technologies, AI, and block chain in art, especially provenance tracking and data exchange.
We certainly have been inundated with every new product that offers an AI or block chain component. It remains to be seen how these new technologies can assist in locating stolen works of art and whether block chain provenance will catch on with the Trade. However, I prefer to be open minded and optimistic that advances in this area will eventually assist victims of art crime and art fraud.
What was the last exhibition you saw and who is your favourite artist?
I’ve recently given a talk on stolen art at a primary school in London and was treated to a personal viewing of their latest exhibition, The Art of Saving our Environment. While there were no canapés or champagne, I can safely say that there are some wonderful young artists out there that are going to have a great impact on the art world.
For more information, please contact Karolina Blasiak or visit Art Recovery.