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“This is not a movement I’m involved in. I’m not a movement lawyer,” Lawrence Kaye emphatically insists, sitting in a Park Avenue conference room that does not seem to belie his assertion. Still, it would be hard to imagine Kaye, perhaps the pre-eminent attorney in the field of art law when it comes to plaintiffs’ recovery of looted art and antiquities, arguing the other side. The 57-year-old Kaye does not like to be interviewed and bristles at being singled out. After all, Harry Rand, 90 and still active in the firm, started the art law group at New York’s Herrick Feinstein, and is still very much Kaye’s mentor. And Kaye and Howard Spiegler, 53, the third partner in the group, become each other’s right arms often and bloodlessly. Like many lawyers, Kaye came to his specialty serendipitously. In 1969, as a second-year law student at St. John’s University, where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review, Kaye interned at Rand’s firm, the now-defunct Botein, Hays and Sklar in New York. “I fell in love with Harry and his practice,” Kaye says, explaining why he went to work at Botein Hays. Rand had already begun what was to become a 14-year legal battle to recover two Albrecht D�rer paintings for the German Democratic Republic (GDR). They had been taken from the Weimar Museum by an American GI at the end of World War II, then sold in the United States for $450. The first question Rand had to resolve was on standing. Since the United States did not yet recognize the GDR, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) had sued. East Germany tried to intervene and felt the whack of the gavel at every turn as the case moved toward the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was denied cert. Kunstammlungen zu Weimar v. Elfocon. The D�rer case was still alive, though barely, in 1974, on a motion for rehearing, when the United States decided to recognize the GDR. Kaye made his first major argument in any court. As a result, the federal court in the Eastern District of New York allowed the GDR to intervene. The FRG withdrew its claim; another plaintiff, a duchess who claimed the art was awarded to her in her divorce from her husband, was dismissed in a summary judgment proceeding. Still, it would be nine more years before the works were returned to East Germany — just short of trial. Like D�rer, a painter, printmaker and theorist at the cusp of the 15th and 16th centuries who fused Gothic traditions with Italian forms of color and perspective, Kaye and Rand fused the laws of replevin, fraud, theft and commerce, and synthesized a body of art law. And as the Italian mannerists owe a debt to D�rer, nations and individuals wrongfully stripped of their arts and antiquities owe a debt to Kaye and Rand. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in Merrick, N.Y., by his mother, a teacher, and his father, a high school principal, Kaye had no particular predilection for art. And although he has spent almost 30 years in the art field, it is only in the last 10 years that he developed the knowledge and the eye to be able to distinguish a Matisse from a Monet. “We love museums and that’s why we can often settle things,” says Kaye. Herrick Feinstein’s reception area is fitted with a de rigueur plush leather couch and leather chairs and potted plants. But the 3-foot by 4-foot 1910 stone eagle that used to sit atop the old New York City Board of Education building in Brooklyn is a head-snapper. A plaque says it was saved from the wrecker’s ball, a bit of urban archaeology, but makes no other mention of its provenance. And in the art world, provenance is everything. PURCHASERS AND THIEVES After withstanding an eight-year legal challenge to it, the D�rer case reasserted what had been New York law for 100 years — that the good-faith purchaser of stolen property merely acquires a foreboding, an uneasy wait for a knock on the door by a rightful owner demanding her goods. It is this demand and a refusal that starts the running of the three-year statute of limitations for the recovery of chattel. Curiously, if the property was still in the hands of the thief, the three-year statute would begin to run at the time of the theft, although, arguably, the criminal might be precluded from raising such a defense. Most other states that have considered this issue start the statute running from the time the owner discovered or should have discovered the whereabouts of the work of art that had been stolen. Typically, art and antiquities change hands many times, and museums and collectors have thus far all claimed to be good-faith purchasers and not thieves. Take the Lydian Hoard as an example, one of Kaye’s, Rand’s and the antiquities world’s most prominent cases. The 6th century B.C. booty — consisting of 363 artifacts that included vessels, jewelry, wall paintings and marble sphinxes — was looted from Turkish burial mounds in 1966 and soon found itself in the basement of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where the unannounced $1.5 million acquisition was hidden for 25 years. In a 1984 exhibition, some of it surfaced, in a failed curatorial sleight-of-hand, labeled as “East Greek” treasure. It was then that the Turkish government began its investigation. At the same time, the Met quite stunningly sought to change the New York statute of limitations on replevin. Gov. Mario Cuomo vetoed the legislation in 1985 and again in 1986. The Turkish government made a demand on the Met in 1986 for the return of the goods; the Met refused. Kaye and Rand sued in 1987. The seemingly then well-settled statute of limitations took three years to litigate before the plaintiffs finally won. Republic of Turkey v. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, No. 87 Civ. 3750 [VLB], slip op. (S.D.N.Y. July 16, 1990). “No matter how smart you are, this is a tough field,” Kaye says. “It’s upstream. In the Met case, we were trying to recover what the Turkish government had never seen, prove that it came out of their country, that what the Met bought was the same thing and that the Turkish government had a law protecting those things.” Turkey does have a law on its books, dating from 1906, that asserts ownership of all undiscovered artifacts on or under its soil. In 1993, with evidence mounting that the Met had known at the time of its purchase that the Lydian Hoard had been illegally excavated, and with incontrovertible evidence matching the treasure to what had been excavated from the burial mounds, the Met settled the suit. Sending the hoard back to Turkey, the Met all but claimed it was doing so in a gesture of magnanimity. “Seeing the artifacts leave the showcases and the storeroom was an extraordinary feeling,” says Kaye, now a board member of the American Turkish Society. “A satisfying legal victory and a significant cultural event to reunite this patrimony to its people — an historic event.” Former Met director Thomas Hoving, who said he came to the job just after the last purchase of the Lydian Hoard, and left before it was returned, recalls Kaye as “an excellent man, a prince.” He says that Turkey was willing to cut a deal with the museum, but that the board was intransigent. “So the idiots lost the whole thing,” he said. “I was Kaye’s ace in the whole. I was going to testify on Turkey’s behalf.” Many of the Art Law Group’s successes have never seen a media spotlight. They are settled confidentially in offices, in conference rooms, in far-off cities, in the shadows. None has gone to trial. “Our goal,” says Kaye, “is to try to avoid the expense to our clients of protracted litigation.” Art recovery is expensive. In addition to legal fees, there are appraisers and experts from the fields of art, antiquities, art history, archeology and foreign law. “It’s a war between source states and acquirers of art,” Kaye says. “Often things are misattributed. Every day we confront new challenges.” A BROAD PRACTICE Though Kaye is mainly known for representing victims of art and antiquities theft, Kaye thinks of himself more generally as an international art lawyer. He also acts on behalf of living artists, art buyers and sellers and artists’ estates. In serving these clients, Kaye puts in more than 3,000 hours a year. He has three children, two in college: Michael, 21, at George Washington University, and Emily, 18, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin. “They announced they don’t want to be litigators,” Kaye says. “I worked long hours, wasn’t around enough. They want a different life. “But that could change,” Kaye adds hurriedly, as though wishing it were so, then laments, “I’ve always worked harder than I probably should.” Kaye lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with his 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, and his wife of 27 years, Joan, who gave up a high-powered job in real estate investment to enjoy her youngest child. “I think Joan would rather I didn’t work so hard, but she appreciates what we’ve accomplished,” Kaye says. Among his recent accomplishments are two in 2002: � He assisted the estate of German artist George Grosz in recovering Zeitideen, one of 24 of Grosz’s paintings lost to the Nazis. � He recovered a painting by J.W. de Cock and one by Anthony Van Dyck, entitled “Maria Magdalena,” for the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, a premier collector and dealer of old masters in the Netherlands before World War II. It was the first piece recovered of 1,400 artworks that Goudstikker left when he fled the Netherlands, 250 of which are in the Dutch National Collection and still the subject of litigation. THE ART WORLD RUMBLES Kaye will always go the extra mile. He represented Turkey when the final details of the near-collapsed Unidroit Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects was hammered out well after a midnight in Rome in 1995. The agreement expanded and further defined rights established in the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Museums everywhere are now much more circumspect about new acquisitions, partly because they hate paying for things they will have to give back. Changes are afoot, too, in the many civil-law countries where, under certain circumstances, bona fide purchaser status can still be conferred on the acquirer of stolen art and antiquities. But just recently, 18 major cultural institutions, including the Met, the Getty, the Louvre, the Whitney and the Guggenheim, signed onto a declaration that avows to take up the gauntlet and lock them away. The declaration states that absent exceptional, undefined circumstances, ancient artifacts — unless recently acquired — will not be returned to their countries of origin because the objects have “become part of the museums that have cared for them … part of the heritage of the nations which house them.” Kaye, who will surely take up the gauntlet when necessary to protect a client’s claim, could only shake his head incredulously at the museums’ stance. After all, the Met had cared for the Lydian Hoard by hiding it in its basement for 25 years, and then showed only some of it sporadically. In contrast, since its return to Turkey, the entire collection was displayed in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, in Ankara, before returning home to the Usak Museum in the very region from which the antiquities were looted. Millions of Turks and tourists have now seen the treasures. Kaye is currently preparing several Holocaust-era cases that he plans to commence early next year. They will likely have consequences for American museums. “This work is a blessing, restoring someone’s heritage,” Kaye says. “There are emotions involved, sometimes extraordinary, but you have to try and cut through them to do this job.”

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