House to protect foreign artwork, except artwork stolen by Nazis

The Hill 19 March 2012
By Pete Kasperowicz

The House on Monday afternoon will vote on legislation aimed at making it easier for foreign governments to lend works of art to be displayed in U.S. museums, without fear of having the artwork subjected to litigation once it enters the United States. But the bill to be voted on would exempt artwork stolen by Nazi Germany from these assurances.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) introduced the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act, H.R. 4086, in February. Chabot says his bill is meant to clarify the relationship between two existing laws that has made some foreign governments wary of temporarily exporting artwork to the United States.

"In order to present first-class exhibitions on a consistent basis, the Cincinnati Museum Center, the Cincinnati Art Museum and other similar museums across this country depend on foreign loans," Chabot said in February. "By enacting this legislation, we can remove a major obstacle to foreign loans and exchanges."

Currently, the Immunity from Seizure Act (IFSA) gives the executive branch the authority to grant artwork immunity from seizure by U.S. courts, which is meant to help encourage the exchange of culturally significant objects between nations.

But Chabot says this law has been complicated by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which in some cases can give courts jurisdiction over foreign governments when their artwork is displayed in the United States. Chabot notes that the American Association of Museum Directors has said this has prompted some foreign governments to decide against loaning their artwork to U.S. museums.

To fix the problem, Chabot's bill would add language to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act clarifying that artwork loaned to the United States for display will not open them up to claims under that law.

Chabot's bill does clarify, however, that artwork will not be protected from claims that the piece in question was taken by Nazi Germany between Jan. 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945.
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