International Foundation for Art Research: IFAR

By Lydiate, Henry | Art Monthly, June 2009 | Go to article overview

International Foundation for Art Research: IFAR

Lydiate, Henry, Art Monthly

The internet continues to advance and develop the provision of high-quality, free-access information. IFAR is one such excellent and authoritative resource for current and historical information about art business throughout the world. It has recently launched two new unique and valuable online databases, which we will examine in detail: an international artlaw and ethical issues archive, and a wide range of artists' catalogues raisonnes.

Established in 1969 as a not-for-profit educational and research organisation, IFAR operates out of New York. It is 'dedicated to integrity in the visual arts', and provides 'impartial and authoritative information on authenticity, ownership, theft, and other artistic, legal, and ethical issues concerning art objects'. IFAR publishes a quarterly journal that includes a regular Stolen Art Alert compiled in conjunction with the Art Loss Register and Interpol; organises educational events (in the US) about art business; has a uniquely impartial Art Authentication Research Service that examines works of questionable authenticity or authorship (its experts have 'no financial interest in the outcome' of their research and opinions); and for over 30 years has operated an Art Theft Database, which stimulated the establishment of the international Art Loss Register in 1991.

Like most non-commercial arts and cultural organisations in the US, IFAR relies on individual and corporate subscriptions to finance its work. Unlike the UK's Gift Aid scheme, such subscriptions are wholly tax-deductable expenses for the donor under the US revenue tax code.

IFAR's original mission was, and still is, 'to meet a need for an impartial and scholarly body to educate the public about problems and issues in the art world and to research the attribution and authenticity of works of art'; and this was extended in the 1970s to include 'art theft and looting, and art and cultural property law and ethics'. IFAR has been especially active and influential in raising international public awareness of art looting during the Second World War, and in Iraq in recent times; and in influencing governments' restitution policies and practices, especially in the US.

It is worthwhile to consider in some detail the first of the two newly launched online databases: Art Law and Cultural Property, which has a comprehensive search facility with links to relevant external sources. There is direct access to international laws and regulations, and cases (mainly decided in the US) dealing with international ownership of cultural property, export laws, a legal glossary and relevant 'cultural affairs' contacts. Online entry to the website is without charge, though email registration is required to access specific materials and documents.

The first sub-tranche of the Art Law and Cultural Property database deals with International Cultural Property/Ownership and Export Legislation. A graphic world map invites the user to click to choose a continent or region, which reveals a list of countries from which to access specific documentary materials dealing with art export and ownership laws--in the original language and in English translation. Historical legislation is also included, which may be relevant to sourcing the rules of a country that operated them (and that will invariably still apply) at the time the art was acquired or imported or exported; as are relevant international conventions and bilateral agreements; plus contact information for appropriate 'government official(s) in each country to whom a query regarding the legality of acquiring a work can be addressed'. To maintain its authority and relevance, IFAR will need to update the data regularly, and promises to do so.

The entry for the UK, for example, offers wide-ranging and excellent resources, dealing among other things with: relevant UK legislation for the repatriation to its lawful country/owner of stolen or looted art; restrictions on export from the UK of works made more than 50 years before the date of export, depending on its market value--such as 'paintings in an oil or tempera medium' the value of which is 180,000 [pounds sterling] or more, or 'any [other] article' the value of which is 65,000 [pounds sterling] or more; ownership of 'treasure trove' (antiquities found buried in the UK); criminal penalties for knowingly dealing with 'tainted' cultural property; plus the UK's international obligations and agreements, such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention for the repatriation of art looted during the Second World War. …

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