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Art Lawyer Emelyne Peticca in Conversation with Laura Harris about NFT's and the Art Market.

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

Emelyne Peticca is a French, London based Art Lawyer working at Constantine Cannon LLP.

Laura: Welcome, Emelyne!

Emelyne: Hi! I'm practicing as a lawyer in Commercial Dispute Resolution Lawyer at Constantine Cannon. How I came into Art Law is, it was a bit of a surprise at first. I've always had that very strong interest in art. As a child my mum would take me to the textile museum, we would go and see the gowns, paintings and the mosaics and arts and crafts were very much present in my childhood. I didn't see art at the time becoming something beyond an element of my personal life. So, I parked it to one side and became interested in becoming a lawyer and I started studying Law at university. Along the way teachers started asking me "What area of law do you want to specialise in, where do you see yourself?"

I became very interested in Intellectual Property, which isn't so far away from Art because for those who don't know, one aspect of Intellectual Property is Copyright and Copyright Law protects the rights of authors and can be applied to works of art.

So, I started becoming more and more interested in that field and I got more experience at a Paris Law Firm while I was studying in Paris. Then I took a course at university in Intellectual Property with the focus on artistic and literary works and that was just fascinating. I was so fascinated and this is something I could relate to. I was building interest little by little, going to events, confirming my interest at each step of the way and yes, that's how I came to discover Art Law and then I applied to Christie’s Education.

Laura: Absolutely!

Emelyne: I studied the Masters in Art Law and Business to go deeper into the Art Law field and also, I think broaden my horizon a bit, as I think after undergrad I needed something different, I needed to challenge myself a bit and see something different from the law.

Laura: Definitely, it's a very dry subject, isn't it? Being in a city like Paris, I guess you were immersed in art industry without having to do much, because it's such incredibly vibrant city culturally, isn't it? Amazing museums and people moving through Paris, I guess you were in the right place to come to the conclusion that you want to focus on the art market. That's interesting, I haven’t really thought about the connection with the Intellectual Property side of it, that there is a direct link, you can't really be an Art Lawyer without understanding that area of law really. So, what other elements in terms of Cultural Property Law do you focus on?

Emelyne: Of course! That's the million-dollar question because I think Art Law to start with is an umbrella term for many things, all the things you can think of that do affect the life of an artwork, from the point it is created, to transport and sale. I think to break things down a bit at Constantine Cannon, we structure things in three ways; we have litigation work, so everything that involves a dispute over an artwork, it can be an authenticity dispute or a dispute over the sale of an artwork. It can take many forms. Another side of our practice is the transactional aspect with all of the sales and purchases. It can also be a loan of an artwork to a museum or art finance, so it's very broad. We also have what we call a regulatory arm, where we advise clients on import and export issues and anti - money laundering has become a major topic in London. It could be Intellectual Property, Copyright or trading and then just species and the restitution of looted works, so it's very broad and the great thing about our practice at Constantine Cannon is that we really touch upon almost all of the areas that can affect the life of an artwork.

Laura: That is fascinating, am I right thinking that there are very few Art Lawyers, is that right?

Emelyne: I think it very much depends on the jurisdiction and the market, I think in the biggest markets; so, in the U.S, Asia, London and some places in Europe, this is definitely a bigger market than other places. I think that there's definitely been a shift in the number of people interested in becoming Art Lawyers and I think up to very recently, most of the lawyers who are Art Lawyers now would have only stumbled on Art Law by surprise. They would have been doing Company Law or Real Estate and then one day they would have a client coming in with an artwork. So they would have just fallen into it and then build a practice around it. The movie I'm thinking about is 'The Woman in Gold' with Ryan Reynolds; which deals with the restitution of an acclaimed painting 'The Woman in Gold' and the whole movie revolves around that Art Lawyer who tries to make that restitution possible. There’s an Art Lawyer in a Hollywood blockbuster, so you know I think things are changing and there's definitely a shift in what’s happening at the moment.

Laura: Sounds fascinating and I'm sure new roles are being created as time passes by and it becomes bigger industry than it already is. Is there that particular exciting project happening right now, or anything you want to share with us?

Emelyne: I'm working on a few things at the moment, there's one which I can share with you. So, I've worked over the past few months on a blog article which revolves around free ports. For those who are not familiar, the UK government announced a few months ago that it wants to reintroduce free ports in the UK. I've written a blog on how the UK proposal will affect the art market and this will be out very soon.

Laura: It’s like a sort of a counter balance to the issues of being created with Brexit?

Emelyne: Exactly! The initial plan was to boost trade and put the UK in a competitive position after Brexit. There have been so many concerns over the use that the Art market could make of these free ports and how it can avoid building on other scandals that occurred in other countries, so it is a very interesting project.

Laura: Do you have like a highlight in your career that you would like to share with us?

Emelyne: Well, every case that comes in for me is a highlight in some way because I get to see the pictures and I spend those five minutes just having a look at the pictures and just me being fascinated by the work is a highlight in itself.

Laura: Have you been starved of seeing objects for a while then in the pandemic?

Emelyne: You know you mentioned Paris and the Francois Pinot museum that has just opened, and I was thinking what a shame that we can't visit.

Laura: Absolutely, absolutely so many things to talk about what about the subject, what about the Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen? Let me know are there any good films I need to watch?

Emelyne: I enjoyed watching the last one that went out on Netflix about the Isabella Gardner Museum.

Laura: I haven't seen that.

Emelyne: Yes, they built it as a mini-series retracing from the moment of the theft to where the art work could have gone, so it's not one of these stories where they can trace back and say, oh this is where they were, but I think it is interesting, really interesting.

Laura: So, what are the plans coming up? Do you think now that the lockdown has sort of finished in the UK, do you think things will pick up again in the market? Or have you been busy throughout?

Emelyne: We have been busy throughout lockdown and I think the art market has tried to react in many ways. I have the impression that the effects of Brexit are somehow hidden or blurred by covid, so I think in the next few months we might see things unfolding a bit more.

Laura: Yeah, you are right, actually Brexit lingered, it did linger for like four years or something; and like COVID, it looks like it is lingering a bit too long. But it is interesting times I think a lot of things are happening in the art market in general. And according to the art newspaper, there is always something happening. Also, there is some sort of digital explosion of activities, is that kind of the way you do business or has it always been quite digital, do you feel it changed the way you worked over the past year?

Emelyne: A number of my team are very much involved in being at the fore front of what is happening in the law legal sphere. We’re very much interested and proactive in that sector and understanding how these new developments affect the legal sphere. In terms of how it affects our work, I think that a large proportion of transactions do happen in a traditional way. Take a medieval art dealer for example, how do NFT’s matter to him? Probably not so much. I think in the past few years, there have been changes coming in. They've come in a way that has been revolutionary if that makes sense, Blockchain was at the forefront a few years ago and now NFT is building up on that, so I think every time changes are coming, they are revolutionising the market in a way.

Laura: If you look at something like the cheques, the physical cheques that people used to write, the banks tried to completely abolish that a few years ago and it was a total disaster and they had to keep them for some reason, we want our cheques, we don't want everything to be digital, it’s really interesting. I just think that we can have NFT ‘s and we can still have physical artworks as well. We don’t have to have one or the other, it’s always like every time there is a disruptor, you can only have one thing. We have both things, it’s not just digital and nothing else.

Emelyne: Exactly, every time these new developments come about there is always a group of people asking whether that's a bubble and some people may say yes, but I think we also need to think about what the art market will look like in twenty to thirty years’ time. I think it is important that we stay open to these kinds of things. For me, it is exactly the same thing as cheque books for instance, I don't expect my grandma to buy an NFT. There are likely to be players in the art market who don't necessarily have the appetite for that because they are happy with the way they trade. I actually like your point about having things balanced and making sure we move forward!

Laura: Ironically, having said that, if someone gets an inheritance, it’s going to be Grandma’s money they are spending on the NFT!

Emelyne: What is your take on things as an artist how do you see yourself going digital?

Laura: From an artist's point of view, I find NFT very depressing. I just think it's horrible but I mean I'm not against digital per se, it's just the whole NFT thing, the fact that it’s been spoken about like it’s incredibly democratic, to me there is nothing democratic about it. You have to have the technology and the understanding of the platforms to be able to be on those platforms in the first place. So how is that democratic? And even if you're on the platform, is not that easy to set it all up, from what I have heard and read, it is not just easy as simple as it’s been made out to be. I’m not against it, I just also think a huge volume of money around the cost of NFT slightly raised the alarm bell for me. This makes me feel uncomfortable from an artist point of view. From a market point of view, I think it’s exciting that there are new things happening, don’t get me wrong, it means people are talking about the art market in a different way now, because obviously the NFT thing became popular in the last few months, partly because of the coronavirus and lockdown. So I do feel slightly uncomfortable about it.

Also, for me, art is a tangible thing, which people have been carrying around with them for hundreds of years, it’s been taken under their arms, during wars, traveling from one place to another, and all of those incredible art dealers within the industry moving art around. You can’t do that with NFT, you can’t put it in your handbag, and take it up on a ship. You know I like the fact, that when I sell my artwork at my exhibition, people literally put the art in their suitcase. And that kind of emotional transaction, it’s just not there with NFT. So, I also find that depressing. I am not saying it shouldn’t exist, I’m just saying I feel slightly uncomfortable at the moment and it’s absolutely not democratic. They should stop saying this is so accessible, because it’s not accessible. I also feel the technology will become out of date at some point.

Emelyne: I know and there have been loads of concerns raised about the impact on the environment as well, I understand that a pretty powerful machine is needed for blockchain to work. I'm hoping that a way will be found to still go ahead with these exciting technologies whilst taking the environment into consideration.

Laura: I think at the moment, it’s very much the sub-culture; it’s not really what everybody is engaging in across the board, it is very much a tiny group of people, tech people really that are involved in it and despite the amount of money being spent on NFT, it’s a small group of people.

Emelyne: I think that you might still have people taking your artworks out of the gallery in suit cases.

Laura: I love that idea, I like that idea that my art is on someone’s wall in Miami. That is what interests me about the art market. It doesn’t excite me thinking about blockchain or NFT.

Emelyne: Yeah, I really get it, it's going back to the roots of art collecting

Laura: That is a really good word to use, I agree. I know the transactional history is all stored in the blockchain, but to me, it kind of takes away a lot of the mystery in a way of the whole concept of an art transaction.

Emelyne: I think it's interesting with all technology, there's what they call the hype cycle, everyone starts to get really excited, and then when people start realizing how it actually works, the curve sort of starts going down a bit, and then it sort of plateaus after that. I think it will be interesting to see how it develops.

Laura: Definitely, My final question is, where do you want to be in five years’ time Emelyne? Do you see yourself running your own art legal firm or move up the ladder at Constantine Cannon?

Emelyne: I think I like the idea of working as a team, there's so much that I’ve learnt and continue to learn from my team at Constantine Cannon, so it’s something I see myself building on.

Laura: I can see that, if we want to read your blogs, where can we read them?

Emelyne: The Art Law group at Constantine Cannon has a LinkedIn account where we post news about what we do, what we get involved in and we have a blog where we post our articles, its called art@law , just google that, you will be able to find everything about what we write.

Laura: Emelyne it's been so lovely to speak with you, thank you for joining me and am really looking forward to see you in real life very soon.

Emelyne: Thanks so much for having me Laura, I hope to see you really soon.

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