How A Family Law Attorney Can Help

Why Would You Need to Retain an Art Lawyer?

The law permeates all aspects of American life, and the art world is no different. You might wonder who would ever need to hire an art lawyer and why. Let's address both of those questions.

Buying and Selling

The simplest reason someone might need an attorney of this type is to have legal counsel for art transactions. Folks who buy art as an investment, for example, may need to document provenance. Similarly, if the art comes from a country with a troubled history, they may also need to document their legal right to buy the art in the face of laws restricting the appropriation of cultural artifacts.

Sellers often need counsel, too. An artist has to deal with lots of business issues, but they also have to handle art-related concerns on top. They may have to provide an attestation of provenance, for example.


Especially when transfers of art involve public institutions, there are often regulations involved. For example, a government agency may need an art lawyer to assist with compliance with state laws that limit expenditures. The attorney will have to document what was spent, how the art was transferred, and where it went. Likewise, they will have to attest to who authorized the transaction.

You will encounter these problems in some public works projects, too. Some cities require a certain percentage of public works budgets to go to art. Usually, this involves projects that include public funds. An art attorney can document the expenditures to make sure the project meets the rules.


Unsurprisingly, art law overlaps with estate law in many cases. Especially if the estate involves litigation, an attorney in that field may need to discuss the treatment of the artworks with an art lawyer. This could include questions about valuations for both estate and tax purposes. If the art has to move to a new jurisdiction, there may even be laws covering its transfer.


It is easy to focus on legal counsel for art transactions that involve finished works. However, many artists sign contracts to perform jobs. These contracts often come with requirements from the buyers. Likewise, many artists will want an art lawyer to add stipulations regarding the display or even ownership of the artwork in question.

Such issues can get complex when work is in progress. For example, what counts as a finished version of the artwork? Ideally, the contract will resolve such questions.