The Art Law blog relayed to me today that the Rufino Tamayo painting rescued from a dumpster by one self-proclaimed “dumpster diver,” Emily Gibson, has sold for $1 million. Not bad. The episode isn’t particularly instructive, unless we do a little diving into the NYTimes article. Here are some excerpts that I number based on their chronological occurrence:

  1. “The couple reported the theft to the local and federal authorities, and an image was posted on the databases of the International Foundation for Art Research and the Art Loss Register.”
  2. “She had gone back to the Alexandria the day after taking it home and asked the doormen there if anyone could tell her who had put it on the street.”
  3. “A few months after she hung it in her apartment, she said, she called a friend who had worked at an auction house and described the painting to him. “He asked me if it had a signature,” she recalled. It did. […] But her friend did not seem very interested in her discovery, she said.”
  4. “There she saw several stickers — one from the Perls Gallery in Manhattan, now closed; another from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris, where it had been exhibited in 1974; and a third from the Richard Feigen Gallery in Manhattan. She called the Feigen gallery and told someone there about all the information on the labels. Days later, she said, the gallery called back to say it had no record of the painting.”

By my count, the dumpster diver sought information from four different sources, including both lay people and professionals in the art world, before she actually found a decent lead. Some of these people really ought to have had more of a clue. The lesson?

Information in the art world is diffused amongst thousands and thousands of entities who do not pool their information. While some do, and an INTERPOL notice might make some people glance, this is a drop in the bucket of the total community. Hopefully, the market will provide for more centralized databases of information a la Wikipedia and ARRD.