Former Met lawyer to advise private collectors and museums

Reflecting the continuous rise in the value of art and importance of provenance

After 23 years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ashton Hawkins, 64, will become a consultant to the Met and begin an affiliation with the law firm, Gersten, Savage and Kaplowitz. He plans to advise individuals on making gifts to museums. A longtime mondain as well as a respected attorney, Mr Hawkins probably knows more of these individuals than any other member of the New York bar. He has also signed on to represent the Neue Galerie, a new museum devoted to German and Austrian art of this century funded by the collector Ronald Lauder, who has had his own battles with works of doubtful provenance. Mr Hawkins will also represent collectors. “People are more aware of warranties and of provenances. People are more aware of themselves in the event of prior histories that they didn’t know about,” he says. Mr Hawkins says he does not expect to represent clients making claims against museums. Indeed, Mr Hawkins is expected to be a voice in support of museum interests and against new efforts to regulate museums or the art market, especially in the field of export control.“Museums have come into the world in a way that they hadn’t when I first visited the Met,” says Mr Hawkins, who expects advising museums to be part of his practice. “I’m eager to do it, because I have accumulated a lot of experience in this area, and I think it’s helpful to pass it along, as I have done for years.” One advantage, Mr Hawkins says, is that “there are not so many lawyers in private practice in New York, in fact there are very few, in that field. The big firms don't really care about this stuff because they can’t make a lot of money off of it. On the other hand, as the value of art continues to rise, the controversies can sometimes be very fierce. Think of the legal fees for the Museum of Modern Art in the Schiele case: more than a million dollars.”

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 114 May 2001