Steven Thomas is a partner with Irell & Manella LLP and head of their art law practice group. Mr. Thomas has advised on the many varied aspects of the purchase, auction, sale, and collection of fine art, cultural property, fine collector cars, memorabilia and collectables, including national and international transactions among private collectors, dealers, museums, galleries, and auction houses. His practice in these areas involves addressing the key elements of such transactions, including title, authenticity, condition, value and provenance, as well as due diligence and pitfalls and protections for buyers and sellers. Mr. Thomas' practice also includes consideration of foreign, federal, and state tax consequences (including sales, use, income, and personal property taxes, and tax deferred exchanges); customs export and import concerns; art insurance (including art insurance review and negotiation of policy terms, provisions and endorsements); intellectual property (copyright, right of publicity and trademark), and domestic and foreign moral rights concerns; resale royalties; and cultural heritage, treaty, and patrimony matters, among others, as well as negotiating and drafting purchase and sale agreements, bills of sale, escrow agreements, consignment agreements, appraisal agreements, art advisor and consulting agreements, review on approval agreements, and introduction agreements.
As an example, in 2006, Mr. Thomas represented Maria Altmann and the other Bloch-Bauer heirs and negotiated the sale of what was internationally recognized at the time as the world's most valuable painting, Gustav Klimt's "gold" portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, restituted to the Bloch-Bauer heirs by Austria. Mr. Thomas has also advised on several other world record-setting art transactions, including the most valuable American painting ever sold. Mr. Thomas counts among his clients some of the world’s foremost collectors, foundations and artists, and several of his clients are trustees at a variety of museums. In addition to his work involving fine art, Mr. Thomas has also negotiated and advised on world record-setting transactions involving high-end collector automobiles, including negotiating the consignment agreement and advising on the sale in May 2010 of the world's most valuable car – the Williamson 1936 Bugatti 575C Atlantic.
On behalf of private collectors, Mr. Thomas has extensive experience negotiating auction (and private sale) consignment agreements with the world's leading auction houses, including some of the largest ever single owner fine art auction consignments and auction house guarantees, with several resulting in world auction records. In 2012, Mr. Thomas represented the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts regarding its collection of Warhol artworks, including negotiating the precedent-setting long-term consignment arrangement to sell artwork from the Foundation's collection through Christie's in live auctions, online auctions and private sales, establishing a new frontier for artist foundations in the global market. Mr. Thomas has also written an in-depth article on negotiating auction consignments for collectors, titled “Auction Consignment Agreements: Pitfalls and Planning Strategies,” published in the April 2009 edition of Estate Planning magazine.
Representing private collectors, Mr. Thomas has drafted and negotiated loan agreements for single and multiple works of art to numerous museums, both nationally and internationally, including addressing tax, copyright, insurance, export, import, and anti-seizure concerns, among other matters. Mr. Thomas has also advised on public and private commissions of art, involving individual and multiple works for large public and private developments including stadium arenas, town centers and major retail and resort projects.
Besides his teaching at UCLA School of Law, Mr. Thomas has lectured on art law at USC Gould School of Law and the University of Florida Warrington College of Business Administration’s Poe Center for Business Ethics. Mr. Thomas also lectures at conferences (including a variety of ALI-ABA and other bar association conferences, the USC Tax Institute, the Heckerling Institute, Museum Trustees Association, and the USPTO Global Intellectual Property Academy), museums, legal education programs, art fairs and art-related gatherings (including IFAR, Los Angeles Art Fair and ARCOmadrid) and universities.
Mr. Thomas has also authored articles on art law issues in a variety of publications, and authored an in-depth, practical guide for art collectors entitled, “An Overview of Issues of Interest to the Art Collector.” Mr. Thomas has been featured and quoted, and some of the transactions he has handled or advised on have been described, in a variety of articles regarding legal issues and other matters of interest to art collectors, including The Associated Press, Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, Forbes, the Art Newspaper, Art & Auction, ARTnews, BBC, Robb Report, Estate Planning Journal, BNA State Tax Notes, ABA Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Daily Journal, San Francisco Daily Journal and Private Wealth Management, among others. Mr. Thomas is also a member of the NY Museum of Modern Art Planned Giving Advisory Committee, and serves on the Board of the Inner City Law Center, a non-profit legal aid organization in Los Angeles.