Steven Thomas is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Irell & Manella LLP, where he is the head of the art law practice group. He began teaching a course in Art and Cultural Property Law at UCLA School of Law in 2001. Mr. Thomas advises on the many varied aspects of the purchase, auction, sale, and collection of fine art, as well as cultural property, fine collector cars, memorabilia and collectables. The foregoing include national and international transactions among private collectors, dealers, museums, galleries, and auction houses. His practice in these areas includes addressing the key elements of such transactions, as well as due diligence, and pitfalls and protections, for buyers and sellers. Mr. Thomas' practice also includes planning for, and consideration of, foreign, federal, and state tax consequences (including sales, use, income, and personal property taxes); customs, export and import concerns; art insurance; intellectual property and domestic and foreign moral rights; resale royalties; and cultural heritage, treaty, and patrimony matters, among others. Mr. Thomas counts among his clients some of the world’s foremost collectors and artists, and several of his clients are trustees at a variety of major museums.
As an example, in 2006, Mr. Thomas represented Maria Altmann and negotiated the sale to the Neue Galerie of what was internationally then recognized as the world's most expensive painting, Gustav Klimt's Gold portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, restituted to the Bloch-Bauer heirs by Austria and the subject of numerous books and a major motion picture. Mr. Thomas has also advised on several other world record-setting art transactions, both privately and at auction, including the largest ever private art purchase. He has also advised on a number of unique transactions involving high end collectibles, ranging from a Shakespeare first folio to a civil war battlefield flag to a dinosaur egg clutch to flight worn spacesuits and screen used flying saucers. Mr. Thomas has also negotiated and advised on world record-setting transactions involving high-end collector automobiles, including advising on the sale in May 2010 of, the world's then 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. In his representation of collectors, he has negotiated some of the largest ever single owner fine art auction consignments and auction house guarantees, including several resulting in world auction records. In 2012, Mr. Thomas represented The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in negotiating the precedent-setting long-term consignment arrangement to sell works of art from the Foundation's collection through live and 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 Estate Planning magazine. Mr. Thomas has drafted loan agreements for single and multiple works of art to various museums and exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, including addressing tax, copyright, insurance, export, import, and anti-seizure concerns. Mr. Thomas also advises private collectors on charitable gifting of art to museums, other institutions and foundations. He has also advised on both public and private commissions of art, for large public and private developments including stadium arenas, town centers and major retail and resort projects.
Mr. Thomas has lectured on art law topics at several law schools and universities (USC Gould School of Law, Stanford Law School, Columbia Law School's EASLS Symposium, University of Florida Warrington College of Business Poe Center for Business Ethics, among others). He also lectures on art law topics at conferences (including ALI-ABA, IBA, USC Tax Institute, Heckerling Institute, Museum Trustee Association Director's Forum, National Business Institute, and USPTO Global Intellectual Property Academy), and museums, and art fairs. Mr. Thomas has also authored a variety of articles on art law issues. He is also frequently quoted, and some of the transactions he has handled or advised on have been described, in a variety of publications, including AP, Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, The Guardian, Art in America, The New Yorker, Forbes, the Art Newspaper, Art & Auction, ARTnews, The American Lawyer, Boston Herald, Robb Report, 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 New York's Museum of Modern Art Planned Giving Advisory Committee, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Professional Advisory Committee. Mr. Thomas earned his J.D. from Yale Law School.