Jul 24, 2009

The FBI's Art Crime Team

Ulrich Boser has written a piece on the FBI Art Crime Team for the recent edition of the US News and World Report; it will also likely be a popular citation for law students composing student notes on art theft and cultural property crime for the next few years.  The piece discusses the work of the FBI, and how the special art unit was instituted after the 2003 Iraq invasion.  For contrast, consider that Italy's Carabinieri has had a special Art Squad for 40 years.

The piece focuses on the reasons for art theft, and how the FBI has worked to combat these thefts.  One of the most interesting recoveries was the theft of North Carolina's Bill of Rights:

During the final days of the Civil War, Union Army soldiers stole North Carolina's Bill of Rights out of the state Capitol. Commissioned by President George Washington, the document was one of only 14 copies created after Congress proposed the first amendments, and for more than 140 years, it remained missing. Then, in 2003, two antiques dealers tried to peddle the work for $4 million. A millionaire philanthropist showed interest in the document, claiming that he would buy the artifact on behalf of Philadelphia's Constitution Center. But the philanthropist was actually an undercover FBI agent, and investigators seized the document. "It was like touching history," one agent said.

It is an interesting piece, but one that has been written many times, without adding much new for those like me who read these kinds of pieces. 

I found the comments of Mark Durney, who blogs at Art Theft Central much more interesting.  It seems Durney was interviewed for Boser's piece, but his comments didn't make the final cut.  That's a shame, because Durney had a lot of interesting things to say about why many art crimes go unreported; much of which has not been discussed before.  As Durney argued with respect to attracting traveling exhibitions, 

. . .  I described how museums and cultural institutions are often wary of reporting thefts as it can discourage other institutions and individuals from loaning works of art for special exhibitions - the cash cow for many institutions. To confirm my suspicions that special exhibitions are a source of considerable income I examined the 2006-2007 financial reports of several high-profile art museums. For example, the Philadelphia Museum of Art reported an income of $1,839,449 from special exhibitions. This amounted to a shade over 29% of the museum's program service revenue ($6,281,637 - program service revenue is revenue from admissions, special exhibition ticket sales, concession sales etc., BUT not membership dues or government grants - usually the largest portions of an institution's total revenue). Another institution, the Wadsworth Atheneum reported that in 2007 its income from special exhibitions was more than double its income from regular admissions ($842,218 versus $401,527 respectively). Although special exhibitions can be great sources of income for museums, they are also instrumental in sustaining and attracting donors and grants.

Jul 22, 2009

More on the ARCA Masters

Elisabetta Povoledo this morning has a piece in the New York Times on the ARCA Masters program. There is an interview with a couple of the students, and as I pointed out earlier today, this program is the first of its kind; and in a way it is surprising it took this long to create.  I imagine a number of other organizations may have had similar kinds of ideas but never really got around to creating the program or getting it off the ground.  Of course there are a number of other workships and education initiatives, but those can be scattered and frustrating to keep up with.  As I told the students, I'm jealous of the opportunity they have to listen to the speakers and instructors they have lined up this summer. 

Here's an excerpt:

Universities around the world offer individual classes on art crime and related subjects: fakes and forgeries; intellectual- and cultural-property protection; looting. But Mr. Charney maintains that his program is the first to provide an interdisciplinary approach, and several scholars of art crime concurred, including Ngarino Ellis at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, who said the group “could make some important contributions to the awareness of art crime internationally.” The degree is not formally recognized by an accredited university, though Mr. Charney said he was in discussion with various institutions. (Tuition alone costs about $7,000.)

The first class of students includes art historians, lawyers, museum professionals, art conservators, a private investigator, even a retired United States Secret Service agent, an array that suggests that the subject has broad appeal.

“I was always interested in art, and now I can incorporate that interest in my business,” said John Vezeris of Annapolis, Md., who retired from the Secret Service and opened a strategic security and risk management firm.

For his thesis he wants to apply an analytical approach to structures at risk, like churches, and find the best — and cheapest — way to keep them secure. It was, he said, an area with a lot of potential for business.

Thoughts on Teaching Antiquities Law in Italy

We have just returned home to New Orleans after a terrific couple of weeks in Amelia Italy where I was teaching a module on antiquities law for the first ARCA MA program this summer, and presenting at the ARCA Conference.  I'll have more to say on the conference and Francesco Rutelli's comments tomorrow.  Today I want to highlight the MA program itself, and what a treat it was to teach antiquities law in Italy. 

It was a terrific experience teaching in that setting, where heritage is often just outside your door.  We had a lot of fun, but I also came away impressed with the ARCA program and what the Director, Noah Charney and all of the students are trying to create.  The students were a great bunch, and will no doubt go on to do some exciting things in the heritage field.  We are at a point now where these laws and policies are increasingly complex and are playing more prominent roles in all fields from collections management, curatorship, archaeology, art history, conservation, and of course purchasing and selling of antiquities.  Consequently, I think it will be increasingly important for all of these field to incorporate some component of heritage education and crime prevention into their body of professional knowledge. 

Heritage issues and art crime are both under-examined I think; and the opportunities to study or even teach these important ideas are sadly far too rare.  That is changing I think, and one of the real treats I had in Italy were some of the exciting ideas and discussions which the ARCA MA students were able to generate.  One of the frustrating things about antiquities policy in particular is it often devolves into a set of entrenched arguments, and partisans on both sides often have difficulty acknowledging the gaps and flaws in their own reasoning.  Teaching a course was terrific for me because it exposed some of my own gaps, but also reaffirmed some things, and helped to crystallize my thinking. 

I think perhaps the best example of that may be this statute of Germanicus, located in Amelia's Archaeological museum, and located right next door to the public library where we had classes.  This statue was found just outside the city walls in 1963, in pieces, where the Roman campus would have been.

One of the questions which we all write and think about when we discuss art and heritage is where do these objects belong, and this beautiful bronze was a great catalyst for that kind of discussion.  Amelia is not a particularly big town with a population of perhaps 15,000, and it doesn't receive all that many tourists, because it doesn't have a railway station and there are other sights to see in Umbria.  As a result, there may be some room to question whether Germanicus belongs in Amelia, as opposed to Peruggia, Rome, or even Paris or London or Malibu.  After all, not as many people can view the statue in Amelia; and the conservation techniques may not be as sophisticated as at the World's leading arts institutions (apparently the conservators may have been a little too liberal with the green paint when they touched up the statue).

However all the ARCA students seemed to agree that there is no better place than Amelia for this Bronze.  And they weren't a bunch of radical archaeologists, their backgrounds were pretty diverse.  The reason they agreed I think is that they had become connected to the daily rhythym of the city, they knew the butcher, the guys who run the wine bar, the bar where the locals hang out on Sundays, the restaurant owners, and they can see I think how important heritage and culture is to this city; and as a result, when we discussed the bronze, we asked a number of questions that I'm not sure you would have asked if you saw this bronze in Rome, or Paris, or London, or even Malibu. 

Germanicus was removed from this living and vibrant culture which clearly respects and values its traditions and heritage.  Where was the statue located?  Why was it located just outside this gate, the Porta Romana?  Why was it cut up and buried?  Why was Germanicus such a beloved figure?  As we learned from the staff at the Archaeological Museum, this Bronze was apparently cut up and buried later when Christianity gained influence in the Roman Empire and these bronzes and statues were being cut up or destroyed to make way for other images.  So you can see this remarkable bronze, just a few steps away from where it would have been on display hundreds of years ago. 

These are a very different set of questions than would have been asked if this statue was on display somewhere else, and I had a very different visceral reaction on seeing Germanicus then when I saw the "Bronze Statue of A Victorious Youth" at the Getty Villa for example.  So antiquities law and policy, which starts with the quesiton of where theese objects belong, and how they should be excavated; probably could not have been taught in a much better setting in my view.  Context was all around us, and it was a terrific open-air classroom. 

Jul 21, 2009

Arkansas Couple Sentenced for Looting Federal Sites

An Arkansas couple has been sentenced in federal court for looting stone tools, arrowheads and other objects from sites near the Buffalo National River national park.  After a plea agreement, William Graves was sentenced to six months in federal prison, with one year of probation for a felony count of violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979; his wife was sentenced to a year of probation for a misdemeanor violation.  They must also pay $4,613 in restitution.  Why does looting continue?  These are not particularly stiff penatlties, particularly when compared to other kinds of theft, and the monetary value placed on these objects is not really high, nor is there enough attention paid to the archaeological record which is distorted when these objects are removed. 

From the Springfield News-Leader:

The couple, William A. Graves and Misty Graves, were caught near the site in January, after park rangers were alerted to recent looting at a well-known archeological site in the upper district of the park, according to a news release from the National Park Service.

At the time of the arrest, William Graves was carrying digging tools and wearing boots that matched impressions found near the looting site, the park service said, while his wife was found with their vehicle at the trailhead in possession of several artifacts and a pick.

A search warrant at the Graves’ home turned up additional tools and evidence, the release said. After a six-month investigation, the Graves were indicted in federal court. William Graves, who subsequently admitted digging in the park, also turned in “71 stone tools, projectile points, or other artifacts” he said came from the site, authorities said.

Jul 17, 2009

Medici Conviction Upheld

[medici_sarpedon.jpg]An Italian appeals court this week upheld the conviction of Italian art dealer/smuggler Giacomo Medici according to a report by Steve Scherer for Bloomberg.  Medici had been convicted of conspiracy to traffic in antiquities in 2004 and sentenced to a 10-year term.  It seems to be a very stiff sentence when compared to most art and antiquities crimes.  The Appeals court in Rome upheld the conviction and set the sentence at eight years, while upholding a 10 million-euro fine.  Italian Prosecutor Paolo Ferri told the LA Times that this was a "very hard sentence. This is the first time in Italy that this type of crime has been given such a high punishment."

This is the most recent culmination of the 1995 raid on the Medici warehouse in Switzerland which uncovered objects, polaroids, and otherevidence which has resulted in a number of repatriations from museums all over the world, but particularly North American museums.  Here of course is Medici, triumphantly posed next to one of his most notorious objects, the Euphronios Krater, when it was on display at the Met in New York.

This now leaves Marion True, former curator of antiquities at the Getty, whose criminal prosecution is currently ongoing.  One question worth asking is, where are the other dealers, tombaroli, and museum staff?  Where were those able to elude prosecution, not just in Italy, but in the United States as well.

I'll have much more on this, and Italy's cultural policy next week in light of Francesco Rutelli's comments at last Saturday's ARCA conference in Amelia Italy, including his thoughts on what other objects need to be returned, why they were sent back, and his thoughts on objects which had been acquired by Robin Symes.

Jul 14, 2009

Francesco Rutelli on the Euphronios Krater

File:Villa Giulia cortile 1040216-7.JPGThis Saturday I participated in the ARCA Conference on the study of art crime in Amelia Italy.  I'll have a lot more to say about my time in Italy, ARCA, and the masters course generally in the coming days, but I wanted to share one of the highlights.

One of the speakers, and the recipient of one of the ARCA awards was Francesco Rutelli, former Culture Minister of Italy.  Following his short discussion there was time for a couple of questions, and I was able to ask about his thoughts on the current disposition and position of the Euphronios Krater, on display here at the Villa Giulia.  Michael Kimmelman had an interesting piece last week in the New York Times, arguing "Italy’s biggest prize in the war against looting antiquities went on view recently at the Villa Giulia in Rome" but that "Italians didn’t seem to care much".  I found that to be pretty typical, as an American visiting Rome, itis not really easy to see how or it can be quite difficult to find where the Krater, or many of the other returned objects are currently on display, particularly in a city and country with so many beautiful objects and heritage sites, wich  which truly is an enormous open-air museum. 

I asked Rutelli about that, about how Italian's don't seem all that interested in the Krater and how not many people are visiting it.  He responded with what I thought was a pretty thoughtful answer.  He stated that the piece is in "the correct place" and that in "scientific terms it is correct".  It is an Etruscan object, and the Villa Giulia is the Etruscan museum—arguing that if the piece had been properly and legally excavated from Cerveteri, this is where the piece would have been displayed.

He did acknowledge though, that there may have been problems with "publicity and information", a problem he traces to the current government, which he argued "should do more", and these repatriated objects should all be displayed together as part of a meaningful message. 

He had a lot of interesting things to say, and the presentation of the award, and the audience of ARCA Masters students, interested observers, and reporters gave him an opportunity to look back on the repatriations of the last few years; and of course he was the public face of much of the negotiations between Italy and many North American museums.  Though he did point out that it was not just North American institutions.  Repatriations were also reached with Japanese and other European institutions—a fact often overlooked.  I'll have much more to say about his other comments, which included Robin Symes, and a kind of a response to James Cuno, in the next few days.

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