Aug 31, 2009

University of Utah to Act as Steward of Range Creek Canyon

Range Creek Canyon was an unknown archaeological site to a select few for the last century, but has recently gained a lot of recognition. It has some terrific remnants of the Fremont culture which disappeared about eight centuries ago. The land was owned by Waldo Wilcox who recognized the value of the sites and objects on his land, and kept. He sold the property to the state of Utah in 2001 for $2.5 million.

Given all of the investigation of looters in the region in recent months, it is perhaps worth remembering not all ranchers in the West view heritage as an exploitable resource. Arguably, the sites and objects were better cared for under Wilcox's watch when nobody knew about them. In 2007, a piece for the Denver Post notes the looting of some of the sites after they were publicized.

Now the University of Utah will exchange some of its other trust lands for stewardship of part of the Canyon. Among the remnants in the canyon are ancient settlements, grain storehouses, and rock paintings. Perhaps more careful protection will be possible, but currently there is one caretaker who spends 9 months there every year.

From the AP:

Artifacts from baskets to tobacco bundles suggest human life showed up in Range Creek hundreds of years earlier and lingered longer, but significantly, the large population seemed to virtually vanish by 1,200 A.D., for reasons not fully understood. Metcalfe said the canyon was occupied by the so-called Fremont people, descendants of the continent's original Paleo-Indians. As a culture, the Fremont were distinguished by their style of basket weaving, animal-claw moccasins and dual survival strategy of farming and hunting. Yet little else is known about them, including their ultimate fate -- the conventional explanation of drought is coming under question. The farming-dependent Anasazi south of the Colorado River also disappeared about the same time, for reasons archaeologists struggle to explain. Modern American Indians tribes insist they simply absorbed the ancient people. To gain control of Range Creek, the University of Utah is giving up about 4 square miles of deer and elk habitat next to the Gordon Creek Wildlife Management Area in Carbon County. That parcel is part of the university's trust lands granted at statehood. In return, the Division of Wildlife Resources will relinquish 2.3 square miles of parcels on Range Creek's canyon bottom. "It seems like a perfectly good idea to us," said John Andrews, the No. 2 ranking official at Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, which is acting as a broker for the trade. Andrews said his agency will hold title to the former ranch lands in Range Creek Canyon, but that the parcels will be controlled by the University of Utah and folded into its own set of trust lands, which are separate from the state's. Public access, now strictly controlled, won't change significantly under land covenants and congressional legislation approving the purchase of Range Creek Canyon, which was later transferred to the state, he said. Metcalfe said the university plans to rework some of the rules of public access to make research and the protection of sites a higher priority. Metcalfe supervises surveys and selective digs by graduate students at Range Creek, which is guarded by a locked gate. A university caretaker spends nine months of the year in the canyon, which is snowbound during winter.

Recovered Picasso a Fake?

The work of art recovered by Iraqi forces last week may be a fake.  This label on the back of the work has some spelling mistakes, and indicates the Louvre sold the work to the Kuwait Museum.  However the Louvre has said it has never had a Picasso. 

From the AP:


The London-based Art Loss Registry said it has no record of any paintings missing from the Kuwait National Museum, and no record of this particular painting as missing at all.  The Picasso Museum in Paris and France's national museum were searching their archives for signs of the painting, which Iraqi forces seized Tuesday during a raid on a house near Hillah, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Baghdad.  A local judge in Hillah, Aqeel al-Janabi, said Thursday the painting will be sent to Baghdad after an investigation but refused to provide details.  In a video released by the Hillah police, the man detained for trying to sell it, 33-year-old Maitham al-Issawi, said it belonged to his father, who gave it to him before his death. His father, al-Issawi, was an army officer who took part in the invasion of Kuwait, which led to the 1991 Gulf War.  In the video, officers hold up the canvas, which has fold marks on the front. Police have said the painting bears Picasso's signature but would not comment further Thursday.

More Fraud in the Art Trade

I'm just catching up to the indictment of a San Francisco art dealer, Pasquale Iannetti who was indicted in August on charges of wire and mail fraud for selling counterfeit works by Joan Miró. The indictment alleges Iannette acquired counterfeit prints, know they were fakes, and then duped customers into believing they were authentic. Pictured above is The Tilled Field, an authentic work, on display at the Guggenheim. 

It is a great thing that this smuggling ring has been uncovered, but there was a detailed and difficult investigation.  It seems Iannetti had connections to a larger fraud network with connections in not only San Francisco, but Illinios, Florida and New York.  Part of the investigation involved U.S. postal inspectors who flew to Italy to secretly record a meeting with an alleged supplier, and used invisible ink to mark the suspected fakes in New York, and posed as buyers.  Can the art trade do more to reform its own practices

Department of Justice Press Release

S.F. dealer accused of selling fake Miró prints [SF Chronicle]

Aug 28, 2009

Banks Impacting Art Exhibitions


"The income we have generated through increased business is superior to any income we could generate from selling the collection... Attracting even one individual client can cover the entire cost of lending a turnkey exhibition."

So says Rena DeSisto, head of "global arts marketing" for Bank of America in a piece by Robin Pogrebin for the NYT.  I take it as another sign that art goes where the money is.

It seems prominent banks have taken to lending works to American museums, including this work, Martin Wong's Brainwashing Cult Cons Top TV Star (c. 1981) recently donated by JPMorgan Chase to the Bronx Museum of the Arts.  Corporations and others have long sponsored art exhibitions, but recently museums have begun allowing Banks to put together complete exhibitions of their own works, and it may be a sign some museums are ceding curatorial control

Is this another signal of the impact the recession of 2008-09 is having on the arts?  Or is it more of the same.

The Association of Art Museum Directors does not have a policy on the practice.  Pogrebin's piece states:


The Association of Art Museum Directors has no policy governing shows organized by corporations and “would not be against it,” said Michael Conforti, the association’s president, “as long as the people involved felt comfortable themselves that a show complied with their curatorial standards.”  What museums need to be conscious of, art experts say, is creating the impression that these exhibitions enhance the value of corporate collections that might one day come to market. “A museum has to think very seriously about taking those shows,” said John Ravenal, president of the Association of Art Museum Curators and curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “The museum, by virtue of its stature and its public role, gives legitimacy or confers a certain kind of validity to these collections when it exhibits them. 

Hat Tip:  The Consumerist 

Aug 27, 2009

Metal Detecting Filling the Gap Left by Reduced Funding for Archaeology?

That's the gist of Maev Kennedy's extended piece on the U.K.'s Portable Antiquities Scheme in today's Guardian


A man out with his metal detector
As the money that funded an unprecedented explosion of professional archaeology during the economic boom years runs out, public hunger to peel back the past beneath our feet is helping to fill the gap. So the grots are identifying lost villages and settlements, Roman forts and temples, previously unknown trade routes; even mapping the slow ebb of the Roman empire from Britain.

By law, you must have a licence to excavate or remove even a pebble from a scheduled ancient monument or listed building, and all treasure finds anywhere must be reported. But anyone can pick up a metal detector – there are an estimated 180,000 in Britain – and take it into a ploughed field with the permission of the landowner. Fired by an unprecedented public interest in archaeology, thousands of people are doing just that, and the finds they report, often almost worthless in terms of cash, are proving true treasure.

"This is revolutionary stuff," says Sam Moorhead, a coins expert at the British Museum, who is in charge of the coins reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). "Gold doesn't map settlements – high-status coins could be hidden or lost anywhere. But where you've got 100 grots, you've got a settlement."

The grots have only been reported since 1996, when the PAS began establishing a national network of finds officers, to record and crucially map all the archaeological objects found by amateurs. The scheme has gradually forged a truce between most career archaeologists and the metal detectorists many previously regarded as little better than looters.

Reports of finds from bronze-age arrows to second world war cap badges are now running at 50,000 a year. Gradually, the detectorists realised that the archaeologists were interested in the rubbish in their grot pots. This week the scheme recorded its 400,000th object, a classic grot from Lincolnshire that has turned out to be a fabulously rare coin.
 For my thoughts on the PAS, see here.  For a published examination of how we might apply the PAS and some of its policies elsewhere, see here

Heirs Reject Spoliation Panel Ruling

Martin Bailey has an excellent piece for the Art Newspaper on a recent decision involving the U.K.'s Spoliation Advisory Panel.  The collection of experts helps to avoid restitution litigation and makes recommendations when descendants of Nazi-era art owners discover works of art may be in museums in the U.K.  The heirs of Dr. Curt Glaser pursued a Nazi-era claim that eight drawings, (including this drawing by Renoir) currently held by the Courtauld Institute were part of a forced sale in 1933.


The Spoliation panel disagreed:


A key piece of the evidence was a letter from Glaser to his artist friend Edvard Munch on 19 May 1933, the last day of the auction. He wrote that after the death of his first wife and falling in love again, “I have freed myself of all my possessions, so that I might start over again completely new”. Eleven days later he married Marie, and within a month or so they had left Germany. The panel felt that the letter to Munch suggested “mixed motives” behind’s Glaser’s departure, but the heirs dispute this, pointing out that he had had to flee because he was regarded as Jewish and had been dismissed from his job.
On 24 June the Spoliation Advisory Panel concluded that the claimants’ “moral case is insufficiently strong to warrant a recommendation that the drawings should be transferred to them”. Glaser had “obtained reasonable market prices at the auction”, namely 284 reichsmarks (around $1,200 at the time). The Glaser lawyer, New York-based David Rowland, disputes this, saying that “prices were depressed at the time, because other Jewish victims and intellectuals were also selling their belongings”.

Looted Picasso Recovered in Iraq

This work by Pablo Picasso, which was looted by an Iraqi soldier during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait has been recovered by Iraqi security forces.  The painting has clearly been folded, and is badly damaged. As usual, the trick isn't stealing a work, it is trying to sell it—even in Iraq. 

From the Times:


The soldier had been trying to sell it, allegedly asking for $450,000 (£278,000). The market value is estimated to be $10 million.  The masterpiece, which is signed by Picasso, was seized this week during a raid on the house belonging to the suspect near the mainly Shia city of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.  A security official said that the painting was tracked to the property, but officers feared that the suspect would burn the artwork if they attempted a raid, so they lured the man into the street where he was arrested.  The suspect claimed to be an electrician, but the official says that he is a former member of the security forces who has a relative from Mukhabarat (Saddam’s former security force) that entered Kuwait.

Aug 26, 2009

University of Iowa to Consider the Future of its Art Museum

From the press-citizen:

The University of Iowa has established an envisioning committee to consider options for the future of the UI Museum of Art, the university announced Tuesday.  The art collection was removed from the museum because of the 2008 flood, and then UI officials decided the facility was too vulnerable to ever house art again. The collection is scattered with some pieces on UI campus but most, including the famed Jackson Pollock "Mural," are at the Figge Museum in Davenport.  UI President Sally Mason, who established the committee, said in an interview last week that it was too early to say what might come from the committee but she asked its members to keep an open mind.  "I want people to think about all of the possibilities," Mason said.  Carroll Reasoner, UI interim vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, will serve as chairwoman of the 19-member committee, which includes faculty, community members and students and will be assisted by a five-member advisory committee.  The committee will have its first meeting at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Jessup Hall on the UI campus.  Mason said last week she expects a preliminary report from the committee by Christmas.  UI officials don't yet know how to pay for a new museum, which makes it different from virtually every other major flood recovery project on campus.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover 90 percent of renovation costs for most projects and to rebuild the Hancher Auditorium complex and Art Building complex, which are eligible to be relocated under FEMA guidelines.  However, the old Museum of Art facility was not damaged severely enough to be eligible for FEMA funds for relocation. That leaves UI on its own in planning and paying for a new home for the art collection.  "That's been our assumption. It will be left to us to determine its fate and its future," Mason said.

So, we have a situation where it is not possible to return the works to the original, flood-prone museum; and paying for a new museum will be difficult.  One thing I think the committee should consider is selling a few of the works to another public institution, and using the funds raised to keep much of the art at UI.  But that of course would violate the ethics rules of the AAMD and the AAM.  I have a long article which I'm currently trying to place in law reviews where I criticize the default rules governing deaccession; which I hope to post in the coming days, so I'll have a lot more to say on deaccessioning generally.  But in terms of this situation, I don't see how the current rules make it easier for the UI to fulfill its mission.  Deaccession is never the ideal response, but what other options are left?  Hope for a wealthy benefactor?  Increased funding?  Store the works until a solution is found?  Loan them to other institutions? 

Aug 25, 2009

Art History is Pseudoscience?

So argues Jonathan Jones in a provocative article in the Guardian.  He says "the fear of fakes does far more harm than forgery itself".  Art authentication is more art than science.  I've argued something similar with respect to the antiquities trade.  The impetus for Jones' rebuke to art history is the recent criticism of the newfound "lost archive" of Frida Kahlo's works soon to be published by Princeton Architectural Press.  Critics claim many of the works in the book are forgeries, and that causes Jones to ask if they know what they are speaking about.  As he says:      

Today's art experts marshal techniques such as infrared photography to make their knowledge seem all the more scientific. This makes it harder than ever to question the voice from above. But when writing and thinking about art gets reduced to a lofty denunciation of fakes and the tedious analysis of provenance that is art scholarship's meat and drink it just fills ordinary visitors to museums with fear and insecurity. Do I actually know enough to look at this painting, you might ask yourself in front of a Rembrandt? Am I qualified to see it? The general answer implied by modern art history from Berenson to his spectroscopically equipped modern successors is a chilly "No".
The consolation is that secretly the fake-busters are going mad. An academic once told me he'd been called to an antiques shop to examine a drawing by the artist he specialises in. He judged it a fake and suspected he'd been deliberately set up by one of his rivals who hoped to catch him out. What a world. It seems like a scene from a strange Nabokovian novel.
There is a lot of interesting food for thought here.  He concludes his piece by arguing the he would rather be fooled by a few fakes than reduce art to such "pedantry".  In fact he argues "many people who spend their lives studying art in depth — and pride themselves on never being taken in by fakes fooled — find it all less rewarding than the visitor to da Vinci's Last Supper whose only background reading is Dan Brown."

Strong criticism indeed.  I wonder if much of the difficulty can be traced to efforts to equate the quality of a work of art with its monetary value?  Has all this money made us lose sight of the aesthetic experience?  I think the best way to answer that is with Orson Welles rhetorical question in "F for Fake":

 

Bezanson and Finkelman on "Trespassory Art"

Randall Bezanson and Andrew Finkelman have posted on SSRN Trespassory Art, here is the abstract:

The history of art is replete with examples of artists who have broken from existing conventions and genres, redefining the meaning of art and its function in society. Our interest is in emerging forms of art that trespass - occupy space, place, and time as part of their aesthetic identity. These new forms of art, which we call trespassory art, are creatures of a movement that seeks to appropriate cultural norms and cultural signals, reinterpreting them to create new meaning. Marcel DuChamp produced such a result when, in the early twentieth century, he took a urinal, signed his name to it, titled it Fountain, and called it art.

Whether they employ 21st century technologies, such as lasers, or painting, sculpture and mosaic, music, theatre, or merely the human body, these new artists share one thing in common. Integral to their art is the physical invasion of space, the trespass, often challenging our conventional ideas of location, time, ownership, and artistic expression. Their art requires not only borrowing the intellectual assets of others, but their physical assets. This is trespassory art - art that redefines and reinterprets space - art that gives new meaning to a park bench, to a billboard, to a wall, to space itself.

Our purpose is to propose a modified regime in the law of trespass to make room for the many new forms of art with which we are concerned - art that is locationally dependent or site specific. We begin by briefly describing and characterizing these often-new artistic forms. This provides a jumping off point for addressing the basic question this article seeks to address - should the law accommodate these new types of art, and if so, to what degree? We first turn to the law of trespass, with particular focus on real property, both public and private, but also with an eye to personal and intellectual property. We conclude that adjusting trespass remedies for artistic trespass through a set of common law privileges would better balance the competing interests of owners and artists than do current trespass rules. We then turn to a set of constitutional issues and conclude that our common law proposal is consistent with, and in some ways perhaps required by, the First Amendment. Finally, we summarize our proposal and then revisit the value of trespassory art as art in our creative culture.

 They are arguing for an increase on the rights of artists to trespass to make art, an interesting and topical subject.  This kind of art challenges our ideas of what art is; what museums are; and about how art should be viewed.  Highly recommended.

Aug 24, 2009

The Rufino Tamayo Prehispanic Museum: A Museum to Thwart Illegal Artifact Traders


Over the summer we were able to take a vacation for 10 days to catch up with some friends in Oaxaca, Mexico; an outstanding city and region with a lot of great culture (particularly food) to offer.  
During the trip, we visited the Rufino Tamayo museum in central Oaxaca.  It is a museum devoted to  indigenous culture, created from Tamayo's personal collection, in an attempt to prevent the illegal trade in antiquities. There are terrific terracotta pieces which depict village life or sporting events.  There are also headdresses and other pieces of jewelry.  In one of the rooms, the museum states in a variety of languages:
This museum is dedicated to the millenary art which flourished in the area call now-a-days the Republic of Mexico.
Art entirely inspired (with the exception of occidental Mexico) by pre-Columbian religions and myths.  It represents the deified forces of nature:  the sun, the wind, the water and a multitude of other natural phenomena.
But if in our time the pieces exhibited in the niches of this museum impress its visitors, it is not for religious feelings, because the religions of ancient Mexico a long time ago have been forgotten.  Reather, they are moved by the aesthetic rank of the works, their beauty, power and originality.
It is the first time that a Mexican museum exhibits the relics of Indian past in terms of aesthetic phenomena, in terms of works of art.
Each of the rooms of the "Museo del Arte Prehispanico De Mexico Rufino Tamayo" presents—with a certain liberty—objects and sculptures of a specific region and a specific time.
The painter Rufino Tamayo collected these pieces with a great love and artistic sense over more than twenty years, not only for his own pleasure, but also with the purpose of protecting them from exportation and illegal traffac and, first of all, with the wish of donating them to the people of Oaxaca, his native state.  
Tamayo left the museum to his native state, to make his countrymen aware of their cultural heritage, and to prevent these objects from being sold abroad. Tamayo was a Zapotec painter born near Oaxaca.  He lived in New York from 1926 to 1959.  In 1959 he returned to Mexico and soon after created this museum.  The museum has a number of stunning works, from all over Mexico.  But going through the museum, I was left wondering what the difference between Tamayo and certain other high-profile buyers of antiquities may be.  How is Tamayo, and his archaeological museum any different from what Robin Symes may have done for example?  They are different, but there are some troubling similarities as well.  I think the one difference is Tamayo acquired these objects and kept them in Mexico, though not necessarily their region.  He was preventing the loss of these works of art abroad.  But were these objects excavated by archaeologists?  The museum visitor is not told.  
There's nothing inherently wrong with that I don't think, I mean not every museum needs to focus on the antiquities trade.  But certainly there is not a lot of information provided to the museum-visitor.  We are told in broad strokes where these objects came from, what culture produced them (Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, etc.) but you don't' get a sense these were objects that were excavated by archaeologists.  Rather these are objects which are exhibited for their beauty, to show off the impressive works that were created before Europeans arrived. Displaying these objects sends a powerful message to locals and visitors; just like displaying them in New York or London would send a very different kind of message.  In Mexico, they are a symbol of national and indigenous pride.  If they were displayed in New York, they might be seen as a cultural appropriation, or even a sign that Mexicans are unable to properly care for their own works of art.
Mexico and its cultural heritage laws have played a vital role in cultural heritage law.  I wonder as well if part of the impetus for those laws was supported by efforts like the Tamayo pre-hispanic museum.  Mexico has strict export restrictions for art and antiquities, as well as a number of agreements with the US for enforcing those agreements.  One of Mexico's first efforts to safeguard its cultural heritage was the enactment in 1916 of the Law on the Conservation of Historical or Artistic Monuments, Buildings, Churches and Objects.  In 1972, Mexico—probably in response to the recent UNESCO Convention—enacted the Federal Law on Archaeological, Artistic and Historical Monuments and Sites which defines illicit traffic of cultural patrimony as the import and export of cultural property that is stolen or not given official permission to leave the country.  Of course the important McClain prosecutions in the U.S. were a response to the theft of pre-Columbian objects from Mexico.  
In the McClain cases (United States v. McClain, 545 F.2d 988 (5th Cir. 1977); United States v. McClain, 593 F.2d 658 (5th Cir. 1979) The defendants were convicted under the NSPA for stealing pre-Columbian artefacts from Mexico, and selling them in the United States.  This group of art dealers and appraisers created a network in Mexico where artefacts were taken from excavations to the Mexican Archaeological Institute; they were then given false papers and backdated before 1972 in an attempt to give them clean provenance.  The objects were then taken across the border to Calexico, California where they were sold.  These actions ultimately raised the suspicions of the director of the Mexican Cultural Institute, which informed the FBI, resulting in an undercover investigation.

A Mexican law passed in 1972 nationalized ownership of undiscovered pre-Columbian artefacts.  As a result, the provenance and date of discovery of the objects was an important potential issue.  However, in the first conviction, the government presented no evidence as to how and when the objects were discovered or exported.  The first prosecution, often termed McClain I, dealt with the vesting of ownership of antiquities with Mexico, with the court considering the definition of “stolen” under the National Stolen Property Act in the United States.  It determined that the term should be given a broad meaning and remanded to the district court the issue of when precisely the objects were exported from Mexico.

Although the prosecution argued that an 1897 law accomplished state ownership, the court held title did not completely vest with Mexico until enactment of the 1972 law, because only then did Mexico declare ownership of all pre-Columbian artefacts.  The jury had not been instructed to determine when any of the pre-Columbian objects at issue had been exported from Mexico, or how to apply the relevant Mexican law to the export.  Because of the improper jury instruction, the court remanded the controversy back to the Federal District Court.  Although a temporary victory for the defendants, McClain I firmly established the applicability of the NSPA to pieces of cultural property emanating from nations which had vested title to these objects in the state, even where the objects have never been within the physical possession of the foreign government.    

On remand, the defendants were once again convicted of violating the NSPA, and of conspiracy to violate the act.  At the retrial, the prosecution was required to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants knew they were selling stolen objects.  In McClain II, the court upheld the conspiracy conviction due to overwhelming evidence that the defendants intended to smuggle Mexican artefacts, clearly violating the 1972 Mexican Act, and by implication the NSPA.  However, the conviction under the NSPA itself was overturned because of due process concerns.  The District Court Judge and not the jury must determine questions of foreign law.  As the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned, the most likely interpretation of the evidence by the jury led to the conclusion that Mexico deemed itself the owner of its pre-Columbian objects as early as 1897.  However, that act was too vague to impose criminal liability upon a defendant under the “jurisprudential standards” of the United States.


The conviction of the McClain defendants for conspiracy to violate the NSPA firmly established that individuals may be convicted under the NSPA for dealing in objects that foreign states have nationalized.  This ownership interest will be enforced by U.S. courts, despite the absence of any actual possession of the object by the foreign state.

Aug 20, 2009

The Good Faith Acquisition of Antiquities

I have posted on SSRN the most recent version of my paper, Towards a Rigorous Standard for the Good Faith Acquisition of Antiquities of Antiquities, forthcoming in 37 Syracuse Journal of International Law and Commerce (2009).  Here is the abstract:


When antiquities are acquired without a rigorous due diligence process, that acquisition defrauds our heritage by distorting the archaeological record; causing potential harm to other legitimate acquisition of antiquities; perverting the important role museums play in society; and ultimately warping the understanding of our common cultural heritage.  Fraud occurs when a defendant intentionally deceives another.  Given the flood of scandals plaguing museums, collectors, and dealers, we can state now with some confidence that many of these individuals have committed a fraud on our collective human heritage.   

Combating this fraud is particularly difficult.  Though an existing body of law prohibits and punishes a variety of activities which further the illicit trade, these measures are severely hampered by the mystery surrounding antiquities transactions.  With increased scrutiny and a more rigorous and diligent title enquiry by buyers and sellers, these legal measures will become far more effective.  At present, details regarding authenticity, title, or even more basic questions such as the origin of an object are intentionally hidden and disguised from public view.

Good faith has been used to merely promote commercial convenience and economic efficiency.  This article proposes a new theoretical foundation for increased scrutiny of the antiquities trade by constructing a broad basis for the recognition of good faith as a mechanism for eliminating the illicit trade in antiquities.  This article articulates three ways in which good faith can play a meaningful role in the trade and transfer of antiquities by examining fraud, limitations periods, and public pressure generally. A strong case for reform can be made if we consider that a family of art forgers living in modest public housing in Bolton, England can easily fool some of the World's leading cultural institutions.

Aug 19, 2009

German Police Uncover Massive Art Forgery Network

Another day, another report of forged art.  From Deutsche Welle:


Police said they seized over 1,000 fake Alberto Giacometti bronzes and sculptures in the swoop.
The three arrested - a 59-year-old man from Frankfurt and a 61-year-old art dealer and his wife - face charges of collaborating since 2004 to sell the fake works on the international market.
Prosecutors in south-western Germany said in a statement that the sales are believed to have been worth tens of millions of dollars.
Genuine works by Giacometti have fetched sums in the millions, most notably a bronze which was purchased at an auction last year in New York for more than $27 million (19 million euros).
Prosecutors said the 61-year-old had been posing as a count who also worked as an artwork salesman. His 59-year-old colleague then pretended to be a friend of Giacometti's brother, saying that he had found the statues in a secret cache after the artist's death in 1966.

9th Circuit Orders a "new look" at Nazi Spoliation Claim

From the AP:


SAN FRANCISCO—A federal appeals court has breathed new life into a lawsuit filed by a Connecticut woman against the Norton Simon Museum of Art over ownership of art seized by the Nazis.
Marei von Saher of Greenwich sued in 2007 claiming she was the rightful owner of a pair of 16th Century wood panels painted by famed German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder.
But a trial court in Los Angeles tossed out the case, ruling unconstitutional a California law extending the statute of limitations for heirs of Holocaust victims.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that holding Wednesday, but said von Saher may have another legal avenue. It says the lawsuit may proceed if von Saher can prove she inherited the art before the statute of limitations expired under another state law not related to Holocaust survivors.

More on the Current Market in Tribal Artifacts

Susan Montoya Bryan for the AP has a long piece on the current state of the market in tribal artifacts. She notes that collectors and dealers at the Whitehawk Antique Show seemed more cautions about buying objects, fearful perhaps of incurring criminal liability.

The piece offers a lot of reaction by the dealers at the show, but very little input from archaeologists or others who may have a very different—some might even say accurate—view of the laws many of these dealers are criticizing.  There is also very little discussion of how any buyer knows these objects are legitimate, or even whether individuals should be purchasing some of these objects at all:


The dealers at the Santa Fe show, many of whom have been collecting and selling Indian artifacts for more than two decades, said they were concerned about their reputations because of a growing public perception that anyone involved in the trade could be involved with the criminal element that's being targeted by federal agents.
"Are there people doing bad things? Yes. And I'm sure the court system will give them what they deserve," said Walter Knox, a dealer who runs an upscale gallery in Scottsdale, Ariz. "But since this started, I'm still getting checked a lot, and it's getting kind of silly."
Every week, Knox said he has to run someone out of his gallery for trying to sell him stolen pots.
"I post my rules so people know I'm not going to deal with anything shady," said Knox, a retired police officer.
Knox shrugged off the concerns, saying the caliber of dealers at the show is such that they have nothing to worry about.
While they don't condone looting or the trafficking of illegal artifacts, many dealers said the federal government has been liberal in its interpretation of archaeological resource protection laws and heavy-handed in its effort to crack down.
Mac Grimmer, a Santa Fe dealer who has helped assemble many antique Indian art collections, said there have been crackdowns in the past and the market eventually settles down. But this could be different, he said.

More Repatriations to Italy Likely?

At the ARCA Conference in Amelia back in July, Francesco Rutelli gave a very interesting talk elaborating in some detail on the wave of repatriations from many museums to Italy; and of course this resulted in many North American museums and even a collector returned works of art to Italy. The Met, the MFA Boston, the Getty, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Princeton University, and Shelby White have all returned important antiquities to Italy.

Some have questioned whether these repatriations have been worth all the negative publicity, particularly if the nation of origin cares little for the returned objects. At the conference, I asked Rutelli about that, about how some have argued that Italians don't seem all that interested in the return of the Euphronios 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.

Rutelli finished his talk by providing a number of documents to ARCA Director Noah Charney, and I've had a chance to scan some of them (some of the same pictures also appear in a piece by Suzan Mazur for Scoop).




The image on the left is a picture of a terracotta relief from the Symes collection, the picture on the right is a photo seized from Giacomo Medici. The resemblance is striking, and they indicate, if Medici had a polaroid of the object over a decade ago; it was very likely looted.


There are more documents and photos embedded below, but first a little background. The impetus for the recent returns was the criminal investigation of Giacomo Medici, whose conviction was upheld in July. When Medici's Swiss warehouse was searched, it produced a number of Polaroids of works of art which ultimately wound up in the United States and elsewhere. Italy has been engaged in a concerted effort to seek the return of many of these objects. Rutelli argued that these returns were not on "nationalistic terms" a rebuke to the criticism of Jim Cuno and others who have criticized the repatriations. Rutelli argued they were "fighting to recover some masterpieces" and that Italy did the same when other countries discovered other stolen works of art in Italy. He said the effort was motivated by the "context of archaeology", adding that "when you enter a museum you should be sure that these objects are clean".

One of the individuals Rutelli focused on during his presentation was Robin Symes. Symes is a former antiquities dealer who has served 7 months in prison in the U.K. for perjury. Roberto Conforti, former head of art recovery for the Carabinieri has been labeled "the core" of the illicit antiquities trade for a period, and "everyone's boss". He was "once the prince of the ancient art trade." But those days have long since passed. There are a number of indications he had a very close relationship with Giacomo Medici, Robert Hecht, and even Marion True. As a consequence, any antiquities which have been handled by Symes may likely have been looted. Rutelli revealed in July that the Italian government had attempted to reach an agreement withe the U.K. authorities over the Robin Symes collection. They had included photographs and other evidence, and in total some 1,000 pieces were requested from the estate of the now-bankrupt Symes. However the Italians were not able to secure a return of the objects, which was a "failure in criminal court". Rutelli noted that these objects have no likely purchaser, someone "could buy them, but they shouldn't". Despite this photographic evidence, it seems unlikely any scrupulous buyer would purchase these looted objects. Indeed it is troubling that the Italians continue to have such difficulty seeking the return of these objects. Such is the state of the antiquities trade.

Embedded below are some of the documents Rutelli provided at the conference on July 11th. The first three pages are in English, while the rest are in Italian. They reveal I think the tremendous difficulty Italy has had in seeking the return of these objects, even in the face of clear and convincing photographic evidence. How can these objects from the Symes collection not be returned?

Rutelli Looted Antiquities Documents Provided to ARCA

Aug 18, 2009

Forgeries of Russian avant-garde

File:Artwork by El Lissitzky 1919.jpgKonstantin Akinsha and Sylvia Hochfield report for ARTnews on the slew of Russian avant-garde paintings which were alleged to be fakes. An exhabition at the Château Museum in Tours, France was slated to exhibit 192 Russian avant-garde paintings was abruptly canceled in March, three days before its opening. Russian avant-garde is the body of modern art which was created roughly between 1890 and 1930. Pictured here is an authentic (I think) lithograph by El Lissitzky, Beat the white with the Red wedge (c. 1919).

It seems there is a slew of these forged works. Natalia Kournikova of the Kournikova Gallery in Moscow notes in the piece that "we can say that almost every artist whose prices have risen has become the victim of fake makers." Alla Rosenfeld, curator of the Norton Dodge Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art at Rutgers University from 1992 to 2006 and former vice president of the Russian art department at Sotheby’s New York says “There are more fakes than genuine pictures”:






Fake icons and “fauxbergé” trinkets have bedeviled the art market for generations, but the escalating demand for Russian art in the last two decades has led to more ingenious abuses. For a while, “Russified” pictures—minor 19th-century European landscapes or portraits doctored to look Russian—flooded galleries and antique dealerships in Moscow and made their way to the West, appearing even at major auctions. But it has been Russian modernism—art from the first three decades of the 20th century—that has attracted the most Western collectors and consequently the most forgeries.


Hundreds of works have appeared in recent years at auction houses and in galleries all over Europe, from Munich to Madrid. These works have very sketchy provenances in which certain assertions are repeated again and again: the works are said to have come from hitherto unknown private collections or to have been smuggled to Israel by immigrants in the ’70s or to have been deaccessioned by provincial museums in the former Soviet republics—although this practice was strictly forbidden—or to have been confiscated and hidden for a half century by the former KGB (the secret police), although experts say there is not a single documented case of avant-garde works emerging from KGB vaults.



The means with which these forged works are given clean histories are familiar: publication in academic works or exhibition catalogs; previous owners who have suddenly disappeared or are unavailable to corroborate their story; questionable certification by Russian art historians, and a general lack of sufficient documentation. Again, it appears as if a segment of the art trade continues to skirt the rules. As I've argued elsewhere, we need a renewed emphasis on the means by which buyers of art acquire good faith status.

Interpol Makes Stolen Art Database Available

InterpolINTERPOL has announced it will put its database of stolen art online to try to limit the illicit trade in cultural objects.  The new site has photographs of 34,000 stolen works.  The site is free of charge, though registration is required.  The database is here, while the registration form is here.  Previously, the stolen works database was available only on DVD, while the new database will be updated in real time.

Karl Heinz, the co-ordinator of the Works of art department says the new database is "an important tool to counter the traffic in cultural property effectively".   He also encouraged increased reporting by INTERPOL member nations:

“Accessibility to stolen art information is a vital contribution to creating public awareness on the protection of cultural property,” said Mr Kind. 
“The inclusion of a stolen cultural property item into INTERPOL’s stolen works of art database, and extensive online access to the database, therefore represent an important barrier to the illicit trafficking of a stolen cultural object by making its sale more difficult,” added Mr Kind.
This is a remarkable development in a number of ways, and makes it possible for anyone to search.  This means it will be far more difficult for a buyer to claim he or she did not have the resources to check into a work's history.  Though the database will likely be of limited use for the antiquities trade, it is an important development. 

Aug 14, 2009

Roerich Sketch Returned

Mark Durney reports that one of the sketches stolen from the Nicholas Roerich Museum has been returned in an "ordinary yellow, padded envelope, with a Brooklyn return address."  He's got a number of questions:

Was the sketch stolen to simply illustrate the need for the museum to improve its security measures? Were those who were in possession of the stolen art thwarted by the recent publicity the thefts have received? Should one expect the second sketch to turn up in tomorrow's mail? And, what does one make of the Brooklyn return address?

Aug 12, 2009

My Chapter on Archaeological Context

I have posted on SSRN my chapter on archaeological context, titled:  The Fundamental Importance of Archaeological Context it appears in ART AND CRIME: EXPLORING THE DARK SIDE OF THE ART WORLD, pp. 3-12, (Noah Charney, ed., 2009).  

It is a short piece, which was quite pleasurable to write.  I tried to account for why so much law and policy has been erected to protect this context.  And though there are disagreements by a number of cultural policy makers about the laws and policies which should apply; everyone agrees in principle that archaeology is an import discipline and the illicit trade damages our understanding of the past.  

 There are a number of other excellent chapters in the book which I can recommend, including David Gill's piece on the return of antiquities to Italy; a piece by Kenneth Polk and Duncan Chappell on Fraud in the art trade; and Judge Arthur Tompkins' proposal for an International tribunal to handle art disputes.


It is an excellent collection of essays, many of which are quite lively; which should help to increase the awareness devoted to the problem. 

The Journey of the Euphronios Krater

The site of the tomb near Cerveteri where the Euphronios vase was foundSylvia Poggioli has more on the looting and eventual return of the Euphronios Krater to Italy.  In sharp contrast to Michael Kimmelman, Poggioli states "In its new home, Rome's Villa Giulia museum, the Euphronios vase has been given a place of honor in a glass case with special cool lighting."  Poggioli takes us to the tomb complex where the krater was looted.

Vernon Silver has written a forthcoming work, The Lost Chalice, detailing the illegal journey of the famous "hot pot": 
"They started coming out and poking the ground with a spillo, a long pole, that could probe into the ground until they found something," he says.
Silver says the ancient Etruscans bought and collected imported Greek vases. Euphronios was among the artists in Athens who made many of those objects specifically for export. 
Silver says that when the tomb robbers carted off the Euphronios masterpiece, they destroyed many clues that would help archaeologists understand the history and culture of the people buried in the Cerveteri tomb. "It's like a page being ripped out of a book of Etruscan history and Greek history and world history, when you have the opportunity to see what was buried with what, and who those people were, and who they were friends with, and who they traded with, and you don't have that anymore," Silver says. "It's a finite resource; there aren't an infinite number of these tombs sitting around."



Fractional Gifts May Return?

Donn Zaretsky gives some helpful background on the potential return of fractional gifts of works of art to art museums.  The end of the practice sharply curtailed the donations received by museums, and were just one in a number of recent measures which has made it difficult for museums to find traditional revenue streams. 

He notes:

The new bill focuses on these two issues [that the gift be completed in 10 years, and ensuring donors cannot unfairly use the increase in value of a work of art after the initial contribution], and basically tracks the "agreement in principle" among members of the Senate Finance Committee that was described in a New York Times article in July of last year:

First, it was reported that "amendments hammered out by aides to Mr. Schumer and Mr. Grassley would lengthen [the 10-year donation period] to 20 years" -- and that's exactly what the new bill provides.

And second, it was said that Grassley appeared "willing to allow donors to claim deductions for subsequent donations that reflect increases in the value of the portion of the artwork they still own." That is also now reflected in the bill.

Aug 11, 2009

Technical Update

My continued apologies—it seems the technical difficulties on the blog may continue.  I understand a number of google blogs are having this difficulty, and it may be attributed to a sustained attack on one prominent Georgian blogger.  It seems crazy that the attack on one writer would be possible; and that it would disrupt so many others.  In any event I may have a very nice idea for a future article on international freedom of speech. 

I'm not sure why my blog would be affected but not others, I did post some thoughts on the Russia/Georgia dispute last year.  In any event, please be patient; I'm still trying to sort out the difficulty.  It appears that I can still post new material, and in the event things are not fixed I have saved the blog archives. 

Mona Lisa hit by mug, no harm done

Mona LisaIt is certainly an iconic painting, and an important work of art, but it can be a real paing fighting the crowds and amateur photographers trying to catch a glimpse.  But do you really need to start throwing things at it?

One woman felt compelled to do so, as the Mona Lisa was attacked by a Russian woman last week who threw a mug at the painting, but it only smashed on the bullet-proof glass with no harm done.  The woman was apparently "unhinged" according to a Louvre spokesperson.  This isn't the first time the painting has been the target of vandals.  It was of course stolen for a few years in 1911; doused with acid in 1956; and hit by a rock later that year by an angry Bolivian. 

Aug 10, 2009

Technical Difficulties

Apologies for the difficulties with properly displaying the blog today, this appears to be a problem with blogger, and I'm attempting to sort things out now.

Arts Funding Cuts at Universities

Patricia Cohen has an article for the New York Times on the current funding cuts plaguing Universities across the US.  It speaks to the general trend plaguing arts funding in America, but indicates as well I think a potential tide of deaccessions across the country:

If you are looking for a sign of how strapped the University of California, Los Angeles, is for cash, consider that its arts and architecture school may resort to holding a bake sale to raise money. California’s severe financial crisis has left its higher-education system — which serves nearly a fifth of the nation’s college students — in particularly bad straits. But tens of thousands of students at public and private colleges and universities around the country will find arts programs, courses and teachers missing — victims of piercing budget cuts — when they descend on campuses this month and next.

At Washington State University the department of theater arts and dance has been eliminated. At Florida State University the undergraduate program in art education and two graduate theater programs are being phased out. The University of Arizona is cutting three-quarters of its funds, more than $500,000, for visiting classical music, dance and theater performers. Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts, which supports four departments — dance, music, theater and visual arts — is losing 14 percent of its $1.2 million budget over the next two years. The Louisiana State University Museum of Art, one of the largest university-affiliated collections in the South, saw 20 percent of its state financing disappear. Other private and state institutions warn of larger classes, trimmed offerings, higher tuition and fewer services, faculty and visitors.
 Given this, I think we need to seriously ask whether the current set of rules for deaccessioning works of art are really ensuring the continued viability of the arts.  Why can't a University decide to sell all or part of its art collection?  So long as it remains on display or available to researchers in the public trust, who is harmed?

Aug 7, 2009

How Art Enters the Public Trust

One of the difficulties plaguing the current state of deaccession deaccession is the idea that works of art enter the public trust, which often leads to a variety inconsistent restrictions on their disposal. But one under-appreciated aspect is the haphazard way in which many of those works actually enter the public trust. One example is the difficulty plaguing Donald Fisher—founder of the gap and San Francisco Resident—and his impressive collection of contemporary art. Fisher had considered opening a new museum in San Francisco, but his first choice, the Presidio in San Francisco was criticized by preservationists and appears to have been abandoned.

Julie Anne Strack for the L.A. Times has more details:

Now the fate of his collection, which includes about a thousand works by such artists as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Alexander Calder and is conservatively valued in the tens of millions of dollars, has San Francisco's art community fearful that the city could lose an irreplaceable cultural treasure.

"It would be an absolute crime if it left San Francisco," said Dede Wilsey, president of the board that oversees the De Young and Legion of Honor, two of the city's major art museums. "No one could amass that collection now. They couldn't afford it, even in a recession."

The collection, housed in a warehouse and at Gap headquarters in San Francisco, is open to scholars, and Fisher routinely loans pieces to museums. But until an agreement is reached, most of it will stay behind closed doors.

"You could very easily teach the history of art over the past 50 years with this collection," said Hilarie Faberman, a curator at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Faberman said nearly every piece deserves to be displayed.

The collection, curators say, will probably be pursued by museums around the country.

Fisher would prefer to keep the art in San Francisco, said spokesman Alex Tourk, who added that Fisher and his family have received hundreds of e-mails from residents who don't want the collection to leave.


Given the jockeying for the collection which appears to be taking place, how much consideration will be given to how or when the collection may be sold? None I'd imagine, as any institution which may conider such a move would surely fall far down Fisher's list. What about how the institution hopes to fulfill its obligations to the public? That likely receives little attention as well, as most museums operate under the assumption (which has been proved wrong) that they will exist in perpituity. But plans go awry, and communities change. A city which once supported a vibrant arts community may no longer be able to; or may shift focus to the next wave of contemporary art. This kind of brazen optimism and shortsightedness is one of the primary contributing factors to the current state of deaccession decisions currently plaguing arts institutions. Instead the primary concern now is how to "retain" these works in San Francisco.

More on the Utah Antiquities Investigation

Patty Henetz has more on the Four Corners antiquities investigation for the Salt Lake Tribune. It seems one of the defendants of Native descent simply walked onto reservations and purchased bowls, Hopi kachina masks, Sun Dance skulls, eagle feathers, knives, pots and fetishes from members of the tribe.

More than 20 tribes live on pueblos in the Southwest; all pueblos are reservations that include no private land. The pueblo tribes consider themselves the descendants of the people popularly known as Anasazi, who migrated away from their cultural center in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon between the 12th and 13th centuries after years of drought and famine.

Last fall, [Christopher Selser, a antiquities dealer accused of wrongdioing] invited [another buyer] and the [undercover antiquities dealer cooperating with Federal authorities] into his home, where Hopi kachina masks were hanging on the walls. The affidavit alleges that Selser, who talked about buying objects Cavaliere got from the pueblos, said he sold artifacts at a Paris trade show and that Europeans "love this kind of material."

The court papers say Selser showed off a kachina mask he said he got from the Hopi Third Mesa -- which includes Old Oraibi, the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States, existing since around A.D. 1050.

A Hopi consultant told federal authorities that all kachina masks are considered living gods and not items a tribal member would have been allowed to sell.

During one transaction, court papers say, the Source ran into an Arizona couple he used to deal with who sold him two Hopi bowls from the tribe's Second Mesa they had bought from Schenck.

The bowls had "kill holes" in them, ritual defacings made during burial ceremonies.

Aug 6, 2009

More on the Roerich Thefts

The New York Police Department has released images of the works stolen from the Nicholas Roerich Museum back in June.  As I posted yesterday, the works were taken from the museum, but were not immediately discovered.  The small museum has limited hours and a small staff.  Such a small museum is a good target for art thieves as it may not have sophisticated security systems, and limited visitors who may notice a theft.   

Libby Nelson for the New York Times' City Room blog notes:


The museum, at 318 West 107th Street, is open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Sundays. The paintings were stolen during visiting hours on June 24 and June 28, the police said.
“A lot of people come here, and during the open hours, somebody stole one painting,” [Daniel Entin, the museum director, said]. “And then, maybe a day, later stole another.”
He said he believed that the same person, a woman, was responsible for both thefts. 
 . . .  

The museum has had little in the way of conventional security since it opened in 1949. It relied on secure doors, windows and entryways to prevent break-ins, Mr. Entin said, and never had an art theft before.

“We had what was always considered a very secure place,” he said. “We were always more oriented toward prevention.”

Utah Antiquities Charges Could Spread

The Utah antiquities investigation may lead to other arrests.  So say Federal authorities in an article for the AP.  There is some really damning evidence (already) in some of the search warrant affidavits, and it confirms what many have long speculated:

Federal authorities in charge of the nation's biggest bust of artifact looting and grave-robbing are targeting more suspects ranging from those who do the digging to wealthy buyers in the lucrative black market of ancient Southwest relics.

Twenty-five people have already been charged after a long-running sting operation involving a bounty of artifacts taken from federal and tribal lands in the Four Corners region.

More arrests are likely, according to federal officials. Among the next targets could be wealthy collectors who fuel the underground trade.

"It's fair to say the investigation is looking at all levels, from diggers and dealers to high-end collectors," said Carlie Christensen, an assistant U.S. attorney for Utah.

The case was the first to deeply penetrate the murky world of American Indian artifacts trafficking, relying on a well-connected artifacts dealer-turned-undercover operative.

The man was equipped to provide federal agents with wireless video feeds from homes and shops where he wheeled and dealed over artifacts, ultimately spending more than $335,000 on bowls, stone pipes, sandals, jars, pendants, necklaces and other items.

He was paid $224,000 for the undercover work over 2 1/2 years, according to search warrant affidavits describing his work.

The informant gave federal officials a rare insider's view of the illegal artifacts trade, recording a parade of suspects as they described their methods in astonishing frankness.

They discussed digging in camouflage or by moonlight, knowing when a park ranger takes his days off, and looting in spring when the dirt softens up and before the heat of summer.

One suspect said he scouted for ruins in a fly-over and followed up with a 10-mile hike. Another dug fresh holes on his property in case "someone comes asking" about where his artifacts came from, the documents say.
Yet another boasted that in a 1986 raid, federal agents took 32 of his pots but overlooked a hidden safe and the most damning evidence — a ledger of a lifetime of trading that named people he dealt with.

Some pretty remarkable nuggets, and this is probably what the agents had intended to do all along, arrest or indict a large number of the lower-level looters and dealers in the hopes that they may implicate other individuals higher up the supply chain.  It should be interesting to see where the investigation arrives, perhaps even implicating the sale of objects from other nations?

More on these arrests here

Aug 5, 2009

Two Thefts Discovered in New York

"If someone steals your car you can go get another one". So says Daniel Entin The Executive Director of the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York. The New York Post reports on the discovery of the theft of two works from the Nicholas Roerich Museum. A police officer noticed the initial theft in June:


A cop who happened to be visiting the museum was the first to notice a work was missing from the Nicholas Roerich Museum on West 107th Street near Riverside Drive.
It was 30 minutes before closing time on June 24 when he saw a blank spot on a wall where a picture was supposed to be.
"A police officer was just visiting, and he noticed there was a label and no painting," said a museum employee.
Gone was a $20,000 piece called "The Himalayas," a 10-by-14 inch pencil-on-paper drawing that Roerich, a Russian artist, sketched to mark his days in the 1930s when he was living in the foothills of the Asian mountains.

But then four days later an employee noticed "a work was missing from a wall in the same hallway, a 12-by-16 inch oil-on-canvas painting called "Talung Monastery," valued at $70,000." The difficulty the museum had in discovering the theft of the works probably speaks to how the thefts took place. The museum has only four staff, and receives about 25 visitors daily.

Netherlands Returns Iraqi Objects

The BBC reports on the transfer of ownership of 69 objects from the Netherlands to Iraq which had been illegally removed from that country after the 2003 invasion.

The objects were taken from Dutch art dealers and will likely be displayed in the Dutch National Museum for Antiquities until they can be returned to Iraq.


Ronald Plasterk, the Dutch minister for education, culture and science, said the world should "cherish and honour" Iraq's history as the cradle of civilisation. 
"These objects lose a lot of their value if they are stolen from their site," he said. 
Mr Plasterk said the items were surrendered by Dutch art dealers once police informed them they had been stolen.

Increase in Visitorship to Historic Sites

In the Art Newspaper, Brook S. Mason reports on the increase in visitors to artist sites and historic homes in the US and the UK—a product perhaps of the economic downturn.  Though the art market may be suffering, people may be staying closer to home and visiting the historic sites and areas near them:

“Staycations” in the US seem to be driving attendance at some National Trust properties. “We have anecdotal evidence confirming that people are spending less, staying closer to home and visiting more of our sites,” says James Vaughan, National Trust vice president for historic sites in Washington, DC. But the US National Trust, with a membership of only 250,000, pales in comparison to the British National Trust, which has 3.6m members . . .


“We were passive before, but now we’re building an entire community by asking literally everyone to support preservation and modernism,” says Glass House executive director Christie MacLear. “Considering that none of the people giving $1,000 and under had ever supported us before, those figures are really compelling,” she says . . .  


“There’s a recalibration of consumer spending from buying a bigger house or jazzy designer handbag to now focusing on cultural experiences instead,” says Ms MacLear. She has found that visitors characterise the Glass House as “inspiring”. Artists Julian Schnabel, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman and Frank Stella have all visited within the past year.

Bookkeeper Embezzled $1M

The Arizona Capitol Times roports on the embezzlement of $1 Million from the Tucson Museum of Art:


The Attorney General’s Office announced a 65-year-old Tucson woman faces up to 12-and-a-half years in prison after pleading guilty to charges stemming from her theft of almost $1 million from a southern Arizona museum.

According to Attorney General Terry Goddard, Ruth Sons began working as a bookkeeper for the Tucson Museum of Art in 1990, but an internal audit of the institution completed last year found that Sons had embezzled $975,000 over the course of a five-year span ending in 2008.

Sons pleaded guilty to a single count of theft and fraud before a Pima County Superior Court judge on Aug.3. She was indicted in May on three counts of theft and fraud, as well as a single count of illegally conducting an enterprise.

Prosecutors and police contend Sons operated an “elaborate embezzlement scheme” that involved forging the signatures of museum’s management personnel and falsifying financial records to cover theft from the museum’s payroll, petty cash accounts and the museum shop.

Aug 4, 2009

The Chimaera of Arezzo at the Getty

In a tangible shift in the way the Getty will perhaps operate in the future, the Chimaera of Arezzo has arrived at the Getty Villa in Malibu.  It is a loan of the work which combines history, archaeology, mythology and art appreciation.  Based on the initial reviews, it is exactly the kind of exhibition an institution like the Getty should be doing—rather than persisting in acquiring potentially looted antiquities. 

The Etruscan bronze was found in Tuscany in the 16th Century and installed at the Palazzo Vecchio by Cosimo I. It had been on display in Florence before being sent to Malibu.
 

The LA Times Arts blog reviews the bronze and the exhibition:
The roaring head, encircled by curving rows of tufted fur, strains upward and bends to the right. Behind it the goat's head mirrors this pose but in the opposite direction. So the bodily motion goes down, back, up, left and right, yielding a marvelously animated dynamism. Skin is pulled taut over powerful musculature, while parallel curves, alternating shadow with light, articulate the beast's gaunt rib cage. This is an animal with living, breathing innards, not just a ferocious outward demeanor.


Look closely and you'll spot a couple of stylized floral rosettes on the goat's neck and the lion's hind end — in fact, engorged drops of blood, spurting from stabbed flesh. The beast has been wounded, no doubt from the fatal assault by the long-lost bronze figure of the Greek hero Bellerophon riding his winged steed, Pegasus — victors in the mythical ancient battle. The Chimaera of Arezzo is what remains of a surely amazing sculptural grouping, fabricated by a supremely gifted artist and his bronze casting crew, circa 400 B.C.

It is an antiquity with a well-storied history.  At the time, Cosimo I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany was competing with Rome.  When this bronze was unearthed, he had an antiquity to rival this bronze, "La Lupa", which depicted the mythical founding of Rome. 

But has anything really changed?  It is interesting I think that the use of antiquities as symbols of power in the Renaissance continues in Italy today.  Consider the recent controversy which erupted when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may have revealed to an escort girl that his Villa in Sardinia may have been built on top of 30 ancient Phoenecian tombs without the necessary notification of the Culture Ministry or the Carabinieri. 

Ratifications

In July the Netherlands accepted the 1970 UNESCO Convention and it will enter into force on the 17th of October, 2009.

Also, Italy has ratified the Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. 

Aug 3, 2009

Estimating Art Crime (UPDATE)

In her piece on the ARCA MA program for the New York Times, Elisabetta Povoledo may have done a number of cultural heritage scholars a disservice -- myself included -- when she criticized Noah Charney's estimation that art crime is the third largest. The piece states:

"Citing Interpol, Mr. Charney said art crime was the third-highest-grossing illegal worldwide business, after drugs and weapons. Interpol itself says on its Web site (interpol.int) that it knows of no figures to make such a claim."

However merely checking with Interpol did not give a full and accurate picture of the size of art crime, though Interpol is often used as the source. On the Interpol website, it states: "We do not possess any figures which would enable us to claim that trafficking in cultural property is the third or fourth most common form of trafficking, although this is frequently mentioned at international conferences and in the media."

It is certainly true that Interpol no longer can estimate with any confidence even if it once did, that art crime is the third largest criminal enterprise. However the estimation has appeared in a number of sources, including this 2005 USA Today piece. It has been ranked as the 3rd largest, the fourth largest, and estimated between a few hundred million pounds up to billions of dollars annually by experts before the House of Commons Illicit Trade Advisory Panel.

I attempted to clear up some of this confusion with an Op-ed piece, though I was informed the paper does not publish Op-ed pieces which respond to pieces from the paper. I also submitted a letter to the editor, but received no response. I have decided instead to publish my response here. As I argued in the letter below and the longer op-ed, art crime is difficult to estimate but there is broad agreement that Charney and others are correct, that art crime is the third largest illegal trade. But we need more concrete statistics and education to highlight the problem. Povoledo's comment about Interpol raises this issue, and I think we need better statistics and we won't get them without increased awareness.

Here is the Letter to the Editor:


RE “A Master’s in Art Crime (No Cloak and Dagger)” July 21, 2009:


Gauging the loss we all suffer when antiquities are looted or art is stolen will always be difficult. In her piece on the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), Elisabetta Povoledo challenged the assertion made by Noah Charney that art crime is the third largest illegal trade after drugs and weapons. In doing so she highlighted one of the biggest obstacles law enforcement officers and researchers must navigate when they look at art crime. Though Interpol certainly has made no claim to that figure, the estimate has appeared in countless media outlets and works of scholarly research.
Newcomers to the art trade are often surprised to discover that basic information such as who buys art, how much they pay for it, and who has owned an object in the past is intentionally obscured from view by the market. Also, valuation of art itself is difficult. If we reflect on the generation that has been unable to see Vermeer’s The Concert, which was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990, how large is that loss? If we were to collect all of the stolen works of art into one museum, that museum of art theft would easily eclipse the Met or the Louvre or any of the World’s great museums. 
If we value our collective cultural heritage, art crime is certainly at least the third-largest illegal trade; and we need solid empirical data to lend support to the anecdotal evidence. One of the difficulties is law enforcement agencies all over the world do not consistently track art crime. Italy reports the most art crimes because their Carabinieri pays careful attention. As a result of this problematic and sporadic reporting and filing, we don't have good statistics, and need to rely on the experiential and anecdotal information of people in the field, like police, and the partial statistics available through institutions like Interpol. Though it is difficult to place a firm estimate, the broader public who enjoys and supports the arts should press for more education and awareness of the devastating consequences art crimes inflict upon our collective cultural heritage.

Derek Fincham, New Orleans Louisiana, July 24, 2009
Fellow at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, illicit-cultural-property.blogspot.com

UPDATE:

Mark Durney at Art Theft Central responds to this post by noting:

Another obstacle facing those who study art crime is the public's fascination for the myth of the Dr. No, or the Thomas Crown, scenario. Certainly, clearing this hurdle also requires educating the public. In my experiences as a gallery officer at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum I have heard from countless museum patrons who are convinced the Dutch Room's missing paintings are "hanging on some millionaire's wall." Accordingly, raising awareness regarding how the illicit art trade operates is equally as important.
That is a great point I think; initially those kinds of stories help attract attention.  However they aren't at all an accurate picture of art thieves and in the long run may help to explain why the penalties for art crime (broadly defined) are so meager, and why continued efforts, advocacy and education are so badly needed. 

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