Feb 23, 2011

The National Archives Archival Recovery Team

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War has renewed interest in artifacts from that era, and the National Archives Art Recovery Team has ramped up its efforts to track down objects which have been stolen:

 FRANKLIN, TENN. - Among the Civil War buffs wandering through the tables of muskets and faded daguerreotypes of Union soldiers for sale here are four federal agents. 
One raids houses and carries a gun. But right now he's handing out innocuous-looking brochures to the relic hunters walking by, as the sweet smell of glazed nuts wafts from a concession stand. "Does that document belong in the National Archives?" the brochure asks. 
The agents have flown to a fairground outside Nashville to the country's biggest Civil War show to hunt for stolen treasure - robbed right from the nation's attic. 
Whether they know it or not, the dealers may be trafficking in stolen government property. The heist may have taken place in 1865. Or last week. Or a document may not have been looted at all, but made its way into private hands instead of the Archives. 
With the Civil War 150th anniversary drawing new interest, the trail could be warm. 
"We're friendly," says Paul Brachfeld, inspector general of the Archives, who has gotten out of the office this December weekend to see his team in action. For the dealers, "it's an authenticity thing," he says. "If you traffic in stolen documents, it taints everything." 
The tactic illustrates the new, more aggressive approach the Archives is taking in an effort to recover treasures that have disappeared from its holdings. Porous security and open access have allowed countless items to slip out of the Archives' 44 centers and presidential libraries, from the Washington headquarters to the Reagan Library in California. 
The missing items include telegrams written by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War; the Wright brothers' patent for a flying machine; Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton gin; Lyndon Johnson's class ring from the Coast Guard; an official portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt; and target maps for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. 
The most recent issue of the Journal of Art Crime also featured an interview with Paul Brachfeld.
  1. Lisa Rein, National Archives hunts for missing treasures with recovery team, The Washington Post, February 23, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/22/AR2011022206661.html?sid=ST2011022300101 (last visited Feb 23, 2011).

Feb 22, 2011

Coordinating Heritage Crime Prevention in England

Graffiti on Clifford's Tower in York
Carolyn Shelbourn has drawn my attention to a promising initiative in England to help prevent and thwart heritage crime. It seeks a coordinated approach to pair the enforcement of legislation and also the prevention of destruction. The program brings together English Heritage, the Police, and the Crown Prosecution Service to "systematically tackle and reduce offences". It is a promising initiative which aims to bring together all of the various actors to coordinate their efforts.

Specifically the initiative will rely on the principles of neighborhood policing:

The model of Neighbourhood Policing, established to tackle the crime and day-to-day anti-social behaviours most affecting local neighbourhoods, provides a useful model for tackling heritage crimes. Local communities are urged to understand the heritage assets in their area that may be at risk of irreversible damage from crime and to report suspicious behaviours to their neighbourhood policing teams. 
The profile and accountability of heritage crimes among police officers will also increase. For the first time, there will be a national lead in ACPO on heritage crimes and there will also be a dedicated portfolio holder in many police forces across the country. 
Neighbourhood Policing and community involvement is expected to contribute considerably to improved intelligence and data on the ground, both of which are lacking at present.
  1. English Heritage, English Heritage Calls on Communities to Help Tackle Heritage Crime (2011), http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/643873/ (last visited Feb 22, 2011).
  2. Robert Hall, New protection for old treasures, BBC, February 10, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12426854 (last visited Feb 22, 2011).

Feb 18, 2011

Footnotes

The sacking of Carthage continues

Feb 17, 2011

"The mask was not excavated in Missouri"

Catherine Sezgin interviews Ton Cremers for the Online Journal of Art Crime and asks about the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask. He is named in a suit by the St. Louis Art Museum to prohibit U.S. Attorneys from bringing a forfeiture action for the object. On the Museum Security Network he argued:


There is NO doubt whatsoever that this mask was stolen from a storage is Saqqara. One does not need to be suprised that the infamous Aboutaam brothers were the ones selling this mask. They are 'renowned' for trading in dubious antiquities without any provenance. In this case they just made up a fake provenance: supposedly the mask had been part of a Swiss private collection. Yes, Switzerland again...

Feb 16, 2011

St. Louis Art Museum Sues the United States to Preclude a Forfeiture

The Ka Nefer Nefer Mask, acquired in 1998 by SLAM
The St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) has sued the federal government to preclude it from initiating a forfeiture claim against the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask. The museum was approached in January by several U.S. attorneys in January, who indicated an intention to bring a forfeiture action against the mask. Civil forfeiture was the legal mechanism under which the Portrait of Wally litigation and subsequent settlement emerged. It is a powerful tool for claimants, which uses the resources of the federal government, and a favorable burden of proof, to pursue claims for objects which may have been looted or stolen.

But in this case, rather than waiting for the forfeiture action, the museum has decided to try to preclude a suit by the U.S. attorneys, arguing that from December-January of 2005-06, the U.S. was a party to several communications regarding questions with respect to the history of the mask. They use as examples, posts and emails sent by Ton Cremers, of the Museum Security Network. He sent at least two emails to Bonnie Magness-Gardiner of the FBI, INTERPOL, as well as James McAndrew at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Museum's complaint quotes emails from Cremers, which were published on the Museum Security Network:




  1. “So I should think that if the Egyptian Government lodged a complaint or request with the USA Government and the FBI Crime Team (to which I am copying this), then the Museum would be obliged to answer the questions.”  
  2. “The FBI is just waiting for Egypt to file a complaint.  A [sic] soon as Egypt files a complaint [sic] the FBI is expected to act.” 
  3. “Maarten Raven, a Dutch archaeologist, saw the mask in the Saqqara and is VERY positive that the mask in the SLAM [Museum] is the same as . . .the one stolen in Saqqara . . . .



The SLAM argues in the complaint that the relevant U.S. government officials had knowledge of the potential claim over five years ago, and the five-year statute of limitations period has expired under 19 U.S.C. § 1621. A court will decide whether these emails, and queries the Museum sent to INTERPOL in the 1990's about the mask are sufficient to have given the U.S. government actual or constructive knowledge of the potential claim. The Museum seeks a declaratory judgment under the Tariff Act that the action is barred by the statute of limitations.

Even if successful, this suit would only preclude a suit by the U.S. government. It would not bless the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the mask. The mask was acquired in 1998 by SLAM from Phoenix Ancient Art for a reported $500,000. The Museum has attempted to demonstrate its diligence in a number of ways when it acquired the mask.

  • It sent a letter to Mohammed Saleh, the retired director of the Cairo Museum asking about the mask or the existence of similar objects. 
  • The Museum contacted the Art Loss Register, INTERPOL, and the International Federation of Art Research.
  • In 1998"counsel for the Museum requested a Swiss attorney to conduct a background investigation of Phoenix, its owners, and Jelinek.  Museum counsel received responses from the Swiss attorney on February 18 and March 31, 1998, confirming a Suzana Jelinek resided at the address provided by Phoenix, and confirming Phoenix's company existence, Dun & Bradstreet rating, and that there were no liens or encumbrances on business property belonging to Phoenix."
  • The Museum also sent a letter to the Missouri Highway Patrol requesting a search of the Interpol database.
So these are efforts to look at the history of the object, but certainly are not the best efforts. The Museum did not contact the Supreme Council of Antiquities or the Culture Ministry. The SLAM has told the public and Egypt that they would return the mask to Egypt if they were presented evidence that the mask was looted or stolen, yet Egypt has not presented this evidence. We know that the mask was acquired by the Museum in 1998, and was excavated in 1952. Both Egypt and the Museum have very different versions of the subsequent history of the mask. We are not certain what happened in the intervening years. But given what we know about the antiquities trade we have strong suspicions. The Museum argues the U.S. government has waited too long to pursue its claims that the object was stolen. 

  1. Joe Harris, Museum Sues USA Over Mummy Mask, Courthouse News Service, February 16, 2011, http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/02/16/34223.htm (last visited Feb 16, 2011).
  2. Jennifer Mann, Art museum sues to keep Egyptian mummy mask, St. Louis Today, February 16, 2011, http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/article_6a5937bc-0ea6-50ca-94ab-aa45697af009.html (last visited Feb 16, 2011).

Feb 14, 2011

Yale and Peru Finalize Agreement

On Friday, Yale University signed an agreement with Peru over the disposition of objects removed from Machu Picchu nearly a century ago. The agreement, which will avoid continued litigation will create a joint Center for the Study of Inca Culture in Cusco, Peru. The center will preserve the artifacts, make the objects available for study and display, and promote research. This looks to be a beneficial agreement for all the parties involved. There will be a new joint research center in Cusco, pairing Yale University with the University of San Antonio Abad del Cusco. And though the objects will no longer be in Connecticut, the objects will be available for future study, and will still be cared for. And finally, Peru's suit against Yale is no longer necessary to resolve the dispute. A memorandum of understanding was created in November, but Peru had backed out of agreements in the past with Yale. This time though, the dispute looks to be resolved for good.

As always, the best place for coverage of the dispute is the Yale University paper, and reporter Sarah Nutman is writing a series on the returns:


Since Yale and Peruvian officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the return of the objects last November, both sides have been eager to underscore the goodwill between the two parties. The document, they say, allows Peru and Yale to move beyond the mistrust that has often characterized their interactions over the century-long struggle — it has eliminated any underlying disagreement. 
For the most part, the two sides agree. Peru will repatriate thousands of pieces. Some will arrive in time for the centennial this July; the rest will be in Peru by December 2012. But there remain aspects about which Yale and Peru tell very different stories. For instance, how the pieces came to stay in New Haven for so long, and why, after nearly a decade of bickering, Yale simply offered to cede them to Peru.





  1. Sarah Nutman, Yale and University of Cusco sign collaboration agreement, Yale Daily News, February 11, 2011, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/11/yale-and-university-cusco-sign-collaboration-agree/ (last visited Feb 14, 2011).
  2. Sarah Nutman, Returning to Machu Picchu, Yale Daily News, February 14, 2011, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/14/returning-to-machu-picchu/ (last visited Feb 14, 2011).

Protesting Zahi Hawass

Antiquities Graduates Demand Employment (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Demonstrators in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt are demanding Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass resign:

The demonstration in a leafy enclave of Cairo was one of many protests and strikes that have sprung up in Egypt as people voice their grievances for the first time after Mubarak's heavyhanded reign over the last three decades.
The archaeologists' protest was also deeply personal, with protesters saying Hawass was a "showman" and publicity hound with little regard for thousands of archaeology students who have been unable to find work in their field.
"He doesn't care about us," said 22-year-old Gamal el-Hanafy, who graduated from Cairo University in 2009 and carried his school certificates in a folder. "He just cares about propaganda."
Hawass has maintained that his first love is Egypt's heritage, not himself, and that courting publicity raises the national profile.
The rally was raucous but peaceful. Several soldiers blocked protesters from entering the Supreme Council of Antiquities building in the Zamalek district on an island in the Nile that was largely spared the chaos that gripped Cairo. An armored personnel carrier parked in the street, a helmeted soldier poking out of a hatch.
The minister did not appear, and a roar of disapproval swept the crowd when someone said he had slipped out the back door. Then there was a rumor, unconfirmed but no less damaging to his image, that his car had clipped a pedestrian. The protesters dispersed at dusk, and promised to return.
The graduates said the antiquities ministry had offered them three-month contracts at 450 Egyptian pounds ($75) a month, hardly enough to survive. They noted that Egypt's tourism industry is a major foreign currency earner, and yet it was unclear how exactly the government was spending the income.
A foreign tourist spends up to 160 Egyptian pounds ($27) to visit the pyramids of Giza and descend into a tomb there, said 25-year-old Said Hamid. Multiply that, he said, by the thousands who used to visit daily until upheaval drove away foreign visitors and plunged the lucrative industry into crisis. . . . 
 These protests come after Zahi Hawass has revealed that 18 objects had been removed from the museum, though some may have been returned.

Hawass is a showman. He has garnered a great deal of attention, and also raised the profile for Egypt's heritage, and its calls for repatriation. But in the new Egypt, will that approach still be suitable? I can understand the frustration of recent graduates, angry that they are paid very little. How will this shape the relationships Egypt has with foreign archaeologists?
  1. The Associated Press: Protesters target Egypt's antiquities chief, February 14, 2011, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gNv6IKRhurEYPmjAzVk86a0tsX8g?docId=d818e386afeb449d988b51bc767e96d7 (last visited Feb 14, 2011).

Feb 9, 2011

Shame on Sam Brownback

"Tragic Prelude", John Steuart Curry, in the Kansas Statehouse
States which are not always able to lure arts organizations and touring companies to stop need to work harder to encourage support for the arts. Bottom line, the arts creates jobs, fosters community, and makes it better to live in Kansas. That's why I was so disheartened to read that in my home state, the arts are being cut drastically:

Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order Monday abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission and replacing it with a private, nonprofit organization.

The move will save the cash-strapped state nearly $600,000 a year, but it has upset some arts advocates who worry about eroding support for the arts and art education.

“Our state faces a nearly $500 million budget shortfall,” Brownback, a Republican, said before signing the order. “Let’s do all we can to protect the core functions of government.”

The Arts Commission funnels state and federal arts grants to local organizations, artists and art education programs. Starting July 1, the nonprofit Arts Foundation will seek private funds.

Brownback wants Kansas to spend $200,000 next year to assist the foundation, and he said additional funding in future years is a possibility. He appointed nine Kansans to lead the foundation.

The executive order takes effect July 1 unless lawmakers vote to overturn it within 60 days.

Other states are considering similar moves. But the worst is that by eliminating the state arts commission, Brownback will cost the state at least $635,000:

Gov. Brownback states that closing the arts commission will save the state $600,000. What he fails to realize is the state will lose $800,000 from the NEA, and around $435,000 in indirect grants from the Mid-America Arts Alliance that is used to provide jobs and spur economic activity. Also, with no arts grants being awarded to the field, the state will lose tax revenues from lost performances and other events from organizations who have to scale back or cancel performances all together.
Either the Governor is too cynical to think anyone will notice, or too incompetent to understand matching contributions. Either way I feel like John Brown.  


Arts Commission is eliminated in Kansas - KansasCity.com

Feb 5, 2011

Footnotes

The Reception of the French Ambassador Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, at the Doge's Palace, by Canaletto

Feb 4, 2011

Firsthand Report of Looting in Saqqara

The step pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara
There are a number of conflicting reports emerging from Egypt, and as evacuated members of foreign archaeological missions arrive home, we are learning more about what took place in the chaos last weekend. Zahi Hawass is reporting on his website that sites are being protected and that reports of rumors of looting at places like Saqqara are not true. Yet Lee Rosenbaum has been forwarded a firsthand account from a French archaeologists that describes looting last weekend:


The French Archaeological Mission at Saqqara has just left Egypt yesterday and arrived safe today. As most of you are in lack of direct information concerning what happened there, I will try to tell you in brief what I saw. 
On Saturday, the taftish [on-site officer from Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities] asked us to stop the work, because the police were not in the capacity of protecting us anymore. In the afternoon, we could see that the police at the police station at the entrance of the resthouses was gone and had left us alone. That is when it all began: Robbers from Saqqara and Abusir became aware of this and they began to spread in the gebel [mountainous desert].

The first afternoon and night, they mainly attacked places which were secured with locks. They broke them and went inside. Most of the time, they destroyed what they saw and not robbed anything, trying to find "treasures." These are not well organised robbers but, mainly, young people from 10 to 20, very probably looking for gold. That is why, when they saw blocks of stone, they most of the time left them, or destroyed them in order to find what was underneath.

I could see them with my eyes the day after, when we made a tour in the gebel with the army. Around 5 p.m., when the sun was still not down, at the muslim cemetery of Abusir, I counted more than 200 young men, excavating in front of us, ready to flee if the army would come down. A tank of the army was there, but they kept on digging. The soldiers were not numerous enough to do anything else than showing they were here. And when we went back, they probably came back in the highs. They were laughing and throwing stones at us. 
. . .
After three days, more and more soldiers arrived in Saqqara and secured more and more of the area. The worse days were Saturday and Sunday. It looks like the army is now securing most of the area, and they made clear that anyone taken would be taken to jail. Hope it works.

Getty Secures Export License for "Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino"

JMW Turner "Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino", soon on display at the Getty

This landscape by JMW Turner has been granted an export license from the UK Culture Ministry. The painting had been on display for the last thirty years at the National Galleries in Scotland, on loan from the Primrose family. For me, the work fit well in Edinburgh, echoing nicely that city's neoclassical architecture. It was always one of my favorites, a reason to stop in to Scotland's national gallery. Turner's depictions of classical ruins and renaissance buildings echoed Edinburgh's own neoclassical features. Now the work is on its way to Los Angeles.

Calton Hill, Edinburgh
The UK has a limited export restriction scheme, which temporarily halts the export of a work if it falls under one of the three Waverley Criteria:

  1. Is it so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune?
  2. Is it of outstanding aesthetic importance?
  3. Is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?

If a work can fall under any one of these three categories, export will be temporarily restricted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) so a UK buyer can raise enough money to keep the work in the UK. This work was purchased for $44.9 million at an auction in Sotheby's last year. Will there be calls to amend the limited export regime as more works of art leave? In the past the UK had been more willing to continue to delay export, and even to offer more funding to help domestic buyers match foreign prices and ensure works of art remain in the. But austerity may be changing that. As Mike Boehm speculates

But “Modern Rome” is coming, perhaps a sign that at a time of austerity in Great Britain, a domestic arts economy that's far more reliant on government funding than in the United States could not muster the wherewithal to take the painting away from the privately and lavishly endowed Getty. In 2004, according to a BBC report, the British government anted up more than half the money to match the Getty's bid for "Madonna of the Pinks," tapping a fund from lottery receipts that's earmarked for cultural purposes.
  1. Mike Boehm, Getty Museum's $44.9-million purchase of J.M.W. Turner masterpiece is final as sale clears U.K. export hurdle, LA Times Culture Monster, February 3, 2011, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/02/getty-jmw-turner-masterpiece.html (last visited Feb 4, 2011).

Feb 2, 2011

Unrest Near Egyptian Museum

If you are following the live feed on al-jazeera, you'll see that there is still a great deal of unrest near the Egyptian museum:

Petrol bombs were thrown in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday, a Reuters witness said. An Egyptologist said some had landed in the gardens of a museum housing the world's greatest collection of Pharaonic treasures.

The Egyptian museum itself however was unscathed.

The Egyptologist, who had been in contact with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said it seemed the petrol bombs were being thrown by protesters demonstrating in favour of President Hosni Mubarak.

"So far the museum is safe, but we don't know what's going to happen, because the Mubarak supporters are out of control," the Egyptologist, who declined to be identified, added.

. . .

The army moved to extinguish the flames, a source from the Ministry of Defence told Reuters. Army fire engines were called to the scene to ensure that fire did no damage to "army property", the source said.


Petrol bombs thrown at protest near Egypt Museum | Reuters

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