May 25, 2010

Footnotes 5.24.2010

  • Artist Justin Lowe plans to re-create the CBGB bathroom for a Connecticut Museum.
  • Members of the Military are offered free admission into many museums through a new NEA program.
  • The Fresno Metropolitan Museum will return 6 Ansel Adams' works to Adams' son rather than sell the works.
  • SMU's Meadows Museum learned that three of its well-known works were looted from Jewish families by the Nazis.
  • Two Banksy prints were stolen from a London art gallery.
  • Jerry Brown has filed a brief in support of Marei Von Saher in the Norton Simon Museum case.
  • Marion Manekar analyzes the deaccession debate through Shelly Banjo's recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Twin Kouroi statues were apprehended from two Greek farmers, who had attempted to illegally sell the statues for $12million.
  • The battle over the Rose Art Museum is heating up, again.
  • Does the move of the famous Barnes Collection symbolizes that is wrong with museum's today:  "movies, restaurants, classes, gift shops, parties, pop-cultural exhibits, and interactive computers."

May 24, 2010

"[S]ome in the art world desire a market that is neither open nor honest."

So notes federal district court Judge William H. Pauley III in an opinion denying the request by Craig Robins to prevent the sale of three works which he was not allowed to buy.  Robins alleged that art dealer David Zwirner had effectively blacklisted him from buying other works by Marlene Dumas.  From Randy Kennedy's summary:

The collector, Craig Robins, asserts in a lawsuit that he sold a painting by Ms. Dumas through the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea in 2004 with an agreement that the sale remain confidential. But the gallery, which took over representation of Ms. Dumas in 2008, told her about it, Mr. Robins asserts, causing her to add his name to the blacklist, even though he has an extensive collection of her works, 29 in all, according to the suit. In court testimony, Ms. Dumas’s former dealer confirmed that the artist maintains a blacklist of collectors and dealers whom she believes to be speculating in her works or simply selling them too quickly after buying them. Mr. Robins says that the Zwirner gallery promised to help get him off the blacklist and to sell him new paintings but that the gallery failed to do so. The gallery has denied the claims.

Ed Winkleman argues this might have all been avoided with the introduction of droit de suite in New York:

In situations such as the one that led to the Robins-Zwirner lawsuit, droit de suite would work well for galleries too. If the law required collectors to share the profits from any resale, the gallery would not get caught between the furtive goals of the collector and the wishes of their artist. Indeed, in most resale arrangements all three parties (collector, gallery and artist) could be motivated to work together to ensure each makes the most money possible. 
  1. Randy Kennedy, Collector’s Motion for Court Order Against Gallery Is Denied - ArtsBeat Blog -, (last visited May 24, 2010).
  2. Helen Stoilas & Marisa Mazria Katz, Judge denies collector's injunction against dealer The Art Newspaper, (last visited May 24, 2010).
  3. Edward Winkelman, The case for droit de suite in New York | The Art Newspaper, (last visited May 24, 2010).

Another Theft in Marseille

Another theft in France, this time from a private residence in Marseille.  Five works, including a Picasso lithograph were stolen in a violent theft.  The owner was assaulted during the robbery.  Reports indicate that two men managed to get past the home's security gates and take the works.  Mark Durney asks:  "Was this theft inspired by the audacious theft from Paris's Museum of Modern Art?"
  1. Art thieves strike in Marseille, BBC, May 22, 2010, (last visited May 24, 2010).

May 21, 2010

Reactions to the Paris Theft

A lot of reactions to the theft of five modern works in Paris yesterday.

Dick Ellis:

The operation was "very carefully planned".

Noah Charney interviewed in TIME:

The theft has all the markings of organized crime which, since the 1960s, has been responsible for most art crime worldwide . . .  There is no market for such works, and they are most likely to either be ransomed, or to be used for trade or collateral on a closed black market, traded for other illicit goods such as drugs or arms between criminal groups. . . .  Because of the involvement of organized crime groups, art theft fuels other crime types, from the drug and arms trades to terrorism.

Tom Flynn:

The media's blithe dismissal of art theft as a trifling peccadillo might be seen as another version of the museum world's careless attitude to the cultural objects in its care. The Paris theft has all the marks of an inside job (anyone who keeps a weather eye on international art crime will testify to how frequently this is the case in major art thefts). Meanwhile, closed circuit television cameras may have recorded an action-packed video of the heist, but what good it will do beyond make for some Thomas Crown-like entertainment is a moot point. CCTV is as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.

Ton Cremers on the Museum Security Network:

In the abundance of information and non-information after the Paris theft of 5 important 20th century paintings the revelation that the electronic intruder alarm system was out of order since two months is shocking. If this really is true - it seems almost impossible - one may wonder if any museum director would accept that the climate system would be out of order. No need to answer this question. This makes me think of the poor security in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna where the Benvenuto Cellini saliera was stolen within 56 seconds. My conviction in those days: fire that director immediately. If it appears true that the security system in this Paris museum was out of order since two months - or two days for that matter - my advise is exactly the same: fire the complete responsible management.
Catherine Sezgin summarizes what we know now at the ARCA blog:
For six weeks, the Musée d’Art Modern de la Ville de Paris has waited for parts to fix their security system. Last night, five paintings valued at 100 million euros were stolen between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning from the building in one of the most fashionable districts in Paris, just blocks from the Pont de l’Alma where Princess Diana died in 1997 and north of the Eiffel Tour.

The thief accessed the collection though a rear window of the east wing of the Palais de Tokyo. It is possible that the thief drove his scooter along the Avenue du New York that runs parallel to the Seine. He likely rode a scooter because the street has signs posted for no parking and heavy black gates divide the road from the wide sidewalk as is common in central Paris.

  1. Hunt for Paris art theft clues, BBC, May 20, 2010, (last visited May 21, 2010).
  2. Jeffrey T. Iverson, The French Art Heist: Who Would Steal Unsaleable Picassos?, Time, 2010,,8599,1990921,00.html (last visited May 21, 2010).

May 20, 2010

Five Important Works Stolen from Paris Musee d'Art Moderne

L'Olivier pres de l'Estaque, Georges Braque, 1906
 Very early this morning in Paris a thief stole these five works from the Musee d'Art Moderne near the Eiffel Tower.  CCTV cameras have reportedly caught one person breaking through a window.  Lots of figures will be thrown around about the value of these paintings, as for the reasons for the theft.  The value estimates are very rough, ranging already from 100-500 million Euro.  Yet these works can never be sold in a legitimate market, so in one sense their market value means little.  They have a kind of value in that they are so precious, museum and the authorities may be willing to take—or at least the thief thinks they will take—the unwise step of paying a ransom.  Or other criminals may try to launder some or all of the works through different individuals, in much the same way the Leonardo Yarnwinder was transferred. 

Why were the works stolen?  There are many reasons, but the simplest one may be the the most likely.  It is really not that hard, despite the loss we all suffer when works are damaged or lost forever. 

La Pastorale, Henri Matisse, 1906
Nature Mort au Chandelier, Fernand Léger, 1922
The Pigeon with Peas, Pablo Picasso, 1911-12
La femme a l'eventail, Amadeo Modigliani
  1. The Paris art theft has robbed us of some truly great paintings | Jonathan Jones | Art and design |, (2010), (last visited May 20, 2010).
  2. Catherine Hickley & Craig A. Copetas, Picasso, Matisse Paintings Stolen From Paris Museum - Bloomberg, (last visited May 20, 2010).
  3. AFP: Thief lifts 500 mln euros of art from Paris museum, , (last visited May 20, 2010).

May 18, 2010

Museums & Restitution Conference Programme, Manchester 8th-9th July

Konstantinos Arvanitis has asked me to pass along the following information on the Museums & Restitution Conference:

The provisional programme of the Museums and Restitution conference (University of Manchester 8-9 July 2010) is now available

Museums and Restitution is a two-day international conference organised by the Centre for Museology and The Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester. The conference examines the issue of restitution in relation to the changing role and authority of the museum, focussing on new ways in which these institutions are addressing the subject.

The conference will bring together museum professionals and academics from a wide range of fields (including museology, archaeology, anthropology, art history and cultural policy) to share ideas on contemporary approaches to restitution from the viewpoint of museums.

*Places are limited; book early to avoid disappointment!*

Footnotes 5.18.2010

  • Dramatically shortening a process that used to take years, archaeologists have shown how to use airborne laser signals to penetrate thick jungle cover and discover ancient Mayan cities, such as Caracol in Belize.
  • Artwork stolen from a popular Vancouver restaurant have been returned 20 years later.
  • Marguerite Hoffman, a prominent Dallas art collector, has filed suit against the financier for failing to keep a 2007 Mark Rothko sale a secret.
  • The Guardian's Jonathan Jones has an interesting take on recent Picasso sales.
  • Kurt Lidtke, a disgraced Seattle gallery owner who served three years in prison for art theft, was arrested for, among other crimes, attempting to steal more art with a cellmate.
  • Don Thompson, author of the $12 Million Stuffed Shark, offers his thoughts on the art market.
  • Jeanne Marchig, the original vendor of a misattributed Leonardo da Vinci work, is suing Christie's for negligence.
  • UNESCO launched its "bizarre" World Anti-Piracy Observatory (WAPO) on April 21, 2010.

May 14, 2010

France Decides to Return Tatood Maori Remains

Last week the French National Assembly made the decision to return the mummified heads of 16 Maoris.  Maoris kept the tatooed heads and preserved them to honor their forebears.  When Europeans encountered these, many of the heads were taken back to Europe and put on display in museums.  New Zealand has requested these heads—as many as 500 heads may have been taken by colonial powers—since the 1980's, but the issue gained widespread attention in 2007 when a city council voted to return one head.  The decision was overturned by the French Culture Ministry in part because these objects had ceased to become only human remains but had also become works of art.  The French Assembly has overwhelmingly decided to return the heads to New Zealand within the next year. 

  1. Maori Heads - Top 10 Famous Stolen Body Parts - TIME,,28804,1988719_1988728_1988720,00.html (last visited May 14, 2010).
  2. France to return 15 Maori heads, BBC, May 5, 2010, (last visited May 14, 2010).
  3. AFP: French parliament votes to return Maori heads to New Zealand, , (last visited May 14, 2010).

May 13, 2010

Why Can't the Public see the Medici Polaroids

The Euphronios Krater, which passed through Medici
I'll offer my best guess, and invite any comments below.  First, a little background.  In 1995 authorities seized a number of looted antiquities and photographs from the freeport warehouse of Giacomo Medici.  The investigtion was chronicled in Peter Watson's The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities--From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums. These photographs continue to play a role when antiquities are auctioned, particularly when auctioned objects correspond to these photographs.  They are released intermittently.  Francesco Rutelli discussed a few of them at the ARCA Conference in July of 2009

 David Gill calls these antiquities "toxic" and cautions dealers and auction houses to perform "ultra-rigorous due diligence searches" when these objects correspond to the Medici polaroids. Mark Durney has confirmed with the Art Loss Register that the Medici archive is registered on its database, but "it only has half of the total number of photographs that were said to have been seized from Medici's warehouse".  Mark then asks how many pictures (and more importantly how many discrete objects were photographed): "Were there in fact 4,000 photographs recovered from Medici's warehouse?"  So we have a rough estimate of some 14,000 images, only some of which may have been included in the Art Loss Register.  Mark asks:

Why have the estimated 14,000 photographs seized from various Swiss warehouses not yet been made available to the public? Clearly, one of Interpol's intentions when it opened its database to the public in August 2009 was to increase the public's awareness of a fast-growing problem. Full and open disclosure of significant photographic evidence related to looting and the illicit antiquities trade, such as the Medici archive, would be in the interests of preserving cultural heritage. Only then will we be able to publicly examine the realities and challenges inherent in that goal.

So many of these photographs have not been publicly released. Some may not even have been given to the ALR.  Why not?  I'll offer my best guess.  Because if there is a publicly available, search-able database of these Medici images, then there is a limited effect to the images.  They can only be used to limit the sale of objects which were actually looted and photographed.  By reserving and holding on to the images, the authorities now have a kind of  "penumbra" to impact the market for the antiquities which have been photographed, but also any object which might plausibly have passed through Medici's warehouse. 

But this causes its own problems.  There are not really any negative consequences when an auction house puts an object up for sale and then is asked to withdraw it.  There may be some negative publicity, but surely this must be factored into the cost of auctioning these objects.  What a mess of a market. 

May 11, 2010

Student Note on Nazi-Era Claims and the Internal Revenue Code

Joseph F. Sawka has a student article in Volume 17 of the the Miami International and Comparative Law Review, "Reconciling Policy and Equity: The Ability of the Internal Revenue Code to Resolve Disputes Regarding Nazi-Looted Art".  A copy can be downloaded here.  He argues that one way to mitigate the harms which can occur when an innocent current possessor of a holocaust-era work of art that should be returned to claimants might be to allow the innocent current possessor to receive a tax deduction through a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  An interesting proposal, here is his abstract:

During World War II, the Nazi regime plundered numerous amounts of cultural property and artwork throughout Europe. Many of the items found their way into the hands of good-faith purchasers in the United States. With the growth in technology and communications in the last fifty years, claims for the return of the stolen property have become more prevalent. However, principles of legislative policy and moral equity tend to conflict in litigation involving Nazi-looted art. Should a good-faith purchaser with a large investment in an item be forced to surrender it? Are courts suited to handle the deep emotional, psychological, political, and moral underpinnings associated with the context of World War II? As litigation costs rise exponentially, it is often vital for parties to find alternatives to litigation. This article explores the ability of the Internal Revenue Code, via Section 501(c)(3), to solve disputes involving Nazi-looted art claims. When property, such as artwork, is indivisible, the result of litigation is usually winner-take-all. However, the Internal Revenue offers an alternative solution. It can allow the good-faith purchaser and claimant to emerge without a total loss.

May 10, 2010

Footnotes 5.10.2010

  • Fritz Lang's famous film Metropolis has been recovered, due in large part to Argentine film archivist Fernando Pena.
  • A misappropriation of a da Vinci by Christie's could have cost one woman millions.
  • Zahi Hawass of Egypt calls for a unified approach on stolen antiquities.
  • Is American architecture coming to an end?
  • Indonesia is auctioning off over 250,000 antiquities from a recently discovered 10th century shipwreck near Java.
  • Pieces of silver were recently stolen from the National Trust's Kedleston Hall.
  • Turkish forgeries were found hanging on the walls of the State Painting and Sculpture Museum in Ankara.
  • Organized crime networks in Iraq show no intention of halting the valuable business of looting ancient artifacts.
  • An English man is on trial for stealing valuable horticultural books from a famous library in London.
  • This is old news, but the Getty Trust elected Ronald Spogli, former U.S. ambassador to Italy, to its board, possibly in an attempt to strength its ties with Italy.
  • Click here to read in depth on the recently held ABA Section of International Law Panel on the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

May 6, 2010

Kimmelman on Drawing the Borders of Culture

Michael Kimmelman has a piece discussing the Parthenon sculptures and how it has influenced other repatriation debates.  He seems to favor a cosmopolitan approach, and borrows a good deal from James Cuno without mentioning him by name.  After all the mention of Cuno in some circles often shuts off any reasoned discourse.  And though he seems to be frustrated with his conclusion—that the Parthenon sculptures taken by Elgin should remain in London—he manages to make some thoughtful observations.  His best argument may be comparing the Euphronios Krater to the Parthenon sculptures:

And in the end patrimony is about ownership, often of objects that as in the marbles’ case, come from bygone civilizations. What, in this context, does it really mean to own culture?
Italy recently celebrated the return of a national treasure after the Metropolitan Museum gave back a sixth-century B.C. Greek krater by the painter Euphronius that tomb robbers dug up outside Rome during the 1970s. Stolen property is stolen property. But how curious that an ancient Greek vase, which centuries after it was made came into the possession of an Etruscan collector (a kind of ancient Elgin) living on what is now the outskirts of Rome, and then ended up buried for thousands of years below what became modern Italy, is today Italian cultural patrimony. By that definition, Elgin’s loot is arguably British patrimony.
Thought-provoking stuff, well worth a read. 
  1. Michael Kimmelman, Who Draws the Borders of Culture?, The New York Times, May 4, 2010, (last visited May 6, 2010).

Heritage Neglect in Moscow

The Moscow Times has the story of a 17th-century merchant's home in central Moscow which has been damaged by fire, neglect, water and ice:

Cracks can be seen in the facade of the four-story historic building in the center of Moscow, but it is only when you look at the side that you can see the calamitous state it is in. Part of the roof has fallen in after a fire hit the building last December.

Since then the building has been at the center of a struggle between preservationists and the city department that is supposed to protect the building.

Fyodor Bogatyryov from preservation organization Arkhnadzor brought a suit against the city property department and the city cultural heritage committee for their failure to act to save or even attempt to repair the building since the fire. The suit was rejected by the Zamoskvoretsky District Court last week.
The court will explain its reasoning Wednesday, and Arkhnadzor will almost certainly appeal the decision.

When activists from Arkhnadzor went inside the building after the fire, they discovered a hidden gem.

“The cellar is 17th century, the first floor is 18th century, and the second floor is 19th century,” Bogatyryov said. Nineteenth-century interiors are preserved on the first and second floors, including intricate oak balusters and stucco ceilings. All of it would have been destroyed if the building’s investor’s original plans went ahead.

Before they thought of bringing the case, Arkhnadzor appealed to the cultural heritage committee, held meetings, picketed, but nothing was done, Bogatyryov said. “We decided on more radical methods,” he said.

It was not just the fire that had damaged the building, one of a series of blazes that have hit old Moscow buildings in the last year. The water used to put out the fire turned to ice and, with no repairs done since, has melted causing serious damage to the building. With part of the roof falling in, the building has been exposed to the elements for more than four months.
  1. Kevin O'Flynn, Arkhnadzor Sues City Over Heritage Neglect | Arts & Ideas | The Moscow Times The Moscow Times, (last visited May 6, 2010).

May 4, 2010

Using Injunctions to Stop Fossil Hunters in England

The Jurassic Coast in Devon
Carolyn Shelbourn, a Senior Lecturer at the Sheffield University School of Law has forwarded on a couple of interesting stories on the use of injunctions to prevent the taking of fossils in England.  In England, fossils have very little legal protection, and authorities have had to resort to injunctions, because the criminal provisions which apply to certain classes of antiquities do not apply to fossils. 

Recently the National Trust and the Charmouth council won an order banning a Somerset man from extracting fossils out of cliffs on the coast.  The National Trust has said:

The man has been involved in extracting large numbers of fossils by digging expressly against the wishes of the landowners and the guidance of the West Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct. His actions have also placed the public, including walkers and families, at risk from falling rocks.

Another injunction was made against "unknown persons" from digging in the area.  Fossils may still be collected from the beach, but not the cliffs.  The wholesale, perhaps even commercial taking was causing damage, and these injunctions were perhaps the only way to prevent these takings.  Shelbourn notes that this "persons unknown" injunction is a recent development in the law, first used perhaps to prevent a pre-publication of one of the Harry Potter books.  She notes also that "[t]hey have also been used here to try to prevent planned environmental protests . . .  The [National Trust] appear to have had to use civil law because of the lack of legal protection via criminal law."   

  1. Jurassic ban for fossil diggers, BBC, March 25, 2010.
  2. Diarmuid MacDonagh, Rogue fossil hunters banned from Jurassic Coast section (From Dorset Echo) (2010) (last visited May 4, 2010).


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