Jun 24, 2010

Light Posting

Apologies for the light posting in the coming weeks.  Joni and I are off to Amelia, Italy where I'll teach the International Law and Policy course for ARCA's Art Crime Masters Diploma.  I should have some thoughts on the program, and ARCA's annual conference in July.  Until then I'll leave you with this image of Germanicus. 

Jun 22, 2010

Archaeologists Warn of Danger to Sites in Afghanistan

AFP reports on damage to cultural heritage in Afghanistan today.  We heard a lot about damage done in Iraq, but as Larry Rothfield and others have pointed out, Afghanistan is a chance to correct the mistakes that were made in Iraq.  It looks like it might be a failed opportunity.  It is a familiar story of a flawed market, economic instability, and little enforcement. 

KABUL — A senior Western archaeologist in Afghanistan says he is struggling to protect a vast wealth of cultural treasures from being stolen and smuggled to wealthier countries, or worse, destroyed altogether.
"I think there is absolutely no site in this country which is unaffected," Philippe Marquis, the director of a team of French government-funded archaeologists operating in Afghanistan, told AFP in a recent interview.
"The illegal trade in antiquities is very significant, and is related to all the illegal activities which are going on in Afghanistan," he added.
Afghanistan's position on the ancient Silk Road that linked east with west has left the country with a rich cultural heritage.
But decades of war have hampered efforts to conduct proper archaeological investigations, while a lack of regulation means that priceless treasures are being smuggled out of the country at an alarming rate.
The looting is often carried out by poor villagers who are paid by middlemen often based elsewhere in the region -- a problem the French have gone some way to addressing by paying the looters to work on their digs instead.
But Marquis believes much of the blame lies elsewhere. It is illegal to take object more than 100 years old out of Afghanistan, but enforcement of the law is weak, and most stolen antiquities are smuggled to wealthier countries.
The United Nations recently sought the advice of the French archaeologists after it discovered a large number of Afghan antiquities in the shipment of a departing staff member.
"People are often not even aware of the importance, they just think, well this would be nice on a shelf in my house in France or the UK," says Marquis.
  1. Claire Cozens, AFP: Archaeologists seek protection for Afghan treasures (2010), http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jf-EWqmhK3CiG7XGyGyVtOsNWZ8g (last visited Jun 22, 2010).

Art Theft Here in New Orleans

Stealing art is shockingly easy.  See below video of an art theft on Royal Street here in New Orleans.  The theft of two of George Rodrigue's Blue Dog paintings occurred late in the day on Friday.  As you can see below a man walked in, took two small canvases from a back room and walked off.  A few simple steps could have easily averted this theft, and as usual CC tv cameras don't really do much good.  A step as simple as placing a number of marbles behind the frames would have alerted the gallery staff, or even a very loud alarm system like art guard -- which is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to prevent this kind of theft. 

Crime video: 'Blue Dog' robber in action

Jun 21, 2010

Cleveland Museum of Art to Unveil its Apollo

 Steven Litt reports on this bronze Apollo acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) in 2004 for a reported $5 million.  It may be the only surviving original work by the Greek master Praxiteles. 

In fact it is slated to be the centerpiece of the CMA's renovated classical gallery. Given the CMA's returns to Italy of a number of other objects, and the recent acquisition of this piece, there was a joint scientific study of the statue.  Reportedly, evidence suggests the sculpture has been excavated for perhaps 100 years, though Greece has argued it was salvaged from the Adriatic in the 1990s and then illegally sold. The history of the object seems suspect to say the least. Its recent history stems from Ernst-Ulrich Walter, a retired German lawyer who said he found the statue lying in pieces when he recovered his family's estate in the former East Germany.

It was then sold to a Dutch art dealer, then sold to the Phoenix Ancient art gallery which then sold it on to the CMA. We have no idea where or how this stunning statue was unearthed.  What a tragedy that its history is unknown.  This could be one of only 30 large bronzes from the ancient Greeks which survived to modern times, or it might very well be a forgery. There is no contextual information. Was it really in pieces for 100 years? There is no evidence it was stolen, looted or illegally exported. Rather, there exists a paucity of information about its origins and a curious recent history. That is not enough to base a legal claim, and the CMA are confident enough about the object that they ave decided to make it the centerpiece of their ancient galleries which opened Saturday.  Yet the CMA have not been real eager to release all the collecting details for the bronze. 

Prof. Patty Gerstenblith wonders at the end of the piece "I don't know who they're protecting by secrecy." The question may be rhetorical, as we don't know perhaps exactly how the bronze came to Cleveland, but the fewer questions the museum asks about the history of this bronze, the easier it will be for the museum to keep the bronze.
  1. Steven Litt, Cleveland Museum of Art's Apollo sculpture is a star with intriguing past, Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 20, 2010, http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2010/06/cleveland_museum_of_arts_apoll.html (last visited Jun 21, 2010).

US Returns Angkorian Sculptures to Cambodia

 The United States returned seven sculptures today which had been smuggled out of Cambodia.  The statues were recovered in Los Angeles in 2008.  They objects include two heads of Buddha, a bas-relief, and also an engraved plinth.  I'm unable to find any details about the seizure at present, but these returns may be tied to the investigation of Galleries and Museums in California in early 2008
  1. AFP: US returns stolen Angkorian sculptures to Cambodia, AFP (2010), http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5goRoNfmLD0vbnGwi6ospmF1MBRmQ (last visited Jun 17, 2010).
  2. The Associated Press: US returns 7 stolen ancient Cambodian sculptures, AP (2010), http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iDRqLsyg_5D0Sim77b6ZhkroOlXAD9GCTS800 (last visited Jun 17, 2010).

Jun 20, 2010


  • If you own any Amedeo Modigliani sculptures, congratulations.  It seems they are the new must-have in the art world.
  • Click here to read about some of the seized objects, specifically griffins, located in the ICE warehouse in Queens.  But how many are genuine?
  • The UK has appointed Sir Andrew Burns as the new envoy for post-Holocaust issues.
  • The Fayetteville Museum of Art in North Carolina has closed with more than $500,000 in debt.
  • Police think that the Leonardo thieves may be linked to other art related crimes.
  • The renovations at the Cleveland Museum of Art are set to finish in 3 years, and cost $350 million.
  • Thieves steal wagon wheels from Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
  • CPAC is set to hold a public meeting to determine whether the current Memorandum of Understanding with Nicaragua will be extended.
  • Click here to read about what the AAMD accomplished at its annual meeting.
  • Don't buy art on a cruise unless its so super you don't mind its a fake.  Unhappy cruise ship buyers have sued Park West Gallery and it's owner of selling forged artworks.

Another English Art Thief who Lives with his Parent

Title page of Shakespeare first folioThe BBC reports on  the trial of Raymond Scott who is accused of stealing a rare early folio of Shakespeare's works from Durham University in 1998.  He allegedly stole the book from a glass display case at the university's library, and then removed some pages, in an attempt to make it difficult for experts to determine the origin of the book.

In 2008 he apparently took the book to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC with quite a story, claiming it was given to him by a major in Fidel Castro's army.  Staff at the Folger weren't fooled however, bringing in an expert from Christie's—Stephen Massey—who identified the folio. 
  1. Man 'mutilated' stolen Bard folio, BBC, June 17, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/wear/10343040.stm (last visited Jun 18, 2010).

Jun 18, 2010

"Maybe a Man's Name Doesn't Matter That Much"

 So says Orson Welles in this clip from F for Fake.  I couldn't help but think of Welles and his film when reading Martin Gayford's piece on the National Gallery in London's new exhibition "Close Examination:  Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries". 

Gaysford asks "whether works of art are really by the people or cultures that are supposed to have created them?"  The Exhibit at the National Gallery will examine these questions, with specific objects.  One object which the exhibit draws on is "The Faun" a fake Gauguin sculpture created by Shaun Greenhalgh which fooled the Art Institute in Chicago (and many others) for a number of years.   Gaysford notes that after Greenhalgh's deception was discovered, we all thought very differently about the object, when in fact "this changed nothing.  The faun remains the same pointy-eared, hook-nosed fellow that he always was."  Yet Gaysford notes:

The point of this story is not that art experts are foolish. In fact, the Faun is a very clever forgery. Its brilliance in part is that there actually was a Gauguin sculpture of a faun – it’s listed in an old inventory and may still exist in a cupboard somewhere. The lesson is that now we know it’s not a Gauguin, it ceases to be part of a larger whole: Gauguin’s art. At that point, even if it is still quite an attractive statuette, it loses an enormous amount of meaning. Discovering a work is a fake is like discovering a friend has been lying to you for years.
It is difficult to separate the object from the deception.  Even if the faun was a terrific work of aesthetic beauty, the fraud which spawned the forgery taints that beauty in our mind—we might even resent the object the better the "fake" really is.  That is not to say it cannot be a beautiful object, but it loses something by trying to trick us.

File:Escher's Relativity.jpg
Relativity, M.C. Escher, 1953
Artists play tricks all the time.  The works of M.C. Escher may be the most obvious examle of this.  But his deception is mathematical, and there for you to see—in a sense the job of the viewer is to try to figure out how he has done it.  Orson Welles was right to ask what's in a man's name, and right to point out that it may not matter that much.  But what does matter for something like the Faun and other forgeries is the lie told to the audience or the buyer.  Art forgers may be the creator of the work, but also those who attempt to pass off works they know or should know are forged on an unsuspecting public.

The bigger question is how many forgeries are exhibited in museums alongside the authentic works.  When buyers and sellers and museums are not careful about the history of an object (including antiquities) we might think of them as a kind of forger as well.  They may be unwitting, and fooled by a clever forger as the Art Institute of Chicago was, but when they value the object above everything, they risk becoming complicit in the forgery. 
  1. Martin Gayford, Art forgeries: does it matter if you can't spot an original?, Telegraph.co.uk, June 17, 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/7824999/Art-forgeries-does-it-matter-if-you-cant-spot-an-original.html (last visited Jun 18, 2010).

Stramignoni on Art and Law

Igor Stramignoni (London School of Economics - Law Department) has posted Seizing Truths: Art, Politics, Law on SSRN. This is a longer version of Stramignoni's presentation at the Tate Modern in March. Here is the abstract:
    The work of French philosopher Alain Badiou has been described as the most powerful alternative yet conceived in France to the various forms of postmodernism that arose after the collapse of the Marxist project. Art interests Badiou in its own right but also as both that which, in the twentieth century, eclipsed philosophy and as that which today philosophy, increasingly de-sutured from art, must imitate in order to make clear that there are truths after all. Badiou conceives of law, on the other hand, as part and parcel of a specific political machine that must continuously perform certain problematic exclusions if it is to keep the fiction of parliamentary democracy together. So how is the relationship between art and law, between the poet and the city, in Badiou’s oeuvre?

Jun 17, 2010

"International Law for Cultural Heritage" tomorrow in Florence

The European University Institute and the European Journal of International Law are holding a symposium tomorrow, June 18th in Florence.  I understand you may contact Anny Bremner (anny.bremner@eui.eu) to register.  Here is the program:

International Law for Cultural Heritage

European University Institute, Florence
Villa Schifanoia, Cappella
18 June 2010


9:15-9:30 Welcome Remarks by the Editor-in-Chief and Introduction to the Symposium by Francesco Francioni

9:30-10.45 PANEL 1: Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Rights

Siegfried Wiessner, St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami, Florida
Karen Engle, University of Texas Law School
Gaetano Pentassuglia, Liverpool Law School, Fernand Braudel Fellow, European University Institute

10.45-11.15 Coffee Break

11.15-12.45 PANEL 2: Restitution of Cultural Objects and Human Rights

Ana Filipa Vrdoljak, University of Western Australia
Tullio Scovazzi, University of Milan
Thérèse O’Donnell, University of Strathclyde

12.45-14.00 Lunch

14.00-15.15 PANEL 3: Intangible Heritage

Lucas Lixinski, PhD Researcher, European University Institute
Federico Lenzerini, University of Siena

15.15-15.30 Coffee Break

15.30-16.45 PANEL 4: IHL–ICL and Cultural Heritage

Micaela Frulli, University of Florence, Marie Curie Fellow, European University Institute

16.45-17.00 Discussion and Closing Remarks by the Editor-in-Chief

Jun 16, 2010

Indianapolis Museum of Art to Receive Loan of Roman Antiquities

An image of a Vigna Codini Columbarium
Some good news for Museums and nations of origin.  The Indianapolis Museum of Art has issued a press release to announce a loan of ancient sculptures from the Museo Nazionale Romano beginning in January 2011.  The loans are for a renewable two-year period and include three life-size portrait busts and a marble funerary urn from the Vigna Codini Columbarium, which the release describes as an important Roman tomb discovered in 1847.

Max Anderson of the IMA really nails the importance of these agreements when he states in the release that "American museums have few examples of ancient art which can be displayed with their complete context understood . . .  The Vigna Codini Tomb contents from the Julio-Claudian and Flavian periods open a window to understanding that only long-term loans can provide, since the inadequate ownership history is no longer acceptable." This is what a licit antiquities trade could be.  We know where the objects originated, how they came to the museum; visitors will see the context; all in a "universal" museum. 

The release notes that these are the types of loans the Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and the United States was meant to promote.  Those interested in the MOU and the practical impact it has or has not had should look to the recent edited volume, Criminology and Archaeology (Simon Mackenzie and Penny Green, 2009). I review the volume in the Spring issue of the Journal of Art Crime. Of particular interest is Gordon Lobay's contribution, which looks empirically at how the U.S.-Italy MOU has made an impact on the antiquities market—at least the observable licit market.
  1. Italy to Loan Roman Sculptures to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, IMA (2010), http://www.imamuseum.org/sites/default/files/VignaCodiniFinal.pdf.

Jun 15, 2010

Senator Dodd Weighs in on Yale and Peru

Sen. Chris Dodd has weighed in on the dispute between Yale and Peru over objects removed by Hiram Bingham from Peru during the early part of the 20th century. Bingham brought widespread attention to Machu Picchu during a serious of expeditions, and he returned home with many objects, which have been in the possession of Yale, despite what Peru claims was an agreement to return those objects.  Yale has offered to provide material and financial support for research in Peru in exchange for a traveling exhibition and continued lease of the objects, however that agreement fell through and Peru has sought relief in federal Court.

Yet now Sen. Dodd has offered to intervene.  Though he says Peru are the rightful owners of these objects, he may mean these are items of cultural heritage which should be returned to Peru.  "The Machu Picchu artifacts do not belong to any government, to any institution, or to any university," Dodd said in a statement. "They belong to the people of Peru. I plan to work with both parties to resolve this dispute quickly, amicably, and return the artifacts to their rightful owners."

From the AP story:  "Machu Picchu has special significance for Peru and the entire world," Yale said in a statement. "We look forward to a plan that preserves the artifacts and ensures their availability to the public and scholars to promote further appreciation and study of the rich cultural legacy of Machu Picchu."

For background on this dispute, see these posts
  1. John Christoffersen, Senator Christopher Dodd Says Artifacts Held by Yale Belong to Peru, http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=38572 (last visited Jun 15, 2010).
  2. In Peru, Dodd Works to Mediate Dispute Over Machu Picchu Artifacts | U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd, (2010), http://dodd.senate.gov/?q=node/5658 (last visited Jun 15, 2010).
  3. Cultural Property Observer, Connecticut Senator Sides with Peru Against Yale Cultural Property Observer (2010), http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/06/connecticut-senator-sides-with-peru.html (last visited Jun 15, 2010).

Jun 14, 2010

Joseph Fishman on Intranational Cultural Disputes

Joseph Fishman, Clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has posted Locating the International Interest in Intranational Cultural Property Disputes Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2010.

This Article considers the extent to which there may be an international interest in how intranational disputes over cultural property are settled. Drawing on the norms underlying recent global scrutiny of states’ destruction of cultural objects located within their own territory, I identify two factors that may justify internationalizing otherwise domestic conflicts over cultural property: discriminatory intent and harm to cultural diversity. I argue that where neither of these concerns is implicated, the international community should pursue a policy of non-intervention, both because local authorities are likely to be more competent adjudicators and because eliciting a global referendum on cultural identity risks sapping that identity of its fluidity. At the same time, maintaining neutrality is inappropriate when one claimant’s asserted right would actually undermine this legal regime’s multiculturalist goals. The claim of group ownership over a cultural object acquired through persecution of minority communities abuses a property right whose ostensible rationale is promotion of cultural diversity. This frustration of purpose ought to give the international community a significantly higher interest in ensuring that a claim does not untether the property right from the theory that justifies it. The Article concludes by calling for recognition of cultural property rights as a purposive legal scheme that is susceptible to exploitation, in domestic and international arenas alike.
It is a very interesting piece, Fishman uses as an example, the St. Ninian's Isle Treasure in the United Kingdom.  Highly Recommended.


  • Another reminder of the importance of context:  Archaeologists found what might be the world's only well-preserved Roman gladiator cemetery near York.
  • A warehouse in Queens, NY is home to many artifacts seized in New York by federal agents.
  • An Armenian Church is suing the Getty over pages from a Bible.
  • The police of Quebec City are asking the the public's assistance in recovering four stolen lithographs by Jean-Paul Riopelle.
  • Paolo Ferri, an Italian Prosecutor who has been active in seeking the return of antiquities, has made statements asking Christie's to pull 3 works from their upcoming auction believed to have appeared in the Medici archive.
  • A case currently in litigation in Canada is a clear example of the bad practices in the Art world.
  • Click here to read about whether museum rentals of art collections will rise.
  • Is Shelby White's expansion of the Leon Levy Foundation a good thing?
  • Italy and Greece plan to sign a bilateral cultural agreement soon.
  • ICE has returned looted artifacts captured in Miami to the government of Peru.

Jun 13, 2010

Spring Issue of the Journal of Art Crime

The Spring issue of the Journal of Art Crime has been published, I've posted the table of contents below.  This is the third volume of the journal, which has some terrific contributions from fellow bloggers David Gill, Donn Zaretsky, and others in the field like Ton Cremers and Giovanni Pastore.

This issue has pieces on forgery, the Getty Kouros, vandalism, the antiquities trade, underwater heritage, and other topics.  Noah Charney edits the journal, which is a very fine source of writing on art and antiquities crime, with serious academic pieces, regular columns and other interviews and extra features. Highly recommended.

Subscriptions are reasonable, with the funds supporting ARCA and its publishing and educational mission.  A subscription includes two 150-page issues every year with some terrific contributions.  You can subscribe here

Table of Contents:  Journal of Art Crime, Volume 3, Issue 1 

Collecting Histories and the Market for Classical Antiquities 3
David W.J. Gill

Responding to Art Vandalism in British Museums and Galleries: A Survey of the Situation 11
Helen E. Scott

The Getty Kouros Mystery 23
Miranda Vitello

Copy versus Forgery: The Difficulty in Determining Motive with Regards to Modern 31
Iconography and Icon Collections
Riikka Köngäs
Faking History: How Provenance Forgery is Conning the Art World 41
Olivia Sladen

The Looting of the Iraq Museums: 53
An Examination of Efforts to Protect Universal Cultural Property
Simmy Swinder

An Empty Frame: Thinking About Art Crime 75
“Thoughts on the Leonardo Trial”
Derek Fincham

Security & Safety Reflections 79
“Oxygen Reduction in Museum, Libraries, and Archives”
Ton Cremers

Context Matters 81
“Italy and the US: Reviewing Cultural Property Agreements”
David Gill

Cultural Heritage 87
“The Defense of Underwater Archaeological Heritage”
Colonel Giovanni Pastore

Lessons from the History of Art Crime 93
“Did the Nazis Steal the Mona Lisa?”
Noah Charney

Art Law and Policy 95
Donn Zaretsky

What’s in a Number? 99
John Kleberg
University Treasures 101
John Kleberg
After 40 Years, Revelations about the Lost Caravaggio 103
Judith Harris
The Returns to Italy from North America: An Overview 105
David W.J. Gill

Nazi Plunder: Great Treasure Stories of World War II 111
America and the Return of Nazi Contraband: The Recovery of Europe’s Cultural Treasures 111
Douglas L. Yearwood reviews
Criminology and Archaeology: Studies in Looted Antiquities 113
The Restitution of Cultural Assets 113
Derek Fincham Reviews
Confessions d’un voleur d’art (Confessions of an Art Thief) 115
Diane Joy Charney reviews
Le Front de l’Art, Defense des Collections Francaises 1939-1945 117
Rose Valland Resistante Pour l’Art 117
Rose Valland Capitaine Beaux-Arts 117
Rose Valland, l’espionne du musee du Jeu de Paume 117
Diane Joy Charney reviews
“Caravaggio at The Quirinale” Exhibition 119

The Art We Must Protect: Top Ten Must-See Artworks in the USA 121 Noah Charney
ARCA profile of Ton Cremers 125
Mark Durney
Q&A with ICE’s Cultural Property, 127
Art and Antiquities Program Head of the Northeast, Special Agent Bonnie Goldblatt
Mark Durney
2010 ARCA Award Winners 129
Contributor Biographies 131
Acknowledgements 133

Jun 8, 2010

Vernon Rapley Leaves the Metropolitan Police for the V&A

According to a report by the Art Newspaper, the V&A museum has hired Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley away from Scotland Yard's art and antiques.  The V&A is a massive museum, which has been difficult to safely secure in the past.  Here's to hoping he can continue to improve the V&A's security.  From the Art Newspaper:

He joins the museum on 21 June, to take charge of security and visitor services. Before turning to art, Rapley investigated murder, paedophilia and child abuse at the Metropolitan Police. He really got to know the V&A in 2004, when there was a spate of thefts at major London museums. The V&A was hit three times, and 38 rooms had to be shut, many for years, while security was upgraded. Supported by the V&A, the Yard set up the London Museum Security Group. Rapley even took a turn as guest curator earlier this year, when he organised a Scotland Yard-curated display at the museum on fakes and forgeries, which spotlighted the case of the Greenhalgh family from Bolton, who created objects ranging from Egyptian antiquities to modern paintings.
  1. V&A gets its own personal detective | The Art Newspaper, (2010), http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/V&A-gets-its-own-personal-detective/21044 (last visited Jun 9, 2010).

Jun 7, 2010

More Reactions to the "Medici Dossier"

Kimberley Alderman starts a discussion on whether Italy should release all the images in the "Medici Dossier". 

Christie’s is being criticized for leaving on the auction block three items which have been alleged by archaeologists and an Italian prosecutor to have originated from the famous and illicit antiquities trader, Giacomo Medici.  Italy, however, has not submitted a formal request for repatriation of the objects to the U.S. government or even a title claim to Christie’s.

She offers some strong comments from attorney William G. Pearlstein:

What the Italians are doing is outrageous. They are deliberately withholding the Medici files from the public, allowing hot pieces to remain in circulation and then playing up every seizure for maximum publicity value. They continue to play the role of victim when actually they have became cynical predators on American institutions that want nothing more than to do the right thing.

David Gill responds with his typical pointed questions about diligence for buyers, Christies, and collecting histories. I think many good points are made here, and we need to have an open conversation about what role the market and auction houses can or should play in this trade.  Damage is done, demand remains high, and the current rules aren't preventing destruction or producing an honest market.  I've argued that auction houses need to be held to a higher standerd, because they act as heritage market makers, and the fact that an object comes up for auction means something, and is an important event in the history of an objects such that increased liability should attach when these objects are found to be lost or stolen.

  1. David Gill, Christie's, the Medici Dossier and William G. Pearlstein Looting matters (2010), http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2010/06/christies-medici-dossier-and-william-g.html (last visited Jun 7, 2010).
  2. Kimberley Alderman, Is Italy “Asking For It” By Refusing to Release the Medici Photographs? Three items at Christie’s raise questions « The Cultural Property and Archaeology Law Blog, http://culturalpropertylaw.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/is-italy-asking-for-it-by-refusing-to-release-the-medici-photographs-three-items-at-christies-raise-questions/ (last visited Jun 7, 2010).

Jun 3, 2010

Footnotes 6.3.2010

  • The Modern Art Museum in Paris is set to open its doors for the first time since the May 20th heist.
  • Charles Hill, A former Scotland Yard expert warns against the potential danger to London's museums and galleries during the 2010 Olympic games.
  • Commercial galleries in Australia are preparing for whatever may come as a result of a new royalty law which takes effect June 9th.
  • Haverford College in PA is set to return a noted Descartes original letter to its rightful owner in Paris.
  • Two British families have returned antiquities to Libya, some of which date as far back as the 5th century BCE.
  • Click here to read about psychologist's take on the motivations behind art theft.
  • Stately homes in England have been targeted by art theft gangs after valuable porcelain.
  • Click here to read the Wall Street Journal's take on why we should give some masterpieces a rest.
  • Not everything you've heard about art theft is the truth.

Princeton Curator the Focus of Criminal Investigation

In 2007 Princeton University Art Museum agreed to return four antiquities to Italy, and hold four others on loan for four years.  This came during a wave of negotiated returns from American museums like the MFA Boston, the Met, the Getty, and others. 

Now the N.Y. Times is reporting that Italian prosecutors are focusing on Michael Padgett, an antiquities curator at Princeton University along with Edoardo Almagià, an antiquities dealer. 

It should come as no surprise that Italian authorities are investigating Almagià, as ICE agents seized "archaeological material" from his apartment in 2006.  More surprising perhaps are the charges brought against Padgett, the curator at Princeton.  Charges were brought against Marion True, a curator at the Getty, whose trial has been slowly progressing for the last five years.  There were indications or perhaps only assumptions that she would be the lone curator charged. 

This should be an interesting investigation to watch develop.  The True investigation has certainly had a dramatic impact on the antiquities trade. 

From a practical matter, I wonder what was contained in the settlement agreements with Italy and these museums.  Was there no discussion of immunity for curators who may have acquired some of these objects which are being returned?   
  1. Hugh Eakin, Italy Focuses on a Princeton Curator in an Antiquities Investigation, The New York Times, June 2, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/03/arts/design/03curator.html?pagewanted=all (last visited Jun 3, 2010).

"Art Crime has exploded"

So says Ulrich Boser on NPR's Talk of the Nation (via) discussing the Paris theft from the Musee d'Art Moderne.  The segment is embedded below, and a transcript is available here:

Jun 1, 2010

Paracas Textiles

nullJudith Dobrzynski tries to track the disposition of Paracas Textiles currently 'owned' by the city of Gothenburg Sweden.  There are some reports that the objects may be returned, but the interesting aspect is how the objects are being displayed in Sweden, in a way which throws the doors open to the perils of the antiquities trade and the destruction looting can cause. 

First, Dobrzynski notes the city council was supposed to vote on April 26th on whether the textiles would be returned:

It's possible that the decision was indeed made, but the announcement was put off until fall, when an exhibition on the textiles at the Museum of World Culture -- called "A Stolen World" -- closes. The show states its position pretty baldly: "This is the story of how an unscrupulous policy, the illegal commerce and hunting for antiques strip some cultures of their identity."
It's also possible that exactly how to return them is an issue. According to a short item last January on the website of the Museum Security Network (here), "the delicate nature of Paracas textiles makes them extremely sensitive to the environment such as light and vibrations. And to move them could mean damage beyond repair."
As with many issues of cultural patrimony, there's no easy answer.

Note the description of the exhibition below.  Could we imagine similar objects in the United States on display with such language?  The museum of world culture describes these textiles which are currently on display there:

Large quantities of Paracas textiles were smuggled out of Peru and illegally exported to museums and private collections all over the world around 1930. About a hundred of them were smuggled to Sweden and donated to the Ethnographic Department of Göteborg Museum. The accumulation of them used to be a prestigious task, and so, apart from Peru itself, there are Paracas textiles in art museums and private collections all over the world and in many western museums of ethnography. Today textiles from Paracas are among the most sought-after heritage objects in the illegal market.

More is known today concerning the problems associated with looted and smuggled artefacts, and discussions are in progress concerning the line which museums should take regarding dubious items in their collections. How should we relate to this part of history?


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