Jan 31, 2011

Reports of Looting and Theft throughout Egypt

An Egyptian Soldier guarding the Cairo Museum
Like many of you I am following the reports from Egypt with great interest. There is a flood of information on the revolution generally, and also a lot of specific information about the destruction over the weekend at the Cairo Museum.

The situation at the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo seems to have stabilized, with soldiers arresting fifty men who have attempted to break in to the museum Monday. Yesterday Zahi Hawass faxed a report, which was posted on his blog.

 Now reports are emerging about damage and thefts at sites elsewhere in the country. Much of it, I am sorry to say, is disheartening. These reports are very early, and should be taken with a healthy dash of skepticism. Yet we all know that there are places where many of these objects will be bought and sold. The antiquities trade does not distinguish the licit from the illicit. Vast storehouses and sites are at risk. The United States will soon have to consider emergency import restrictions, and monitor the trade as best we can. Yet one can't help but feel frustrated at the destruction which may be taking place.

The Egyptian newsblog Bikyamasr is reporting widespread looting of museums and antiquities thefts all over the country:

According to antiquities official Mohamed Megahed, “immense damages to Abusir and Saqqara” were reported. Looters allegedly have gone into tombs that had been sealed and destroyed much of the tombs and took artifacts.
“Only the Imhotep Museum and adjacent central areas were protected by the military. In Abusir, all tombs were opened; large gangs digging day and night,” he said.
According to Megahed, storage facilities in South Saqqara, just south of Cairo has also been looted. He did mention it was hard to ascertain what, and how much, was taken.
He said Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) officials “are only today [Sunday] able to check on the museums storage, but early reports suggest major looting.”
He called on the international archaeology community to issue a “high alert” statement on Old Kingdom remains and Egyptian antiquities in general, “and please spread the word to law enforcement officials worldwide.”
Looters of museums, “who may be encouraged by outside Egypt entities, may try to use general confusion to get things out of the country.”
His statement comes as Al Jazeera and other news networks reported extensively on the small looting at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in the past two days as police guarding the museum left their posts. Others allege that the police themselves are responsible for the looting.
The Egyptian Museum is home to some 120,000 items and thousands more in storage in the basement.
 What a sad development if museum security really were involved in the looting. Already it is worth asking the difficult question: what could be done to prevent this in the future, and also thinking about answers. One answer might lie with how the guards were treated. Hyperallergic has translated an interview with the former director of the Egyptian Museum Wafaa el-Saddik, published in the German publication Zeit Online, reporting that the Museum in Memphis has been robbed. The thieves may have been Egyptian security guards, who earn as little as 35 Euros per month.

Good sources of information include:

After the jump, a collection of videos of the situation in Cairo (via)

Jan 29, 2011

Hawass says Egyptian Museum "Raided"

Zahi Hawass claimed that two mummies have been destroyed, and the museum was "raided", in an appearance on Egyptian state television:
CAIRO Jan 29 (Reuters) - Looters broke into the Egyptian Museum during anti-government protests late on Friday and destroyed two Pharaonic mummies, Egypt's top archaeologist told state television.

The museum in central Cairo, which has the world's biggest collection of Pharaonic antiquities, is adjacent to the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party that protesters had earlier set ablaze. Flames were seen still pouring out of the party headquarters early on Saturday.

"I felt deeply sorry today when I came this morning to the Egyptian Museum and found that some had tried to raid the museum by force last night," Zahi Hawass, chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said on Saturday.

"Egyptian citizens tried to prevent them and were joined by the tourism police, but some (looters) managed to enter from above and they destroyed two of the mummies," he said.

He added looters had also ransacked the ticket office.

The two-storey museum, built in 1902, houses tens of thousands of objects in its galleries and storerooms, including most of the King Tutankhamen collection. (Reporting by Yasmine Saleh, Writing by Patrick Werr)

Looters destroy mummies in Egyptian Museum-official | News by Country | Reuters

Jan 28, 2011

Army Protecting Museum in Egypt according to state TV

Army units secured the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo against possible looting on Friday, protecting a building with spectacular pharaonic treasures such as the death mask of the boy king Tutankhamun, state TV said.

The news follows a day of violent anti-government protests in Cairo and other cities. Some of the most violent scenes in four days of protests have been in squares and streets close to the museum building.

It was also broadcast as reports of looting of some government buildings emerged. One Reuters photographer said looters had broken into a ruling party building near the museum and were walking out with furniture, computers and other items.

What about the Museums?

Associated Press video from Cairo:

Protests have erupted across Egypt, with demonstrators demanding an end to the rule of Hosni Mubarak. Reports show a breakdown in order, and fires, and reports of looting. 

Who is watching the museums? 

Please contact me (derek.fincham@gmail.com) if you are aware of any reports of heritage looting.

Jan 27, 2011


Is art in America in bad shape? Stephen Colbert probably says no.
Here's the New  York Times' video of damage and restoration at Babylon:

Jan 24, 2011

More on Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park
Abbie Swanson of WNYC has a good update on the merits of the criticism leveled by Zahi Hawass of the treatment of 'Cleopatra's Needle' in Central Park. I have a short appearance in the story, but the real interesting reporting comes from her interview of Will Raynolds, who wrote his Masters Thesis on the monument:

Raynolds said that in its first four years in New York, large sheaths of granite came loose from the surface of Cleopatra's Needle. An additional 780 pounds of stone were lost when a waterproofing company tried to stop the decay with a creosote and paraffin treatment in 1884. But the last major study of the monument, conducted by the Metropolitan Museum in 1983, found that the rate of decay had stabilized. The Parks Department says now there is no significant ongoing erosion on the obelisk.

"And yet, you know there are still signs that there's some gradual erosion occurring on the surface," Raynolds said, adding that you can see patches of decay where the obelisk's native pink color appears on the surface of the stone.

So the monument is eroding, but the very eroded sections were done initially when the monument was first in New York. Mark Durney did some searching of the New York Times archives and found something similar:

[I]in May 1914, the Central Park commissioner with the help of Columbia University's James Kemp and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's William Kuckro began extensive restorative work on the obelisk during which they removed a paraffin layer, which was added soon after the obelisk's erection, and they added a new waterproof coating. At this time the obelisk's condition was described as "scaling on all sides," and, "in some sections the shaft was blank for several feet." The NYTimes' description from 1914 appears to appropriately describe the damage, or deterioration, similar to that which is depicted in photographs on Hawass's blog.
So it certainly would not hurt to continue to study the conditions in New York, and the steps which can be taken to minimize damage, but my initial guess was correct. Zahi Hawass was making unfounded allegations to continue to press for the repatriation of objects. He may have a good claim for a number of objects, but that argument loses its steam when you make the same urgent calls for every object which originated in Egypt, irrespective of the circumstances surrounding its removal. Many of these individual objects carry unique circumstances, and all sides in these contentious arguments would be well-served to avoid premature or overly critical concerns.

WNYC Audio:

Jan 21, 2011

Superindictments and their Consequences

Yesterday there was a series of over 120 arrests of alleged mafia members. Though it is not quite on the same scale, it bears at least a few similarities to the indictments handed down in the Southwest as a part of  operation 'cerberus', or even the searches of California Museums in early 2007. Christopher Beam writes that these large investigations are 'superindictments':

Why one huge arrest, rather than a bunch of smaller ones? "It's a statement," says Jim Wedick, a former FBI agent. "They wanted to say, 'You know what? We are back in town.' " Since 2001, the FBI has shifted its resources away from traditional crime-fighting toward counterterrorism. Thursday's bust is a message from the Department of Justice to organized crime: We haven't forgotten about you.

A message certainly was sent yesterday. By using this large-scale investigation Beam writes that you can encourage individuals to cooperate, informants are almost assured if you arrest a large enough group, and a powerful message is sent. Yet the events in the wake of the Cerberus investigation are sobering. Do law enforcement officials need to weigh the severity of their actions? Or do individuals who break the law earn the hardships which can sometimes emerge.

Cerberus was the frightening three-headed dog that guarded the underworld. The beast prevented souls from crossing into or out of the Hades' dominion. A sad irony then that three suicides emerged from the investigation. The undercover informant who set much of the investigation into motion, and two of the individuals indicted. Antiquities looters have almost certainly changed their behavior. Whether the investigation drove them further underground or caused them to cease the looting remains to be seen. One hopes they have ceased looting of sites, but until the demand for black market antiquities is erased, there will sadly be people willing to risk arrest. Investigators worked very hard to make this case, and agents work tirelessly to police these sites, yet until the demand is eliminated, will these investigations continue?
  1. Christopher Beam, FBI Mafia Arrests: The rise of the superindictment. Slate (2011), http://www.slate.com/id/2281894/?from=rss (last visited Jan 21, 2011).

The Cultural Heritage & the Arts Review

The American Society of International Law Cultural Heritage and the Arts Interest Group has published its second issue. Topics include the Machu Picchu artifacts which appear to be returning to Yale; the Met's repatriation of objects from King Tut's tomb, California's new Art Law, and more. You can find subscription information here.

Jan 20, 2011


  • Boy George (yes that one) agreed to return a looted icon to Cyprus after the church community saw the icon in a TV interview. 
  • Switzerland's Federal Culture Office is calling for a simplified and more accessible provenance research process, particularly with respect to Nazi-era spoliation.
  • "Portrait of a Young Woman" perhaps by Peter Paul Rubens
  • Three works—a Samuel Peploe, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Federico Barocci—were missing after an audit of the Glasgow Museums collection. They have been recovered after a curator saw the Corot listed in a catalog.
  • The United Kingdom's Culture Minister Ed Vaizey announced yesterday that this work has been denied export temporarily, in the hopes a domestic buyer will purchase the work.
  • Rutgers University's Zimmerli Art Museum has voluntarily agreed to return a work confiscated by the Nazi's to the grandson of the original owner.
  • Plans to draw tourists to the Roman city of Jerash in Jordan.
  • Tip of the iceberg: the British Museum kept 99% of its collection in storage during 2009-10 (via).
  • The import restrictions on certain objects from Italy have been announced. Let the rational appraisal begin.

Jan 19, 2011

What's the Difference Between a Pawnshop and antique shop?

The pawnshop is most likely subject to more regulation. Book and antique shops are criticizing a potential lapse in Utah law which would require all buyers of rare books and antiques to be fingerprinted, and a catalog entered of all the objects. At least part of the renewed calls for more regulation stem from a murder in November. Sherry Black, a prominent member of the community—mother-in-law to the owner of the Utah Jazz. She was a rare book dealer who bought $20,000 worth of books stolen from the Church of the Latter Day saints. The seller may have been a gang member who beat and stabbed the woman to death.

Given that kind of violence, a sensible increase in regulation seems warranted. It seems as if a running catalog of objects sold would be very helpful. Fingerprinting may be a step too far, but a simple photocopy of a drivers license perhaps would not seem out of the qustion, particularly if an objects value exceeds a sensible amount, $5,000 perhaps.

I was struck then by Ethan Trex's discussion of pawnshops:

Meanwhile, European pawnbroking began to flourish during the Middle Ages. The Norman Conquest introduced the practice to England, and the Lombardy region of northern Italy was another hotbed of pawnbroking. In fact, pawnbroking became so strongly identified with Lombardy throughout Europe that the term “Lombard” gradually became synonymous with “pawn shop” and “Lombard banking” was a widespread term for pawnbroking.
Anyone who turns to a pawnbroker to scare up some quick cash is in good historical company. Pope Leo X, a notoriously free spender, once had to pawn his own palace furniture and silver to cover his luxurious lifestyle and patronage of the arts. (It’s no surprise, then, that Leo X was at the helm of the Church when it gave the practice of pawnbroking the official thumbs-up in 1515.) In 1338 King Edward III hocked his jewels to raise funds for the English military at the dawn of what would become the Hundred Years’ War.

  1. Derek P. Jensen, Utah’s used-book, antique shops fear crackdown, The Salt Lake Tribune, January 13, 2011, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/51045760-76/says-law-antique-lawmakers.html.csp (last visited Jan 18, 2011).

Jan 18, 2011

Looted Statute (maybe Caligula) Seized Near Rome

A Bust of Caligula at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
Italian police have arrested a tombarolo with an 8-foot ancient statue not far from Rome. The statue may be worth €1 million. They believe the statue may be of Caligula, and may even have been looted from Caligula's tomb, which has not been discovered. We surely won't know if this tomb or the site was the actual tomb, but if looting is destroying the archaeological record, we are losing information.

Might the record have given us information on Caligula, who may have received a bad rap from the sources which have survived antiquity? Contemporaries describe the emperor as insane, saying he appointed a horse as consul, slept with his sisters, and killed often. But these might have been claims made by his political enemies in the senate and elsewhere—perhaps not too different from today's politics. After all, how could the son of Germanicus (my favorite Roman) have been such a bad guy. Caligula only ruled from AD 37-41, before he was assassinated.

I wonder where this statue was going to be sold? The United States, the middle-East, Asia? Excavations will start to reveal the archaeology of the site where the tomb raider unearthed the massive statue.

  1. Tom Kington, Caligula's tomb found after police arrest man trying to smuggle statue, The Guardian, January 17, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/17/caligula-tomb-found-police-statue (last visited Jan 18, 2011).

An Interview with Paolo Giorgio Ferri

Fabio Isman had a terrific interview with Italian Prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri which I've just now gotten around to reading. Ferri was the prosecutor during Marion True's trial in Italy. The discussion ranged from the problem of prosecuting antiquities looting to the international laws which apply, and the damage done by metal detecting. Here is an excerpt:

GDA: What was your first investigation into illegal excavations?
PGF: It was in 1994, with the then sergeant of the carabinieri department for cultural heritage, Vito Barra, now in charge of security at the Vatican Museums. We believed that a statue stolen at Villa Torlonia had been put up for auction at Sotheby’s. So we travelled to London [but made no progress]. Five months later, Sotheby’s sent me the names of two companies: Edition Services and Xoilan Trading. Edition Services is a company owned by Giacomo Medici, until now the only important “art robber” to have been convicted in Italy [Medici is currently appealing]. Xoilan Trading is one of the various names of [companies connected to] the art dealer Robin Symes. But at the time we didn’t know this. Faced with two Panamanian companies, Barra was on the verge of giving up. “No one’s going to tell us anything,” he said. Shortly afterwards, I met Daniela Rizzo, an archaeologist of the monuments office for southern Etruria. Together with Maurizio Pellegrini, from the museum of Villa Giulia, she was to play a crucial role in my work. 
  1. Fabio Isman, “Clandestine excavation is a crime that is hard to prove”, The Art Newspaper, January, 2011, http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/%E2%80%9CClandestine+excavation+is+a+crime+that+is+hard+to+prove%E2%80%9D/22164 (last visited Jan 18, 2011).

Jan 14, 2011

Friday Diversion: Eating in Amelia

I'm receiving a handful of questions each day from folks interested in attending the MA program in Amelia this summer. One of the most common kinds of questions seeks information about the day-to-day during those three months of the program. For those folks, I strongly recommend a look at Catherine Sezgin's recent series of posts on Amelia. Catherine graduated with the MA Certificate in 2009, and has gone on to do some super writing and research and in her spare time maintains ARCA's Blog. Have a look:
  1. Profile of Amelia
  2. Punto di Vino
  3. La Misticanza
  4. Porcelli's beats out Napoli Pizza
We have a really strong pool of applicants so far, but there is still space for more, so I do encourage you to submit an application, the deadline is January 21st.

Jan 13, 2011

Wild Story of A Forger who Donates his Forgeries

 Randy Kennedy has a super article (following an earlier report in the Art Newspaper) discussing a man named Mark Landis who forges works of art and donates the forgeries to art museums all over America. He may have been doing this for as many as twenty years.

His real name is Mark A. Landis, and he is a lifelong painter and former gallery owner. But when he paid a visit to the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum in Lafayette, La., last September, he seemed more like a character sprung from a Southern Gothic novel.

He arrived in a big red Cadillac and introduced himself as Father Arthur Scott. Mark Tullos Jr., the museum’s director, remembers that he was dressed “in black slacks, a black jacket, a black shirt with the clerical collar and he was wearing a Jesuit pin on his lapel.” Partly because he was a man of the cloth and partly because he was bearing a generous gift — a small painting by the American Impressionist Charles Courtney Curran, which he said he wanted to donate in memory of his mother, a Lafayette native — it was difficult not to take him at his word, Mr. Tullos said.

That is a pretty remarkable thing to do, even in the art trade. The lesson is clear though, we can certainly blame the forger/donor, but provenance and the history of an object must be checked, even when an object is donated. 
  1. Randy Kennedy, Elusive Forger, Giving but Never Stealing, N.Y. Times (Jan. 12, 2011).
  2. Helen Stoilas, "Jesuit priest" donates fraudulent works, The Art Newspaper (Nov. 2010).

Jan 12, 2011

The Central Park Obelisk

The Obelisk in Central Park 
On January 4th, Zahi Hawass posted on his blog parts of a letter he sent to New York City May Bloomberg which was erected in Central Park in 1880. Hawass was not criticizing the installation of the monument, or the way in which Frederick Olmstead installed it in his grand park. Rather Hawass voiced some concerns about weathering being done to the hieroglyphic text on the needle. News of the fact that New York is not caring for an ancient Egyptian obelisk soon spread. David Gill argued "Noth Americans" who are critical of the situation at Pompeii should be "chastened". But I'm  not at all sure that weathering is actually taking place, and I do not see how Zahi Hawass can make that claim either: he has made his allegations on the basis of some photographs which he was sent.

This is certainly outside my area of expertise, so I'd appreciate any corrections in the comments below. But it seems to me like Hawass is making some unfounded allegations. He is claiming that the air pollution, rain, snow and wind in New York are wearing down the obelisk. And from this image, some kind of weathering certainly seems to have happened. But why is the face to the right of the photographer still in very good condition? Moreover, in the comments on his blog, Hawass does not make any specific claims, or provide any possible remedies. He only makes a loud claim, that New York and Central Park are not caring for this object. How do we know the obelisk did not look like this before it was removed to New York?

It seems to me that Hawass is instead trying to argue that wealthier nations are not caring for antiquities, and arguing that he and Egypt will. He says that "If the Central Park Conservancy and the City of New York cannot properly care for this obelisk, I will take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin."

No one can fault Hawass for his passion, but here I think his criticism of the care for this obelisk is misguided. Is there something toxic about New York that is prematurely weathering this obelisk? What about the similar obelisks in London and Paris? 

Jan 10, 2011

Weber on Liability for Faked or Wrongly Attributed Works of Art in the U.S.

Marc Weber, an attorney in Zurich, has passed along his recent book section on certain aspects of U.S. law dealing with fake or wrongly attributed art works. It appears in a volume honoring Kurt Siehr on his 75th birthday, which appears to be worth seeking out as well, with contributions in both English and German. Marc has made the piece available at his website, and I've reproduced the introduction below:

A work of art isn’t always what it seems to be. Sometimes the buyer learns that he has just purchased a forgery and sometimes the seller realizes that he has just sold an original. As with other contract dispute, the dissatisfied party will seek redress in the courts, but the courts are faced with problems that are specific to dispute arising from the sale of art when it comes to fakes, the provenance and authenticity of works of art.
If the sold piece of art is a forgery, the buyer sues for the repayment of the purchase price in exchange for the return of the work of art. The buyer will seek to do the same after having bought a work of art which is not executed by the artist but by his school. The seller attempts to sue the buyer for the return of the work of art in exchange for the restitution of the purchase price, should a work of art sold as a real copy turn out to be the work of the master or a painting from a school is actually a work of the master himself. The legal remedies of the first case (warranty) differ from the ones of the second case (mistake).
In addition to the remedy of rescission of the contract, under certain circumstances, a cause of action for product disparagement may arise. Finally, if artists’ authentication boards or committees are considered as the only authority to authenticate certain pieces of art, breaches of antitrust laws could be claimed.
It is a concise and very lively summary of the relevant legal rules, with helpful summaries of many of the major cases. It is also a suitable tribute to Prof. Siehr, who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, but who has some outstanding scholarly writings which are well-written, scholarly, and sometimes even funny.

Jan 5, 2011

My Review of "Metal Detecting and Archaeology" in the AJA Online

My review of "Metal Detecting and Archaeology", edited by Suzie Thomas and Peter G. Stone (2008) is available online at the American Journal of Archaeology. As I wrote in my review, the collection of essays offers new insights into the tension between parts of the public and archaeologists. It's a collection which has much to offer any thoughtful discussion of the clashes between metal detecting and archaeological study. There are comparative examples of positive contributions metal detectorists can bring to scientific study, and also a frank discussion of the harm done and laws which are broken.

Alternative Dispute Resolution and Art-Law

Anne Laure Bandle and Sarah Theurich have an article in Vol 6, No 1 of the Journal of International Commercial Law and Technology titled "Alternative Dispute Resolution and Art-Law - A New Research Project of the Geneva Art-Law Centre".

This article introduces the new research project of the Geneva Art-Law Centre, which aims to study alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods for art-related disputes. It gives a brief introduction on the topic of the research the project - the significant potential of ADR mechanisms in art law - and provides an overview of the growing international consideration for ADR in art-law matters. While types of art-related disputes vary considerably from case to case, certain common features may be identified to explain the need for adapted dispute resolution in this area. The Art-Law Centre’s research project will involve the creation of an Art-Law ADR Database recording art-related disputes worldwide that were resolved by means of ADR methods, as well as a thorough case analysis. To illustrate the nature of the research project, this paper specifies the different project stages and gives examples of collected art-law cases.

An interesting approach and a project with a great deal of potential. Well worth a read.

Jan 4, 2011


A bas-relief in Babylon (via NYT)

Stewarding the Watts Towers

I remember driving through LA for the first time five years ago, seeing these towers from the distance, and wondering what kind of crazy accident created those. I only learned later they were the work of one man, building on his own. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is nearing an agreement to oversee the restoration and preservation of the Watts Towers:

Director of Lacma's conservation department, Mark Gilberg, aims to take a more holistic approach to conservation efforts, which up until now have been short-term. “We are rethinking procedures and adopting ones that will be more proactive than reactive,” says Gilberg. Initial delays regarding insurance concerns have been resolved with the promise that Lacma will not be financially responsible for any gross negligence while working on the towers.
The decision to recruit the museum comes amidst a major budget shakedown across the state, which has resulted in slashed funding to nearly every sector. The state-owned Watts Towers “are in a situation where they are fighting a battle all the time,” explains Lacma spokeswoman, Barbara Pflaumer. Last year, before Los Angeles's municipal budget was cut, the offer for Lacma's conservation expertise was $300,000. Olga Garay, the head of the city's department of cultural affairs, has reportedly put the total restoration costs at $5m.
 I've probably linked to it before, but after the jump you can see a 1957 documentary showing Simon Rodia at work:

  1. Marisa Mazria Katz, Lacma nears deal on Watts Towers project The Art Newspaper, http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Lacma+nears+deal+on+Watts+Towers+project/22146 (last visited Jan 4, 2011).


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