April 26, 2014

Al Ghat, A Hidden Treasure, Sets Example for Cultural Property Heritage Preservation

Al Ghat valley. Photo by Christiana O’Connell-Schizas
by Christiana O’Connell-Schizas

Al Ghat, a hidden treasure amongst the mysterious sands of Arabia, has set a prime example for other culturally rich rural villages and towns like itself; their renovation and restoration projects are attracting more and more people who are slowly starting to appreciate its patrimony and its eminent date plantations.

Located less than a three hour drive northwest of Riyadh, Al Ghat, with a population of less than 20,000, has a 30-bed hospital; a community center; two high schools; and hundreds of date farms. Unlike many other regions in the Kingdom, Al Ghat has sustainable soil and available water sources: three natural water springs; a well dating to the Prophet himself (Peace be upon Him); and, depending on the time of year, waterfalls.[1] In old Al Ghat village, one can find dilapidated mud-straw houses, the last of which were abandoned 40-50 years ago (these residences were made of the same materials used 500 years ago.)

Home of the Saudi dates

Traditional agriculture was confined to small plots along the valley banks, producing small harvests of dates, wheat, and various fruits and vegetables. In the 1980s, to encourage agriculture, the government distributed land, dug wells, and purchased farming tools and fertilizers which led to a huge expansion of Al Ghat’s farming sector. According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Saudi Arabian date production now represents approximately 12 to 14 percent of world production.[2]

Our camp site on the plantation. Photo by Nehme El Jorr
A few weeks ago, with some family and friends, I was fortunate enough to be welcomed and treated to the hospitality of a local date farmer. We camped out on his plantation for one night and he shared the following information with us: One date bearing palm tree can easily produce 200 kilograms of dates per season. Depending on the variety of date, each kilo is sold for SAR 20 (equivalent to approximately $5)[3]. The plantation has a modest 100 palm trees so if he sold his product, he would receive a gross income of about SAR 400,000 ($106,600) per season.

Al Ghat dates have even made an impact in London with the opening of the Bateel coffee shop in August 2011 on a corner of New Bond Street and with Saudi artist Budur bint Abdullah Al-Sudairy's piece titled: ‘Al-Ghat Dates: Candy for the rich, Nourishment for the poor’ which the Ulysses Prize at the London Art Biennale, 2013.

Heritage projects

A dilapidated house in Al Ghat. Photo by Costas S. Schizas
Aside from the remarkable date farms, Al Ghat is recognized for its cultural heritage and, in contrast to many Saudi towns, its commended efforts to maintain it. 

One way the Al Ghat Municipality is preserving its heritage is by renovating many of the old residences and turning them into a luxurious $1,000 per night hotel. It is unclear how many of the old houses will be restored to their former glory and the project is far from complete. This could probably be attributed to a lack of funding, and the fact that the same tools, methods and materials are being used for the reconstruction. This is extremely time consuming as the bricks have to be prepared in the same way as they were hundreds of years ago. Mud is obtained and mixed with straw (the binding agent), and sand (to stop the bricks from breaking). The mixture is subsequently packed into brick shaped molds and left in the sun to dry over an extended period. During the building process, wet mud is used in place of cement to hold the bricks together.

A caved in roof with more dilapidated
 houses in the background. Photo by author.
The roof’s structural beams are made of acacia wood that is scarcely obtained from the surrounding desert. Then, dry palm branches or thin bamboo shoots, found by the riverbanks, are tightly tied together to form a type of mat that is laid on the beams before a thick layer of mud is spread over the said to fill the gaps. This provides good insulation against the blazing desert sun.

Some of the completed projects include the old market and the central square of the old town. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) worked effortlessly with the Al Ghat Municipality to ensure its unique cultural heritage is preserved. Their efforts have brought many tourists to this small town, local and expatriates alike. Special weekly festivals reminiscent of the Najd traditions and souks are arranged in the town on Thursdays and the local market offers farm products and tools.[4]

The other significant project has been the Al Ghat Municipal Museum. The museum was the palace of the late Prince Nasser bin Saad Al-Sudairy that was donated to highlight Al Ghat's social life and history throughout the ages and the contribution of its residents in the foundation of the Saudi State.[5] It exhibits Paleolithic tools and petroglyphs found in and around Al Ghat; traditional agriculture, clothing and crafts; traditional hunting using ancient guns, dogs and falcons; the governors of the village appointed by the King; the British explorers that passed through Al Ghat, such as William Gifford Palgrave; and the ‘jussah’, the room in the home set aside for the preservation of dates.

The production of the said bricks with some of the restored
buildings in the background and a workman's portacabin
on the right. Photo by author.
The international cultural community should applaud the SCTA’s endeavors in preserving Al Ghat’s cultural heritage and recognize the jewels the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has to offer.

[1] According to Sheikh Abdullah bin Khamis, Al Ghat received its name from the echoes of the gushing water through the canyon toward the town.

[2] During the summer of 2012, the annual Buraidah Dates Festival, the world’s largest dates festival, attracted more than one million visitors from around the Kingdom. Farmers and venders sold an estimated 300,000 tones of dates worth approximately SR1 billion over the 90-day event. Sukkari dates account for 80 percent of sales and are the most popular among Saudis according to vendors.
Long barks of acacia wood being used as roof beams.
Photo by Costas S. Schizas.

[3] Saudi has 450 varieties of the 2,000 species known worldwide.

[4] "Al-Ghat Becoming a Tourist Destination." Arab News, 23 Mar. 2012.

[5] Al Ghat supported the Salafi reform movement and acceded peacefully to the First Saudi State. Historical sources do not refer any military campaigns directed against the village. Oral reports mention that some of the Al Ghat inhabitants took part in the campaigns waged against the First Saudi State to help spread reform.

A view of a completed roof. Photo by author.
References

"Al-Ghat Becoming a Tourist Destination." Arab News, 23 Mar. 2012. Web.

Harrison, Roger. "Bateel London." Arab News, 28 Mar. 2012. Web.

Hassan, Rashid. "Heritage Sites in Riyadh See Massive Influx of Visitors." Arab News, 21 Oct. 2013. Web.

Hurst, Henry A. "Dates: The Fruit of Islam and Arabia." Saudi Gazette, 7 Nov. 2012. Web.

Informal discussions with Fawaz and Imad Al Azmi and Khaled Al Amar owners of the date plantation mentioned above.

"Saudi Painter Wins in London." Arab News, 29 Jan. 2013. Web.

April 24, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection: Opinion: "What to do with the Munich Art Trove?"

by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The missteps by the German federal and state authorities continue, as they try but so far fail properly to deal with the many art works known variously as the Munich Art Trove, the Schwabing Art Trove, or the Gurlitt Art hoard (“Modern Art as Nazi Plunder”, The New York Times, April 14; “Gurlitt art confiscation ends”, The Art Newspaper, April 9, 2014). 

To recap: In March 2012 Bavarian tax authorities stumble on over 1400 works of art in a nondescript Munich flat, owned by Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a Nazi-era German art dealer. They sit on the news for a year and a half until, in November 2013, German media break the news to a stunned world and, increasingly, an angry and frustrated group of widely dispersed possible claimants. Initially, stonewalling and bluster and a dismissively bureaucratic attitude are on display, until the intervention of Federal authorities leads to the reluctant acknowledgement that this is not just another local tax evasion case. But the release of details of the art works continues to be frustratingly slow and incomplete.

Visits to other homes owned by Mr. Gurlitt reveal even more art works, some in deteriorated condition, amid both ongoing calls for much greater openness in deciding just what would happen to the art works, and questions about the legality of the seizure of the works by the Bavarian authorities. 

Eventually, a multinational Task Force to investigate the provenance of the art works is announced by the German Government. Potential problems with Nazi-era laws, still on the statute books in Germany, loom, as does the absence from Germany’s statute books of any law requiring the return of Nazi-era looted art.

Now comes further disquieting news: The German Government has announced a deal, apparently negotiated with Mr. Gurlitt’s legal guardian, his defense counsel and the Bavarian authorities, (but without it seems the involvement or indeed knowledge of any representatives of the dispossessed), “to allow provenance research on a voluntary basis once the works are released from police custody.” But the Task Force will be up against an arbitrary one year deadline, after which provenance research will continue, it seems, only at Mr. Gurlitt’s pleasure. One short year to investigate and decide what should happen to over 1500 individual art works, many of which had been acquired by a dubious art dealer in times of chaos and circumstances of disaster 70 years ago, that had been hidden for decades with no whisper of their continued existence, and the details (and even images) of which are, even today, still incomplete. One year? Really?

And, on the same day, comes word that an unidentified rival claim to Matisse’s “Woman Sitting in Armchair” has come forward, jeopardizing negotiations to return that one painting to the heirs of French art dealer Paul Rosenberg just as an agreement to return the painting seemed close. And that is only one painting, albeit one with an uncharacteristically clear and well-established provenance. If there are problems with the Matisse, in a relatively straightforward case, what is to be the fate of the very many others where the records are missing or incomplete or inconsistent, the evidence patchy or confused or inconclusive, and the path to a resolution likely to prove labyrinthine?

The German government needs to accept that this mess is not a German tangle to unravel. It is unavoidably an international one. The creation of the Task Force was a partial recognition of that, but the continuing and serial missteps and errors, and the persistent inability or reluctance to be completely open about what is happening on the part of both the Bavarian and German Federal authorities, and now the imposition of an arbitrary and unrealistic deadline, demonstrate that, for whatever reason, the complexity of the truly international nature of the multi-faceted challenges presented by these art works eludes them.

What should happen, and quickly, is the creation of an independent, well-resourced ad-hoc international tribunal to determine the fate of each and every one of the many art works recovered. The Tribunal itself should consist of international jurists and others with a range of art-crime related skills, assisted by a staff of independent provenance researchers, art and general historians, claimant advocates, and dispute resolution specialists.

Secondly, that tribunal should be given the job, by German legislation and international treaty working in tandem, of resolving the fate of each art work by employing first a range of dispute resolution processes. If those processes do not result in an agreed just and fair solution, then the Tribunal should have the jurisdiction to decide each case by giving due weight and recognition to the moral aspects of each case, in addition to relevant legal factors. 70 years on, much relevant evidence, even if it once existed, is gone. All contemporary witnesses to Hildebrand Gurlitt’s activities are dead. Many records and documents that might once have existed have been lost or mislaid or destroyed in the chaos of wartime and post-war Europe. In those circumstances, to compel sometimes inadequately resourced claimants onto a strictly legal battlefield, hedged about with evidential and procedural constraints within the artificially narrow construct of a sovereign state’s domestic legal system, and then to require them to fight a legal battle against that same sovereign state, will likely pile future injustice on the top of past wrongs.

The December 1998 Washington Principles, to which Germany is a signatory, demand identification of looted art, open and accessible records, the public dissemination of art proactively to seek out pre-War owners or heirs, and the deploying of resources and personnel. A “just and fair” solution must actively be sought. Germany has been, at best, a cautious adopter of these principles. Fifteen years on, these 1500 art works give Germany the opportunity to cut this Gordian knot. Such an approach is not unprecedented. The various threads already exist, in both the looted art arena and elsewhere. All that is required is the will and the leadership simply to do it. 

Judge Arthur Tompkins is a trial Judge from Wellington, New Zealand. He teaches Art in War each year as part of the Postgraduate Certificate in Art Crimes Studies offered by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (www.artcrimeresearch.org), in Umbria, Italy.

April 23, 2014

Republic of Austria vs. Altmann: Schoenberg to speak at Malibu City Hall Council Chambers on April 29

E. Randol Schoenberg will discuss "Republic of Austria vs. Altmann" at the Malibu City Hall Council Chambers on April 29 at a free lecture sponsored by the Malibu Cultural Arts Commission (see article by Sarah Schmerling in The Malibu Times). You may find more information at the Malibu City Calendar of events here.
E. Randol Schoenberg and his client, Maria Altmann, famously took on the Republic of Austria to recover paintings stolen from Altmann’s family under the Nazi regime during World War II. The case involved convincing the United States Supreme Court to that Altmann could sue Austria for the return of the paintings. The dispute was arbitrated in Austria and, in January 2006, that panel agreed that the paintings, valued at over $325 million, should be returned to the family.

April 22, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - No comments

Knoedler Gallery and Julian Weissman Fine Art: Spanish Art Fraud Suspects to fight US Extradition Request in Spain as US Federal Indictment is Unsealed

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO

United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preetinder Singh "Preet" Bharara; George Venizelos, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Shantelle P. Kitchen, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation division, have unsealed a 12 count indictment charging Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, Jesus Angel Bergantiños Diaz, and Pei-Shen Qian with orchestrating a $33 million scheme to create and sell fake masterpieces by artists including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell.  The indictment outlines that these works were instead created by Pei-Shen Qian.

 A copy of the indictment outlining the charges against all three defendants is listed here.

Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz was arrested in Seville on Friday, April 18, 2014 at hotel NH Viapol in the Andalusian capital after his name registered with an outstanding detainment request from US authorities.  Jose Carlos'  brother was arrested in Lugo.  Testifying remotely from Seville and directly in Madrid before Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu of Spain’s National Court, both brothers refused to give consent to be extradited voluntarily to face charges in the United States.

The Spanish court is expected to rule on the brothers' extradition which must be ratified by Spain's cabinet. In the interim, the judge hearing the case elected to remove their passports and forbade them from leaving Spain.  A copy of the treaty on extradition between the United States of America and Spain can be found here.

Last September,  Mexican-US art dealer Glafira Rosales, entered a guilty plea to nine counts including wire fraud, tax evasion, and knowingly selling fake art before a US federal judge in connection to this case.

You can read more about the background of this case here.

James Moore will be presenting on this case at ARCA's International Art Crime Conference in June.

Looted Artifacts from Peru: A story of grave robbing from the 1970s

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The story of how a woman in the 70s supported her traveling in South America by smuggling pre-Columbian artifacts is presented in True Crime: Real-Life Stories of Abduction, Addiction, Obsession, Murder, Grave-Robbing and More (InFACT Books, 2013) edited by Lee Gutkind, founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine.

Joyce Marcel describes herself in "Grave Robber: A Love Story" as a woman in her early 30s in the 1970s on an adventure in Ecuador that involved "a bit of grave robbing":
I'm not too proud of that now, but in 1976, I didn't believe in ghosts or national treasure. I just wanted to keep traveling. I bought pre-Columbian ceramics, textiles, jewelry and artifacts from a secret village tucked away in the Atacama Desert, far outside of Lima, Peru; I wrapped the stuff in newspaper and bought it to the United States. I kept everything but the ceramics, which I dropped off at Sotheby's Parke-Bernet in New York. Back then, they didn't care about ghosts or national treasures, either. They auctioned off everything I gave them and sent the checks to me in Lima, and I'd be back on the road again.
Ms. Marcel tells of meeting someone who "knew his way around South America because he'd been thrown out of the Peace Corps for smuggling" who had a "perfect scam" that involved a town in the Peruvian desert, mummies from the Chancay civilization, and selling artifacts to an art dealer he'd met in a bar in San Francisco, and how she dealt with her paranoia about smuggling:
At that point, I formulated "Joyce's Law": After you've decided to do something illegal or weird, give up on the worrying. No matter what nightmares you imagine, reality will be different. And anyway, it's out of your control. At the border, nothing happened -- except that the immigration man said, "I won't let you through; you're too pretty. I want you to stay with me."
According to Ms. Marcel, for five years she followed a routine of trading American goods to locals in this Peruvian village until "the United States suddenly recognized Peru's national treasures act" [and] "in 1980, instead of being passed through U.S. customs by bored inspectors, I was stopped." She writes:
My baggage was searched, and I was taken into a small room and given a harsh lesson about the harm I was doing by robbing a country of its archaeological treasures. I was such a small-time operator that they let me go with my last shipment intact. Later, when the big exporters came through, they were busted and their shipments confiscated. And when the really big operators arrived, customs not only confiscated their shipments but went to their homes and took their personal collections.
For a broader view on looting in South America, you may read Karl E. Meyer's The Plundered Past : The Story of the Illegal International Traffic in Works of Art (Antheneum 1977) recommended by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis for his ARCA 2014 course on "Unravelling The Hidden Market of Illicit Antiquities: Lessons from Greece and Italy".

April 21, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014 - , No comments

CNN's Amanpour interviews Schama about Neue Galerie's exhibit on the "Degenerate Art" in Nazi Germany in 1937; WSJ's Lance Esplund Reviews

Here's a seven minute video on CNN with Christiane Amanpour interviewing historian Simon Schama  (professor at Columbia University) about the exhibit "Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937" at the Neue Galerie now on display through June 30 in New York City. Schama explains that "modern art was a response to that city" and proposes that what Hitler hated "was the literal deforming of art by modernist traits."

Here on the gallery's website, the exhibit is identified as:
the first major U.S. museum exhibition devoted to the infamous display of modern art by the Nazis since the 1991 presentation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art....Highlights of the show include a number of works shown in Munich in the summer of 1937, such as Max Beckmann's Cattle in a Barn (1933); George Grosz's Portrait of Max Hermann-Neisse (1925); Erich Heckel's Barbershop (1913); Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Winter Landscape in Moonlight (1919), The Brücke-Artists (1926/27); Paul Klee's The Angler (1921), The Twittering Machine (1922), and Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (1925); Oskar Kokoschka's The Duchess of Montesquiou-Fezensac (1910); Ewald Mataré's Lurking Cat (1928); Karel Niestrath's Hungry Girl (1925); Emil Nolde's Still-Life with Wooden Figure (1911), Red-Haired Girl (1919), and Milk Cows (1913); Christian Rohlf's The Towers of Soest (ca. 1916) and Acrobats (ca. 1916); Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's Pharisees (1912); and Lasar Segall's The Eternal Wanderers (1919), among others.
Lance Esplund of The Wall Street Journal calls the show "informative and affecting" ("A War of Aesthetics—and Life and Death", March 19, 2014). The Neue Gallerie lists other reviews and highlights here.

April 19, 2014

Gurlitt Art Collection: NYT's "A Hidden Art Trove and a Lost Relative" -- another artist that may be in the collection alongside the famous Matisses and Monets

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Catherine Hickley reports April 18 in The New York Times in "A Hidden Art Trove and a Lost Relative" on the current exhibition in Germany of work by the aunt of Cornelius Gurlitt, the art collector and son of Hildebrand Gurlitt who was an active art dealer during and after the Third Reich. The artist Cornelia Gurlitt was the sister of Hildebrand. Ms. Hickley reports:
Born in 1890, Ms. Gurlitt was the elder sister of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a dealer who bought art for Adolf Hitler’s planned “Führermuseum” and acquired the cache of more than 1,200 works found in his son’s apartment. Ms. Gurlitt’s work is virtually unknown — partly because much of it is thought to have been hidden for decades in her nephew’s home, alongside the Matisses, Monets and Munchs. Those works remain out of public reach for now. Yet some of Ms. Gurlitt’s melancholy, Expressionist images, many of them lithographs, did find their way into the possession of friends and family members.

April 17, 2014

Cyprus: Antiquities bust in Aphrodite’s city

Hoard found in Mr. X's house (Photo from Alithia Online)
by Christiana O'Connell-Schizas

On Thursday, February 27th, a 58-year old Cypriot man (Mr X) was arrested in Cyprus for illegal possession of ancient artefacts. The Paphos CID detectives, acting on a tip, raided Mr X’s house in Peyia where they found [1]: 58 amphorae, 20 golden artefacts and six bayonets from the Hellenistic period (323-31BC).  These items were confiscated, along with five firearms dating to the early 20th century, a Russian AK-47, a metal detector, coins, jewellery, gold chalices and €9.411 in cash. Mr. X could not provide convincing explanations as to the provenance of any of the objects.[2] The Department of Antiquities is inspecting the artefacts collected as evidence from Mr X's house in anticipation of his trial before the Paphos District Court.

Another view of Mr. X's stash
According to Cypriot Antiquity Law, any antiquity that remains undiscovered as of 1935 is the property of the Government. Antiquities accidentally discovered by unlicensed persons (whether found on their land or not) must be delivered to the mukhtar or other authorised persons, such as the police or a museum. To be in compliance for the law, Mr. X would have had to acquire the item before 1935 and have registered it with the Director of Antiquities by 1 January 1974.[3] In practice today, chance finders are often granted a license to possess (and sell) antiquities so long as the Department of Antiquities does not want them. Following Mr X's arrest on suspicion of illegal possession of antiquities, it is not clear whether or not he approached such authorities, whether he knew or reasonably believed the antiquities to be illicitly excavated, or whether he may have dug them up himself. If this is the case, the court will most likely confiscate the artefacts and deliver them to the Director of Antiquities. Mr X could face imprisonment up to three years and/or a fine.

Blank form to operate metal detector
Any person in possession of a metal detector must complete and submit a form to the Director of Antiquities (a blank copy of the said form can be found to the right.) If an individual is successful in obtaining this license, they can only metal-detect in areas specified by the Minister by a notice in the Republic’s Official Gazette. There have been no recent notices designating metal-detecting areas. If Mr X is found to not possess the requisite metal-detector license he could be found liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years and/or to a fine not exceeding €30.000.

In my discussion with an individual from Department of Antiquities, finding looted antiquities in Cypriot houses, particularly in more remote areas of the island, is very common. The day Mr. X was arrested, gun shots were heard in Peristerona.[4] Two days later, four men -- two with gunshots wounds -- were arrested and the incident was attributed to an attempt to settle a score between rival gangs. According to a person working in the Department of Antiquities, upon inspection of one of the men's houses, illicitly excavated antiquities were found. No newspaper published this event and I only came to know about it from a discussion with the unnamed individual working in the Department of Antiquities.[5]

Are all these busts related to one another? Is each individual smuggling their contraband abroad and selling it themselves on the grey market[6] or is there a 'Medici/Becchina' figure who is facilitating the sale of antiquities? In 2010, police caught a cartel of ten smugglers that were attempting to sell 4,000-year old urns, silver coins and figurines, worth an estimate of €11 million (approximately $15 million)[7]. Could their associates still be in 'business'? How large and how far does this ring of organised crime[8] extend in Cyprus?

[1] "Stolen Relics Arrest." InCyprus.com. Philenews. 28 Feb. 2014.
[3] There is a lot of criticism of this 1973 amendment to the Antiquities Law. The illicit trade in antiquities flourished in Cyprus in the 1960s. The Department of Antiquities tried to control it by imposing the six-month registration period (the amendment in June 1973 allowed collectors until 31 December 1973 to register their collections). This however had the adverse effect of intensifying looting and illicit trade - private collectors became greedy and wanted to acquire as many artefacts as possible so as they could register them by the deadline. More than 1250 new private collections appeared during this period, many of which purchased artefacts directly from looters. (See Hardy, Sam A. "Cypriot Antiquities Law on Looted Artefacts and Private Collections." Web log post. Human Rights Archaeology: Cultural Heritage in Conflict., 11 Jan. 2011.) 
[4] Psillides, Constantinos. "New Arrest in Case of Peristerona Shoot-out." 
[5] The Director of Antiquities (who is responsible for press releases) failed to respond to my telephone calls or e-mails in regards to this article. 
[6] Illicit antiquities are frequently sold on the open market. McKenzie argues that, because the trade in antiquities is legal, it turns the issue from black and white to an ambiguous shade of grey. See Mackenzie, Simon, 'The Market as Criminal and Criminals in the Market: Reducing Opportunities for Organised Crime in the International Antiquities Market'. 
[8] Vulnerabilities in the antiquities trade have presented the opportunity to make a profit through organised crime. Art. 2(a) of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime 2000 defines organised crime as being: “[a] structured group of three or more persons... acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences... to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.” The following subsections go on to define 'serious crimes' and 'structured group', but it is evident that the group arrested in 2010 fits the UN definition. Although there are various definitions for organised crime, the UN's definition is broader than say that of the FBI's to include crimes such as antiquities, which are not necessarily motivated by money; they also do not need to be in a formal organisation but must have committed criminal not civil offences.

References:


Cyprus Antiquities Law.

"Cyprus Antiquities Smuggling Ring Broken up." BBC News. BBC, 25 Jan. 2010.

Brief Telephone Discussion with an unnamed individual working in the Department of Antiquities. 

Hardy, Sam A. "Cypriot Antiquities Law on Looted Artefacts and Private Collections." Web log post. Human Rights Archaeology: Cultural Heritage in Conflict., 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 

Mackenzie, Simon. 2011: 'The Market as Criminal and Criminals in the Market: Reducing Opportunities for Organised Crime in the International Antiquities Market'. in: S. Manacorda and D. Chappell, (eds) Crime in the Art and Antiquities World: Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Property. New York: Springer, New York; 69 - 86.

Psillides, Constantinos. "New Arrest in Case of Peristerona Shoot-out." Cyprus Mail. N.p., 15 Mar. 2014.

"Stolen Relics Arrest." InCyprus.com. Philenews. 28 Feb. 2014.

"Αυτό δεν ήταν σπίτι αλλά…μουσείο." Alithia Online. Aλήθεια, 28 Feb. 2014. Web.

April 15, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - No comments

Gurlitt Art Collection: Editorial Board of The New York Times Says German officials mishandled case

The Editorial Board of The New York Times published an opinion piece, "Modern Art as Nazi Plunder", online April 14 describing the German government as "mishandling" the art collection of Cornelius Gurlitt (seized two years ago from his home and outed as "Nazi plunder" by FOCUS Magazine last November) and claim that more than a year, if needed, should be allowed to research the provenance of these paintings (here's the post linking to the press release announcing that Cornelius Gurlitt's art collection would be returned to him while provenance research continues).
German officials are scrambling to recover from their mishandling of a trove of artistic masterworks, including pieces reputedly looted from Jewish collectors, that had been hidden away since the Nazi era. ...  The controversy is not likely to diminish under an agreement announced last week that provides for the art to be returned to Mr. Gurlitt’s technical ownership while a panel of art specialists is given a year to settle the provenance of questionable pieces. This may be no easy task. ...  More claims are certain to be made as the full content of the trove is finally made public. The discovery of the trove has caused the German government to relax its 30-year statute of limitations on making claims to stolen property. ... If more than a year is needed for a full and fair study of the Munich trove, the German authorities should make that happen.

April 12, 2014

Dr. Daniela Rizzo and Mr Maurizio Pellegrini Win ARCA's 2014 Art Protection & Recovery Award

Dr. Daniela Rizzo and Mr Maurizio Pellegrini, Soprintendenza Beni Archeologici Etruria Meridionale at the Villa Giulia, have won ARCA's 2014 Art Protection & Recovery Award. Past winners have included: Vernon Rapley and Francesco Rutelli (2009), Charlie Hill and Dick Drent (2010), Lord Colin Renfrew and Paolo Giorgio Ferri (2011), Karl von Habsburg, Dr. Joris Kila Ernst Schöller (2012), Sharon Cohen Levin and Christos Tsirogiannis (2013).

Dott.ssa Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini are employees of Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (MiBACT) who work directly for the Soprintendenza for Southern Etruria's Archeological Heritage which covers the archaeological territories of Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci, Veio, Lucas Feroniae, Civitavecchia, Sutri , Tuscania, Pyrgi, Volsinii and San Lorenzo Nuovo. Dr. Rizzo oversees the department of Goods Control and Circulation with the assistance of Massimo Pellegrini. Their offices are located at the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. One of the main commitments of their department and the Soprintendenza overall is the fighting of criminal activities and illegal traffic of archaeological objects from the southern territories.

In 1985 the Soprintendenza set up a special service, "The Office of confiscation and illicit excavations" (ufficio sequestri e scavi clandestini), which constantly monitors the phenomenon of illegal excavations and the finds of illegal trafficking. To achieve this goal, their office began working closely with Italy’s National Judicial Authority and the security forces (Carabinieri TPC and Guardia di Finanza), which work together in this sector. This collaboration aims to recover Italian archaeological materials that have been taken away illegally from the national territory and often have ended up in important foreign collections. Since 1995, their work has achieved very positive results and has resulted in the identification of numerous archaeological objects taken illegally and found in a number of American and European museums or in private collections abroad. Based on the inspection of and matching between confiscated photographs and documents, their investigations have facilitated negotiations between American and European museums which have often concluded in important cultural agreements rather than lengthy judicial prosecutions. Thanks to these agreements, archaeological finds are regularly being returned to Italy from places like New York and Boston. Through their in-depth work, the famous Euphronios crater, now on display in the new rooms of Villa Giulia, has been recognized as property of the Italian state and was returned to Rome in 2008 from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Similar agreements have been concluded with the Princeton University Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the J.P. Getty Museum of Malibu. In cases where traffickers have been identified their work with the "Procura della Repubblica" (Italian prosecutor's office) and the Court of Rome has made it possible, in some circumstances, to try specific cases associated with illegal trafficking of antiquities within Italy. Cases of note include the exemplary punishment imposed by the Court of Rome on an Italian trafficker, who operated in Switzerland and the 2005 criminal proceedings that were initiated against Marion True, the former curator who purchased trafficked archaeological objects for The Paul Getty Museum, and cases involving Robert Hecht. As a result of their work and the recovery of objects, a room in the Villa Giulia has housed a temporary traveling exhibition to increase the public’s awareness to the impact of trafficking, the significance of the problem and what is being done to combat it. The carefully curated exhibition included numerous objects which have been repatriated from Southern Etruria as well as examples of documents used in their ongoing investigations and prosecutions by the Italian authorities.

Saturday, April 12, 2014 - ,, No comments

FBI Announces Return of 75 paintings by Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska to Poland

"Boy on Donkey" (Courtesy of FBI)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The FBI office in San Francisco located paintings by a Polish painter in a storage facility and have been turned over to a Polish museum in Switzerland, the FBI announced in a press release.
Seventy-Five Paintings by Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska Considered Polish Cultural Artifacts, National Treasures ... Hanna Weynerowska, also known as “Kali” in her association with the Polish Underground Resistance during World War II, was a career artist. Following the war, she returned to painting and traveled the world until she immigrated to San Francisco. In 1998, Weynerowska died, but her paintings were being pursued by a museum custodian, but the transfer never occurred. Recently, the paintings were located in a storage facility under safe keeping by a member of Weynerowska’s family. The paintings will be housed and displayed at The Polish Museum in Rapperswil, Switzerland. Notably, “Boy on Donkey,” “Boy with Rooster,” “Pacheco Pass,” “Rafaelito,” “The Cobbler,” and “Walking a Bird” were among the 75 paintings returned.... This investigation was conducted by the FBI San Francisco Field Office and FBI Legal Attaché Office in Warsaw.
Here's the report by Jose Rosato Jr. for NBC Bay Area; he begins with:
By all accounts, Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska led a colorful life – the sort of colorful life she might depict in one of her many paintings. As an up-and-coming painter in her native Poland, she was building something of a name for herself before World War II broke out. Then she was captured by Nazis, escaped from a concentration camp, became a freedom fighter, and eventually made her way to San Francisco, where she continued to paint.

April 11, 2014

ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins Discusses The Ghent Altarpiece, a stolen masterpiece, on National Radio's show with Kim Hill in NZ

ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins is scheduled as a guest with National Radio's Kim Hill (New Zealand's version of National Public Radio) in the first of a series about stolen masterpieces. On Saturday in New Zealand at 9.40 a.m., Judge Tompkins spoke about The Ghent Altarpiece.  You may listen to the recording on the ARCA website here

Simon Mackenzie Awarded ARCA's 2014 Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Excellence in Art Crime Scholarship

Simon Mackenzie, Trafficking Culture project at the University of Glasgow, is the winner of ARCA's 2014 Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Excellence in Art Crime Scholarship. Past winners: Norman Palmer (2009); Larry Rothfield (2010); Neil Brodie (2011); Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino (Jointly - 2012); and Duncan Chappell (2013).

Simon Mackenzie is Professor of Criminology, Law & Society in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow, where he is also a member of the criminological research staff at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, a cross-institutional organization conducting national and international criminological research projects.

Prof Mackenzie co-ordinates the Trafficking Culture research group, which is a pioneering interdisciplinary collaboration producing research evidence on the scale and nature of the international market in looted cultural objects, including regional case studies of trafficking networks and evaluative measures of the effects of regulatory interventions which aim to control this form of trafficking. Trafficking Culture is funded with a €1m research grant from the European Research Council. The group employs a core group of researchers plus an affiliate Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow, and four PhD research students, making it a world-leading center for study in this field. As well as producing research evidence, the team are developing educational resources for the next generation of scholars via a new course, run for the first time in 2014, on International Trafficking in Cultural Objects, offered as part of the three Criminology Masters pathways which Prof Mackenzie convenes at Glasgow: the MRes Criminology; the MSc Criminology & Criminal Justice; and the MSc Transnational Crime, Justice & Security.

Simon’s research on the international market in illicit cultural objects began with his PhD, leading to the publication in 2005 of Going, Going, Gone: Regulating the Market in Illicit Antiquities, which won the British Society of Criminology Book Prize that year. The book was mainly an empirical study of attitudes and practices of high-end dealers in relation to their engagement with looted artefacts, and an analysis of the implications for regulation and control of the various neutralizing and justificatory narratives surrounding handling illicit objects at the top end of the market.

From 2005-07, in a study with Prof Penny Green funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, Simon extended this analysis by looking at the market’s reaction to the onset of explicit criminalization in a case study of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003. This research was published in Mackenzie and Green (eds) Criminology and Archaeology: Studies in Looted Antiquities (2009), part of the Onati International Series on Law and Society and based around the proceedings of a workshop at the Onati International Institute for the Sociology of Law exploring the interdisciplinary possibilities of a field of study based both in archaeology and criminology.

Simon has worked with a number of international organisations, providing research-based input to support initiatives to reduce the international trade in looted cultural objects: eg. he has worked with UNODC in producing briefing documents for UN member states in their 2009 enquiry into Trafficking Cultural Property, leading to policy recommendations made at the UN Commissions and Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice; and he is currently on the editorial committee of ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods.

Prof Mackenzie is a member of the Peer Review Committee of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Associate Editor of the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, and a member of the editorial board of the British Journal of Criminology. His criminological research has been supported by grants and contracts from funders including the EU, ESRC, AHRC, both the UK and Scottish Governments, and the UN.

Anne Webber awarded ARCA's 2014 Award for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art

Anne Webber, founder and director of The Commission for Looted Art In Europe, has won ARCA's 2014 award for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art which recognizes her many decades of excellence in the field. Past winners: Carabinieri TPC collectively (2009), Howard Spiegler (2010), John Merryman (2011), Dr. George H. O. Abungu (2012), Blanca Niño Norton (2013).

Anne Webber, together with David Lewis, is founder and Co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) and co-founder and Director of the Central Registry of Looted Cultural Property 1933-1945 at www.lootedart.com, set up in 2001 as an independent charitable body under the auspices of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. The Registry is an international research centre and online repository of detailed research, news and information from 49 countries and an onine database of 25,000 objects.

Anne Webber was a member of the drafting team of Council of Europe Resolution 1205 (1999) on the restitution of looted cultural property in Europe, on the organising committee of the Vilnius International Forum 2000 and the Prague Conference 2009 and is a member of the Advisory Council of the European Shoah Legacy Institute. She was a member of the British Spoliation Advisory Committee which supervised the provenance research work of British museums throughout its term of 1999-2008. She was a member of the Hunt Museum Review Group and is on the Executive Board of the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property. She founded and chaired the UK's International Tracing Service (ITS) Stakeholder Committee which negotiated the UK's taking a digital copy of the ITS records to be housed at The Wiener Library, London. She is a member of the UK Government Delegation to the International Commission which governs the ITS, and is a member of The Wiener Library's ITS Oversight Committee. She is a Governor of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, President of the Jewish Book Council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

April 8, 2014

Tuesday, April 08, 2014 - No comments

Gurlitt Art Collection: Cornelius Gurlitt Agrees to Provenance Research once his artwork has been returned to him

Here is the link to the English version of the joint press release dated April 7 announcing that Cornelius Gurlitt's art collection will be returned to him while provenance research will continue on a 'voluntary basis' for one year on the "Schwabing Art Trove" (so named for the neighborhood surrounding the home from which the 1,280 works were taken two years ago):
Representatives of the Bavarian State Ministry of Justice and of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media have reached an agreement with Cornelius Gurlitt and Christoph Edel, the lawyer who has been appointed by the court to look after Mr. Gurlitt's affairs, on what to do with the artworks of the "Schwabing Art Trove."... Mr. Gurlitt stated his willingness to allow provenance research on a voluntary basis once the works are released from police custody. Mr. Gurlitt will allow the Task Force to continue researching the provenance of those works in the trove suspected of having been confiscated from their owners by the Nazis or of being works the Nazis considered "degenerate art". To this end, these artworks will remain in secure custody and on the website www.lostart.de. However, the Task Force aims to complete the main substance of its provenance research within a year."
 For background on the Gurlitt Art Collection and it's recent controversy, please see this post.

April 4, 2014

Friday, April 04, 2014 - , 1 comment

FBI reportedly seizes private collection of cultural artifacts of 91-year-old Donald C. Miller with any arrest or charge; retired FBI agent Virginia Curry and anthropologist Kathleen Whitaker add their perspective

The Indianapolis Star interviewed Miller in 1998.
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Diana Penner, a journalist for The Indianapolis Star reported in an article ("FBI seizes thousands of artifacts from rural Ind. home", April 3) published by USA Today (along with contributions from the Associated Press) that on Wednesday, April 2, FBI agents took:
"thousands" of cultural artifacts, including American Indian items, from the private collection of a 91-year-old man who had acquired them over the past eight decades. ... The Rush County man, Don Miller, has not been arrested or charged. Robert A. Jones, special agent in charge of the Indianapolis FBI office, would not say at a news conference specifically why the investigation was initiated, but he did say the FBI had information about Miller's collection and acted on it by deploying its art crime team. FBI agents are working with art experts and museum curators, and neither they nor Jones would describe a single artifact involved in the investigation, but it is a massive collection. Jones added that cataloging of all of the items found will take longer than "weeks or months." 
"Frankly, overwhelmed," is how Larry Zimmerman, professor of anthropology and museum studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis described his reaction. "I have never seen a collection like this in my life except in some of the largest museums." 
The monetary value of the items and relics has not been determined, Jones said, but the cultural value is beyond measure. In addition to American Indian objects, the collection includes items from China, Russia, Peru, Haiti, Australia and New Guinea, he said. The items were found in a main residence, in which Miller lives; a second, unoccupied residence on the property; and in several outbuildings, Jones said. The town originally was Iroquois land. The objects were not stored to museum standards, Jones said, but it was apparent Miller had made an effort to maintain them well. The aim of the investigation is to determine what each artifact is, where it came from and how Miller obtained it, Jones said, to determine whether some of the items might be illegal to possess privately. Jones acknowledged that Miller might have acquired some of the items before the passage of U.S. laws or treaties prohibited their sale or purchase. In addition, the investigation could result in the "repatriation" of any of the cultural items, Jones said. 
Dark Rain Thom, a Shawnee descendant who served on the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission under three governors, said the motives of such collectors vary, and that it's not uncommon for collections to come to light when an elderly person dies and descendants try to figure out what to do with artifacts. Often, she said, family members then quietly donate them to museums or arrange to return them to specific tribes — if that provenance can be determined. Some collectors are motivated by money, as the artifacts' sale can be lucrative, Thom said. But others with interests in archaeology or anthropology are motivated by a desire to understand the development of a culture through its art items and everyday implements. And others, Thom said, are in it for the thrill of discovery. The FBI and its partners might have a daunting task determining the origins and provenance of all of the items, Thom predicted. "It may be 30 years — or never — before they have it all cataloged."
The ARCA blog asked Virginia Curry, a retired FBI agent and a licensed private investigator, for additional perspective. Ms. Curry teaches art crime investigations with retired Scotland Yard officer Dick Ellis:
The United States Federal Code Title 18 Section 668. defines a Museum as: (1) ‘‘museum’’ means an organized and permanent institution, the activities of which affect interstate or foreign commerce, that— (A) is situated in the United States;(B) is established for an essentially educational or aesthetic purpose; (C) has a professional staff; and (D) owns, utilizes, and cares for tangible objects that are exhibited to the public on a regular schedule. (2) ‘‘object of cultural heritage’’ means an object that is—(A) over 100 years old and worth in excess of $5,000; or (B) worth at least $100,000. 
One might argue that Donald Miller's collection, in a rural area of Indiana satisfies the federal definition of a museum. While the affidavit in support of the search warrant on this 91-year-old man's home is not yet available on the Internet for review, it appears that there is no evidence that Mr. Miller is a physical threat or would cause harm to the artifacts he has so carefully maintained and displayed to his neighbors on request (on request, by the way, is as regular a schedule as one might ask for in such a rural Indiana community). There does not appear, at present, to be any indication that Mr. Miller is a danger to federal agents or that he would not have cooperated, if asked, in their investigation. Mr. Miller not only served his country on a highly important project at Los Alamos, but he also continued his life of service as a missionary. The artifacts he collected into his "Wunderkammer" were not only collected during his travel, but were also previously profiled in print media. Therefore, the "full corps press" (with an FBI Mobile Command Post) assault on this rural community appears to be extraordinary and an unnecessary show of force by the FBI and any other participating federal agency. I wonder if they contemplated entry on the home of the 91-year-old man with an FBI SWAT team? Regarding the suggestion that Miller’s collection was not maintained is "by museum standards" -- this is a qualification for accreditation of a museum by the AAM (American Association of Museums) and not a standard under federal law for the definition of a museum collection. I suspect that Mr. Miller might have been persuaded before this event to work with the FBI, or any other agency, and the same expertise the FBI will now have to employ to evaluate, inventory and collect this material in anticipation of an eventual legacy donation to another facility. Instead, this is an embarrassing and unnecessary show of force by the FBI to a community that is likely experiencing their first contact with the FBI.
The ARCA blog asked Dr. Kathleen Whitaker, former director, Indian Arts Research Center, School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, to add a museum professional’s perspective to this story:
Virginia is right, there is no info forthcoming on why the FBI chose to assault this home with so much force. A search warrant has yet to be revealed. I personally find this descent on, and intrusion into a private home a bit disconcerting. I guess the provocation is yet to be revealed, but the number of agents that descended on the site seems outrageously overdrawn. What did they expect from this 91-year-old man? Cannons and oozies? 
AAM standards that define what a museum should be, align somewhat with the federal code; and, of course there are many differences between the 'types’ of museums that are identified, goals, purpose, adequate resources and public engagement - hence differences in the application of standards for each type of facility. AAM was not set up to enforce legal matters the federal code was - so naturally there is a difference in intent. Mr. Miller's establishment aligns more with what AAM would define as an "art museum," although I am unsure what his tax status might suggest in terms of operation. But yes, he is the owner-staff, he shares his collection with the public (assuming by appointment), and he maintains the artifacts through exhibition in glass cases, etc., and provides identity labels for those items on display (according to visuals seen in news reports and video). It seems probable, however, he does not identify his establishment as a " public museum" but rather as a private collection that he willingly shares with others. Legally then, his establishment does not seem to be functioning/operating under any tax or other "code" or "law" (at least that I am, at this writing, aware of). It is unclear to me how old his artifacts REALLY are based on media hype, but a few professionals such as archaeologists, anthropologists and the like have been "called in" to help identify the collection. One might summarily assume, there are both old and ethno- and historically important pieces among the artifacts in this vast collection. All the specifics have yet to be determined. Whatever the outcome, such outrageous ideas that it could take "30 years" to catalogue all the material is just plain inaccurate! 
FBI involvement (if based on the collection alone) suggests the problem could involve violations of NAGPRA [Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act], the Antiquity Act, The Indigenous Religious Freedom Act, Fish and Wildlife "feather" violations on artifacts, et al. Or perhaps the suggestion of illegal acquisition or transport across state and perhaps even country boundaries would mandate an FBI investigation - but not invasion! Usually collections of this magnitude are well known among professionals in the area, so I find surprising the local university professor was "frankly overwhelmed" by the collection's magnitude. It might be embarrassing to the university if it admitted knowledge of the collection's contents and it turns out there are violations. Finally, I have many more questions than answers. Primarily among them is: WHO informed the FBI? And WHY?
According to Frank Denzler reporting for the Rushville Republican: During his lifetime, Miller has traveled extensively throughout the world and is a known collector of Native American artifacts – a collection that encompasses not only his residence, but also a number of outlying buildings on his rural property.

Journalist Teresa Mackin included a video of Miller's collection during her report on WISHTV published on the station's website.

Jill Disis and Chris Sikich in Indiana reported for the IndyStar:
In rural Rush County, few are the people who have not heard of the house on 850 West — and the tales of the man who resides within. Some have seen the spectacles that pack the home, from the life-size Chinese terra-cotta figurine on the front porch to the seemingly authentic Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement. [...] But none of the stories friends and former colleagues shared with The Indianapolis Star on Thursday came close to explaining the latest mystery surrounding 91-year-old Don Miller, brought on by a throng of FBI agents that surrounded his house Tuesday.Why did they begin removing thousands of artifacts from Miller's home despite not charging him with a crime or placing him under arrest? And why, two days later, were they still there? "It's odd. The whole situation is odd," said Elizabeth Dykes, an acquaintance of Miller's who lives in Richmond. "I about flipped my lid yesterday when I saw this. What could he of all people have to hide?"
Paul Barford pointed out on his blog "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues" that in an article authored by Andy Proffet in the Shelbynews on April 3, "FBI working with artifact collector to return items" that according to an FBI agent "Miller had contacted the FBI about returning the items, but couldn't elaborate on why Miller was looking to repatriate the artifacts now."

Carabinieri reports recovering paintings by Gauguin and Bonnard stolen from London in 1970

Rachel Donadio, reporting from Rome for The New York Times, wrote on April 2, 2014 in "Two Stolen Paintings Are Found in Italy" that according to a phone interview with Gen. Mariano Mossa, the chief of the cultural heritage division of Italy’s paramilitary Carabinieri police (Carabinieri TPC), that the two paintings a Fiat factory worker purchased for $70 in 1975 at Turin auction turned out to be valuable works by Gauguin and Bonnard stolen in 1970 from the London residence of Mathilda Marks, 'a philanthropist and a daughter of Michael Marks, a founder of the Marks & Spencer department-store chain'.

In "Stolen Paul Gauguin Painting Recovered from House of Retired Fiat Employee," Douglas Cobb writing for Guardian/Living Voice recounts:
The Paul Gauguin painting was stolen from the family of one of the co-founders of Marks & Spencer, a department store chain. In 1970, in the vicinity of Regents Park, three men pretending to be burglar alarm company employees stole the painting and one by 19th century painter Pierre Bonnard worth an estimated $690,000. The Bonnard painting, “Woman with Two Chairs,” depicts a woman dressed in white who is seated in a chair in a luxurious green garden. [...] According to the police, it’s likely that the thieves abandoned the paintings on a train because they were worried that they would get caught trying to sneak the canvases across the border. In 1975, the railway company sold the paintings at an auction, without realizing their value.
 Michael Day, writing for The Independent in "Stolen Gauguin and Bonnard paintings worth over £30 m recovered after hanging in a factory worker's kitchen for 40 years", reports:
The Italian authorities first took notice of the paintings last summer when members of the Carabinieri TPC, a cultural heritage protection police force, saw photos of the works. “From the preliminary information, it appeared that the works shown were purchased in 1975 for the modest sum of 45,000 lire (€25),” said Brigadier General Mariano Mossa, commander of the Carabinieri TPC. “It's an incredible story, an amazing recovery. A symbol of all the work which Italian art police have put in over the years behind the scenes,” Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told journalists. Brigadier General Mossa said the investigation into how the paintings ended up in the kitchen of the factory worker were still ongoing. “We need to check the means by which he purchased them and whether this was done in good faith,” he said, “in addition to reconstructing the stages by which the works, arrived in Italy after they were stolen.”
The article in The Los Angeles Times by David Ng ("Gauguin painting stolen 44 years ago hung in autoworker's kitchen", April 2) includes a video clip from the press conference in Rome led by General Mossa of the Carabinieri's TPC -- the translator quotes General Mossa as saying that the findings are preliminary and the investigation is ongoing:
Officials in Italy held an unveiling ceremony Wednesday in Rome for the two paintings: Gauguin's "Fruits sur une Table ou Nature au Petit Chien," or "Fruit on a Table or Still Life With a Puppy," and Bonnard's "La Femme aux Deux Fauteuils," or "Woman on Two Armchairs."

April 2, 2014

Christie's and Bonhams withdraw two objects of antiquity linked to Medici and Becchina archives

Image appears to be draft of 1987 invoice
 on sale of antiquities
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Both Christie's and Bonhams withdrew two objects -- a 2,000 year old Greek glass wine jug (called an oinochoe) and another ancient vessel (known as a pyxis)-- from their antiquities auctions this week that forensic archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis linked to the Medici and Becchina archives.

In an email to ARCA's blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote: "I am also sending you the documents related to the pyxis, which prove that Becchina sold the object to Ariadne Galleries, something that Bonhams failed to mention in the "provenance" section of their catalogue regarding this object." 

The documents, represented by the images here to the right in a bluish tinge and below in a pinkish tinge, appear to be the draft and final copy of an invoice. The pink image is a photograph of an invoice dated November 12, 1987 from U. R. Becchina to Mr. Torkom Demirjian at Ariadne Galleries Inc. at 970 Madison Avenue in New York City “(For definitive sale/no return) no return) for 23 items — 14 terracotta statuettes + 1 Pyxis, 2 Gnathian vessels, 2 Canosan Pyxides, and 4 Corinthian vessels — at a price in U.S. dollars of $21,800 plus a restoration fee of $3,700 for a total of $25,500. The invoice included: "GUARANTEE These items are of the period of the 6th to the 3rd cent. B.C. The authenticity is unconditionally guaranteed."

This is the image of the pink invoice
from Becchina to Ariadne Galleries
regarding the sale of antiquities
Peter Watson, co-author with Cecilia Todeschini of The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums (Public Affairs, 2007), wrote in The Times ("Auction houses 'handling stolen goods'", April 2):
Christos Tsirogiannis, of the Division of Archaeology at Cambridge University, and formerly a member of the Greek Task Force that oversaw the return of smuggled objects, said that the auction houses should have realised that they were handling illegal objects. “They themselves do not release all the information they have about how these objects reach the market,” he said. “These objects have no real provenance.” 
The objects are believed to be part of hauls gathered during the 1980s and 1990s by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, two notorious Italian dealers. Both men have been convicted of trafficking in illicit antiquities. Medici’s archive was seized in 1995 in Geneva, and Becchina’s was seized in Basle in 2002. Between them, the men supplied thousands of illegally excavated and smuggled antiquities, many of which were dug up by mechanical digger, and sold at Sotheby’s throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Some of them were priceless and many still had soil on them. They passed in their thousands through London salesrooms until the traffic was exposed, partly by The Times in 1997. Sotheby’s was forced to discontinue its sales in London. 
[...] 
Mr Tsirogiannis, who has just been awarded his PhD for a thesis on the illicit international antiquities trade, has access to two Polaroid archives of the hauls that were seized by the Italian carabinieri in Switzerland. He noticed that the two objects coming up for sale at Bonhams and Christie’s were identical to two shown in the photographs of the seized archives, in one case dirty and broken before restoration. Invoices and sales receipts also appear to confirm that the objects are illicit. He said: “The object at Christie’s was sold at Sotheby’s in 1988, and that’s all — as anyone knows in this field, that almost certainly means it came from Medici. “The Bonhams object also first surfaced in 1987 and has no provenance outside the trade. There again, that should be a warning sign that the piece was illegally excavated and smuggled. Over the past few years, I have spotted dozens of objects like this being drip-fed on to the market, testing whether the Medici scandal has been forgotten. Each time, I have informed the Italian authorities, who tell me they always contact the auction houses, asking them to withdraw the pieces. They almost never do. I think they have only acted this time because The Times is watching. At this rate, London risks regaining its unenviable position as the home of the ‘dirty’ antiquities market.”
Watson reported that Christie's said that the company would contact Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Unit to investigate the piece and would return it to Italy if the object was the same as the one identified in the polaroid archive confiscated from Medici.

In an email to the ARCA blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote:
A spokeswoman for Christie's said, regarding Christie's ownership of the oinochoe: 
The work you are referring to was sold through another auction house in 1988. It was then sold last year by Christie’s as part of the the Saeed Motamed collection. Christie’s became the owner after the sale of the work was then cancelled due to accidental damage sustained by the work during storage. 
My comment on this would be: Christie's should have been extra careful when they were exercising their 'due diligence' before the most recent sale, since they are the consigners in their own auction: as it turns out, this is a piece which comes originally from Medici. Christie's did not mention in the 'provenance' section of their catalogue which collection this object came from only last year, nor that the object was damaged during storage. All this exposes their practices even more.
Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote in an email to ARCA:
To echo Lord Renfrew in 2010, when four other antiquities I identified were withdrawn by Bonhams (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/apr/27/bonhams-stolen-roman-sculptures-auction), "London risks regaining its unenviable position as the home of the 'dirty' antiquities market".
Here's a link to the article in BBC News "'Looted' artifacts removed from auction" (2 April 2014).

Here's a link to Dr. Tsirogiannis' post "Auction houses should do more to rooted out looted antiquities" on the website for Apollo Magazine.