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July 20, 2016

ARCA's Postgraduate Program: From the Eyes of a 2016 Student - Part II


I’m not sure whether it makes more sense to say that we’re only halfway through with the ARCA postgraduate program or that we’re already halfway through with the program. On the one hand, we have had the good fortune of hearing from six expert professors and have covered all sorts of ground—academic and professional terrain alike—in the study of art crime: from heritage law to art insurance, from art policing to forgery, and from museum security to war crimes. We’ve practically memorized most of the UNESCO conventions at this point, we’re capable of sketching out the infamous Medici trafficking organigram at the blow of a whistle, and we’re all pretty used to having revenge-fantasy dreams about prosecuting certain museums with less-than acceptable collection ethics and repatriating all of their loot.

On the other hand, however, it feels like we’ve only just arrived in Amelia and that there’s still a whole lot more for us to learn in the coming weeks about cultural heritage protection. We’ve yet to encounter the international art market or art criminology head-on, and we’re not quite sure whether we believe the Spanish or the British are more entitled to Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Moreover, we still don’t know how we would actually steal the Ghent Altarpiece or Munch’s The Scream and this makes me wonder: can anyone really fashion him or herself an art crime expert without knowing how to pull off a major museum heist? It’s probably a good thing that we’re only halfway done with the ARCA program, but I’ll share with you what we’ve covered in the courses so far since we are, after all, already halfway finished with the program.  


Following Duncan Chappell’s course our studies shifted from the subject of art law to its not-too-distant relative, art insurance. Dorit Straus, art insurance veteran and board member at AXA Art, served as the instructor for this course. Straus has had a lengthy and exciting career with all sorts of cinematic turns and climaxes. Its major plot twist: Straus began her career studying Near Eastern Archaeology and only later in life migrated into the world of art insurance. For those of us trained in the humanities—which is to say, with little to no background in the fine arts market—Straus guaranteed a convenient point of entry into the study of art insurance. Pairing her formal explanations with fascinating anecdotes, Straus shaped and colored the art insurance industry with remarkable and stunning mastery. By the end of the week Straus had students map out the entire process of acquiring art insurance coverage in role-play exercises—a form of evaluation that was, I am sure, most entertaining for Dorit herself.

We then heard from Richard Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad, who covered lessons on the dark, seedy underbelly that is the black market. Ellis did a solid job explaining the ins and outs of INTERPOL and clarified the issues that police forces deal with in an event of art theft—issues that are quite distinct from the ones that insurers, collectors, or museums address. One of the recurring lessons that Ellis repeated over and over again was the importance of knowing one’s enemy.  Understanding the motives that animate an episode of art crime, Ellis stressed, is always integral to the investigation process. At the conclusion of his course Ellis held a charming cocktail gathering that was, I would hold, much needed after a tense week studying some pretty serious material.

ARCA founder Noah Charney took the reigns for our next course on forgery. Charney launched his weeklong course with an art history lesson in which students were asked to perform visual analysis on a set of Caravaggio paintings. This exercise offered an exciting opportunity for students to truly interface with the very objects that had been broached in previous courses but perhaps not formally or materially addressed. It was a delight to work through Caravaggio’s endlessly fascinating visual puzzles, and Charney’s thorough guidance and insightful explanations proved to be especially useful in our brief art historical investigation. The rest of the week was spent differentiating (conceptually) fakes from forgeries, discussing the psychological profile of art forgers, and reviewing some of the major historical cases that constitute Charney’s sector of the art crime world. With Charney still in town, ARCA held its annual interdisciplinary conference—an exciting three days of panel discussions that another student, Cate Waldram, will  be posting on in greater detail.

After a weekend of conference talks and cocktail parties ARCA students met with security pundit Dick Drent. Following 25 years in law enforcement, Drent joined the staff at Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands and continues to provide security advising through his consulting group, Omnirisk. Though Drent’s energy and countenance might feel as formidable and high-stakes as his work, the Dutch professor’s instruction was often light and playful—much like the goofy videos he would screen at the beginning of class too lighten the mood, especially since his course covers everything from everyday threats to Active Shooter incidents.

At the end of Drent’s class students carried out a security audit at a museum. In this exercise students set out to observe surveillance cameras, security guards, museum layouts, fire prevention strategies, smoke detectors, alarm systems, and so on. The exercise gave ARCA students a unique opportunity to spend a day at a museum not admiring precious artworks but instead observing the very security systems that attempt to protect these objects.

At the conclusion of Drent’s course students delved headfirst into “Art Crime During War” with Judge Arthur Tompkins. Tompkins’ hefty lesson plans and near-impeccable knowledge of world history made for an information-rich crash course in our study of art crime during conflict. At the outset of his first lesson Tompkins traced the origins of art crime all the way back to the ancient world.

The looting of what might be anachronistically termed “cultural property” often went part and parcel with military combat and imperial campaigns in the ancient world—thus giving birth to the lengthy history of what we now study as art crime. Tompkins then traversed the entire chronology of war—passing through the Middle Ages and early modernity until reaching the late twentieth century—and identified the various renditions of art crime that have plagued nation-states and peoples during times of conflict. By the end of the course students were asked to submit a paper detailing one particular episode of art crime that took place in the midst of combat. Students wrote about everything from plunders during antiquity to more recent art theft in the Middle East to the destruction of libraries in the American Civil War. 

So there you have it! We have covered vast terrain in the world art crime and are already halfway experts in the field. I’ll get back to you with more storytelling and info when we’re only a few short steps away from calling ourselves full-on, to-the-core certificate-ready professionals!

By:  Christopher Falcone

June 13, 2016

This blog post is the first in a series that will written by our 2016 interns, which will describe the various weeks of ARCA's academic programming this summer.

Hello! My name is Chris and I’m a 2016 ARCA student and intern. I’m here to update all you art crime followers and fanatics about the goings-on at our summer program in Amelia. It’s been a hectic and explosive week with student arrivals, our first course, and even a field class in Cerveteri. This week we’ve discussed everything from Australian aboriginal skeletons to ancient Etruscan tombs to the trade in human remains. In fact, after dealing so much with bodies and burial grounds I think we, the exhausted students of ARCA, are starting to feel a bit like human remains ourselves. Fortunately, we have the weekend to rest, recoup, and prepare for our upcoming course on art insurance. But before that, let me recap our first week and share some of the excitement that coloured (quite literally) our first week in Amelia. 

Banditaccia, Cerveteri's Etruscan Necropolis
Last Friday was arrival day for most students. The majority of the afternoon was spent settling into student apartments and houses, all of which are scattered across this enchanting, medieval town. Some students will be living in the town’s Palazzo Farrattini, an impressive Renaissance-era building replete with a charming atrium, a picturesque swimming pool, and even a Salon of Sangallo. Other students are perched at the highest point in Amelia, just a stone’s throw away from the town Duomo, with a vista of the Umbrian countryside that can only be partially captured in the many photographs that we have all taken.

On our first night a cocktail party was held at La Locanda, a restaurant whose vaulted ceilings and glass floor displays—which exhibit the town’s ancient Roman streets—take the concept of dining in a “historic” eatery to the next level (or many levels.) This event gave students the opportunity to introduce themselves to one another and meet ARCA’s committed CEO, Lynda Albertson. If this meet-and-greet aperitivo made anything clear I think it’s that the ARCA student body is perhaps one of the most geographically, culturally, professionally, and generationally diverse groups you can get in a single academic program.

This year’s roster boasts participants from Australia, New Zealand, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, India, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States. Some students have served as museum directors while others have worked in journalism, and many are just newly minted college graduates eager to learn more about (and contribute to) the field of cultural heritage protection. The fact that ARCA attracts such a diverse group of participants means that there should be a good deal of cross-pollination in disciplinary knowledge this summer.   

On Sunday Amelia held its annual Corpus Domini festival, an event that summons residents to participate in the decoration of the town’s streets. Amelia locals and ARCA students alike spent the better portion of the morning sketching emblems and insignia with chalk and coloring these designs with flower petals, coffee grounds, and wreaths. By mid-morning it looked as if city’s otherwise greyish-brown cobblestone streets had mutated into rainbow carpets—a truly stunning sight.

A church processional marched through the town’s main corridor, the Via della Repubblica, and a short service was held outside the Chiesa di San Francesco. Following a short bit of prayer and song, a ceremonial sweeping of the streets cleared the town of its colorful costume, though some remnants of chalk dust stuck to the cobblestone and remained even days after the conclusion of the Corpus Domini festa.   

The following morning students made their way to Sala Boccarini for the first day of Duncan Chappell’s Art and Heritage Law course. At the outset of class Chappell reviewed some his experience in the field of law and criminology—a lengthy and quite intimidating list of compelling professorial posts, research projects, field work, and accolades. The shear quantity of academic and professional experience that Chappell holds certainly percolates into his dynamic teaching style.

Throughout the first couple days of class Chappell covered the vast terrain of art law, touching upon major international conventions and smaller-scale cases unique to individual nation-states. Students had the fortunate opportunity of completing a reading assignment authored by the professor himself. In his fascinating (though eerie) article, Chappell charts out and describes the online trade in human remains and identifies the sellers and buyers who constitute this niche market. This article will serve as a prompt for the course’s final assignment, wherein students will carry out investigations into a particular online antiquities market. ARCA students will be looking into all kinds of internet trade: from the sale of murder memorabilia to space artefacts to taxidermy to “faux-bergé” eggs. 

Mid-week the course was interrupted for a field class to Cerveteri's Banditaccia Necropolis. Stefano Alessandrini, a fervent archaeologist who has done much work to repatriate stolen Italian antiquities, guided ARCA students through Cerveteri’s ancient Etruscan burial mounds. This awe-inspiring complex is peppered with grassy tumuli, ancient streets, and cold, tufa stone tombs which bespeak the organized burial practices of the Etruscans.

In addition to recounting the rich history of the Etruscans, Alessandrini discussed the major security glitches that threaten the necropolis and reported on some of the recent looting events to which the site has fallen prey. Chatting with Alessandrini and hearing about these attempted thefts gave much purpose—not to mention “real world” substance—to the readings and classroom work that we’ve been doing at ARCA.

It was a special opportunity entering these tombs and admiring millennia-old architecture. The English novelist D.H. Lawrence, commenting on his visit to the Etruscan necropolis, observed that, “there was a stillness and soothingness in all the air, in that sunken place, and a feeling that it was good for one’s soul to be there.” Our trip to Cerveteri was no doubt a nourishing one, and I think many of us in the ARCA crew would echo Lawrence’s sentiment.

That’s it for this week! I look forward to sharing more after a week with Dorit Straus! 

--Christopher Falcone, ARCA 2016