This Chart from the Economist, from June, 2014 shows the growing influence of ISIS

This Chart from the Economist, from June, 2014 shows the areas under ISIS control

Three academics (Amr Al-Azm Salam al-Kuntar, and Brian I. Daniels) who have been training Syrian preservationists in Southern Turkey have some more anecdotal insights into how deep the connection between ISIS and the illicit antiquities trade is in an OpEd appearing in the International NY Times:

In extensive conversations with those working and living in areas currently under ISIS control, we learned that ISIS is indeed involved in the illicit antiquities trade, but in a way that is more complex and insidious than we expected. (Our contacts and sources, whom we cannot name for reasons of their safety, continue their work under the most dangerous of conditions.)

ISIS does not seem to have devoted the manpower of its army to the active work of looting archaeological sites. Rather, its involvement is financial. In general, ISIS permits local inhabitants to dig at these sites in exchange for a percentage of the monetary value of any finds.

The group’s rationale for this levy is the Islamic khums tax, according to which Muslims are required to pay a percentage of the value of any goods or treasure recovered from the ground. ISIS claims to be the legitimate recipient of such proceeds.

The amount levied for the khums varies by region and the type of object recovered. In ISIS-controlled areas at the periphery of Aleppo Province in Syria, the khums is 20 percent. In the Raqqa region, the levy can reach up to 50 percent or even higher if the finds are from the Islamic period (beginning in the early-to-mid-seventh century) or made of precious metals like gold.

The scale of looting varies considerably under this system, and much is left to the discretion of local ISIS leaders. For a few areas, such as the ancient sites along Euphrates, ISIS leaders have encouraged digging by semiprofessional field crews. These teams are often from Iraq and are applying and profiting from their experience looting ancient sites there. They operate with a “license” from ISIS, and an ISIS representative is assigned to oversee their work to ensure the proper use of heavy machinery and to verify accurate payment of the khums.

But how much exactly does this amount to? The answer is difficult to quantify. As Sam Hardy points out, the recent claim that ISIS has garnered $36m from antiquities looted in its territory is likely inaccurate:

I can only reiterate that it is (literally) unimaginable that the Islamic State is making $36m from a 0.2%-0.4% share of the market value of the antiquities that have been looted from one district under its rule (as $36m from a 20% khums tax on looters’ and traffickers’ own 1%-2% share would imply a trade value of $9b-$18b of antiquities from al-Nabk alone).

Al-kuntar Amr Al-azm & Brian I. Daniels, ISIS’ Antiquities Sideline, N.Y. T., Sept. 2, 2014.

 

Rock art destruction and looting in California's Owens Valley

Rock art destruction and looting in California’s Owens Valley

Central California PBS affiliate KVIE has a segment showing and discussing the theft and destruction of ancient petroglyphs from California. It shows some of the sites themselves, the damage they have suffered, and a good overview of the laws protecting these sites. The segment really hits its stride in pointing out the disconnect between laws protecting these sites, and the local populations. There is a lot more public awareness needed. People should know better, but they don’t yet, and cultural resource managers need to redouble their efforts to do a better job educating the public about why they shouldn’t damage sites and remove items.

 

The full segment is below the jump.

 

 

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The Roman Colonnade at Apamea

The Roman Colonnade at Apamea, satellite images show extensive looting there since the beginning of conflict in Syria

Ursula Lindsey reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education on what foreign academics are doing to combat the looting and destruction in Syria:

Scholars can do little to stop the fighting and looting, but they have created blogs, websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts to monitor the destruction and raise awareness about it. By sharing excavation records, scholars outside the Middle East have helped their counterparts in the Arab world to compile online lists of missing or stolen objects.

Cheikhmous Ali, an archaeologist at the University of Strasbourg, in France, founded the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology, which relies on an underground network of activists and journalists to document damage to historical sites in Syria. The Syrian authorities are often suspicious of people taking photos, so the association’s volunteer informants sometimes use hidden devices, such as tiny digital cameras inserted into pens, to accomplish their goals.

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"Madonna with the saints John the Evangelist and Gregory the Wonderworker", 1639, by the Italian artist Guercino

“Madonna with the saints John the Evangelist and Gregory the Wonderworker”, 1639, by the Italian artist Guercino

Holidays and festivals always bring increased risks to works of art. Perhaps because the usual traffic of locals and visitors is reduced, and there aren’t as many who might notice something that would be odd or uncharacteristic. I’m not sure if that is one of the contributing factors to the theft of this Guercino depicting St. John the Evangelist and the Madonna. The work was stolen from the Church of San Vincenzo in Modena Italy earlier this week. Whether the start of Italy’s Ferragosto holiday this week led to the Church being more at risk is just speculation on my part, but may have been a contributing factor. Perhaps the biggest factor is the lack of funding at the Church, and the inability to pay the bills on a security system installed to protect the works in the church. As reported by Hannah McGivern in the Art Newspaper:

According to the parish priest Gianni Gherardi, who reported the theft, the church could not afford to insure the painting. Its alarm system—fitted during a renovation in the mid-1990s that was financed by the local bank Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena—had been inactive since the funds dried up, said Monsignor Giacomo Morandi, the vicar of the archdiocese. 

Church theft is a difficult problem in Italy, with so many churches filled with so much amazing art, hardening all these sites to thwart theft is an expensive and difficult undertaking. Church art theft usually involves smaller minor objects like candlesticks, smaller paintings of lesser value, and other ecclesiastical art. This theft appears to be of a much higher profile. This high profile of course makes it more of a headache for the thieves. There is no legitimate market any time soon for this work.

 

At left, one of Patrick Cariou's photographs of Rastafarian's, and at right, a painting from Prince's 'Canal Zone' series

At left, one of Patrick Cariou’s photographs of Rastafarian’s, and at right, a painting from Prince’s ‘Canal Zone’ series

The Harvard Law Review has a tidy summary of the recent Second Circuit decision in Cariou v. Prince. From the note:

Recently, in Cariou v. Prince, the Second Circuit held that a series of photographic collages described as “appropriation art” qualified as fair use despite the fact that both the collage and the original photographs served similar expressive purposes, albeit in very different manners. The court adopted the broadest definition of transformation to date, which, though formally reliant on the language in Campbell, relaxed the requirements for transformativeness such that a work need only show “new expression, meaning, or message.”” Because of the variety of prior definitions and the broad language in Campbell, the Cariou rule is not precluded by precedent. However, such a broad formulation blurs the line between a transformative work and the right to prepare derivative works under 17 U.S.C. § 106(2), and the court does not provide an aesthetically neutral method of distinguishing between the two. Unless and until the statute is changed, future courts should resolve the tension in a way that both preserves the derivative work right and precludes value judgments of new art forms.

Cariou v. Prince, 714 F.3d 694 (U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 2013).
Copyright Law – Fair Use – Second Circuit Holds That Appropriation Artwork Need Not Comment on the Original to Be Transformative – Cariou V. Prince, 714 F.3d 694 (2d Cir. 2013), 127 Harv. L. Rev. 1228 (2013).
Satellite images of Aleppo from March 2013 on the left, compared with May 26, 2013

Satellite images of Aleppo from March 2013 on the left, compared with May 26, 2013

Its not just ancient sites and archaeology that are at risk in Syria. The NPR program Fresh Air today featured a terrific interview with a former punk band drummer who was able to capture recordings of some ancient religious chants in Christian and Sufi communities in Syria. He was able to this before the outbreak of the Civil War there. In relating the history of these musical and religious traditions Jason Hamacher gives a sad account of how much is being lost in Syria as the conflict there continues. Here’s one exchange between the host Teri Gross and Jason Hamacher:

GROSS: So you must have a lot of photographs of ancient sites in Syria that have been fully or partially destroyed by the Civil War?

HAMACHER: Correct. The perfect example is, there was a neighborhood called Jdeideh. It’s actually the Armenian quarter of the city. And they had the absolute best restaurants. There were these five, six, seven hundred-year-old mansions that had a covered – the restaurants were set up in these courtyards and the food was just unbelievable. The food from Aleppo has been regarded throughout history as some of the best Middle Eastern food on earth. The Ottoman sultans would actually have their chefs either train in Aleppo or bring someone from Aleppo to learn how to do this amazing cooking.

Almost that entire neighborhood is gone, leveled. There was a place called the Sissi House that was in Jdeideh that I used to eat at all the time. And it was bombed; gone. Like, someone sent me a photo and I couldn’t even – they’re like, do you think this is the Sissi House?

I couldn’t even understand what I was looking at. There’s so much of that.

GROSS: The cathedral that you recorded the ancient version of “The Lord’s Prayer” that we heard, is that cathedral still standing? Was that cathedral affected by the bombing and the shelling in Syria?

HAMACHER: It still stands. It’s riddled with bullet holes. Everything has suffered damage.

The full audio is embedded below the jump.

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Vermeer's "The Concert"

Vermeer’s “The Concert”

Perhaps commercial art storage institutions need to be held to a higher standard. Daniel Grant has a provocative piece in the Gallerist, exploring the possibility that a good deal of stolen art may be found in storage facilities like bank vaults or art storage facilities:

The past decade has seen significant growth in the art storage industry, but those recent discoveries of missing artworks raise questions about what is being stored. “I don’t check on what people are storing, that’s not my business,” said Robert Crozier, president of Crozier Fine Art, a storage company with locations in Manhattan, Long Island, Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia. Although he said that his company does not consult lists maintained by the FBI, Interpol or Art Loss Register of missing and stolen objects, Crozier mentioned a few instances over the years when a court order required him to “turn over our records.” However, he added that “we do extensive due diligence on our clients. Somebody can’t walk off the street and open an account to store their property in our warehouses. We have rules and regulations as to what can and cannot be stored, which we rigorously police.”

Crozier’s approach is standard for the industry. “I sort of know, but not really,” said Chris Wise, director of UOVO Fine Art Storage, a storage facility in Queens, when asked about his knowledge of work he safeguards. “A lot of people don’t share with us what they are storing. They send over a box from Europe and tell us to put it with their other boxes. They don’t want us to open their boxes to see what’s there, and I’m not in the provenance-checking business. If we had to check if pieces were stolen or if they were taxed at the right rate, storage would be a lot more expensive for our clients. So, I don’t really know what we have, and I don’t really want to have that knowledge.”

Thomas Ryan, the president of WelPak Corporation, a moving and storage company in Queens, said that “the greatest percentage of objects here are known to us,” but that checking their status is “beyond our requirements.”

Perhaps these storage companies should be prompted to require background searches with stolen art databases before storing works of art.

A blinking neon green sign greets visitors at the Rijksmuseum

A blinking neon green sign greets visitors at the Rijksmuseum

 

What should a museum be? Should it be a collection of the world’s masterpieces accumulated in great cities? Should it be a smaller museum devoted to showing the history of a region, town or culture? We think a lot about these big questions around here by responding to questions like ‘Who Owns Antiquity?‘ or what does property and justice require when resolving art disputes.

But in a new project Alain de Botton and John Armstrong have made the case that art can and should be more. Their argument is simple: art can help people leave more interesting and fulfilled lives. Art History as a discipline has much to offer, but the authors argue it should not be the only way to enjoy and experience works of art. Rather than focusing on art historical periods and dates, we can also think more broadly about how the image resonates with the viewer. That’s a bold claim to be sure, but the attempt is exciting and novel in a way that few art museums are able to achieve consistently. De Botton is known for a string of works including: How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Architecture of Happiness, Religion for Atheists, and the terrific The Art of Travel.

The project takes many forms including a website, apps for your phone, a book which makes the full case, and even a new exhibition at the Rijksmuseum.

The exhibition intervention takes the form of large yellow notes which inform and comment on the works on display. Perhaps most remarkable of all, the Rijksmuseum gave these writers access to intervene in the museum on this scale after a lengthy restoration.

So what exactly did they do? Here is one example which reads:

On the wall behind you, probably behind three rows of people, hangs one of the most famous works of art in the world.IMG_2661

This is bad news. The extreme fame of a work of art is almost always unhelpful because, to touch us, art has to elicit a personal response – and that’s hard when a painting is said to be so distinguished. This paintins is quite out of synch with its status in any case because, above all else, it wants to show us that the ordinary can be very special. The picture says that looking after a simple but beautiful home, cleaning the yard, watching over the children, darning clothes – and doing these thngs faithfully and without despair – is life’s real duty.

This is an anti-heroic picture, a weapon against false images of glamour. It refuses to accept that true glamour depends on amazing feats of courage or on the attainment of status. It argues that doing the modest things that are expected of all of us is enough. The picture asks you to be a little like it is: to take the attitudes it loves and to apply them to your life.

If the Netherlands had a Founding Document, a concentrated repository of its values, it would be this small picture. It is the Dutch contribution to the world’s understanding of happiness – and its message doesn’t just belong in the gallery.

Sickness:

Life is elsewhere.

I have a misplaced longing for glamour.

And here, on the day we visited is the view behind us, jam-packed with visitors eager to see Vermeer’s works:

IMG_2659

And a close-up version of the terrific Vermeer described in the intervention:

Johannes_Vermeer_-_Gezicht_op_huizen_in_Delft,_bekend_als_'Het_straatje'_-_Google_Art_Project

This note resonated with me, and I’m sure many others. How strange that sometimes it is easier to achieve the kind of personal connection to a work of art via technology than fighting cell phones and fellow museum-goers.

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The Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome

The Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome

There has been an upswing in the use of corporate funds to preserve and rehabilitate some of the World’s great cultural heritage sites in Italy. Gaia Piangiani and Jim Yardley report for the New York Times:

While private-public partnerships are common in the United States and many other countries, the government has traditionally been responsible for maintaining historical sites in Italy, and even today some historians and preservationists worry that the shift could lead to crass commercialization. Critics complain that companies have exploited cultural sites by commandeering them for elaborate dinners or the display of luxury advertisements.

Indignation ran high in Florence after it was discovered that city officials had allowed Morgan Stanley to hold a dinner inside a 14th-century chapel for a rental price of $27,000. Florence’s mayor doubled the rent to $54,000 after the outcry, but some argued that price was not the core issue.

“There are sacred places where one can simply not hold a dinner,” said Salvatore Settis, an expert in cultural heritage law and a former director of the J. Paul Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. “Not even for four million euros” ($5.4 million).

Many preservationists were also outraged that Rome’s mayor allowed the Rolling Stones to rent Circus Maximus for an outdoor concert last month.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has often spoken about the need to enlist private companies to underwrite work at sites like Pompeii, where more than $137 million in European Union funds has already been spent. In May Mr. Franceschini, the culture minister, announced a new tax deduction intended to encourage private-sector donations for the restoration and preservation of museums, archives, libraries and theaters.

To many other nations this kind of corporate assistance seems relatively benign. So long as the sites receive much-needed care, there seems to be little potential harm. The Mausoleum of Augustus, right around the corner from the Ara Pacis in Rome, is badly in need of some attention, and may it with a donation from a Saudi Prince.

Gaia Pianigiani & Jim Yardley, To Some Dismay, Italy Enlists Donors to Repair Monuments, The New York Times, Jul. 15, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/arts/design/to-some-dismay-italy-enlists-donors-to-repair-monuments.html.
The Museum in Mosul, in 2011

The Museum in Mosul, in 2011

NPR yesterday featured an interview with Christopher Dickey, foreign editor for the Daily Beast, discussing the risks posed to antiquities in Mosul:

Well, what’s at risk are some beautiful monumental sculptures, these winged figures, lions and bulls, with the faces of bearded men – Kings, that clearly were idols in the time of the Assyrians. But that are now part and parcel of the history of Western civilization and biblical history especially. And then we’ve also got gorgeous gold jewelry which certainly will go onto the black market and all kinds of smaller pieces of sculpture, earthenware, the kinds of things that give you the texture as well as the beauty of life in that period. So it’s a rich museum but all of that collection is now in the hands of ISIS.

After the jump is the full audio interview:

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