Alexander Calder's 'Flamingo'

Alexander Calder’s ‘Flamingo’

Good luck to all the teams fighting over the Blue Pineapple in Chicago at the National Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court competition this weekend! This competition is put together by DePaul College of Law with the help of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation. It’s a great showcase for these soon-to-be-lawyers and this field. A bit about this year’s problem:

The 2015 Competition will focus on constitutional challenges to the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), 17 U.S.C. § 106A, which protects visual artists’ moral rights of attribution and integrity. The problem will address both a First Amendment and a Fifth Amendment challenge to VARA.

Cultural heritage law deals with our most prized possessions and often spans beyond national borders, and, inevitably, has become the subject of often contentious legal debates and policies. This dynamic and growing legal field deals with the issues that arise as our society comes to appreciate the important symbolic, historical and emotional role that cultural heritage plays in our lives. It encompasses several disparate areas: protection of archaeological sites; preservation of historic structures and the built environment; preservation of and respect for both tangible and intangible indigenous cultural heritage; the international market in art works and antiquities; and recovery of stolen art works.

And Chicago must be the place to be for art and cultural heritage law this weekend, as the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium will also be hosting a two-day conference titled: ‘Archaeological Looting: Realities and Possibilities for New Policy Approaches’.

The 13th-century Dome Reliquary, part of the Welfenschatz or Guelph Treasure, is displayed at the Bode Museum in Berlin

The 13th-century Dome Reliquary, part of the Welfenschatz or Guelph Treasure, is displayed at the Bode Museum in Berlin

“Any transaction in 1935, where the sellers on the one side were Jews and the buyer on the other side was the Nazi state itself is by definition a void transaction”.

So argues Nicholas O’Donnell, an attorney representing descendants of the Jewish art dealers who sold a collection of medieval artworks known as the “Guelph” or “Welfenschatz” Treasure, allegedly under duress and threat of persecution. The complaint for the two heirs was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. to recover yesterday afternoon. The objects were part of the treasury of the Braunschweig cathedral and were used to store and display relics. The claimants allege that a group of Jewish art dealers were forced to sell the objects in 1935 to the German state of Prussia.

One unfortuante aspect here is that the German commission charged with resolving the claims of Nazi-era claimants was unable to achieve a satisfactory result for the claimants and the German government. One of the likely issues in this dispute will be one the timelinesss of this suit, whether a court will examine the circumstances surrounding an alleged forced sale nearly 80 years after it took place. The complaint alleges that the objects were sold under persecution for 4.15 million Reichsmarks (RM). If we do some rough back-of-the-envelope calculations, the exchange rate was 2.45 RM for $1. So that means the objects were sold for just shy of $1.7 million in 1935 dollars, which be nearly $28 million today. Considering the treasure may be worth as much as $226m, the German State seems to have received a pretty good bargain. The legal question will be whether that sale was under duress.

O’Donnell argues in his blog this morning:

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Art & Law: Art in Peril

An Interdisciplinary Conference

23 June 2015, University of Cambridge

 

Art & Law: Art in Peril is an interdisciplinary conference convened to discuss varying perspectives on questions of art and law and to break down the barriers of specialization. Art & Law: Art in Peril intends to improve communication and promote an exchange on the most pressing issues at the juncture of art and law.  We aim to compose panels of speakers from a variety of disciplines, grouping papers by theme, geographic or temporal location, rather than by academic department.

 

We encourage submissions from scholars and professionals in art history, law, archeology, history, public policy, museum studies, classics, art conservation, and beyond.  Suggested topics include, but are by no means limited to:

 

  • Historical perspectives on the interrelationship between art and law
  • Consequences of current conflicts on art and cultural heritage sites and objects in the Middle East (or elsewhere)
  • Perspectives towards notions of originality and authenticity of artwork
  • The legal aspects of the conservation of objects, sites, and/or structures
  • International dispute resolution of cultural property whose ownership is disputed
  • The relationship between cultural property and intellectual property
  • Human remains, collections, and the law
  • The digitization of artwork and visual culture

 

We intend to publish proceedings from the conference in either a journal, or as a stand-alone anthology.

 

Please email abstracts of no more than 300 words to Sarah Rabinowe at art.law.cambridge@gmail.com by 28 February 2015.  Along with the abstract please include your name, institution, paper title and a brief biography. Successful applicants will
be notified by 13 March 2015. Selected speakers will be given further information about the Travel Fund available to offset transportation and accommodation costs.

 

Art & Law: Art in Peril will take place at the University of Cambridge, Pembroke College with an evening reception at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences.  Upon request, assistance with accommodation reservations will be provided.

BBC photos of illicit antiquities seized in Lebanon, the gold plated figurine at left was stolen from the Hama museum in Western Syria

BBC photos of illicit antiquities, likely from Syria; the gold plated figurine at left was stolen from the Hama museum in Western Syria

Simon Cox has a terrific investigative report from Lebanon on the trade in antiquities and how it may be funding the activities of the Islamic State. You can listen to the 38 minute BBC 4 radio program here. The report interviews one antiquities smuggler a Lebanese Police Lieutenant, and a Lebanese archaeologist. From the BBC story: Continue Reading…

A portrait of Isabella d'Este, seized from a bank vault in Lugano

A portrait of Isabella d’Este, seized from a bank vault in Lugano

A joint Swiss and Italian investigation has resulted in a seizure of this portrait, which may be a work by Leonardo da Vinci. Whether the work is, in fact, a recently surfaced work by the Renaissance master is very much in doubt. Some have tried to attribute the work to him the Telegraph reports:

Carbon dating has shown that there is a 95 per cent probability that the portrait was painted between 1460 and 1650, and tests have shown that the primer used to treat the canvas corresponds to that employed by the Renaissance genius.

Carlo Pedretti, a professor emeritus of art history and an expert in Leonardo studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the tests showed there were “no doubts” that the portrait was the work of Leonardo.

However Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of the history of art at Trinity College, Oxford, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the artist, has expressed doubts about whether the painting, which measures 24in by 18in, is the work of Leonardo.

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Thge Temple of Bel complex in Palmyra Syria, taken in 2010, one of the best-known at-risk sites in Syria

The Temple of Bel complex in Palmyra Syria, in 2010, one of the best-known at-risk sites in Syria

As the United Nations Security Council prepares to confront the Islamic State, more reports are looking at just how much looting and destruction is taking place there, and the claims about the connection between the illicit antiquities trade continues to receive anecdotal support.

The N.Y. Times reported that a draft resolution is going to be discussed to confront the Islamic State on “oil and antiquities”:

The draft resolution, which was scheduled to be discussed by Council members in a closed meeting Friday afternoon, requires all 193 member states of the United Nations to prevent the sale of antiquities from Syria, similar to a measure the Council passed 10 years ago regarding antiquities from Iraq.

And yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported on the efforts of a group called Heritage for Peace, to document looting and work to combat the illicit trade:

In November, 30 senior members of the group were invited to travel to Turkey for training and technology after attracting the attention of NGOs and foreign governments. Only eight could make the trip because fighting with Islamic State blocked their route. The three-day training session in a secret location close to the Syria-Turkish border was run by Heritage for Peace, or HfP, a Barcelona-based NGO that sees heritage preservation as a way to bring warring parties to the negotiating table.

Leading the instruction was Rene Teijgeler, a Dutch archaeologist and former lieutenant colonel in the Dutch army, who ran heritage preservation operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his partner, Isber Sabrine, a Syrian-born archaeologist based in Barcelona.

“We are neutral. We adhere to the Red Cross code of conduct and we are very careful about who we operate with,” said Mr. Teijgeler, pulling on a cigarette in a hotel cafe. “We vet them carefully. You don’t want wild cowboys doing crazy things,” he said.

The training, partly funded by the Dutch government, focused on how to uniformly catalog damage at ancient sites like the Roman amphitheater at Palmyra or the crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers. Trainees were given laptops and cameras with powerful zooms to help improve their work.

 

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archeological treasures at the Terme di Diocleziano museum in Rome, Italy.  Photograph: Claudio Peri/EPA

Just a portion of the antiquities on display at the Terme di Diocleziano museum in Rome, Italy.
Photograph: Claudio Peri/EPA

On Wednesday in Rome, Italian officials from the Carabinieri held a press conference to display a reported 5,361 objects recovered from the Swiss warehouses of Gianfranco Becchina. The staggering number of objects, many of which appear to be of museum-quality are disheartening to take in. How many tombs were ransacked? How much information lost?

The objects were, as far as I can gather,were slated for sale internationally, and presented here we can see none of their history and context. Seeing these images, I’m struck both by the destructive nature of the international trade in antiquities, and also the inability of the Italian criminal justice system to respond to these crimes and prevent this kind of theft. If the Carabinieri’s art squad, which by most accounts is one of the best-trainded and best-funded art crime policing outfits in the world cannot stop a massive looting operation like this, what are other countries without such a squad left to learn from the investigation? What does this say about the efficacy of the current approach to looting?

This press conference strikes me as yet another example of so-called “art on the table” events, though it is quite grander in its scope than the typical press conference.

These objects would have been seized nearly a decade ago, with the alleged dealer behind this operation, Becchina, left uncharged, without any criminal consequences for these actions, other than it seems losing all of his illicit merchandise. Why were no charges brought? There is certainly a high degree of likelihood that these objects were looted, but do we know all of these objects are illicit? Would more creative and pragmatic solutions have a better chance than the aggressive but sporadic policing model which is employed to the art trade at present?

 

 

A page from the Codex Calixtinus

A page from the Codex Calixtinus

This week sees the beginning of the trial of José Manuel Fernández Castiñeiras, an electrician accused of stealing the 12th century illuminated manuscript from the Basilica of Santiago de Compostela. The Codex was taken in July, 2011 and was recovered a year later in the garage of Castiñeiras.

The Codex contains illuminated sermons, music, descriptions of the pilgrimage on the Wa;y of St. James in Galicia in Spain. It is written in Latin, and Christopher Hohler the latin is intentionally bad, so that the text serves as a kind of grammar book. Even in the 12th century it seems students needed a lively picture and satire to get them to learn it seems. Writing in 1972 Hohler wrote that anyone used to reading 12th century Latin (which I am most certainly not) will: Continue Reading…

"Wendy and Me", by George Rodrigue

“Wendy and Me”, by George Rodrigue

On Tuesday afternoon a work by Rodrigue was stolen from a New Orleans gallery. The work, “Wendy and Me” was taken from a gallery in the afternoon. Video of the theft can be seen below: Continue Reading…

FBI — ART THEFT

 

Back in December, the FBI announced that in coordination with the LAPD’s art theft detail, it had recovered these nine works of art, which had been stolen from an elderly couple’s home in Encino in 2008 while the housekeeper was away grocery shopping. The cell-phone search warrant affidavit offers a rare glimpse into how thieves attempt to sell laundered art.

These staged undercover buys are one of the best tools to recover stolen artworks. Detective  Donald Hrycyk of the LAPD describes in his search warrant the circumstances of the theft and the recovery of the works: Continue Reading…