University of Utah to Act as Steward of Range Creek Canyon

Range Creek Canyon was an unknown archaeological site to a select few for the last century, but has recently gained a lot of recognition. It has some terrific remnants of the Fremont culture which disappeared about eight centuries ago. The land was owned by Waldo Wilcox who recognized the value of the sites and objects on his land, and kept. He sold the property to the state of Utah in 2001 for $2.5 million.

Given all of the investigation of looters in the region in recent months, it is perhaps worth remembering not all ranchers in the West view heritage as an exploitable resource. Arguably, the sites and objects were better cared for under Wilcox’s watch when nobody knew about them. In 2007, a piece for the Denver Post notes the looting of some of the sites after they were publicized.

Now the University of Utah will exchange some of its other trust lands for stewardship of part of the Canyon. Among the remnants in the canyon are ancient settlements, grain storehouses, and rock paintings. Perhaps more careful protection will be possible, but currently there is one caretaker who spends 9 months there every year.

From the AP:

Artifacts from baskets to tobacco bundles suggest human life showed up in Range Creek hundreds of years earlier and lingered longer, but significantly, the large population seemed to virtually vanish by 1,200 A.D., for reasons not fully understood. Metcalfe said the canyon was occupied by the so-called Fremont people, descendants of the continent’s original Paleo-Indians. As a culture, the Fremont were distinguished by their style of basket weaving, animal-claw moccasins and dual survival strategy of farming and hunting. Yet little else is known about them, including their ultimate fate — the conventional explanation of drought is coming under question. The farming-dependent Anasazi south of the Colorado River also disappeared about the same time, for reasons archaeologists struggle to explain. Modern American Indians tribes insist they simply absorbed the ancient people. To gain control of Range Creek, the University of Utah is giving up about 4 square miles of deer and elk habitat next to the Gordon Creek Wildlife Management Area in Carbon County. That parcel is part of the university’s trust lands granted at statehood. In return, the Division of Wildlife Resources will relinquish 2.3 square miles of parcels on Range Creek’s canyon bottom. “It seems like a perfectly good idea to us,” said John Andrews, the No. 2 ranking official at Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, which is acting as a broker for the trade. Andrews said his agency will hold title to the former ranch lands in Range Creek Canyon, but that the parcels will be controlled by the University of Utah and folded into its own set of trust lands, which are separate from the state’s. Public access, now strictly controlled, won’t change significantly under land covenants and congressional legislation approving the purchase of Range Creek Canyon, which was later transferred to the state, he said. Metcalfe said the university plans to rework some of the rules of public access to make research and the protection of sites a higher priority. Metcalfe supervises surveys and selective digs by graduate students at Range Creek, which is guarded by a locked gate. A university caretaker spends nine months of the year in the canyon, which is snowbound during winter.

Questions or Comments? Email me at

Recovered Picasso a Fake?

The work of art recovered by Iraqi forces last week may be a fake.  This label on the back of the work has some spelling mistakes, and indicates the Louvre sold the work to the Kuwait Museum.  However the Louvre has said it has never had a Picasso. 

From the AP:

The London-based Art Loss Registry said it has no record of any paintings missing from the Kuwait National Museum, and no record of this particular painting as missing at all.  The Picasso Museum in Paris and France’s national museum were searching their archives for signs of the painting, which Iraqi forces seized Tuesday during a raid on a house near Hillah, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Baghdad.  A local judge in Hillah, Aqeel al-Janabi, said Thursday the painting will be sent to Baghdad after an investigation but refused to provide details.  In a video released by the Hillah police, the man detained for trying to sell it, 33-year-old Maitham al-Issawi, said it belonged to his father, who gave it to him before his death. His father, al-Issawi, was an army officer who took part in the invasion of Kuwait, which led to the 1991 Gulf War.  In the video, officers hold up the canvas, which has fold marks on the front. Police have said the painting bears Picasso’s signature but would not comment further Thursday.

Questions or Comments? Email me at

More Fraud in the Art Trade

I’m just catching up to the indictment of a San Francisco art dealer, Pasquale Iannetti who was indicted in August on charges of wire and mail fraud for selling counterfeit works by Joan Miró. The indictment alleges Iannette acquired counterfeit prints, know they were fakes, and then duped customers into believing they were authentic. Pictured above is The Tilled Field, an authentic work, on display at the Guggenheim. 

It is a great thing that this smuggling ring has been uncovered, but there was a detailed and difficult investigation.  It seems Iannetti had connections to a larger fraud network with connections in not only San Francisco, but Illinios, Florida and New York.  Part of the investigation involved U.S. postal inspectors who flew to Italy to secretly record a meeting with an alleged supplier, and used invisible ink to mark the suspected fakes in New York, and posed as buyers.  Can the art trade do more to reform its own practices

Department of Justice Press Release

S.F. dealer accused of selling fake Miró prints [SF Chronicle]

Questions or Comments? Email me at

Banks Impacting Art Exhibitions

“The income we have generated through increased business is superior to any income we could generate from selling the collection… Attracting even one individual client can cover the entire cost of lending a turnkey exhibition.”

So says Rena DeSisto, head of “global arts marketing” for Bank of America in a piece by Robin Pogrebin for the NYT.  I take it as another sign that art goes where the money is.

It seems prominent banks have taken to lending works to American museums, including this work, Martin Wong’s Brainwashing Cult Cons Top TV Star (c. 1981) recently donated by JPMorgan Chase to the Bronx Museum of the Arts.  Corporations and others have long sponsored art exhibitions, but recently museums have begun allowing Banks to put together complete exhibitions of their own works, and it may be a sign some museums are ceding curatorial control

Is this another signal of the impact the recession of 2008-09 is having on the arts?  Or is it more of the same.

The Association of Art Museum Directors does not have a policy on the practice.  Pogrebin’s piece states:

The Association of Art Museum Directors has no policy governing shows organized by corporations and “would not be against it,” said Michael Conforti, the association’s president, “as long as the people involved felt comfortable themselves that a show complied with their curatorial standards.”  What museums need to be conscious of, art experts say, is creating the impression that these exhibitions enhance the value of corporate collections that might one day come to market. “A museum has to think very seriously about taking those shows,” said John Ravenal, president of the Association of Art Museum Curators and curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “The museum, by virtue of its stature and its public role, gives legitimacy or confers a certain kind of validity to these collections when it exhibits them. 

Hat Tip:  The Consumerist 

Questions or Comments? Email me at

Metal Detecting Filling the Gap Left by Reduced Funding for Archaeology?

That’s the gist of Maev Kennedy’s extended piece on the U.K.’s Portable Antiquities Scheme in today’s Guardian

A man out with his metal detector

As the money that funded an unprecedented explosion of professional archaeology during the economic boom years runs out, public hunger to peel back the past beneath our feet is helping to fill the gap. So the grots are identifying lost villages and settlements, Roman forts and temples, previously unknown trade routes; even mapping the slow ebb of the Roman empire from Britain.

By law, you must have a licence to excavate or remove even a pebble from a scheduled ancient monument or listed building, and all treasure finds anywhere must be reported. But anyone can pick up a metal detector – there are an estimated 180,000 in Britain – and take it into a ploughed field with the permission of the landowner. Fired by an unprecedented public interest in archaeology, thousands of people are doing just that, and the finds they report, often almost worthless in terms of cash, are proving true treasure.

“This is revolutionary stuff,” says Sam Moorhead, a coins expert at the British Museum, who is in charge of the coins reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). “Gold doesn’t map settlements – high-status coins could be hidden or lost anywhere. But where you’ve got 100 grots, you’ve got a settlement.”

The grots have only been reported since 1996, when the PAS began establishing a national network of finds officers, to record and crucially map all the archaeological objects found by amateurs. The scheme has gradually forged a truce between most career archaeologists and the metal detectorists many previously regarded as little better than looters.

Reports of finds from bronze-age arrows to second world war cap badges are now running at 50,000 a year. Gradually, the detectorists realised that the archaeologists were interested in the rubbish in their grot pots. This week the scheme recorded its 400,000th object, a classic grot from Lincolnshire that has turned out to be a fabulously rare coin.

 For my thoughts on the PAS, see here.  For a published examination of how we might apply the PAS and some of its policies elsewhere, see here

Questions or Comments? Email me at

Heirs Reject Spoliation Panel Ruling

Martin Bailey has an excellent piece for the Art Newspaper on a recent decision involving the U.K.’s Spoliation Advisory Panel.  The collection of experts helps to avoid restitution litigation and makes recommendations when descendants of Nazi-era art owners discover works of art may be in museums in the U.K.  The heirs of Dr. Curt Glaser pursued a Nazi-era claim that eight drawings, (including this drawing by Renoir) currently held by the Courtauld Institute were part of a forced sale in 1933.

The Spoliation panel disagreed:

A key piece of the evidence was a letter from Glaser to his artist friend Edvard Munch on 19 May 1933, the last day of the auction. He wrote that after the death of his first wife and falling in love again, “I have freed myself of all my possessions, so that I might start over again completely new”. Eleven days later he married Marie, and within a month or so they had left Germany. The panel felt that the letter to Munch suggested “mixed motives” behind’s Glaser’s departure, but the heirs dispute this, pointing out that he had had to flee because he was regarded as Jewish and had been dismissed from his job.

On 24 June the Spoliation Advisory Panel concluded that the claimants’ “moral case is insufficiently strong to warrant a recommendation that the drawings should be transferred to them”. Glaser had “obtained reasonable market prices at the auction”, namely 284 reichsmarks (around $1,200 at the time). The Glaser lawyer, New York-based David Rowland, disputes this, saying that “prices were depressed at the time, because other Jewish victims and intellectuals were also selling their belongings”.

Questions or Comments? Email me at

Looted Picasso Recovered in Iraq

This work by Pablo Picasso, which was looted by an Iraqi soldier during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait has been recovered by Iraqi security forces.  The painting has clearly been folded, and is badly damaged. As usual, the trick isn’t stealing a work, it is trying to sell it—even in Iraq. 

From the Times:

The soldier had been trying to sell it, allegedly asking for $450,000 (£278,000). The market value is estimated to be $10 million.  The masterpiece, which is signed by Picasso, was seized this week during a raid on the house belonging to the suspect near the mainly Shia city of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.  A security official said that the painting was tracked to the property, but officers feared that the suspect would burn the artwork if they attempted a raid, so they lured the man into the street where he was arrested.  The suspect claimed to be an electrician, but the official says that he is a former member of the security forces who has a relative from Mukhabarat (Saddam’s former security force) that entered Kuwait.

Questions or Comments? Email me at

University of Iowa to Consider the Future of its Art Museum

From the press-citizen:

The University of Iowa has established an envisioning committee to consider options for the future of the UI Museum of Art, the university announced Tuesday.  The art collection was removed from the museum because of the 2008 flood, and then UI officials decided the facility was too vulnerable to ever house art again. The collection is scattered with some pieces on UI campus but most, including the famed Jackson Pollock “Mural,” are at the Figge Museum in Davenport.  UI President Sally Mason, who established the committee, said in an interview last week that it was too early to say what might come from the committee but she asked its members to keep an open mind.  “I want people to think about all of the possibilities,” Mason said.  Carroll Reasoner, UI interim vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, will serve as chairwoman of the 19-member committee, which includes faculty, community members and students and will be assisted by a five-member advisory committee.  The committee will have its first meeting at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Jessup Hall on the UI campus.  Mason said last week she expects a preliminary report from the committee by Christmas.  UI officials don’t yet know how to pay for a new museum, which makes it different from virtually every other major flood recovery project on campus.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover 90 percent of renovation costs for most projects and to rebuild the Hancher Auditorium complex and Art Building complex, which are eligible to be relocated under FEMA guidelines.  However, the old Museum of Art facility was not damaged severely enough to be eligible for FEMA funds for relocation. That leaves UI on its own in planning and paying for a new home for the art collection.  “That’s been our assumption. It will be left to us to determine its fate and its future,” Mason said.

So, we have a situation where it is not possible to return the works to the original, flood-prone museum; and paying for a new museum will be difficult.  One thing I think the committee should consider is selling a few of the works to another public institution, and using the funds raised to keep much of the art at UI.  But that of course would violate the ethics rules of the AAMD and the AAM.  I have a long article which I’m currently trying to place in law reviews where I criticize the default rules governing deaccession; which I hope to post in the coming days, so I’ll have a lot more to say on deaccessioning generally.  But in terms of this situation, I don’t see how the current rules make it easier for the UI to fulfill its mission.  Deaccession is never the ideal response, but what other options are left?  Hope for a wealthy benefactor?  Increased funding?  Store the works until a solution is found?  Loan them to other institutions? 

Questions or Comments? Email me at

Art History is Pseudoscience?

So argues Jonathan Jones in a provocative article in the Guardian.  He says “the fear of fakes does far more harm than forgery itself”.  Art authentication is more art than science.  I’ve argued something similar with respect to the antiquities trade.  The impetus for Jones’ rebuke to art history is the recent criticism of the newfound “lost archive” of Frida Kahlo’s works soon to be published by Princeton Architectural Press.  Critics claim many of the works in the book are forgeries, and that causes Jones to ask if they know what they are speaking about.  As he says:      

Today’s art experts marshal techniques such as infrared photography to make their knowledge seem all the more scientific. This makes it harder than ever to question the voice from above. But when writing and thinking about art gets reduced to a lofty denunciation of fakes and the tedious analysis of provenance that is art scholarship’s meat and drink it just fills ordinary visitors to museums with fear and insecurity. Do I actually know enough to look at this painting, you might ask yourself in front of a Rembrandt? Am I qualified to see it? The general answer implied by modern art history from Berenson to his spectroscopically equipped modern successors is a chilly “No”.
The consolation is that secretly the fake-busters are going mad. An academic once told me he’d been called to an antiques shop to examine a drawing by the artist he specialises in. He judged it a fake and suspected he’d been deliberately set up by one of his rivals who hoped to catch him out. What a world. It seems like a scene from a strange Nabokovian novel.

There is a lot of interesting food for thought here.  He concludes his piece by arguing the he would rather be fooled by a few fakes than reduce art to such “pedantry”.  In fact he argues “many people who spend their lives studying art in depth — and pride themselves on never being taken in by fakes fooled — find it all less rewarding than the visitor to da Vinci’s Last Supper whose only background reading is Dan Brown.”

Strong criticism indeed.  I wonder if much of the difficulty can be traced to efforts to equate the quality of a work of art with its monetary value?  Has all this money made us lose sight of the aesthetic experience?  I think the best way to answer that is with Orson Welles rhetorical question in “F for Fake”:


Questions or Comments? Email me at

Bezanson and Finkelman on "Trespassory Art"

Randall Bezanson and Andrew Finkelman have posted on SSRN Trespassory Art, here is the abstract:

The history of art is replete with examples of artists who have broken from existing conventions and genres, redefining the meaning of art and its function in society. Our interest is in emerging forms of art that trespass – occupy space, place, and time as part of their aesthetic identity. These new forms of art, which we call trespassory art, are creatures of a movement that seeks to appropriate cultural norms and cultural signals, reinterpreting them to create new meaning. Marcel DuChamp produced such a result when, in the early twentieth century, he took a urinal, signed his name to it, titled it Fountain, and called it art.

Whether they employ 21st century technologies, such as lasers, or painting, sculpture and mosaic, music, theatre, or merely the human body, these new artists share one thing in common. Integral to their art is the physical invasion of space, the trespass, often challenging our conventional ideas of location, time, ownership, and artistic expression. Their art requires not only borrowing the intellectual assets of others, but their physical assets. This is trespassory art – art that redefines and reinterprets space – art that gives new meaning to a park bench, to a billboard, to a wall, to space itself.

Our purpose is to propose a modified regime in the law of trespass to make room for the many new forms of art with which we are concerned – art that is locationally dependent or site specific. We begin by briefly describing and characterizing these often-new artistic forms. This provides a jumping off point for addressing the basic question this article seeks to address – should the law accommodate these new types of art, and if so, to what degree? We first turn to the law of trespass, with particular focus on real property, both public and private, but also with an eye to personal and intellectual property. We conclude that adjusting trespass remedies for artistic trespass through a set of common law privileges would better balance the competing interests of owners and artists than do current trespass rules. We then turn to a set of constitutional issues and conclude that our common law proposal is consistent with, and in some ways perhaps required by, the First Amendment. Finally, we summarize our proposal and then revisit the value of trespassory art as art in our creative culture.

 They are arguing for an increase on the rights of artists to trespass to make art, an interesting and topical subject.  This kind of art challenges our ideas of what art is; what museums are; and about how art should be viewed.  Highly recommended.

Questions or Comments? Email me at