Light Posting

Apologies for the light posting in the coming weeks.  Joni and I are off to Amelia, Italy where I’ll teach the International Law and Policy course for ARCA’s Art Crime Masters Diploma.  I should have some thoughts on the program, and ARCA’s annual conference in July.  Until then I’ll leave you with this image of Germanicus. 

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Archaeologists Warn of Danger to Sites in Afghanistan

AFP reports on damage to cultural heritage in Afghanistan today.  We heard a lot about damage done in Iraq, but as Larry Rothfield and others have pointed out, Afghanistan is a chance to correct the mistakes that were made in Iraq.  It looks like it might be a failed opportunity.  It is a familiar story of a flawed market, economic instability, and little enforcement. 

KABUL — A senior Western archaeologist in Afghanistan says he is struggling to protect a vast wealth of cultural treasures from being stolen and smuggled to wealthier countries, or worse, destroyed altogether.
“I think there is absolutely no site in this country which is unaffected,” Philippe Marquis, the director of a team of French government-funded archaeologists operating in Afghanistan, told AFP in a recent interview.
“The illegal trade in antiquities is very significant, and is related to all the illegal activities which are going on in Afghanistan,” he added.
Afghanistan’s position on the ancient Silk Road that linked east with west has left the country with a rich cultural heritage.
But decades of war have hampered efforts to conduct proper archaeological investigations, while a lack of regulation means that priceless treasures are being smuggled out of the country at an alarming rate.
The looting is often carried out by poor villagers who are paid by middlemen often based elsewhere in the region — a problem the French have gone some way to addressing by paying the looters to work on their digs instead.
But Marquis believes much of the blame lies elsewhere. It is illegal to take object more than 100 years old out of Afghanistan, but enforcement of the law is weak, and most stolen antiquities are smuggled to wealthier countries.
The United Nations recently sought the advice of the French archaeologists after it discovered a large number of Afghan antiquities in the shipment of a departing staff member.
“People are often not even aware of the importance, they just think, well this would be nice on a shelf in my house in France or the UK,” says Marquis.

  1. Claire Cozens, AFP: Archaeologists seek protection for Afghan treasures (2010), (last visited Jun 22, 2010).
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Art Theft Here in New Orleans

Stealing art is shockingly easy.  See below video of an art theft on Royal Street here in New Orleans.  The theft of two of George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog paintings occurred late in the day on Friday.  As you can see below a man walked in, took two small canvases from a back room and walked off.  A few simple steps could have easily averted this theft, and as usual CC tv cameras don’t really do much good.  A step as simple as placing a number of marbles behind the frames would have alerted the gallery staff, or even a very loud alarm system like art guard — which is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to prevent this kind of theft. 

Crime video: ‘Blue Dog’ robber in action
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Cleveland Museum of Art to Unveil its Apollo

 Steven Litt reports on this bronze Apollo acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) in 2004 for a reported $5 million.  It may be the only surviving original work by the Greek master Praxiteles. 

In fact it is slated to be the centerpiece of the CMA’s renovated classical gallery. Given the CMA’s returns to Italy of a number of other objects, and the recent acquisition of this piece, there was a joint scientific study of the statue.  Reportedly, evidence suggests the sculpture has been excavated for perhaps 100 years, though Greece has argued it was salvaged from the Adriatic in the 1990s and then illegally sold. The history of the object seems suspect to say the least. Its recent history stems from Ernst-Ulrich Walter, a retired German lawyer who said he found the statue lying in pieces when he recovered his family’s estate in the former East Germany.

It was then sold to a Dutch art dealer, then sold to the Phoenix Ancient art gallery which then sold it on to the CMA. We have no idea where or how this stunning statue was unearthed.  What a tragedy that its history is unknown.  This could be one of only 30 large bronzes from the ancient Greeks which survived to modern times, or it might very well be a forgery. There is no contextual information. Was it really in pieces for 100 years? There is no evidence it was stolen, looted or illegally exported. Rather, there exists a paucity of information about its origins and a curious recent history. That is not enough to base a legal claim, and the CMA are confident enough about the object that they ave decided to make it the centerpiece of their ancient galleries which opened Saturday.  Yet the CMA have not been real eager to release all the collecting details for the bronze. 

Prof. Patty Gerstenblith wonders at the end of the piece “I don’t know who they’re protecting by secrecy.” The question may be rhetorical, as we don’t know perhaps exactly how the bronze came to Cleveland, but the fewer questions the museum asks about the history of this bronze, the easier it will be for the museum to keep the bronze.

  1. Steven Litt, Cleveland Museum of Art’s Apollo sculpture is a star with intriguing past, Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 20, 2010, (last visited Jun 21, 2010).
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US Returns Angkorian Sculptures to Cambodia

 The United States returned seven sculptures today which had been smuggled out of Cambodia.  The statues were recovered in Los Angeles in 2008.  They objects include two heads of Buddha, a bas-relief, and also an engraved plinth.  I’m unable to find any details about the seizure at present, but these returns may be tied to the investigation of Galleries and Museums in California in early 2008

  1. AFP: US returns stolen Angkorian sculptures to Cambodia, AFP (2010), (last visited Jun 17, 2010).
  2. The Associated Press: US returns 7 stolen ancient Cambodian sculptures, AP (2010), (last visited Jun 17, 2010).
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  • If you own any Amedeo Modigliani sculptures, congratulations.  It seems they are the new must-have in the art world.
  • Click here to read about some of the seized objects, specifically griffins, located in the ICE warehouse in Queens.  But how many are genuine?
  • The UK has appointed Sir Andrew Burns as the new envoy for post-Holocaust issues.
  • The Fayetteville Museum of Art in North Carolina has closed with more than $500,000 in debt.
  • Police think that the Leonardo thieves may be linked to other art related crimes.
  • The renovations at the Cleveland Museum of Art are set to finish in 3 years, and cost $350 million.
  • Thieves steal wagon wheels from Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
  • CPAC is set to hold a public meeting to determine whether the current Memorandum of Understanding with Nicaragua will be extended.
  • Click here to read about what the AAMD accomplished at its annual meeting.
  • Don’t buy art on a cruise unless its so super you don’t mind its a fake.  Unhappy cruise ship buyers have sued Park West Gallery and it’s owner of selling forged artworks.
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Another English Art Thief who Lives with his Parent

Title page of Shakespeare first folioThe BBC reports on  the trial of Raymond Scott who is accused of stealing a rare early folio of Shakespeare’s works from Durham University in 1998.  He allegedly stole the book from a glass display case at the university’s library, and then removed some pages, in an attempt to make it difficult for experts to determine the origin of the book.

In 2008 he apparently took the book to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC with quite a story, claiming it was given to him by a major in Fidel Castro’s army.  Staff at the Folger weren’t fooled however, bringing in an expert from Christie’s—Stephen Massey—who identified the folio. 

  1. Man ‘mutilated’ stolen Bard folio, BBC, June 17, 2010, (last visited Jun 18, 2010).
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"Maybe a Man’s Name Doesn’t Matter That Much"

 So says Orson Welles in this clip from F for Fake.  I couldn’t help but think of Welles and his film when reading Martin Gayford’s piece on the National Gallery in London’s new exhibition “Close Examination:  Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries”. 

Gaysford asks “whether works of art are really by the people or cultures that are supposed to have created them?”  The Exhibit at the National Gallery will examine these questions, with specific objects.  One object which the exhibit draws on is “The Faun” a fake Gauguin sculpture created by Shaun Greenhalgh which fooled the Art Institute in Chicago (and many others) for a number of years.   Gaysford notes that after Greenhalgh’s deception was discovered, we all thought very differently about the object, when in fact “this changed nothing.  The faun remains the same pointy-eared, hook-nosed fellow that he always was.”  Yet Gaysford notes:

The point of this story is not that art experts are foolish. In fact, the Faun is a very clever forgery. Its brilliance in part is that there actually was a Gauguin sculpture of a faun – it’s listed in an old inventory and may still exist in a cupboard somewhere. The lesson is that now we know it’s not a Gauguin, it ceases to be part of a larger whole: Gauguin’s art. At that point, even if it is still quite an attractive statuette, it loses an enormous amount of meaning. Discovering a work is a fake is like discovering a friend has been lying to you for years.

It is difficult to separate the object from the deception.  Even if the faun was a terrific work of aesthetic beauty, the fraud which spawned the forgery taints that beauty in our mind—we might even resent the object the better the “fake” really is.  That is not to say it cannot be a beautiful object, but it loses something by trying to trick us.

File:Escher's Relativity.jpg
Relativity, M.C. Escher, 1953

Artists play tricks all the time.  The works of M.C. Escher may be the most obvious examle of this.  But his deception is mathematical, and there for you to see—in a sense the job of the viewer is to try to figure out how he has done it.  Orson Welles was right to ask what’s in a man’s name, and right to point out that it may not matter that much.  But what does matter for something like the Faun and other forgeries is the lie told to the audience or the buyer.  Art forgers may be the creator of the work, but also those who attempt to pass off works they know or should know are forged on an unsuspecting public.

The bigger question is how many forgeries are exhibited in museums alongside the authentic works.  When buyers and sellers and museums are not careful about the history of an object (including antiquities) we might think of them as a kind of forger as well.  They may be unwitting, and fooled by a clever forger as the Art Institute of Chicago was, but when they value the object above everything, they risk becoming complicit in the forgery. 

  1. Martin Gayford, Art forgeries: does it matter if you can’t spot an original?,, June 17, 2010, (last visited Jun 18, 2010).
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Stramignoni on Art and Law

Igor Stramignoni (London School of Economics – Law Department) has posted Seizing Truths: Art, Politics, Law on SSRN. This is a longer version of Stramignoni’s presentation at the Tate Modern in March. Here is the abstract:

    The work of French philosopher Alain Badiou has been described as the most powerful alternative yet conceived in France to the various forms of postmodernism that arose after the collapse of the Marxist project. Art interests Badiou in its own right but also as both that which, in the twentieth century, eclipsed philosophy and as that which today philosophy, increasingly de-sutured from art, must imitate in order to make clear that there are truths after all. Badiou conceives of law, on the other hand, as part and parcel of a specific political machine that must continuously perform certain problematic exclusions if it is to keep the fiction of parliamentary democracy together. So how is the relationship between art and law, between the poet and the city, in Badiou’s oeuvre?
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"International Law for Cultural Heritage" tomorrow in Florence

The European University Institute and the European Journal of International Law are holding a symposium tomorrow, June 18th in Florence.  I understand you may contact Anny Bremner ( to register.  Here is the program:

International Law for Cultural Heritage

European University Institute, Florence
Villa Schifanoia, Cappella
18 June 2010


9:15-9:30 Welcome Remarks by the Editor-in-Chief and Introduction to the Symposium by Francesco Francioni

9:30-10.45 PANEL 1: Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Rights

Siegfried Wiessner, St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami, Florida
Karen Engle, University of Texas Law School
Gaetano Pentassuglia, Liverpool Law School, Fernand Braudel Fellow, European University Institute

10.45-11.15 Coffee Break

11.15-12.45 PANEL 2: Restitution of Cultural Objects and Human Rights

Ana Filipa Vrdoljak, University of Western Australia
Tullio Scovazzi, University of Milan
Thérèse O’Donnell, University of Strathclyde

12.45-14.00 Lunch

14.00-15.15 PANEL 3: Intangible Heritage

Lucas Lixinski, PhD Researcher, European University Institute
Federico Lenzerini, University of Siena

15.15-15.30 Coffee Break

15.30-16.45 PANEL 4: IHL–ICL and Cultural Heritage

Micaela Frulli, University of Florence, Marie Curie Fellow, European University Institute

16.45-17.00 Discussion and Closing Remarks by the Editor-in-Chief

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