Cleveland Hires a full-time provenance researcher

Stevel Litt reports for the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the Cleveland Museum of Art has hired a full-time provenance researcher. To my knowledge, that make Cleveland and the MFA in Boston as the only two major U.S. museums who have brought in full-time provenance researchers. From Litt’s report:

One report links drugs and antiquities smuggling in Texas

This report from a local Dallas news station details yet another example of how illicit networks piggyback off each other. We know that in Italy antiquities smugglers used other illegal and grey networks to smuggle antiquities up into the freeports of Switzerland.

It comes as no surprise then that the illegal narcotics trade, a big problem on the border towns of the US and Mexico, has also opened up pathways for looted and stolen antiquities.

According to Homeland Security Investigations, thieves removed thousands of items from archaeological sites in the area of Northern Mexico near Big Bend National Park. Other artifacts were stolen during a museum heist in Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila, and smuggled across the border. “From here, they’d be just like drugs or any other stolen property,” Stone said. “They’d be moved and transshipped to other locations.” Undercover agents intercepted some of the items by infiltrating the smuggling ring. “We were able to set up some meetings and view these artifacts posing as buyers,” said Bill Fort, a Homeland Security Investigations agents who helped crack the case.

Here’s the video report:

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The Race to Reform in the American Museum Community

The DMA returned ownership of this red-figure krater (4th century BC)—
Italian officials allowed the piece to remain at the museum on loan

Max Anderson is leading the way towards reform in the American Museum Community. The Director of the Dallas Museum of Art has an OpEd in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News responding to recent criticism in the New York Times of the decision by museums to return looted works of art. Here’s the introduction to the piece:

Protecting the world’s cultural heritage is essential to all of us. Like the natural environment, the material record of the past is irreplaceable and easily damaged. Whether you live in a country rich in archaeological finds, or a country with curiosity to learn about the past, every citizen wants to protect archaeological sites from intentional or accidental destruction. And every scholar and museum professional wants to share our most complete understanding of the objects and beliefs that people treasured in the past. The illicit trade of these objects is responsible for one of the largest international black markets, and the destruction of archaeological sites is often the result. It is not museum purchases that have been fueling the damage in recent years: As a result of strict, self-imposed guidelines, those acquisitions have slowed to a trickle over the last decade. However, private purchases are not subject to such guidelines and take place invisibly. Additionally, the construction of public works, from roads to buildings, causes undocumented harm to historic sites every day around the globe, not to mention accidental discoveries on private property, quickly hidden or destroyed. Natural disasters and armed conflict also take their toll on the world’s cultural heritage.

With this and other statements, Anderson is distinguishing himself and his institution from the old days of optical due diligence and the acquire-at-all-costs attitude of so many other American museums. Those policies have slowly been reformed, bu many still cling to that old idea, that these museums should acquire beautiful objects, despite the looting and theft which brought them to a shady international market. I hope that more and more museums look for more creative and sustainable means of acquisitions in the way Anderson has done. Nations of origin and foreign museums really do need each other. Now the mark of a great museum is not how many ancient objects it can acquire— in the past Anderson has called this lust for acquisition the desire to make museums ‘treasure houses’. Instead cooperators with nations like Italy will find collaborative relationships and long-term loans in exchange for cooperation in returning looted objects. Rather than hoard the ill-gotten acquisitions of the past, I think museums will find themselves working quickly to get at the head of the collaborative line with these nations. Anderson’s opinion piece, and the recent nudge towards reform in the AAMD guidelines are the most recent indication of what one hopes will be a positive shift.

  1. Maxwell Anderson, Giving back art — how museums see it, Dallas News, Feb. 8, 2013.
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Call for Presenters, ARCA’s 5th Annual Conference, June 21-23, Amelia Italy

Association for Research into Crimes against Art 
5th Annual Conference, June 22-23, 2013, Amelia Italy
Call for Presenters

Aims of the Conference

The conference brings together experts and practitioners to examine crimes against art in all its forms—theft, looting, destruction, and fraud. Presenters are welcome from any allied fields which touch on art crime, including: law, criminology, law enforcement, security, art history, archaeology, conservation, journalism, and any other relevant field. Presenters are grouped into thematic panels of 3-4 speakers. Each speaker will be strictly limited to a 20 minute period, with ample time for questions at the conclusion of each panel, to allow for a lively and engaging conference.

The conference is held in the beautiful town of Amelia, in the heart of Umbria, Italy. The conference will include a cocktail reception on Friday, June 21 at an elegant palazzo, as well as an awards dinner on Saturday evening, to honor recipients of ARCA’s annual awards for scholarship, lifetime service, art security and recovery, and policing.

To submit a proposal or to attend:

Please contact me at

Presentation submissions should include a short title which summarizes the main idea of your presentation, and a longer but still concise summary of your proposed presentation topic.

There is a small fee to offset the cost of the cocktail and conference dinner, but there is no registration fee for the conference. Please contact Dr. Fincham if you plan on attending, as we can put you in touch with Monica Di Stefano, ARCA’s accommodations director in Amelia who can direct you to suitable accommodation and assist with travel arrangements. We regret that, as a small non-profit, we have very limited travel funds available to assist presenters or attendees.

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