Now you see them: the eternal allure of lost art | Art and design | The Guardian Source URL: These early modern artists were rebelling against the pompous art world of the 19th century, where rich and lauded painters would exhibit massive oil paintings at the Paris Salon or the Royal Academy, each developed through an academic series of drawings. Why, these rebels asked, should art be a glossy treasure? Working in ramshackle studios, drinking absinthe, they treated their own genius in a deliberately nonchalant and casual way. In the National Gallery in London, you can see Edouard Manet’s 1867-8 painting The Execution of Maximilian – or at least fragments of it. This pioneer of the avant garde cut off part of the canvas himself; after he died, it was cut up further in order to be sold in pieces. It took his admirer Degas to buy all the fragments he could find and paste them together as best he could. Growing Number Of Tourists Stealing Artifacts In Rome, Italy | Source URL: For those who love admiring ancient artifacts, you may want to visit Rome while they’re still there. According to police, there has been an outbreak of tourists stealing mosaic pieces, marble mile markers, cobblestones and other pieces of the city’s history. Luckily, airport security has been vigilant and is on the lookout for the items. In fact, they’ve been able to return a large amount of artifacts stolen in the last six months. Moreover, they’re finding the majority of the thieves are travelers coming from Britain and northern Europe. These people are not arrested, but instead given a stern warning. Says Police Chief Antonio Del Greco, “I can understand the legend and splendor that is Rome but that does not mean bits of it should be stolen … If they want a souvenir of their visit then they should buy something from a shop.” Sea surrenders pristine Roman sarcophagus – The Art Newspaper Source URL: A Turkish press report describes the sarcophagus discovery Diving school trainer Hakan Gulec came across more than fish and flotsam during a recent trip to the bottom of the ocean near Antalya off the coast of southern Turkey. An object protruding through the sand on the sea bed caught Gulec’s attention, prompting the intrepid explorer to dislodge and photograph the mystery find. Vandalized Banksy piece worth up to $620,000 is whitewashed over – Source URL:,0,4757465.story?track=rss& A Banksy piece in London was vandalized by graffiti crew Team Robbo. ( By Jamie Wetherbe July 6, 2012, 8:10 a.m. A defaced stencil by the elusive street artist known as Banksy — which might have quadrupled in value after being vandalized — has been cleared from a London neighborhood. The artwork of a boy blowing bubbles that spell out the name “TOX,” a prolific tagger jailed last year for his handiwork, appeared last August on a wall along Jeffrey’s Street in the city’s northwest neighborhood of Camden Town. Smugglers lead police to ancient loot | Source URL: POLICE in Karachi have seized dozens more stolen ancient artefacts dating from the Gandhara civilisation. The catch came thanks to leads obtained from those arrested in a similar raid the day before, officials said. The antiquities had been illegally dug from the country’s restive northwest where Pakistan’s army is battling against Islamist militants. The latest raid on a warehouse in the eastern Ibrahim Hyderi neighbourhood unearthed two large boxes stuffed with ancient Gandhara art.


Dalí Painting Stolen From New York City Gallery –

The police are searching for a man who they say entered an art gallery on the Upper East Side on Tuesday, plucked a Salvador Dalí painting from one of its walls, stuffed it in a shopping bag and strolled out without anyone noticing. The man posed as a customer at the Venus Over Manhattan gallery at 980 Madison Avenue, the police said, and fled westbound on East 77th Street.

Light Posting

Please forgive the light posting in the coming weeks. Joni and I are working with Lynda Albertson and the ARCA staff here in Amelia to make preparations for the 10 week postgraduate certificate program. 

Starting next week I will teach a module on art and antiquities law.Teaching here is terrific. This setting, where heritage is often just outside your door.


The Alexander Sarcophagus in Istanbul

Of marbles and men | The Economist
Turkey is looking at its past and ramping up repatriation (politely for now). You know how the Economist will come out on this issue perhaps, but they give it away in the first paragraph by recounting the Ottoman removal from Sidon of the Alexander Sarcophagus. Repatriation targets for Turkey include practically everyone: the Met, the British Museum, “the Louvre, the Pergamon, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, the Davids Samling Museum in Denmark, the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington, DC, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Getty. It has also claimed stolen antiquities that have been seized by police in Frankfurt, Florence, Bulgaria, Switzerland and Scotland.”

Roger Atwood on the new Walters Collection | chasing aphrodite

A couple of weeks ago I took a train to the handsome city of Baltimore and saw the Bourne collection in its new home. It’s a revealing show with some lovely artifacts, including some I don’t remember seeing in Santa Fe. The painted Nasca stirrup bottles (right), masterpieces of design and economy dating from about 500 CE, alone were worth the trip. Yet I came away thinking that, perhaps without realizing it, the organizers have given an object lesson in the dangers of collecting antiquities that have no record of archaeological excavation. What I wrote in Stealing History – that “not a single piece on display” in the Bourne collection “gives a specific provenance, archaeological history or other sign it emerged from any place but a looter’s pit” – remains true but needs some amending.

Crystal Bridges Museum Reviewed |

My answer: Crystal Bridges is damn good. For one, the setting is lovely: 120 acres of Ozark forest set around a creek from which the museum takes it’s name. Two, even though Moshe Safdie’s buildings don’t exactly recede into the background, they are intriguing and work well as a museum.

Supreme Court Denies Cert |
The Supreme Court has refused to hear Odyssey Marine’s Appeal of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes case.

Archaeologists accuse MoD of allowing Odyssey Marine to ‘plunder’ | theguardian
And more uncomfortable questions for Odyssey, this time with respect to their exploration of the HMS Victory:

The Ministry of Defence is facing a legal battle and parliamentary questions after letting a US company excavate a British 18th-century warship laden with a potentially lucrative cargo. Lord Renfrew is among leading archaeologists condemning a financial deal struck over HMS Victory, considered the world’s mightiest ship when she sank in a storm in the English Channel in 1744. In return for excavating the vessel’s historic remains, which may include gold and silver worth many millions of pounds, Odyssey Marine Exploration is entitled to receive “a percentage of the recovered artefacts’ fair value” or “artefacts in lieu of cash”.

How easy is it to steal art in Britain? | galleristny

The British have a dashed good collection of cultural artifacts in their various museums, but lately the coves have had a hell of a time hanging onto it. On Saturday evening a “nationally significant” medieval jug valued at $1.2 million was stolen from the Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton. . .

In Egypt Turmoil, Thieves Hunt Pharaonic Treasures | AP

In a country with more than 5,000 years of civilization buried under its sands, illegal digs have long been a problem. With only slight exaggeration, Egyptians like to joke you can dig anywhere and turn up something ancient, even if its just pottery shards or a statuette. But in the security void, the treasure hunting has mushroomed, with 5,697 cases of illegal digs since the start of the anti-Mubarak uprising in early 2011— 100 times more than the previous year, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press from the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police.

Art Crime in Film: Jø Nesbo’s “Headhunter” | ARCA
Catherine discusses how well this Swedish film handles art theft. It does a pretty good job–for a movie. I give the film a thumbs up, but don’t watch this for the art theft. It’s a dark and bloody flick. We chuckled when Sweden’s number 1 detective was also the head of their art theft unit.

Sotheby’s auctions off priceless Peruvian artifact | peruthisweek

A priceless piece of Peru’s cultural heritage was put up for sale last week at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York, where it fetched $212,500. The object in question was a gold Sicán funeral mask, dating from somewhere between 950 and 1250 A.D., with its origins in the Pomac Forest region of Lambayeque. According to Sotheby’s, the mask came from the estate of Jan Mitchell. A 2009 New York Times obituary stats that Mitchell was a wealthy New York restaurateur who donated a large portion of his pre-Columbian gold collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Support for the Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act

Rick St. Hilaire has a detailed discussion supporting S.2212:

The proposed bill clarifies the spirit of a federal law in force for over 35 years, but weakened in the last few years. Congress in 1965 passed IFSA (formally known as the Immunity from Seizure Under Judicial Process of Cultural Objects Imported for Temporary Exhibition or Display).  Lawmakers passed it because they wanted to promote the importation of art.  They wanted to let foreign art lenders know with certainty that their cultural works would not become entangled in litigation once on American soil.  

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Good Luck

Best of luck to all the teams competing at the Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court Competition in Chicago this weekend. The competition is sponsored by DePaul and the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Protection.

The problem involves a defendant challenging her conviction under the Theft of Major Artwork Act, passed partly in response to the theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

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Congratulations to Simon Mackenzie and Neil Brodie

Simon Mackenzie and Neil Brodie have been awarded a substantial grant to study the illicit trade in antiquities. This is very good news for those of us who follow this issue. Brodie and Mackenzie have both produced terrific research in this area, using empirical data to track the looting of sites and its connections to major art markets in New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong. They have taken the study of antiquities looting from impressionistic accounts to a solid empirical foundation for future policy changes in the law and the art trade generally.

From an announcement on the Guardian’s web page:

“It’s extremely widespread,” said criminologist Dr Simon Mackenzie, who will lead the project. “There are architectural sites and museums that are being looted all over the world, including Britain and the USA, but obviously more so in the developing world. Previous safe areas have become accessible and the material is saleable. Nowhere is safe.” 
. . .
Neil Brodie, accepting an ARCA award in 2011
The market, says Neil Brodie, is driven by availability, and the size of an artefact is not a problem “It goes through phases. Greek pots have always been popular but there are not a lot of new Greek pots coming on the market so people might start marketing Iranian pottery. There is more actually coming out of Iran. Some of the pieces are huge; Cambodian sculptures, for example. “The people who sell this material they are actively wanting to create markets. If it becomes possible, for instance, to dig up rock art in the deep Sahara, they will be promoting that; they will actively create a market for it. There is a synergy between the accessibility and the availability of the material, and the marketability by the dealers. The internet has made that a lot easier.”
Congratulations to them both, best of luck with their important work.

  1. Kristy Scott, Glasgow team gets £1m grant to study illegal trade in antiquities, the Guardian, February 13, 2012, (last visited Feb 13, 2012).
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"Chasing Aphrodite" at the National Press Club

ARCA Alum 2011 Tanya Lervik has a summary of the Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino event this week at the National Press Club:

The discussion covered a wide range of topics – from the basics of international law and the ethical responsibility of museums to the specifics of various transgressions that occurred at the Getty. Felch and Frammolino described the scope of the problem and how they came upon the antiquities story while researching the lavish spending of a Getty executive, Barry Munitz. In the course of their investigation, they were approached by a “Greek chorus of Deep Throats” who informed them that the executive’s indiscretions paled in comparison. Arthur Houghton commented on his experience at the Getty and recruited members of the audience (including yours truly) to illustrate the donation tax fraud scheme that he discovered was being perpetrated by one-time curator, Jiri Frel. Houghton was instrumental in putting an end to that practice, but he was also the author of the “smoking gun” memo often cited as evidence that the Getty Museum management was aware they were acquiring looted works in contravention of the 1970 UNESCO convention. Houghton also suffered some uncomfortable moments when the conversation turned to his role as the originator of the Getty’s controversial policy of “optical due diligence” wherein they would generally accept an antiquity’s provenance as provided by dealers without stringently investigating its validity.

continue reading 

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Another Black Mark on the Art Trade

As the NYT describes this, “a painting no longer attributed to Mark Motherwell”

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that federal agents are investigating recent sales of modern works by artists like Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock, but it does. In a very good piece of reporting by Patricia Cohen we learn that the Knoedler Gallery in New York has abruptly decided to close after 165 years, perhaps to avoid a suit by Pierre Lagrange. Lagrange purchased a work purported to be by Jackson Pollock, for $17 million in 2007, yet forensic study of the painting reveals that two paints in the canvas had not been produced at the time Pollock was painting. Oops as Rick Perry would say.

The suspect works of art were supplied by Glafira Rosales, who claimed to have direct access to artists like Rothko, Pollock, Motherwell and others. The story of these works is a sadly familiar one, they were “bought by an unnamed collector in the 1950s from the artists”, then when this collector died their were passed on to a “close family friend” who lived in Mexico and Switzerland, who insisted of course on anonymity. One is hard pressed to fell much sympathy for the dealers and galleries who still rely on these ridiculous provenances. They pollute our collective cultural heritage and defraud future generations. The same stories emerge from nazi-era restitution disputes, recently-emerged antiquities, and forged artworks. When these vast sums of money and important pieces of our heritage are at stake, some sectors of the art market continue to put expedience and short-term gain first. And sadly its a lack of meaningful scrutiny and regulation of these transactions. Thirty years ago Paul Bator argued the art trade is shrouded in secrecy, and sadly not much has changed.

Felix Salmon also looks to the role storytelling plays in all this:

The point here is that the art market, like the stock market, runs on a combination of trust and storytelling ability. The most expensive artists are nearly always those who can be credibly placed into central slot in the history of art; one of the main reasons that Abstract Expressionists in general are so expensive is because they have spent decades as the very heart of MoMA’s collection, which presented them as the pinnacle of 20th Century art, the artists standing on the shoulders of people like Picasso. When gallerists sell paintings, they tell stories not only about the work, but also about the story behind the work, conjuring up romantic notions of dealings between Robert Motherwell and Mexican sugar magnates, brokered by “man named Alfonso Ossorio”. So long as the institution selling the work is trustworthy, potential buyers tend to take such stories at face value — and, of course, they have a vested financial interest in those stories being true, the minute they actually buy the piece.

  1. Patricia Cohen, Federal Inquiry Into Possible Forging of Modernist Art, The New York Times, December 2, 2011, (last visited Dec 6, 2011).
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