March 28, 2020

The Museum of The Bible's Chairman's letter leaves many unanswered questions


Issued on 26 March 2010 and uploaded quietly to the Museum of the Bible website here

Statement on Past Acquisitions Published: Mar 26, 2020 

Museum of the Bible’s Chairman of the Board, Steve Green, makes the following statement on past acquisitions: 

In 2009, when I began acquiring biblical manuscripts and artifacts for what would ultimately form the collection at Museum of the Bible, I knew little about the world of collecting. It is well known that I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years. One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased. 

When I purchased items in those early years, dealers would make representations about an item’s provenance, which the consultants I employed would say was sufficient. As I came to understand taking a dealer at his or her word was not good enough, I cut ties with those consultants. When I engaged with new advisors, I acquired a better understanding of the importance of verifying provenance and we developed a rigorous acquisitions policy that would help avoid repeating those early mistakes. 

For the past several years, the many dedicated curators at Museum of the Bible have quietly and painstakingly researched the provenance of the many thousands of items in the collection. That work continues. 
While this research was proceeding, beginning in late 2017, we also engaged with officials in several countries, including Egypt and Iraq, to open a dialog regarding items that likely originated from those countries at some point, but for which there was insufficient reliable provenance information. Those discussions have been fruitful, and continue to this day. 

I long ago made the decision that when our research revealed another party had a better claim to an item, I would do the right thing and deliver such items to that party. We have already proactively made several such returns. 

Today, I am announcing that we have identified approximately 5,000 papyri fragments and 6,500 clay objects with insufficient provenance that we are working to deliver to officials in Egypt and Iraq respectively. As discussions with officials in Egypt and Iraq continued, we also engaged with officials in the U.S. government to determine the best way procedurally and logistically to make the deliveries, and are appreciative of their assistance. We are working to finalize the deliveries in the near future. We also hope to finalize agreements with organizations in Egypt and Iraq that will allow for us to provide technical assistance, and support the ongoing study and preservation of their important cultural property. 

These early mistakes resulted in Museum of the Bible receiving a great deal of criticism over the years. The criticism resulting from my mistakes was justified. My goal was always to protect, preserve, study, and share cultural property with the world. That goal has not changed, but after some early missteps, I made the decision many years ago that, moving forward, I would only acquire items with reliable, documented provenance. Furthermore, if I learn of other items in the collection for which another person or entity has a better claim, I will continue to do the right thing with those items. 

I understand established museums, universities, and other institutions have evolved over the years and developed sound protocols for dealing with cultural property with insufficient provenance. I intend to continue to learn from the collective efforts and wisdom of those institutions, and support every person and organization possessing such items to continue their research into the provenance of their items. 

Steve Green Chairman of the Board Museum of the Bible

Takeaways:

This letter and these restitutions do not adequately address the negligence of the museum's management or the indiscretions of its philanthropists.  Nor do statements like these erase the indelible blemish on the museum's founding history.

Green claims to have unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers without appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items he purchased. Does he want us to believe that HAD he appreciated the importance of provenance he would have walked away from the many once-in-a-lifetime pieces dangled before him?

Green explains that the consultants he employed were overly trusting of dealers, which is why he made mistakes and why he "cut ties" with those consultants. Emphasis on the word cut ties.  Fired? Let go? Contract not renewed? Swept under the rug? Who and When? What does "cut ties" mean exactly?

When he relates only his own story of events, it seems more like he is trying to control the narrative than do anything to actually make amends.

If we look back in the history of this scandal, it took Green an exceedingly long time to "cut ties" and when he did, we didn't see a great deal of improvement in the museum's operational model, purchasing due diligence, or its transparency.

January 3-5, 2011 is when US Customs inspected Five Federal Express antiquities-filled packages shipped bearing air waybills:


  • No. 7286 2809 6729 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Mardel’s address.
  • No. 7286 2809 6751 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby’s principle address. 
  • No. 7286 2809 7162 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Crafts, Etc!’s address. 
  • No. 7286 2809 7173 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Mardel’s address. 
  • No. 7286 2809 7162 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Crafts, Etc!’s address. 

But despite this embarrassing faux pas, by May 16, 2011 Hobby Lobby was still sticking to their guns that the plundered material was rightfully theirs.  To substantiate that claim, they had their attorney file an administrative petition with the CBP seeking the return of their seized property, which one can assume by all the lawyer fees that would have entailed, that at least on paper, Hobby Lobby still felt their claim to the ancient objects, was legit. 

As spring turned eventually to autumn, on September 7, 2011 Hobby Lobby was still defending its honor, submitting a supplemental petition to the CBP trying to satisfy the governments concerns about the payment methodology used in the purchase of the antiquities contained in these shipments.

The Supplemental Petition stated that the reason the payments for the order were made through “separate wire transfers was that various original owners were to be paid directly.” This explanation however proves inconsistent with the fact that Israeli Dealer #3’s provenance statement covered almost the entire order and Israeli Dealer #3 was not one of the payees. It was also inconsistent with representations made to Hobby Lobby about listing Israeli Dealer #3 in the purchase agreement “because the invoice is from [Israeli Dealer #3’s] family and the collection is the [Israeli Dealer #3] family collection.”

Two days after the Supplemental Petition on the problematic shipment, on September 9, 2011, still-consulting "Director" of the Green Collection, Scott Carroll, was out destroying mummy masks at Baylor University with washing up liquid.

Nine months after the problematic shipment, on October 15, 2011, still-consulting Carroll took the last flight out of Heathrow bound for Israel to retrieve still more "unknown, significant Hebrew biblical manuscripts", where upon arrival he poured over 1100+ scrolls spanning 700 years, and spent the day looking at someone's private collection of papyrus.



Such were the Green's buying power that on November 27, 2011, and despite an open investigation into their previous purchases, Carroll set off yet again on another international buying trip.  A voyage which would take him from West Africa, to Istanbul, and then on to London, where in addition to making purchases, he met with people in Oxford, in all probability, Dirk Obbink, regarding the Green Scholar Initiative.




Three and a half months later, on March 12, 2012, Carroll, still consulting for the MoTB, is quoted in the Toledo Blade saying:

“I tell the Greens that I trust them to know where to put a store, and they need to trust me to stock the shelves,”
Carroll goes on further to add:
“We’ve been extremely careful to vet everything acquired and are fully aware of the issues and problems,” declaring “I work closely with international and national agencies reporting suspicious items that come our way.” 

The Greens eventually cut ties with Carroll only in May 2012, yet the continued to put their trust in Dirk Obbink, whom they had purchased from since 2009.  Despite terminating their relationship with Carroll, by January 17, 2013 the Museum, had arranged to purchase four early gospel papyrus fragments from the Oxford-based scholar via a private sales agreement.  These turned out to be stolen from the EES Oxyrhynchus collection.  By November 2019, a total of 13 stolen fragments from the EES collection had been identified as having been purchased by the Museum of the Bible through various buying channels. 

Given all that, the fact that Green's press release statement yesterday, relays that they did not get around to speaking with the source countries of the looted material until 2017 is not surprising.  In an earlier Wall Street journal article, also by Crow, the Museum of the Bible's Vice Chairman of the board Robert E. Cooley indicated that the museum's board itself only learned about the government’s six-year smuggling investigation involving Hobby Lobby when the craft company was close to signing the settlement... so again, the year 2017.

Green purportedly did not tell the museum's board sooner because he considered it a Hobby Lobby matter which brings into question Green's statement yesterday about having "acquired a better understanding of the importance of verifying provenance... we developed a rigorous acquisitions policy that would help avoid repeating those early mistakes."

So this more vigorous acquisitions policy applies to the problems in Green's private collection or to the objects from that collection he donated onward to the Museum?

That said, it was around 2017 that the Museum's board hired cultural-heritage lawyer, Thomas Kline, to vet the pieces remaining in the museum’s collection.  One question which remains is whether or not they hired anyone else besides one busy lawyer, who does not have manuscript provenance experience.  If not, then that might explain why it took an additional three years for this next, and I suspect not last, round of at a snail's pace restitutions.

The final interesting statement is Green's letter is his hope that Egypt and Iraq will allow the Museum of the Bible to provide technical assistance, and support the ongoing study and preservation of their important cultural property.

Having (possibly) worn out their welcome with the EES, and having hooked their dreams on folks like Carroll, Obbink and company, Green now hopes that the very source nations their purchases robbed will see their better late than never restitutions and a single carefully-worded, reputation management letter from the Museum's principle donor as a sincere and real attempt at righting several wrongs.

For me it doesn't even start. 

It should not have taken this many years for Mr. Green to own up to his and his buyers indiscretions. He may have been blindsided by his consultants in the beginning, but throughout this process he has been the one to control the narrative.

If he truly wants to earn my trust, and really make meaningful amends, he could start by addressing the degrees of his own culpability, both for his actions (wantonly and  heedlessly purchasing objects without any due diligence consideration) and his inaction, (to get ahead of this, to his refusal to answer researchers questions about where and from and in what time frame he or his consultants purchased suspect material) from 2009 to present.

For now I remain skeptical and as unconvinced as my venting yesterday further explains.

Lynda Albertson

March 27, 2020

Steve Green to return another 11,500 antiquities to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments, but let's not forget the past.


Journalist Kelly Crow, in a Wall Street Journal exclusive, reports that Hobby Lobby magnate Steve Green has agreed to return an additional 11,500 antiquities to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments.  Consisting mostly of papyrus fragments and ancient clay objects, the collection pieces, originally destined for the philanthropist's museum project, are being relinquished to their source country because they all lack ownership histories.  

No a big surprise there.  It is something academics have been worriedly asking the collector and his museum about for years.

Seemingly apologetic, the billionaire behind the $800 million, eight-story Museum of the Bible, told the Wall Street Journal “One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased,” adding when he started collecting biblical-era antiquities in 2009 he  “knew little about the world of collecting.”

I'd like to remind ARCA's readership that by the time we published our first article on Green's buying antiquities like hotcakes, in October 2015, the Hobby Lobby craft store giant had already purchased an estimated 40,000 objects for their collection, in just six years.  These included Dead Sea Scroll fragments, biblical papyri, rare biblical texts and manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.  

That's 6,666 objects per year or a whopping 18 objects purchased per day. 

Looking at that from a transactional basis, I would say that Mr. Green's excuse of knowing little about the world of collecting rings a bit hollow.  Green's purchasing power, and avarice, meant his collective team knew a lil more than the average joe when it comes to the world of ancient art dealers and collectors. It is not like they made one or two wrong newbie purchases.  

According to US law enforcement documents, by 2010, just one year after he had started collecting, Green, himself made a trip to the United Arab Emirates to eyeball some 5,548 artefacts reportedly worth millions. This same law enforcement complaint states that the objects “were displayed informally...” “spread on the floor, arranged in layers on a coffee table, and packed loosely in cardboard boxes, in many instances with little or no protective material between them.” 


For a man known to watch his financial line to the level Green does within his craft store empire, for me it is inconceivable to believe that an individual of this billionaire's stature would fork out millions, buying ancient objects without at least a tacit knowledge that he might need to ask questions of the dealers and suppliers he was buying material from. 

For years now I have been saying that if the Greens truly want to make amends, they should fill their future Museum of the Bible with acquisitions collected ethically. In addition they should also make the details of their past purchases open and searchable to external researchers and investigators not just relinquishing batches of suspect objects purchased without sufficient moral and ethical consideration. 

During the first handover of antiquities Green said “We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled.”  Unfortunately it took him another five whole years to muster up the gumption to admit that these additional 11,500 objects were also likely purchased in the same haphazard manner as the ones relinquished earlier.  

I don't know about most folks but if I had the capability of writing million checks dollar checks, and had already once had my feet held to the fire for purchasing antiquities that didn't pass muster, I think that I would likely remember all the other occasions when I wrote eye-popping checks for astronomical sums for equally suspect, not fully-thought out, purchases from individuals who were not completely transparent about where their merchandise was coming from. 

Why it took Green five years to do the right thing on this other set of objects is therefore not to be applauded.  The people in Egypt and Iraq who loot to feed the collecting appetites of Westerners spend years in jail when caught.  But big dollar collectors like Steve Green, who incentivise that very plunder, seem to think that showing remorse in a financial journal or a Hobby Lobby press release should suffice.   

For me it isn't.

Put your collection on line Mr. Green.

Then I will truly believe that you are sincerely sorry for what you have done.  Help researchers, who can connect dodgy dealers put a dent in the illicit supply chain.   Just giving back boxes and boxes of pretty baubles to the countries your dollar has plundered doesn't undo the damage you have done.   

Op/Ed: Lynda Albertson

March 24, 2020

Two massive earthquakes create havoc in Zagreb in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic

Image Credit: Muzej za umjetnost i obrt Museum of Arts and Crafts
Two massive earthquakes, registering 5.3 and 5.1 on the Richter scale of earthquake intensity have caused untold damage to Croatia's capital city Zagreb  in the midst of a nationwide lockdown for COVID-19. 

Image Credit: Muzej za umjetnost i obrt
Museum of Arts and Crafts

At present no fatalities have been reported however massive damage has occurred at Zagreb's Muzej za Umjetnost i Obrt, the country's Museum of Arts and Crafts housed in the Hermann Bollé-designed palace built in 1888.  While assessments are still in progress, Croatia's Cultural Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek has confirmed damage to the building structure itself, to objects on the second and third floors of the museum, and to the museum's restoration laboratory, responsible for conservation works on metal, ceramics and glass, textiles, painting and polychrome sculpture.  

At the time of this natural disaster the MUO is said to have held some 100,000 objects from the 13th century to present. The MOU's Director, Miroslav Gašparović, hopes that with the help of the City, the Ministry of Culture, UNESCO and other international institutions, his team will be able to repair the damage to the museum's external structure and to secure and conserve the collection. 

Like the MOU, the quakes also heavily damaged the physical structure of the  Vranyczany-Dobrinović Palace where the Arheološki Muzej u Zagrebu (AMZ), the Archaeological Museum of Zagreb is housed just off Zrinski Square.  This museum houses important objects from  Prehistory, Egypt, Antiquity, and the Middle Ages.  

Image Credit: Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu - AMZ
Documenting the damages, the AMZ has posted some 65 photos depicting objects impacted by the quake, only some of which have been reproduced here. The images show cracks in gallery walls and plaster, display cases cracked or completely shattered, statues and sarcophagi toppled or tipped over, and hundreds of objects smashed or severely tossed about. 

Image Credit: Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu - AMZ
The Muzej Suvremene Umjetnosti, the Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses some 12,000 works of domestic and foreign artists also reported significant damage to its own structure as will as to the collection.  In this museum, the anti-fire mechanisms caused flooding in some exhibition rooms, and water damaged has been reported in both the ceiling and floors.


Some of the other cultural heritage sites affected include the Croatian Music Institute in Gunduliceva Street, a protected cultural monument, the 140-year-old building which houses the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Palmotic, the south tower of Zagreb Cathedral, which was under reconstruction,  and the famous 1905 Kolmar building on Ban Jelacic Square, where the Society of Croatian Writers is located.  Here the earthquake severely damaged one of its towers.  


Probably one of the most complicated heritage rescue missions to date, damage inspections and the securing of objects after this national disaster are being carried out during a world-wide pandemic, a situation which creates a perfect storm of events that makes salvaging collections and shoring up sites all the more complicated.  One of the strongest earthquakes to hit Zagreb in 140 years, there are more than 600 buildings impacted and in keeping with government rules, this means that the cultural ministry and city authorities will be utilising as few staff as possible, in accordance with the decisions of the Civil Protection Headquarters of the Republic of Croatia, with the aim of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

By:  Lynda Albertson



March 16, 2020

Museum Theft: Three Baroque paintings stolen from Christ Church, University of Oxford

Image Credit:  Thames Valley Police
Three Baroque Period paintings have been stolen from the Christ Church Picture Gallery, an art museum at Christ Church, a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England.  According to law enforcement reports the theft took place at around 11pm on Saturday, 14 March 2020. 

The three paintings are:

Oil on Canvas, circa 1616
H 91 x W 55 cm
Accession number: JBS 246

Oil on Canvas, circa 1640 
H 75.2 x W 61 cm
Accession number: JBS 222

Oil on Canvas, circa 1580
H 75.5 x W 64 cm
Accession number: JBS 180

All three paintings had been bequeathed to Christ Church: two of them centuries ago.

The museum is known for its impressive collection of Old Masters paintings and drawings, with an emphasis on Italian art from the 14th to the 18th century. Works in the museum also include paintings and drawings by Titian, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Dürer, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens and Tintoretto, many of which were donated by General John Guise (1682/1683–1765) in the eighteenth century and whose portrait is also to be seen in one of the museum's rooms. Guise is known to have donated some 200 artworks to the college in furtherance of its art education programming. 

Headed by Detective Chief Inspector Jon Capps, the Thames Valley Police are  appealing for witnesses who may have seen or heard anything suspicious in the immediate area or elsewhere on on St. Aldates or High Street.  They are also asking for assistance from area businesses who may have CCTV footage which could aid in their investigation.   Officers can be contacted by calling the non-emergency number 101, or making a report online using the reference 43200087031.  Individuals who wish to remain anonymous can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

March 13, 2020

Supreme Court Decision on the Legal Status of Famous Picasso Painting

On March 2, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a case disputing who should own the Pablo Picasso masterwork, “The Actor,” created around 1904-05.  The painting was once owned by Jewish industrialist Paul Leffmann, who sold the artwork under duress for $12,000 in 1938, after leaving Germany in 1937 in order to fund his move from Italy to Switzerland. At the time in history, Italy was ruled by Benito Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship.

ARCA extends its thanks the Holocaust Art Restitution Project  who continue to follow cases like this, as well as all the lawyers who worked on legal aspects of the case.  Each remind us that we need to continue to try to right the wrongs of the past and where possible consider the lingering and painful effects of the horrific circumstances faced by individuals like the Leffmanns under the Nazi and Fascist regimes. 

With the Supreme Court's decision, Paul Leffmann's great-grand-niece has no other recourse tham to visit her family's painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 


March 5, 2020

🏺 How a 21st century art market resembles its 18th century counterpart: Lessons for collectors attending TEFAF Maastricht 2020

"La vista dell'antiquario" 1788 by Jacques Sabet
In Rome, in the late 1700s, the value of ancient art was far different from what it is today.  The city's ancient grandeur, the Mirabilia urbis Romae (The Marvels of Rome) had faded considerably.  Gone were many of the cities grand Roman temples, its proud colonnades and heat-saving porticoes, which once heralded the glory, and some thought eternity, of Rome.   

Johann Wilhelm von Archenholz writing in 1791 at the peak of the Grand Tour wrote sadly:

In spite of the great care taken not to touch the ruins of the great Coliseum, which has been done formerly, it falls by degrees under the power of time; huge masses of stone detach themselves from it and roll upon each other; as there are everywhere wide breaches between, and there is no cement to keep them together, it may naturally be supposed, that in a few centuries more [than] nothing of the upper part will be left: but the lower, with its enormous vaults, is made for eternity, and will surely outlast all the ruins of Rome. . . . Of the broken stones of this gigantic work, the palace of Farnese, St. Mark’s, and the chancery have been erected. Its amphitheatrical ruins are now held sacred, as so many Christians suffered martyrdom in them. Altars have been erected within, before which some devout souls are always praying, in order to obtain the indulgences annexed to those acts of devotion. 

People of the day roasted fish in front of the Pantheon and in the Roman Forum, where the temples of Vesta and Caster and Pollux once stood,  the grassy spaces were used as a cattle market.  Within this decay, an enormous gap developed in culture and art between what Rome was at the height of the empire and what it was to become.  

Think that with Pope Pius VI’s commitment to sanitize and remake Rome in the late 1700s, he paid important artisans like Francesco Antonio Franzoni, one of the most renowned sculptors and restorers of antique sculpture in Rome of that period, a mere 20 scudi a month.  Pontifical big wigs, by comparison would earn between 20-30 scudi per month and a captain in the Pope's army received a paltry 200 scudi a year.  All in a time when a mid-day meal in Caput Mundi would cost you half a scudi. 

The Barberini Juno
Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican Museums
By artistic comparison, in Rome during that same period, a museum-worthy sculpture, such as the colossal Roman statue of Juno, discovered in my old Rome neighborhood (Monti) in the late 17th century, sold for 2600 scudi to the Pius and Clementine’s Museum within the Vatican. Private individuals, growing their collections, bought ancient marble works in a frenzy, for anywhere from 100-300 scudi a pop. 

Like in today's market, famous contemporary artists of the late 1700s likewise received eye-popping (for their time) commissions for their creations.  Take for example the fee charged by Antonio Canova to sculpt the funeral monument of Clement XIII in St. Peter's Basilica.  His asking price? 11 thousand scudi. 

Yet, while Italy's attention was turned to reshaping their past, Anglo-Saxon nobility, who considered ancient Greek and Roman statuary as a tie to their heredity and an important status symbol, gladly profited by taking ancient Roman and Greek art off their hands.  Their buying sprees allowed the English to fill their manor houses back home without thought to the future generations of Italians who now make great efforts to preserve the past.  

Likewise, the 18th century art market also had its plundered components.  To feed the appetites of its wealthy foreign collectors, merchants bought up entire collections and resold them at staggeringly wide margins.  In doing so they carted off Italy's neglected cultural patrimony by the boatload.   

An example of this can be seen in the maritime cargo carried by the English ship Westmorland, one of a dozen armed vessels used by art merchants plying their lucrative trade in Italy, used to transport artworks back to Britain.   Records tell us that the vessel, armed with 22 carriage guns and 12-16 swivel guns, was seized by two French warships off the coast of Malaga, Spain on January 7, 1779.  

Having set sail from the Tuscan port city Livorno, the Westmorland's bounty was bound for important collectors such as the brother of George III, Prince William, 10th duke of Norfolk, and the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. The ship's cargo was known to have included some 60 paintings, including works by Pompeo Batoni, Guercino, Carlo Maratti, Anton Raphael Mengs, Guido Reni and Guercino.  Alongside these cavasses were engravings by Piranesi, forty sculptures, 23 Roman marble vases, and various gouaches, watercolors, books and musical instruments.  This artistic treasure was also topped off with a sampling of Italy's food treasure: 32 rounds of parmesan.  

With France having joined the colonists in America's War of Independence, a January 9, 1799 naval trail established that the French were the legal "owners" of all cargo seized on the Westmorland and the merchandise was declared war booty.  The King of Spain, Charles III, in turn ultimately purchased the bulk of the valuable artworks, taking his pick of the pieces, some of which are now part of the collection at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.

Flash forward to tomorrow, where the the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) opens in the Netherlands for its 33rd edition.  Like their 18th century counterparts, many collectors at the Dutch fair, give little thought to the country of origin of the ancient objects they purchase or the sourcing practices of the dealers they buy from.  Their purchases focus on authenticity, beauty, and price,  just as their counterparts focused on centuries ago.

The same group of 21st century purchasers who might adamantly demand ethical sourcing practices in the consumable products they purchase, to ensure that the smartphones and designer bags they buy are manufactured by legal workers who work in safe working environments, fail, more often than not, to pay close attention to their art dealer's supply chain. While demanding transparency, human rights, and exploitation-free production in their ethical jeans, shoes, and watches, today's art collectors give only passing thought to an object's legitimacy and often assume (wrongly) that the dealers they buy from have taken the trouble to ensure that the artwork they are considering for purchase comes with a well researched and legitimately licit pedigree. 

Few collectors ask the truly hard questions of where the art work came from, or demand proof that it was sourced legally.  Some proudly defend questionable purchases added to collections as being done for the purpose of preservation, because source countries have failed to safeguard their rare material culture from destruction, either by environmental harm or by conflict. 

"The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest" by Willem van Haecht

If you are purchasing at TEFAF in Maastricht (or any other art fair) ARCA recommends the following:

Do Your Research 
Make sure you research who you buy your art from…and their suppliers. With a myriad of complex export regulations from one country of origin to the market country where the object is being sold, it is important to inform yourself of the export rules in the country of origin at the time your object left its home country.  

Stay Away from the Black Hats 
Assess whether the names listed in the provenance of your artwork are already suspect actors, known to have purchased, fenced, or participated in the looting of art in the past.   For this Google is your friend. 

Ask the Dealer Tough Questions 
Make your dealer show you all the documents they have in their possession on an artwork so that you can ensure that the purchase you are considering is an ethical one.  Do this BEFORE you agree to open your wallet.  As a buyer, it is your right to ensure that the art you are purchasing has been sourced ethically.  Don't let dealers intimidate you into thinking these questions are nieve, rude or inappropriate.  They service you.  You are the buyer.  If they treat you badly, walk away.  If all customers follow this rule, art dealers will quickly learn that their livelihood depends upon their suppliers being ethical actors.  This will in turn help hold the market to a higher standard with the knowledge that they are being monitored by their clients, and not just research groups like ARCA.

Spread the Love 
Encourage fellow collectors to also keep a close eye on their own art dealers and purchases. Work with them to create an aligned ethical collecting base.  

Practice What You Preach 
Ensure that you as well as your dealers uphold ethical sales practices.  Take a microscope to your own collection and if object's/artwork's purchased in the past  does not pass a critical ethical eye, consider voluntarily restituting the piece back to the heir or country of origin rather than turning a blind eye and selling an tainted object onward to another unsuspecting individual who hasn't done their homework. 

Take Advantage of ARCA 
In this world that we live in, ARCA publishes frequently on problems of bad actors plying their trade within the art market. Follow this blog or even write to us if you have questions about a problematic artwork in your collection.  We will try to help. 

Create a Community 
Encourage the art buying community to think like the conscientious consumer electronics community. Create networks that share knowledge and demand an ethical supply chain. 


Making sure your collection is ethically sourced is not a simple task, but it is good for you and good for humanity.  It is also essential to ensure that your 21st century collection habits do not mirror those of your 18th century ancestors. This benefits not only you (and your conscience), but also the citizen's of the source country where objects are stolen from. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

March 3, 2020

Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and now TikTok being used to memorialize cultural heritage crimes

Screenshot of TikTok Video showing unauthorized excavation
In the past few years, and for better or worse, social media has completely rewritten the way the world communicates. As more and more humans, from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds, stare mesmerised by the glowing screen of smartphones, the intersection between social media and art crimes grows unabated, and seemingly unstoppable by traditional law enforcement methods.   The monitoring of social media documented crimes, is most often focused on detecting drug crimes or human trafficking. Taking a bite out of heritage crime seems like a luxury.  Especially in police departments with few, if any, trained resources with experience in this new frontier. 

While mainstream social media networks have explicit rules on the kind of content they permit, criminal actors change profiles like most of us change our underwear.  Today's Igor becomes tomorrow's Ahmed, or better still, a sexy brunette named Elisabetta. This ability to morph into another avatar allows criminals to reach would-be "consumers" continents away simply with the tap of a finger and an endless supply of well-curated, high-definition pictures or tantalizing videos.

Facebook groups can and are being created where the privacy settings are such that only the group’s members are aware of the group's existence, and joining is monitored by gatekeeper administrators.  Entrances are granted by invitation or by screening, which sometimes makes monitoring them a game of whack-a-mole.

Open for business, those breaking the law are able to hide in plain sight, advertising their illegal wares directly via an ever-changing parade of profiles which post videos, photos and statuses onto social media feeds or via ‘stories’ , documenting the illicit objects they have available, sometimes with proof of life details.  Once a potential buyer is identified, the conversations quickly switch to DM, (direct messaging), or move off site altogether to encrypted chat applications.

Take a look at this February video downloaded from the app TikTok. 


To highlight the growing problem, and how these images can incentivise copycat crimes, the Turkish archaeology magazine Aktüel Arkeoloji Dergisi published this video, sent to them by one of their readers.  In the live broadcast, uploaded to the social media platform TikTok, a team of unauthorized scavengers can be seen excavating an entire sarcophagus with the help of heavy machinery.

What can social media sites do as a deterrence? 

In an effort to combat drug crimes and make sales videos harder to find, TikTok bans popular drug hashtags like #cocaine, #methamphetamine #heroin, but often misses the ever changing street slang terms associated with their use.   A quick search of more subtle hashtags like, #blues, #kickers, #40, #80, when strung together with other key words, lead you to posts advertising OxyContin and not blues musicians or football players.  Hashtags for treasure hunting, using words like lahit mezar which are language or dialect specific are even harder for sites to screen for.

TikTok is said to now be used in 150 countries and is labelled in the app store as being for those aged 12 and over.  The 16 second video above already had more than one million views before anyone could raise a red flag.

By:  Lynda Albertson

February 29, 2020

Flash Back to Restitutions: Remembering the Apulian dinos, 340-320 B.C.E. attributed to the Darius painter


A long time ago, in a galaxy seemingly far far away, a red-figure 340-320 B.C.E. Apulian dinos, attributed to the Darius Painter, once lived in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.   The antiquity was purchased by the Met via the Classical Purchase Fund, the Rogers Fund and the Helen H Mertens and Norbert Schimmel gifts in November 1984. 

This red-figure vase, sometimes called a lebed, was decorated with scenes from a comedy, perhaps by Epicarmos, involving one of the numerous adventures of Herakles in which he encountered Busiris, a king who had been advised to sacrifice all strangers to Zeus in order to avoid drought.


In the primary image on the vase and to the right of the altar and column stands Busiris, dressed in traditional oriental-style clothing. He is the one holding a scepter and who is brandishing a menacing knife. Heracles, pictured on the opposite side of the altar, casually draped in a lion's cape, is his intended victim.

Others in the scene include two Egyptians, busy assisting in the pending mayhem.  One carries a butcher's block with more knives while another is seen adding water to a kettle, placed to boil on the fire. There are also servants depicted carrying a tray of cakes, an amphora, and a wine jug. What better way to end a murder than with a quick snack washed down with wine.  

Yet, in the end, Herakles ultimately prevailed over Busiris, much in the same way the Italian government did in February 2006 they reached an agreement with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to return this and five other plundered antiquities identified in the museums collections.

Polaroids photographs of the dinos (inv. 1984.11.7 when at the Met) were seized by law enforcement during a raid at the Geneva Freeport.  These identified the antiquity in three different conditions, first in guilty fragments, then partially restored with the glued joints still visible, and lastly in a photo after it had been purchased and put on display at the Metropolitan Museum.

As Dr. David Gill pointed out, five objects, each attributed to the Darius painter were acquired by different museum institutions between 1984 and 1991, a period when southern Italy was subject to extreme plundering.  Some of those items, are still in museum collections outside of Italy.

In 2001 Ricardo Elia, who surveyed Apulian pottery, estimated that some 31 per cent of the total corpus of Apulian pots totalling more than 4200 vases, all surfaced on the ancient art market between 1980 and 1992 virtually all of which has little or no substantiated history.  A group of 21 of these are (still) on display at the Altes Museum (German for Old Museum) on Museum Island in Berlin, Germany, the major part of which come from a single burial are attributed to the workshop of the Darius painter, and were acquired in 1988.  Documented in the museum as coming from an ancient Swiss collection, photos from the seized Giacomo Medici archive show the fragments from these same vases, still dirty with earth, waiting to be put back together again.

Apulian Vases at the Altes Museum, Berlin
If you want to see this ancient object in its natural habitat and see the video in this post as it works its magic in person, please stop by the fabulous Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto - MArTA and take a look.

If you would like to read more about this grouping of stolen antiquities: please consult the following:

"Homecomings: reflections on returning antiquities", David W.J. Gill

"Analysis of the looting, selling, and collecting of Apulian red-figure vases: a quantitative approach" Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage, by Elia, R J 2001

The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities-- From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museum, by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini

La diplomazia culturale italiana per il ritorno dei beni in esilio. Storia, attualità e future prospettive, by Stefano Alessandrini

Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World, edited by Noah Charney

February 26, 2020

Valerie Higgins returns to Amelia this summer to teach “Antiquities and Identity” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis 

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 28 through August 12, 2020 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. 

Valerie Higgins
Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I am the Program Director for the Master’s program in Sustainable Cultural Heritage and Associate Professor in Archaeology at The American University of Rome. I am an archaeologist by training, and I began my professional career as an archaeologist working in local government before returning to university to complete a Ph.D., studying human remains from a medieval Italian monastery site.

After completing a visiting university appointment in New Zealand, I returned to work in Rome where I was lucky enough to get a tenured position at the American University. Being based in Rome, a lot of my teaching has been outside at the monuments themselves, rather than in the classroom, and it was this that first sparked my interest in cultural heritage. The daily contact with the monuments and witnessing the issues of caring for such a massive patrimony, gradually led to me becoming more and more involved in that side of archaeology. Looting of antiquities is a huge problem in Italy and it has deep historical roots. An important part of tackling looting is to understand the societal context in which it takes place.

What do you feel is the most relevant aspect of your course?

The course incorporates discussion of contentious issues that are currently in the news, such as the role of museums and their obligation (or not) to reflect social issues, decolonization of heritage and museums, issues of identity politics relating to ownership, etc. Those of us who are engaged in protecting heritage need to get involved in these debates and we need to ensure that the discussion are well informed. This is increasingly difficult in an era of fake news and short soundbites.

What do you hope participants will get out of the courses?

I hope participants will understand the broader context behind art crime and will feel a greater engagement with topical issues. I hope that they will have a more profound understanding of the background to current disputes. Increasingly, journalistic sources present arguments in a very one-sided way and reduce complex arguments to emotive headlines. I hope that participants will appreciate more the complexity and long history that underlies many current issues.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

My classes are very interactive. I like everyone to contribute to class discussions from their own experiences. Every year at ARCA we get participants from all over the world, with diverse professional and personal backgrounds so when we are discussing issues we can get many different viewpoints, and this is very stimulating.

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your courses, is there anything you learn from them in class?

A huge amount! I encourage everybody to take the topics we cover in the class and apply them to situations they face in their professional lives back home. As a result, I get to hear about new places, new disputes, new heritage sites, new groups and it is always fascinating to me. I regularly incorporate in my teaching at the American University information I have gained from ARCA participants and in that way I hope that I spread the knowledge.

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

I enjoyed the book ‘Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum’ by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. It is written by two journalists, not academics, but it conveys very well the attitudes that were current in the museum world in the last part of the twentieth century and the first decade of this century and the almost total disregard for ethics that should have governed museum acquisitions. I would also recommend the BBC podcasts in the series the Museum of Lost Objects. This series looked at antiquities that were lost or looted in Iraq, Syria, India and Pakistan. I like the series because it focuses on the human cost of looting not the economic cost.

What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique?

The people! Every year we get an incredible mix of people taking and teaching the courses in the program and then, of course, during the conference this number increases dramatically. The setting in Amelia also makes the program special. Amelia is a small intimate setting where it is easy to meet people outside of class, over a coffee.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

I am very interested in Marc Balcells course because he studies art crime as a sociological phenomenon rather than on an individual case by case basis. I believe this aspect is very underdeveloped. Although we will always need law enforcement as a backstop, the greatest impact on reducing art crime is to have a greater understanding of the underlying social forces. Very few people do this and Marc does it so well.

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria?

Amelia is set in beautiful countryside and there are some great walks and picnic spots in the countryside outside the walls. Don’t think that you always have to get on a bus or train to have a great day out!

Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside class?

Italians certainly have their own ways of doing things which often seem incomprehensible to foreigners. It is not uncommon to go to see something that is supposed to be open and you find it isn’t. However, if you ask around there may be someone who can help you to get in or you might find something else to see that you did not even know existed. Italy is full of fantastic sites that are not in any guidebook or on any website, you may end up having an even better day out. It pays to be flexible and laid back.

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June? 

I find the conference a very useful way to catch up with what is going on in the field and also people working in the field. The refreshments breaks are almost as valuable as the presentations. To my knowledge, no other conference has such an eclectic mix of people from museums, law enforcement and academia.

Anything else…. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself in Amelia!


For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org 

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Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

February 25, 2020

Mild prison sentences handed down in organized crime-related theft at the Bode Museum in Berlin


When a giant gold coin, weighing 100 kilos was stolen from room 243 of the Bode Museum and carted off without a hitch in the early morning hours of March 27, 2017 it wasn't long before the German authorities pinpointed a likely group of culprits.  Taking only 16 minutes to carry out the crime, complete with carbon-fiber-reinforced ax used to break the extremely heavy security glass, and with the help of a strategically placed roller and wheelbarrow, it was obvious that the museum's burglary was not a random smash and grab.  All clues pointed to inside help, especially as the culprits had walked straight passed higher value, but less liquidatable works of art.

Raids carried out by authorities in Neukölln, Berlin’s most impoverished district, in July 2017 turned up an interesting wrinkle; three of the four men taken into custody for questioning, Wayci Remmo (now 24) Ahmed Remmo (now 20), and Wissam Remmo (now 22) all appeared to have ties to one of Germany’s burgeoning ethnic crime syndicates.  Now headed by brothers Issa and Ashraf Remmo, the clan's defacto patriarchs, the Remmo clan includes an estimated 500 family members people, many of whom originate from Mardin, and immigrated first to Lebanon, and later to Germany.  

Der Spiegel estimates that while that clans make up just four percent of Berlin's inhabitants, 20 percent of suspects in organized crime cases belong to one of the well-known clans.  For decades it is believed that male members of this and similar ethnic family clans, have been associated with extortion, drugs, laundering criminal proceeds, theft and robbery.  The complicated family ties and ownership structures developed by the clans' membership make it possible for the tightly knit groups to launder money - and sometimes, but not in this case, make it considerably more difficult for investigators to work. 

In this case, it was the fourth suspect, Denis Wilhelm's friendship with Ahmed's which helped unravel the case.  Wilhelm had conveniently been hired as a subcontractor for night shift security at the Bode Museum the same month as the theft.

After lengthy hearings, cousins Ahmed and Wissam Remmo, both German citizens were convicted as having orchestrated the job with the help of their German friend, after evidence obtained during the search of 17 residences and related property tied the men to the scene of the crime. During these searches, police found clothing which to matched security footage from the theft as well as gold particles of the same purity as the mammoth coin and shards of glass similar to that of the protective casing which was smashed to access the coin at the museum.  

A search of Wissam Remmo's smart phone also showed an app used to calculate gold prices as well as recent searches on how to melt down chunks of gold. Given this, authorities have surmised that the €3.75 million coin was hacked up into smaller bits, melted down, and the proceeds distributed among an unknown or unnamed number of affiliates. 

Sentenced lightly, given the offense took place while they were juveniles, Ahmed and Wissam Remmo were each given just 54 months in prison.  Their heavist punishment appears to be the fine they were adjudicated, totalling €3.3 million , the estimated total loss of the stolen coin.  

Wissam Remmo's sentence comes on top of an earlier conviction where DNA at a crime scene tied him to another property theft.  In that criminal case he was recently sentenced to two years and six months in prison via the district court of Erlangen. 

Their inside-man accomplice, Denis Wilhelm, was given a sentence of 40 months and was fined fine of €100,000. The fourth defendant, Wayci Remmo, a cousin of the two brothers, was acquitted of all charges as the court found the evidence insufficient to convict. 

To learn more about the structure of these groups, German readers can read 
Ralph Ghadban's Arabische Clans: Die unterschätzte Gefahr.  Ghadban, who has spoken out about the criminal machinations of the Arabische Großfamilie clans which dominate Berlin's underworld, is now under permanent police protection, for his criticism of the clans and the power of the Lebanese mafia in Europe.