May 28, 2015

Associated Press: Rome ceremony welcomes return of looted art recovered from museums and auction houses in the United States

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Nicole Winfield reported for The Associated Press on May 26th about the ceremony in Rome where American officials returned stolen art to Carabinieri officials (Rome: US returns 25 looted artifacts to Italy; Vases, frescoes):
The items returned Tuesday were either spontaneously turned over to U.S. authorities or seized by police after investigators noticed them in Christie's and Sotheby's auction catalogues, gallery listings, or as a result of customs searches, court cases or tips. One 17th-century Venetian cannon was seized by Boston border patrol agents as it was being smuggled from Egypt to the U.S. inside construction equipment, police said. 
U.S. Ambassador John Phillips joined Italy's carabinieri art police to show off the haul. It included Etruscan vases from the Toledo Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 17th-century botany books from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a manuscript from the 1500s stolen from the Turin archdiocese in 1990 that ended up listed in the University of South Florida's special collections. 
Winfield reported police assertions that many of the objects had allegedly reached the market through  "Italian dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, both convicted of trafficking in plundered Roman artifacts." You may read more about Medici's activities in the 2007 nonfiction book, The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini. (Watson spoke at ARCA's art crime conference in Amelia in 2011).

Here's a link to a 2012 ARCA Blog post by ARCA CEO Lynda Albertson on the 90 formerly looted objects displayed at the Villa Giulia in Rome that had also been returned (with an explanation about the history of the Etruscan black-figure kelps attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop).




Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2015/05/26/3809612_us-returns-25-looted-artifacts.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

May 19, 2015

Ex-Art: a review of the Salvage Art Institute’s "No Longer Art" exhibit

By Hal Johnson, 2014 ARCA student and DNA Consultant

“WE NOW ENCLOSE HEREWITH PROOF OF LOSS.”

This fateful declaration greets visitors at the door to No Longer Art, an exhibit presented by the Salvage Art Institute (SAI) and Columbia University with the cooperation of AXA Art. In fact, the exhibit wouldn’t even be possible without the help of the insurance firm AXA because every piece on display is the remnant of an insurance claim. SAI, a non-profit organization, has accumulated a collection of damaged artworks deemed total losses by AXA after owner's claims are paid. The objects themselves are then consigned to a sort of purgatory by the insurer. Physically speaking they are still sculptures, drawings, photographs and painting; but their status as "art" has been officially revoked.

Or has it …? How was this exhibit like and yet unlike viewing “real” art? The show space itself is a small meeting room at the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. Dozens of ex-artworks cluttered the room on wheeled carts as if they had been pulled directly from storage. But this is not careless curation. Each numbered piece comes with corresponding documentation of the original insurance claim (with specific details appropriately redacted) in  booklets mounted on small shelves against the walls of the room. I found myself trying to match up claims with the carts that had been shuffled around by previous visitors. The stories of damage and destruction are on display as much as the objects themselves. Unlike the shattered “Balloon Dog” by Jeff Koons, some damage (as described) wasn't readily apparent to me. More than once I had to look hard for it -- I had no luck spotting the "mold contamination" on one drawing.

Viewers can handle everything on display which was definitely the best part of the experience. "When else will you touch a Jeff Koons?" said a visitor as she and her friend attempted to fit the broken pieces of shiny red ceramic back in place. A certain reverence has been removed by no longer calling these objects "art" and declaring them void of all monetary value. This change carries with it an immunity to further harm. I ran my hand across a graphite/paper diptych by Linda Bond and came up with smudged fingers. I would never do such a thing in a traditional gallery or museum! And yet being able to touch this “stuff” that was made by accomplished, even famous, artists somehow made them seem more real. I didn’t revere these objects but still respected them and their creators.

It’s one thing to damage an artwork irreparably. To actually rescind an object’s identity as "art" requires some clever wordplay. An exhibit like this comes with its share of rhetoric. According to SAI, “the signature of the adjuster meets and cancels the signature of the artist.” “Salvage art,” “total loss” and “transformation” are a few more tools in their lexicon. In her Chicago Tribune review, columnist Lori Waxman perceives the salvaged art as "invisible" pieces "hidden in plain sight".

I felt like I had walked into an haute version of the Island of Misfit Toys. Rather than cast their collection as misfit art, SAI chose to curate No Longer Art with empowering rhetoric – freedom! Through damage and destruction, these pieces have been “liberated from the obligation of perpetual valuation and exchangeability.” The mercurial art market is implied to be a source of oppression. And that cluttered, moveable layout? It is an intentional statement of democracy – no art historical hierarchy or classification system governs this exhibit. The order of the pieces can be changed at will by the viewers themselves.

SAI is actively developing plans for a permanent exhibit space in New York City. In the meantime, No Longer Art is open at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and runs through June 26, 2015. The University of Chicago will present a special symposium in conjunction with the exhibit on June 5 from 3-6 pm. The event is called Salvage Art 2.1 (2.0 took place last month) and will be led by Dr. Christine Mehring, chair of the university’s Art History Department.

May 9, 2015

Art Restitution: Van Dyck’s Triple Portrait of King Charles I stolen from Castle Kronberg during World War II by American servicemen to be returned to Frankfurt

From The New York Times: Brandon Thibodeaux's photo of
King Charles I in Three Positions
by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The New York Times’ Tom Mashberg is reporting the return of five artworks, originally brought by US servicemen back to the United States after World War II, to the Anhaltische Gemäldegaleriem, in Dessau. Included in the five works is one described as “an unattributed copy of a triple portrait of King Charles I of England, originally painted by Anthony van Dyck in 1636 to help Bernini create a sculpture of the king”. Mashberg reports that this work was stolen from Castle Kronberg outside Frankfurt, and was being returned by:
“Michael R. Holland, a retired house builder from Montana, who said he found them in the safe deposit box of his aunt, Margaret I. Reeb, after her death. A note in the box from Mrs. Reeb, a member of the Women’s Army Corps who had served in Germany, said she bought them there just after the war. Family lore, Mr. Holland said, has it that Mrs. Reeb, who died in 2005 and was a wartime acquaintance of Eleanor Roosevelt, bought the works from American soldiers who approached her in a Nuremberg hotel for some quick cash.”
The story caught my eye because the original painting, which is now in the UK’s Royal Collection  has a fascinating story all of its own:

Sir Athony van Dyck (1599-1641) - Charles I (1600-1649)
The Royal Art Collection, oil on canvas
Queen's Drawing Room, Windsor Castle
In the early 1630s, King Charles I was busy cementing his place as omnipotent English monarch. He had been crowned King of England in a sumptuous ceremony, and in June 1633 he was likewise crowned King of Scotland. His queen -- a quiet but persistently devout Catholic -- Henrietta Maria, so memorably portrayed by Van Dyck in such overtly political family portraits as The Great Place and in intimately affectionate portraits such as his Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was carefully trying to strengthen ties between England and Rome, and to prepare the ground for the arrival in London of the first Papal envoy since Henry VIII’s time.

As so often happened during Charles’s reign, the delicate diplomatic dance was executed, in part, by artistic means. In mid 1635, Charles and his queen commissioned Van Eyck, now firmly ensconced as Charles’ favourite painter, to prepare a portrait that they would send to Pope Urban VIII in Rome. Thus would then able the Pope to commission his own favourite sculptor, Gianlorenzo Bernini (memorably labelled by Robert Hughes as the “marble megaphone of the Renaissance”), to carve a life-size bust of Charles, which the Pope would then give as a gift to Queen Henrietta Maria, symbolizing (so the Pontiff hoped) closer ties and perhaps heralding the ultimate submission of the English Crown to the throne of St Peters.

Drawing inspiration from Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Man in Three Positions, then in the Royal Collection (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), Van Eyck executed the sublime triple portrait of King Charles, both embodying his character and pensive but unshakeable hope for the future, and giving Bernini everything he needed to create his marble bust.

The Portrait was sent to Rome. Bernini wove his sculptural magic. The result arrived back in England in the summer of 1637, but not without significant travails and perils: the bust was packed into a wooden case, and one Thomas Chambers spent three remarkable months bringing it across Europe on boats, horses and mules, besting pirates, robbers and corrupt border guards en route.

It received a rapturous welcome when it was unpacked, and drew a promise from Queen Henrietta Maria that a fabulous diamond ring would immediately be sent to the Pope’s nephew, and which would end up being given to Bernini himself. Suspicious and opportunistic Puritans encouraged a forlorn and probably spurious rumor that the bust was stained, and would only become pure when Charles converted to Catholicism. Much later, an opportunistic broker who had profited as Charles acquired his magnificent collection, but who was then keen to rewrite history and curry favour with the Puritans, invented a fantastical prediction of the coming execution, by the bust being stained with miraculous blood:
“ … his own statue graved in Marble, which was newly brought from Rome … being set forth three drops of blood fell on the face of it … though the stains of the same could never be gotten off since.”
In the meantime, and despite any such divine imperfections or portents, Charles was delighted with the bust, especially given that it was created by the Pope’s favoured sculptor, who would otherwise have been inaccessible to the increasingly artistically astute and sophisticated but still resolutely Protestant, Charles.

And then it all came crashing down.

On a chilly January morning in 1649, and wearing two shirts so that any shivers brought on by the cold would not be mistaken for fearful trembling, Charles was executed, under authority of a Death warrant signed by the 59 men who would become known to history as the Regicides. It is unclear whether the irony of the execution taking place outside The Banqueting House in London, whose ceiling was (and is) adorned by magnificent, and politically powerful, paintings by Rubens commissioned by Charles over a decade earlier, was noted at the time.

Following his death, the Commonwealth set about valuing and selling off “the Late King’s goods” to raise funds for a severely cash-strapped Treasury. And amongst the art works sold during a chaotic, corrupt and ultimately largely unsuccessful asset sale process, was Bernini’s bust. By 1651 it was in a slightly down-at-the-heel and crowded impromptu dealership owned by one Emmanuel de Critz, one of many that sprung up all over London as the King’s art flooded onto the newly created, and never before seen, open art market. “The King’s head in white marble done by Bernino at Rome” was on display in a cramped house in Austin Friars, with a price tag of £400.

That asking price must have been too high. In May 1660, following the unforeseeable (in 1651) lurch of history that saw Charles II restored to the English Throne following years spent wandering Europe in beggarly exile after his defeat in battle by Oliver Cromwell in September 1651, Charles II set about swiftly and ruthlessly reclaiming his father’s art. In a staggeringly audacious lie, de Critz petitioned the new King for back pay of £4000 and, amazingly, £1200 for costs incurred in acquiring and looking after the late King’s art, including the Bernini bust. History does not record what response this petition triggered. De Critz himself died of the plague in 1665.

On 5 January 1698, the novelist and diarist John Evelyn noted in his diary: “Whitehall burnt! Nothing but walls and ruins left.”

That day the bulk of what had been the largest palace in Europe, exceeding both Versailles and the Vatican in size, and at its zenith, comprising 1500 rooms, was destroyed. Only the Banqueting Hall remains more or less intact, but Bernini’s Bust of Charles 1 disappeared.

As for the portrait? Bernini kept hold of it, but eventually it ended up back in the Royal Collection, returning to the fold in 1822. The Royal collection’s Provenance Statement records:
Painted for Bernini about 1637 from which he was to execute a bust and sent to Rome. Collections: Bernini family; Mr Irvine: Walsh Porter; Mr Wells. Purchased by George IV in 1822 from Mr Wells for 1000 guineas. 
Judge Arthur Tompkins of New Zealand will return to Amelia this summer to teach "Art in War" for ARCA's 2015 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

May 3, 2015

ARCA's Annual 2015 Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference in Italy - Confirmed Speakers Announcement

The Association for Research into Crimes against Art  (ARCA) will be hosting its 7th annual interdisciplinary Art Crime conference in Amelia, Italy the weekend of June 26-28, 2015. 

Providing an arena for intellectual and professional exchange, this annual art crime conference highlights the nonprofit’s mission and serves as a forum that aims to facilitate a critical appraisal of the protection of art and heritage worldwide. Bringing together international scholars, law enforcement experts, art professionals, the general public and participants in ARCA’s postgraduate certificate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, attendees will have the opportunity to examine contemporary issues of common concern in this important field.

Held in the beautiful town of Amelia (Umbria), the seat of ARCA’s Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. The conference will include multidisciplinary panel sessions, key note speakers, a Friday evening ice-breaker cocktail reception and an awards dinner on Saturday evening — honoring the 2015 recipients of ARCA’s annual award for outstanding scholarship and professional dedication to the protection and recovery of cultural heritage.

This events opens with an optional icebreaker cocktail on Friday, June 26th at the Palazzo Farrattini. For the first time in the conference's history the event will cover two full days of speakers from Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28, 2015 at the Sala Boccarini, inside the cloister of the Biblioteca Comunale L.Lama adjacent to the Museo Civico Archeologico e Pinacoteca “Edilberto Rosa” in Amelia, Italy. Sessions begin promptly at 9:00 am, with breaks for coffee and optional Saturday and Sunday lunches as well as an optional Italian slow food dinner Saturday evening.

The 2015 conference is open to the public and all are welcome to attend. Registration for the conference is $75 for Saturday’s sessions and $25 for Sunday’s sessions. To reserve a placement for the each day’s speaking sessions, please register at the event’s Eventbrite page here.

Fees for optional networking meals and activities are payable at registration check-in at the venue.

Once registered, attendees will receive an email in March with information on directions to and lodging in Amelia as well as further details on the costs for the optional networking events planned.

Questions about this conference can be emailed to:   italy.conference (at) artcrimeresearch.org 

The annual award winners for previous years have been:

Art Policing, Recovery, Protection and Security

Past winners: Vernon Rapley (2009), Francesco Rutelli (2009), Charlie Hill (2010), Dick Drent (2010), Paolo Giorgio Ferri (2011), Lord Colin Renfrew (2011), Stuttgart Detective Ernst Schöller (2012), Karl von Habsburg and Dr. Joris Kila (Jointly – 2012), Sharon Cohen Levin (2013), Christos Tsirogiannis (2013), Daniel Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini (Jointly – 2014)

Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Excellence in Art Crime Scholarship

Past winners:  Norman Palmer (2009), Larry Rothfield (2010), Neil Brodie (2011), Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino (Jointly – 2012), Duncan Chappell (2013), Simon Mackenzie (2014)

Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art Award

Past winners: Carabinieri TPC collectively (2009), Howard Spiegler (2010), John Merryman (2011), Dr. George H. O. Abungu (2012), Blanca Niño Norton (2013), Anne Webber (2014) 

The list of 2015 award nominees will be posted to the ARCA blog later this week.  

Confirmed Topics and Presenters for this year's conference include...

“So How Did We Get Here? Trying to Understand the Reasons Behind the Unprecedented Destruction of Archaeological Heritage"
Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly , MA Archaeology, MA Journalism
Biladi: Heritage for Peace Building (Lebanese N,G.O)

“Activities and Tools of INTERPOL’s Works of Art Unit in the Fight Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property”
Françoise Bortolotti, Criminal Intelligence Officer
INTERPOL General Secretariat (Lyon, France), Sub-Directorate - Drugs and Organized Crime - Works of Art Unit

“One Culture, Two Systems : Changing Attitudes to Cultural Heritage Protection and Illicit Smuggling in Hong Kong and China”
Toby Bull, MSc.,
Founder, TrackArt – Art Risk Consultancy, and
and
Steven Gallagher, Barrister
Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

“Connoisseurship in a Globalized Art Market: Reconciling the Conflict Between Artistic and Economic Values”
Clare Diamond, PhD., candidate
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

“Mediation, as an Alternative to the Court for Resolution of Art and Cultural Heritage Disputes”
Pierfrancesco C. Fasano, Attorney-at-Law
FASANO – Avvocati
and
Ivett Paulovics, Attorney-at-Law
FASANO – Avvocati

“EU = 28 Countries + 28 Legislations = 1 Million Problems"
Martin Finkelnberg, Head of the Art and Antique Crime Unit of the Netherlands
Dutch National Police

“Protecting China’s Archaeological Artefacts Against Looting and Illicit Art Trafficking”
Stefan Gruber, PhD.,
Associate Professor, Kyoto University

“A ‘Vital Source of Funding': Conflict Antiquities in the Syrian Civil War”
Sam Hardy, DPhil Law Studies 
American University of Rome

“Art Fraud in Germany or How Criminals Become Celebrities”
Saskia Hufnagel, PhD., Accredited Specialist in Criminal Law
Queen Mary University of London

“Siena, Dunedin, Rome: the Tale of Five Macchiaioli School Paintings”
Penelope Jackson, M.Phil
Trustee of the NZ Art Crime Research Trust

“Dealer Conversion of Consigned Art: When Drugs and Greed Make the Art Disappear"
Thomas R. Kline, J.D.
Of Counsel Andrews Kurth, LLP and Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University
and
Dorit Straus
Fine art Insurance Expert and ARCA Lecturer
and
Victor Wiener, Ph.D.,
Victor Wiener Associates, LLC, Adjunct Assistant Professor, New York University

“Give and Take: Museum Professionals’ Attitudes and Ethics Toward the Acquisition and Repatriation of West African Cultural Objects”
Meg Lambert, PhD Candidate
University of Glasgow

“A Collection of Thefts: What One Museum's Responses to Five Incidents Can Teach Us About Ideal Resolution"
Katherine Luer, ARCA alumna and future MLS graduate
Independent Researcher

“Opining on the Authentic"
Philippa Malas, Barrister, England and Wales
Law Lecturer, University of Glasgow and author of the MSc Art, Law and Business at Christie's Education, London

“The Opaque Market of Egyptian Papyri in a Globalised Context: Sellers, Buyers, Prices and the Role of Academics”
Roberta Mazza, Dr
Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, University of Manchester

The “PSYCHE” project,the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and the Italian stolen W.O.A. database “Leonardo”
Salvatore Rapicavoli, Deputy Commander 
Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale

“Uncovering the Illicit Traffic of Russian Ancient Icons”
Laure Coupillaud Szustakowski, PhD Candidate
Chief Operating Officer at CAPABILIS

“Perspectives on Crime and Crime Control Policy from the Trafficking Culture Project”
Neil Brodie, PhD
Simon Mackenzie, PhD
Donna Yates, PhD
Trafficking Culture, SCCJR, University of Glasgow

“Sentencing the Art Thief: Deterrence, Responsibility, Protection, Reparation and Restoration - Uneasy Bedfellows in a Courtroom?"
Arthur Tompkins, Judge
New Zealand Ministry of Justice

“Discovering and Visualising the Criminological Value of The Medici Conspiracy”
Christos Tsirogiannis, PhD.,
Research Assistant, Trafficking Culture project, University of Glasgow

“Art CSI: When Science Solves the Puzzle of Forgery. The Case Study "Vase of Flowers", Painting Attributed to Filippo De Pisis (1896-1956)”
Lisa, Volpe, PhD., 
Research Fellow, Conservator Scientist, TekneHub - University of Ferrara

“Libya and Heritage Protection in the Absence of Security”
Hafed Walda, PhD.,
Research Fellow. King’s College London
Pending Deputy Ambassador to the permanent Libyan delegation at UNESCO

“Art Crime in Relation to Museum Security in the United States: A Survey of Recent Security Measures and Criminal Trends Within Accredited Art Museums”
Christine A. Weirich, PhD Candidate
School of Social and Political Science University of Glasgow

(please watch this space as a few key speakers are still confirming their travel and presentation titles).

April 30, 2015

(Sub)Urban Cultural Heritage Protection: Park Forest House Museum in Illinois -- why you should support your local museums

By Hal Johnson, 2014 ARCA alumnus and DNA Consultant

When it comes to protecting and preserving cultural heritage, our focus tends to be on buildings and objects that were created centuries, if not millennia, ago. And with good reason; much of humanity’s finest creations are located in areas still ravaged by war and devastation. The destruction of Near Eastern heritage in Syria and Iraq is ongoing. Attention will soon turn toward Nepal and the damage sustained in the recent earthquake. However, there are also examples of cultural heritage protection to be found much closer to home. Small local landmarks may seem more mundane when compared to colossal Assyrian statues, but they are no less important – especially for the local citizens who care about them. I recently visited the Park Forest House Museum in Park Forest, Illinois. This small museum south of Chicago works hard to preserve the history of a phenomenon that still affects many of us – modern suburbia.

Park Forest, Illinois was the first post-World War II planned community in the United States. Experts anticipated a housing shortage on the home front even before the war’s end, particularly due to the lack of construction during the Great Depression. Private enterprise stepped in to create housing for many thousands of returning American veterans. Planned and financed by American Community Builders, Inc., Park Forest was the largest housing project in American history up to that time. Its effects were felt nationwide; the jobs it helped create and industries it supported were an economic boost to the country. The first planned suburb in the US, Collier’s magazine prominently featured this experiment in American suburbia, calling it a “City to order.” Veterans could move here with their new families and commute to jobs in downtown Chicago, or to nearby employers like Standard Oil, Argonne National Laboratory and the US Fifth Army base. Over three thousand two-bedroom rental townhomes (leased for $75-$99 / month) and an adjacent shopping center were constructed between 1947 and 1949. Move-ins began in 1948. According to local archivist Jane Nicoll, fifty families moved in per week during this time and it was not uncommon to see several moving vans per day on one block! Temporary classrooms were established in empty units until permanent school buildings were finished. In fact, Park Forest grew so fast that it was incorporated as a municipality only two years after breaking ground.  

The Park Forest House Museum is meant to evoke the atmosphere of an American suburban home in the early 1950’s, when tract communities like this were in their heyday. The museum itself occupies an original town home and is entirely furnished with authentic items from that era: furniture, dishes, toys, clothes and household goods. Visitors get a hands-on experience; they are free to open drawers and examine the contents during the docent-guided tour through the house. My favorite artifact was the original 1950’s dosimeter – a home radiation testing kit (no Cold War family should be without one). Rooms are also curated with archival photographs of the community’s early development and scenes of residential life. One photo album on display had been donated by a family that used to live in that very unit! I could turn around and see the same electrical outlet that the Christmas tree in the photo had been plugged into. Few other items connected me to the exhibit space so closely.
Originally intended as a temporary exhibit, the museum was conceived in 1998 as part of the town’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Ms. Nicoll (who also serves as the museum’s director) and the local historical society have managed to obtain enough donations in funds and artifacts to keep the museum going since then. They have achieved some measure of success and recognition, even collaborating with the Smithsonian’s “American on the Move” exhibit. Yet like the first occupants of the house, the museum’s space is rented and subject to the whims of a landlord. They already had to move once in 2007 and will move again soon so the space can once more be leased as a residence. My parents and I were the last visitors to walk through before everything was packed into boxes. Sadly, the Park Forest Historical Society has not been able to procure an original home for their next location. Instead they will move into two classrooms at a nearby Catholic school.  

The planned postwar housing tracts were so successful that in just a few generations, suburban life has become woven into the fabric of modern American identity. You may have parents or grandparents who still live in homes like this and who have nostalgic memories of their own from that era. You may have lived in one yourself. American suburbia is still going strong, but its post-war origins are slipping away from us and into the pages of history as our "greatest generation" continues to diminish. What many of us have always thought of as nostalgia is quickly becoming cultural heritage in need of preservation. 

What better way to preserve mid-twentieth century living than an in situ exhibit? This is a great strength of small museums like the Park Forest House. An exhibit showcasing this kind of legacy in a large museum – even with more funding at hand – would have a much tougher time connecting with its audience. Not only would it be shown out of its original context, but it would also have to compete with a big museum’s headliners and blockbuster exhibits. The take home point, dear ARCA Blog readers, is to seek out your local museums! There are many hidden gems out there that need your help. Local support can often have a more immediate impact.

April 28, 2015

Gaziantep, Land of Antiquities and a Whole Lot More

By Lynda Albertson

On Sunday, April 26th The Independent ran a news piece titled "Syria conflict: The illicit art trade that is a major source of income for today's terror groups is nothing new." The meaty article, by Freelance Contributor Isabel Hunter, describes the events that unfolded as she posed as an agent for an antiquities buyer during a meeting with Syrians who were purported to be middlemen selling antiquities on the outskirts of Gaziantep.

Gaziantep (Antep) is a bustling Turkish city with 1.8 million inhabitants.  Sometimes referred to as "Little Aleppo" or “Aleppo in Exile” the city has become home to many Syrians who once lived in Aleppo province but who have been forced to flee as a result of the ongoing civil war.

Now in its fourth year, Syria's multi-sided conflict has claimed more than 150,000 lives and displaced two-fifths of the country's population.  It is estimated now that 3 million Syrians have fled their homeland since the start of war and UNHCR has stated that 1.7 million Syrian refugees now live within Turkey's borders.  

30,000 of these refugees have relocated to five camps just outside Gaziantep.  A municipal official who was interviewed in January of this year estimated that the overall number of refugees in Gaziantep state alone is a staggering 400,000 people so its not surprising that “Hani” and his colleague are trying to eek out a meager living in any way they can, including trafficking.

Located just 60 kilometers from the Syrian border, Gaziantep has long been an established trade route between Syria's Aleppo province.  Historically Aleppo and Antep were both part of Ottoman province of Haleb, a longstanding trade corridor along the Silk Road.  Before war broke out, it took two hours to drive the 100 kilometers from Aleppo to Gaziantep, making it a frequent destination for Syrian travelers. Former resident's of Aleppo I spoke with this week said that to drive from Aleppo to Gaziantep now could take a full day, possibly even two depending on which roads were taken and which security checkpoints you needed to pass through or wanted to avoid. 

A bustling hub at the center of the Middle East’s biggest conflict, Gaziantep is a stopping off point for all manner of folk.  Insurgent fighters trying to get to Syria, refugees, foreign-aid workers, journalists, fixers and the ever opportunistic traffickers —all there in one way or another as the result of the Syrian conundrum.

Gaziantep Marijuana Bust December 2012
Traffickers in the past though have focused on commodities  easier to shift than antiquities.  In December 2012 Gaziantep Police Department of Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Branch seized 83 kilos of cannabis and arrested twelve people engaged in drug trafficking.  

In July 2014 Gaziantep Customs Enforcement teams confiscated 14,200 liters of diesel in one raid alone as smugglers began turning to the illegal fuel trade as the next hot commodity. In September 2014 Istanbul's Security Directorate Combating Smuggling and Organized Crime Branch arrested another eight traffickers for moving
Gaziantep Cigarette Trafficking 2012
9600 liters of fuel and 8500 of cartons of contraband cigarettes

Heroin, marijuana, ecstasy, fuel, mobile phones, pistachios, tea, and weapons — these are just a few of the fenced commodities trained Turkish law enforcement officers have seized in their fight against organized crime since the start of the Syrian conflict. I underscore the plethora of trafficked goods because I think its important.

Criminologists have long discussed transnational crime and the interface between legal and illegal actors broadening their activities into areas of antiquities trafficking and forgery.  But before I get into how the square holed, perforated Sumerian votive plaque in the Independent's article underscores this, I'd like to say that those in the cultural heritage protection field would be wise to discourage this type of investigative reporting when journalists come asking for leads.

The Syrian war is an exceptionally difficult story to cover due to the logistical barriers of the multi-sided conflict and the public's insatiable desire for instantaneous news.  More and more frequently journalists covering these conflicts are stringers; freelancers paid by the article who work without the safety net of the news outlets they report for.  These types of reporters don't have an editor standing in the wings saying, "walk away from it" when a story is too risky or when the line between being a legitimate journalist and an intelligence operative gets blurred.

In many cases stringers are the first with breaking news in conflicts either by risk or by happenstance.  Their goal, like that of any good reporter, is purely to bring home the story no one else has.  The difference though is that a freelance reporter might be paid £200 for a 1,000-word article and most likely doesn't even have insurance. 

Gaziantep Gun Seizure March 2015
When reporters contact ARCA asking if we can put them in touch with sketchy antiquities dealers, I tell them no.  Reporting from war zones and delving into the world of organized crime is a dicey proposition. Scoops may sell papers or create page clicks, but the journalists who win Pulitzer Prizes are rare.  Finding the dealer that is fencing Syria's and Iraq's  heritage for the sake of a story is not worth anyone's life.   A published exposée might rattle a trafficker, jeopardize the journalist, or interfere with ongoing criminal investigations, including those with heavier implications that just the world's cultural patrimony. 

I underscore this because I know there is a lot at stake as we try to draw clearer lines between terrorism, organized crime and heritage looting.   I know the topic is an important one and I know we want to know more.  But as ethical professionals we should be asking our respective countries to spend more money in law enforcement and in documenting the world's heritage better, not tacitly condoning investigative journalism in the hopes that a reporter's shocking revelation will illuminate a point we have already concluded.  Sometimes we should ask ourselves if we really need to find the smoking gun to solve this problem.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 journalists were confirmed killed doing their job in 2014. The vast majority of these dead journalists were working in, or covering issues in conflict areas. Some were killed intentionally, despite the fact that under the Geneva Convention, journalists are to be treated as civilians in times of conflict and that harming or killing them is a war crime.

If governments need proof that antiquities are tied to crime and terrorism, they should be asking law enforcement professionals directly what their educated opinion is and dedicating appropriate resources to address the problem, not sit on the fence because statistical analysts haven't been able to provide numerical data that translates easily into the financial numbers politicians prefer.

My fear when articles like the one in the Independent are published is that we use limited examples to make larger inferences about who is moving what and for whom instead of just examining the singular case itself and what data that case alone specifically tells us.   The first question I would ask myself is why these traders were eager to show their wares to an unknown foreigner?

In doing due diligence, Isabel Hunter shared the images she obtained with a number of US academics who confirmed to The Independent that they believed the Sumerian plaque to be genuine.   Not having the details of their assessments,  I asked Ms. Hunter if I could have a copy of her larger format images as the online version used in the article had been optimized for internet viewing and made the inscription almost impossible to see.

Sumerian Relief Plaque with a Banquet Scene, Metropolitan Museum of Art
I passed the images Ms. Hunter shared with me among several researchers who helpfully pointed out that there are several so-called "banquet" votive plaques in existence and that they have been found in both northern and southern Mesopotamia, some of them with square-perforated holes, including a banquet scene in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, two plaques at the Iraqi National Museum, here and here, as well as another one of Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, represented as the bird-god Anzu (or Im-dugud), a lion-headed eagle located at the Louvre.

A Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe, representing bird-god Anzu, the Louvre,   Paris
But what was off on the Independant's plaque featuring Anzu was its inscription.  I spoke with Professor Eleanor Robson of University College London whose research focuses on the social and political contexts of knowledge production in the cuneiform culture of ancient Iraq.  Without publishing the details of our conversation, so as not to be of benefit of future antiquities forgers,  Dr. Robson pointed out irregularities within the inscription, which, in her academic opinion, meant the piece was not authentic, or at a minimum had been altered.  She also added that while it's theoretically possible that the text could have been added a few centuries after the artefact was made she doubted it.*

Not to discount the possibility of a later-day alteration, I forwarded Dr. Robson's thoughts back to the journalist who put me in touch with Michael Danti, a co-director of The Syrian Heritage Initiative (SHI), supported by the US Department of State and the American School of Oriental Research.  Danti had helped Ms. Hunter identify experts to determine if the piece she was shown was authentic.  Danti advised me that he had shared the Gaziantep images with Dr. Richard Zettler, Dr. Jean Evans, Dr. Robert Biggs, and Dr. John Russell who all were of the opinion that the plaque was authentic and that he would share Dr. Robson's findings with the others for clarification.  It is my hope that by sharing thoughts on authentication with one another we can better understand the motivations of this particular seller as well as to determine if this is indeed an authentic looted Iraq plaque or a passing forgery.

To that end, it is not unusual forgeries to be mixed in, knowingly and unknowingly with authentic antiquities as academics and professional dealer associations can testify. They even have a term for intentional mixing, a practice known in the trade as "seeding".  It is also not unusual for forgeries and counterfeits of Assyro-Babylonian antiquities to deceive the eyes of specialists as some may specialize in iconography while others specialize in ancient texts. 

As soon as the explorations at Nimrod and Hatra attracted the public’s attention, forgeries began and its commonplace to find small objects, such as forged inscriptions, in the art market and markets throughout the middle east, especially where there is a tourist trade.  Most individuals, cannot read ancient languages and are simply looking to buy something which is aesthetically pleasing.  Plaques and tablets with wedge-shaped cuneiform script are also easier for forgers to execute with some precision, copying what they chisel character by character from photographs or books.

Since the early ’90s there’s been a notable supply of both real and forged cuneiform artifacts in the international antiquities art markets, some pilfered from archaeological sites, others lifted straight out of regional Iraqi museums, and still others gently handcrafted for the unsuspecting buyer.

In favor of the object's possible authenticity is the fact that the Turkish cities of Antakya, Gaziantep, Mardin, and Urfa have each been previously identified as cities where antiquities looted from Syria’s and Iraq can be found, including objects taken from Apamea and Dura-Europos, sites which also sustained looting while under governmental control, underscoring that opportunistic looting is not just restricted to terrorist organizations. Given that other items are fairly easy to fence in this zone, its probably reasonable to assume that antiquities are just another type of commodity to be traded.

But aside from the lettering incised in the tablet I also wonder whether or not the de-dolomitization (the way the surface of the stone has aged) is artificial.  If academics cannot even agree on if something is authentic vs. faked imagine how difficult this job would be for border authorities in stemming the flow of undocumented antiquities.  Looted antiquities pass through busy ports hidden among legitimate merchandise, or through porous borders in refugee bundles or intentionally packaged and mislabeled as reproductions only to revert back to being authentic when sold on the art market.   

With or without ISIS, fakes and illicit antiquities will continue to enter the art market wherever there is a willing buyer. Finding one dealer who will show a journalist his hidden treasure won't be a deterrent.  Artwork from the Early Dynastic Period (mid third-millennium BC), a time when stone was the common medium, gives both looters and opportunistic forgers a lot of material to work with. 

* Researchers interested in reviewing these assessments can write to us privately to share opinions.


References Used in This Article

"10 Foreigners, including Tunisian Who 'lied to Police,' Detained near Turkey's Syria Border." Hurriyet Daily News, [Istanbul] 08 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. 

"Akaryakıt Kaçakçılığıyla Mücadele Hız Kesmeden Devam Ediyor" T.C. Gümrük Ve Ticaret Bakanlığı, 07 July 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2015. 
 
“Cuneiform Forgeries in the Museu Bíblic of Montserrat (Barcelona)”, en G. del Olmo, L. Feliu, A. Millet (eds.), Shapal tibnim mû illaku. Studies Presented to J. Sanmartín on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday (Aula Orientalis Supplementa 22), Sabadell 2006, pp. 289-301 [co-author: I. Márquez Rowe]

"Gaziantep'te Kaçakçılık Olayları." Haberciniz. Haberciniz, 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.   

Hooker, James T., ed. Reading the past: Ancient writing from cuneiform to the alphabet. Univ of California Press, 1990.

Hunter, Isabel. "Syria Conflict: The Illicit Art Trade That Is a Major Source of Income for Today's Terror Groups Is Nothing New." The Independent [London] 26 Apr. 2015, Sunday ed.: n. pag. The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

"Iraq National Museum - Sumerian Votive Plaque - 1." Iraq National Museum - Sumerian Votive Plaque. Iraqi National Museum, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
"Iraq National Museum - Sumerian Votive Plaque - 2." Iraq National Museum - Sumerian Votive Plaque. Iraqi National Museum, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

"Journalists Killed in 2014." Committee to Protect Journalists. John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2015. 

Muscarella, Oscar White. "Gudea or not Gudea in New York and Detroit: Ancient or modern?." Source: Notes in the History of Art (2005): 6-18.
Muscarella, Oscar White. The lie became great: the forgery of ancient Near Eastern cultures. Vol. 1. BRILL, 2000.

"National Union for Journalists - Rate for the Job: Words, per 1000 / News." - Updated 4/13/2015. National Union for Journalists - London, 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.  

Ozerdem, Alpaslan. "Turkey Urgently Needs to Integrate Its Syrian Refugees." The Conversation. N.p., 13 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.  

"Professor Eleanor Robson." Academic Staff. University College London, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.  

"Relief Plaque with a Banquet Scene | Sumerian | Early Dynastic IIIa." Relief Plaque with a Banquet Scene. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

Republic Of Turkey Prime Ministry Disaster And Emergency Management Presidency. "Syrian Refugees in Turkey, 2013." Syrian Refugees in Turkey, 2013 (n.d.): n. pag. AFAD TURKEY. Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

Sollberger, Edmond. "The Cuneiform Collection in Geneva." Journal of Cuneiform Studies (1951): 18-20.

"Syrian Heritage Initiative." ASOR Syrian Heritage Initiative. The American Schools of Oriental Research, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.  
Taha, Munir Y. "The Authenticity of a Sumerian Statue." Iraq 35.02 (1973): 151-153.

"Torbacılara Şafak Baskını." Torbacılara Şafak Baskını. Müdürlüğümüz Kaçakçılık Ve Organize Suçlarla Mücadele Şube Müdürlüğü, 06 Dec. 2012. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.   

"UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response." UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response. Ed. UNHCR. UNHCR, Government of Turkey, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

"UN Jobs." Grant Manager - WV Response to Syria Refugee Crisis, Gaziantep, Turkey.http://unjobs.org/vacancies/1385418031847 United Nations, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015. 

 Walker, Christopher BF. Cuneiform. Vol. 3. Univ of California Press, 1987.
 



April 24, 2015

Stolen Treasures Mysteriously and Anonymously Returned

By: Judge Arthur Tompkins

Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum, Wellington, New Zealand
A week ago, 14 Maori taonga [treasures], dating from the 1800s and which were in the care of a local resident in their home, were stolen during a house burglary of a rural property near to the Hawke's Bay town of Hastings, in the eastern part of the North Island of New Zealand.

Included in the haul were a number of items registered with New Zealand's Natonal Musuem, Te Papa Tongarewa, and thus protected from export under New Zealand law.

The stolen pieces included a number of greenstone (the New Zealand indigenous jade, also known as pounamu) ceremonial mere, including the two shown here, a closely-related patu [club] made from whalebone, and a ceremonial adze with a pounamu blade.

Ceremonial Greenstone Mere I

Ceremonial Greenstone Mere II



















"The thieves will be aware of both of these things.  We appeal to the people who took these items to return them immediately so they can be cared for by their proper guardians and remain in their turangawaewae [resting place]."
Yesterday, Friday NZ time, all the items taken were handed anonymously back to Te Papa Tongarewa.  No other details of the return have been released, apart from the fact that the items were seemingly undamaged both during their theft and during their transport down to Wellington, the nation's capital.

Police are continuing their investigation.

April 12, 2015

An Updated Analysis of What Remains of Nimrud's NorthWest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II


Photo by Mustafa Al Najjar
As news of the Nimrud explosion video produced by Daash, ISIL, Deash, ISIS, Daaesh, Islamic State gets press time.  Rearchers and journalists are beginning to comment on the missing chunks and slices of the Assyrian reliefs seen from the video's imagery of the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II.  Social Media has been abuzz with speculation that these pieces may have been removed in advance of the explosion, for sale on the illicit antiquities market.   While this might partially prove to be  true, it is premature to speculate on this before cross referencing and doing so just adds to the shock and horror propaganda the militants want to demonstrate.

Sam Hardy has excellent Day One analysis of the attack on Nimrud as does Paul Barford who asks when this video was made.

A new PDF report analyzing relief and object damage was published by Simone Mühlon on April 15, 2015 and can be downloaded here

Assyrian reliefs, stone slaps and epigraphic remains in the form of cuneiform texts can also be found in private and museum collections throughout the world.  ARCA has listed a fairly comprehensive listing of the 76 known public collections and 6 private collections which contain material culture from this archaeological site.
  
 Museums

Abegg Foundation, Bern
Amherst College, Amherst
Archäologisches Institut und Archäologische Sammlung der Universität Zürich, Zurich
Arkeoloji Müzeleri, Istanbul
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
The Art Museum, Princeton University
Arts & Culture Centre, Memorial University
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Australian Institute of Archaeology
Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbay, India (formerly Victoria and Albert Museum)
Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
The British Museum, London
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn,
Burrell Collection. Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbay, India (formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India)
Christ Church College, Oxford
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit
Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
Fleming Museum, University of Vermont
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University
Glencairn Museum, Academy of the New Church, Bryn Athyn
Hood Museum, Dartmouth College
Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo
Kalamazoo Valley Museum, Michigan
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles
Louvre Museum, Paris
Magdalen College, Oxford
Manchester University, Museum, Manchester
Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
M.H. De Young Museum, San Francisco
Miho Museum, Kyoto
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis
Mosul Museum, Mosul, Iraq (Condition unknown)
Middlebury College, Middlebury
Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley
Museo Civico di Archeologia Ligure, Genoa
Museo Barracco, Rome
Museo Gregoriano Egizio, Rome
Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels
Musei Vaticani, Rome
Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol
Museum Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg
Museum of Art, Cleveland
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw
National Car Museum of Iran, Tehran, Iran
National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad (Condition unknown)
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen
National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology, Toronto
Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis
Skulpturensammlung, Dresden
Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst, Munich
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Swedish National Museum, Stockholm
Tyndale House, Cambridge
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Virginia Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary, Alexandria
Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Kansas City
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown
Weingreen Museum of Biblical Antiquities, Trinity College
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester
Yale University, New Haven

Private Collections:
Anonymous (3)
Fred Elghanayan, New York,
Collection Merrin, New York
Collection Samuel Josefowitz, Lausanne

A joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Oxford, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin has completed a comprehensive list of the known collection items with corresponding drawings to the Assyrian reliefs where information has been available.  This online reference may be useful in determining more details of what was gone before vs. what might have been cut away for illicit sales prior to the site's detonation.

Another excellent research project for review materials is the  "Materialities of Assyrian Knowledge Production: Object Biographies of Inscribed Artefacts from Nimrud for Museums and Mobiles".   Funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/K003089/1) it was based at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS), University of Cambridge, UCL, the British Museum's Department of the Middle East, and the Babylonian Section of Penn Museum

In final comment, this might be an opportune time to underscore that the site does live on, primarily in the hearts and souls of the people of Iraq, but also tangibly, albeit widely dispersed. 

By Lynda Albertson







April 11, 2015

Update: Christie's Withdraws Antiquities Lots from April 15, 2015 Sale

Christie's has pulled the following antiquities from its upcoming April 15th sale:



















SALE 10372 Lot 83 Property of a Gentlemen
Provenance: Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s.
Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16.
Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006.
Beazley archive no. 26090.

SALE 10372 Lot 102 Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner.  

SALE 10372 Lot 108 Property from a London Collection
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 8 December 1986, lot 183, when acquired by the present owner.

SALE 10372 Lot 113: Property from a Private Collection, Canada
Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998.

By clicking on each object's details readers will see under the Saleroom Notice section: "This Lot is Withdrawn" 

Sir, how much is that (2nd Century B.C.E.) Vase in the Window? Part III

Antiquities trafficking continues to make headlines in multiple countries in 2015.  In this last of a three part series, ARCA explores one final art trafficking network that underscores that the ownership and commodification of the past continues long after the traffickers have been identified.

August 31, 1995
Europa Paestan red-figure Asteas signed calyx-krater
In a fluke summer accident, Pasquale Camera, a former captain of the Guardia di Finanza turned middle-man art dealer, lost control of his car on Italy’s Autostrada del Sole, Italy's north-south motorway, as he approached the exit for Cassino, a small town an hour and a half south of Rome.  Smashing into a guardrail and flipping his Renault on its roof, Camera’s automobile accident not only ended his life but set into motion a chain reaction that resulted in a major law enforcement breakthrough that disrupted one of Italy’s largest antiquities trafficking networks.

While the fatal traffic accident fell under the jurisdiction of Italy’s Polizia Stradale, the Commander of the Carabinieri in Cassino was also called to the scene.  The investigating officers had found numerous photographs in Camera's vehicle which substantiated what investigators had already suspected, that the objects depicted in the photos had been illegally-excavated and that Camera had been actively dealing in looted antiquities.
Tombarolo holding Asteas signed calyx-krater

The images in the car were of a hodgepodge of ancient art.  Two that stood out in particular were of a statue in the image of Artemis against the backdrop of home furnishings and a Paestan red-figure calyx-krater, signed by Asteas in what looked to be someone's garage.  

Having been previously assigned to the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the  Commander from Cassino called the TPC’s Division General, Roberto Conforti, who requested a warrant be issued to search the premises of Camera’s apartment in Rome, near Piazza Bologna.

Investigators who carried out the search of Pasquale Camera's personal possessions discovered hundreds of photographs, fake and genuine antiquities,  reams of documentation and the now famous Medici organagram.  This org chart revealed Giacomo Medici’s central position in the organization of the antiquities trade out of Italy.  Interestingly, the wallpaper in Cameria's apartment also matched the background of the photo of the Artemide Marciante found in Camera's vehicle. 

Subsistance Looter to Middle Man

Another photo, of Antimo Cacciapuoti, showed the tombarolo holding the freshly-looted Asteas-signed Europa krater.  A copy of this photo was provided by journalist Fabio Isman for the purpose of this article.  Isman confirmed that this image was one of the Polaroids found in Camera's Renault and went on to add that during later negotiations Cacciapuoti would confess to having been paid 1 million lire plus "a suckling pig" for his work in supplying the krater.

One of the links in Italy's largest known trafficking chain had begun to crack.

Medici Organagram
As the investigation progressed authorities went on to raid Giacomo Medici’s warehouse at the Geneva Freeport in September 1995 and recovered 3,800 objects and another 4,000 photographs of ancient art that had, at one time or another, passed through Medici’s network.

1998  Identifications

Matching seized photos to looted works of art is a laborious process.  Three years after the start of the investigation Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini from the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria meridionale at the Villa Giulia, working with the Procura della Repubblica (the state prosecutor's office) and the Court of Rome on this case, identified the Artemide Marciante from the photo found at the scene of Camera's fatal auto accident.  The photo of the statue matched another found in a June 1998 issue of House and Garden Magazine and another photo seized from Giacomo Medici which showed the object unrestored and with dirt still on it.  This statue was ultimately recovered from Frieda Tchacos.

Rizzo and Pellegrini also identified the location of the Paestan red-figure calyx krater, painted and signed by Asteas.  It had been sold by the dealer Gianfranco Becchina to the John Paul Getty Museum in 1981.
2001-2005 More Seizures

In the early years of the new century law enforcement authorities investigating this trafficking cell widened their attention on Gianfranco Becchina, whose name was listed on  the organagram, placing him as head of a cordata and as a primary supplier to Robert Hecht.  This important lead convinced investigators to explore Becchina's suspected involvement in this trafficking cell. 

As the investigation continued authorities seized 140 binders containing 13,000 more documents, 8,000 additional photographs of suspect objects and 6,315 artworks from Becchina's storage facilities and gallery.

But the purpose of this article is not to rehash a 19-year old story already detailed in “The Medici Conspiracy” by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini.    It is now fairly common knowledge that an estimated 1.5 million items have been looted from Italy's myriad archaeological sites during the past four decades and a surprising number of these illicit objects have ended up in some of the world's most prestigious museums via ancient art dealers passing through the hands of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robert Emanuel Hecht Jr., and Robin Symes.

Instead, this article focuses on what is happening in the present and serves to demonstrate that despite the nearly two decades that have past since Pasquale Camera's car veered off Italy's A-1 autostrada, suspect illicit antiquities, traceable to this network, continue to be sold, often openly, on the lucrative licit art market.

To underscore the conundrum of looted to legitimate Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis a Research Assistant with the Trafficking Culture Project, housed in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow has highlighted four objects for sale at Christie’s upcoming antiquities auction in London, on Wednesday, 15 April 2015.  For the last eight years (2007-present), Tsirogiannis has been identifying looted and ‘toxic’ antiquities as they come up for sale from photographic evidence he was given by authorities from the three primary dossiers of photographs derived from the property seizures in these cases.

Each of these four objects listed below have been identified by Tsirogiannis as having corresponding photos in these archives, something potential purchasers may want to consider when bidding on antiquities that, at face value, are reported to have legitimate collection histories.

SALE 10372 Lot 83 Property of a Gentlemen
Provenance: Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s.
Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16.
Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006.
Beazley archive no. 26090. 

SALE 10372 Lot 102 Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner.  

SALE 10372 Lot 108 Property from a London Collection
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 8 December 1986, lot 183, when acquired by the present owner.

SALE 10372 Lot 113: Property from a Private Collection, Canada
Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998.

At first blush, review of Christie's sales notes on these objects seems to demonstrate a modicum of collecting history pedigree which normally would serve to comfort potential buyers.  None of the auction lot however go on to reveal where these objects were found, or whether their excavation and exportation from their country of origin were legal.  

This should be the first alarm bell to any informed collector considering a purchase on the licit antiquities market.  ARCA reminds its readers and buyers of art works that lack of this information in an object's collection history should be a strong signal that the object may be suspect and that it is better to walk away from a beautiful antiquity than purchase an object that quite possibly may have been looted or illegally exported.

Extracts from Notes by Dr. Tsirogiannis on the Christie's Auction Lots

Regarding Lot 83
Christie's catalogue does not include any collecting history of this Greek amphora before its appearance in Japan in the 1980's. Documentation in the Becchina archive links Becchina to three German professors regarding the examination of the amphora in the 1970's.

Regarding Lot 102 
From Watson's and Todeschini's book, we know that in the 1980's Medici used to consign antiquities to Sotheby's in London, through various companies and individuals.  Why does the Christies auction not include any collecting history before the 1985 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 108

Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue does not include any collecting history of this antiquity before the 1986 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 113
Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue is not precise about the collecting history of this antiquity prior to 1998.

Are these Notifications Helpful?

In the past, when Dr. Tsirogiannis or Dr. David Gill have pointed out objects with tainted collection histories, dealer association members and private collectors have countered by screaming foul. They have asked,
Others have criticized this practice saying that by outing sellers and auction houses on their tainted inventory, the objects simply get pulled from auction and proceed underground.  Detractors believe that this leaves dealers to trade illicit objects in more discreet circles, where screenshots and image capture are less accessible to investigators and researchers and where the change of hands from one collector to another adds a future layer of authenticity, especially where private collections in remote location buyers are less likely to be questioned.

I would counter these concerns by saying that researchers working on this case diligently work to not impede ongoing investigations by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and Italy's Procura della Repubblica and to notify the appropriate legal authorities in the countries where these auctions take place.   In the case of these four antiquities INTERPOL, the Metropolitan Police and the Italian Carabinieri have been notified.

But police officers and dedicated researchers only have so many sets of eyes and the prosecution of art crime requires dedicated investigators and court hours not often available to the degree to which this complex problem warrants.   To mitigate that, it is time that we dedicate more time educating the opposite end of the looting food chain; the buyer.

The academic community needs to learn to apply persuasive, not adversarial, pressure on the end customer; the buyers and custodians of objects from our collective past.  By helping buyers become better-informed and conscientious collectors we can encourage them to demand that the pieces they collect have thorough collection histories or will not be purchased.  As discerning buyers become more selective, dealers will need to change their intentionally blind-eye practice of passing off suspect antiquities with one or two lines of legitimate buyers attached to them.  

Buyers would also be wise to apply the same pressure to auction houses that they apply to dealers, persuading them to adopt more stringent policies on accepting consignments.  Auction houses in turn should inform consignors that before accepting items for consignment that have limited collection histories they will be voluntarily checking with authorities to see if these objects appear in these suspect photo dossiers.  In this way the legitimate art market would avoid the circular drama of having their auctions blemished with reports of trafficked items going up for sale to unsuspecting buyers or to having gaps in their auction schedule when auction houses are forced to withdraw items on the eve of an upcoming sale.

In April 2014 James Ede, owner of a leading London-based gallery in the field of Ancient Art and board member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art wrote an article in defense of the antiquities trade in Apollo Magazine where he stated:

The IADAA's Code of Ethics states: "The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property."

In the past Mr. Ede has stated that small dealers couldn't afford to use private stolen art databases such as those at the Art Loss Register.  I would ask Mr. Ede in the alternative how many London dealers registered with the IADAA have ever picked up the phone and asked Scotland Yard's art squad to check with INTERPOL or their Italian law enforcement colleagues when accepting a consignment where the collecting histories of an object deserved a little more scrutiny? 

Or better still, should the more than 14,000 photos of objects from these dossiers ever be released, to private stolen art databases or to a wider public audience, how would the IADAA ensure that its membership actually cross-examine the entire archival record before signing off that the object is not tainted? Mr. Ede has also indicated previously that the IADAA only requires its members to do checks on objects worth more than £2000.  Items of lessor value would take too much time or prove too costly to the dealers.

In 2015 is it correct for dealers to remain this passive and wait for law enforcement to tell them something is afoot?  Would the general public accept such an attitude from used car sellers regarding stolen cars?

Given that Mr. Ede is the former chairman and board member since the founding of the IADAA, an adviser of the British Government, a valuer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and a member of the council of the British Art Market Federation his thoughts on this matter carry considerable weight in the UK.  As such he is scheduled to speak on April 14, 2015 at the Victoria and Albert Museum on "The Plunder: Getting a global audience involved in the story of stolen antiquities from Iraq and Syria."

I am curious how Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General Art and Museums, Syria  who is also speaking at this event would feel about low valued items being excluded from the IADAA's "clean or tainted" cross checks or if Mr. Ede has any workable suggestions that would actually begin to address this problem in an active, rather than passive way among the art dealing community.  

Will blood antiquities be held to a higher standard of evaluation given the public's interest while it remains business as usual for objects looted from source countries not involved in civil war or conflict?

By Lynda Albertson


References Used in This Article

Antoniutti, A., and C. Spada. "Fabio Isman, I predatori dell'arte perduta. Il saccheggio dell'archeologia in Italia." Economia della Cultura 19.2 (2009): 301-301.
Gill, David,   "Almagià: "It’s ridiculous Princeton didn’t do anything to fight that" Looting Matters (August 2010)

Felch, Jason, and Ralph Frammolino. "Chasing Aphrodite. The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum." (2001).

Isman, Fabio "Un milione di oggetti clandestini" Il Giornale di Arte, (May 2011)

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