December 19, 2014

$25,000 reward offered by FBI and LAPD for investigation into 2008 art burglary in Encino

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The Los Angeles Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) held a press conference today and announced a $25,000 reward for help in the continuing investigation of a 2008 residential burglary:
The Los Angeles Police Department posted a $200,000 reward after the theft of the 12 paintings six years ago.

The FBI press release today concluded with:
Also attached is a photo of the suspect, Raul Espinosa, 46, who was arrested in October and charged by the Los Angeles County District Attorney with possession of the stolen paintings. Espinosa's alias is Jorge Alberto Lara. Espinosa, who had been residing in Los Angeles prior to his arrest, is a Mexican national. The joint investigation by the FBI and the LAPD is continuing.

Stolen Art Recovered: FBI and LAPD undercover operation recovers 3/4 of art stolen from Encino residence in 2008

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Los Angeles, California -- Journalist Matt Hamilton reported December 17 in the Los Angeles Times ("Detectives crack huge L.A. heist; 9 paintings recovered") that two months ago an undercovered operation between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recovered three-quarters of the paintings stolen six years ago from an Encino residence.

The Los Angeles Times included a copy of the search warrant Detective Don Hyrcyk filed on Dec. 2 to continue the investigation. Hrycyk wrote of the original crime and the recovery:
On August 24, 2008, I received a crime report (DR #08-1025695) of a hot prowl residential burglary during which $10 million in fine art was stolen from the home of XXX and XXX (see Attachment B) who were both elderly invalids. The art was taken during the day while they were in their bedrooms during a brief window of opportunity lasting less than an hour during which no caregivers or employees were in the house. Twelve paintings were taken including works by artists such as Marc Chagall, Diego Rivera, Chaim Soutine and others. 
The art remained missing for six years. Then on 9/2/14, I became aware that a man named "Darko" in Europe was trying to find a buyer for the nine stolen paintings listed in the XXX crime alert (see Attachment C). He indicated that he was merely a middleman for an unknown person in possession of the art in California.
I contacted Special Agent Elizabeth Rivas who works the FBI's Art Crime Team in Los Angeles. An undercover operation was an implemented to recover the stolen art. FBI undercover agents posing as potential buyers set up a meeting at a hotel in West Los Angeles for the purpose of buying the nine stolen paintings valued at over $10 million for $700,000 in cash. 
On 10/23/14, a man identified as Raul Espinoza (aka: Jorge Lara) tried to sell the paintings to the undercover agents and was subsequently arrested and the nine artworks recovered. He is being prosecuted under state charges of 496(a) PC (Receiving Stolen Property) with various special allegations. During the undercover operation, I heard Espinoza offering to sell three additional artworks. He described the paintings, one of which matches the description of an Endre Szasz painting owned by the victims that is still missing. 
Special Agent Rivas told me she interviewed Darko who told her he spoke to the person in possession of the stolen art at least fifty times by cellphone and received cellphone photos of the stolen art in the same manner. During the undercover buy with FBI agents, I viewed and heard the operation taking place through the use of hidden camera in the hotel room and observed Espinoza using his cellphone to call confederates to signal them during the operation. In addition, I believe the original burglary could not have been accomplished without the assistance of inside help from one of the employees who worked for the victims at the time of the crime and I believe this person is known to Espinoza. 
Espinoza's cellphone was seized and booked evidence at the time of his arrest. I request authorization to have his cellphone undergo forensic examination to determine if it contains phone numbers, contacts, photos, emails, text messages, and other information showing his involvement in the crime of receiving stolen property as well as his contacts with Darko and other accomplices in selling, transporting, or storing the art. I believed this information may result in the recovery of three additional paintings in the possession of Espinoza that were stolen from the victims during the burglary in 2008 and may reveal the identity of persons involved in the burglary in 2008 and may reveal the identity of persons involved in the original burglary in 2008.
Here's a link to an interview with Detective Hyrcyk about the LAPD Art Theft Detail.

December 16, 2014

Essay: Bringing Art to the Masses, With Limited Success in Rome

Image Credit: Roma Capitale
By Lynda Albertson

It was an initiative to bring the museums to the streets and the streets to the museum.  The city of Rome, in cooperation with three city municipalities, three Rome museums and Italy’s Cultural Ministry, set about to beautify the periphery of Italy’s capital with interesting artworks.  Commuters on their way to work, would be given a unique opportunity to explore the potential of Rome’s artworks within the comfort of their daily routine and hopefully learn a little bit about artists that they might not otherwise have known while they were at it.

The pilot installation, designed to entice passers-by to visit the collections housed at the MACRO - Museo d'arte Contemporanea Roma, the GNAM - Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, and Palazzo Braschi, a large Neoclassical palace in Rome near Campo de' Fiori, have been scheduled to run for six months. 

Image Credit: Roma Capitale
Fifteen masterpieces were photographed at high resolution on a 1:1 scale then printed on canvas and hung along common transit areas.  Like art exhibitions held in New York City’s "Subway Art"  and London Transit Authority’s extensive “Art on the Underground” Rome’s goal was to allow art lovers to appreciate the city's ever-growing collection of Contemporary and Modern art by making more accessible works of art by painters like Carla Accardi, Paolo Anesi, Giacomo Balla, Benedetta Cappa Marinetti, Pablo Echaurren, Filippo Gagliardi, Gavin Hamilton, and Titina.

They even sweetened the pot by publicizing to residents that if they took selfies in front of the artworks they would gain admission to the museum where the artwork was housed for free. 
Image Credit: Roma Capitale

In addition to the free ticket photo shoots, the city scheduled a series of cultural and educational events which include guided tours and workshops for school children designed to  incorporate the masterpieces and the artists that created them. For those too busy to attend, the exhibition also includes a QR code on the captions located beside each of the artworks.  Used in conjunction with a specially-developed smart phone app called "Musei in Strada”  (Museums in the street) rushing pedestrians could also get information on the art works and the museum’s that host the originals.

Giovanna Marinelli, councillor for culture, was quoted in Arte Magazine as saying "We want to reduce the distance that separates, physically and metaphorically, museums in the city center from the suburbs, with the objective being to discover or rediscover the artistic heritage of Rome’s cultural identity and to strengthen the bond of its citizens to the history of their city.”   
Image Credit: Twitter user @anderboz
Unfortunately for Rome’s art loving citizens, some folks got a little too physically close.  In the past week someone has defaced one reproduction with graffiti and destroyed another, setting fire to the reproduction of Benedetta Cappa Marinetti’s "Velocità di motoscafo" on Sunday, December 14th. 

It makes one glad that these were simply reproductions, and not original works of art. 

Not to be discouraged, the city has vowed to replace the damaged artworks and to carefully review CTV footage to identify the art-hating culprit. 

December 12, 2014

Swingler: Who is he and what does he have to do with looted antiquities?

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Yesterday I saw a phrase I hadn't registered before, the Swingler archive (which caught my attention on Professor Gill's blog Looting Matters), so I asked about Swingler to Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis -- who found the information with a simple search on the Internet -- and this was his answer via email:
'When U.S. Customs agents caught up with David Holland Swingler in the early 1990s, they found that he had 230 Apulian and Etruscan vases stashed in his home in Laguna Hills, Calif. The cache was worth about $300,000. Bondioli-Osio said the vases were illegally shipped to Swingler by his Italian partner and fellow food importer, Licio DiLuzio. 
"Parts of this case are rather comical," said Bondioli-Osio. "It seems that DiLuzio's wife, Sandra Scarabelli, had a [falling-out] with her husband. She told police, '[My] husband kicked me out, but he has a load of antiquities in his cellar.' Swingler was actually advertising the sale of these pieces by slipping brochures on car windshields in his neighborhood." DiLuzio was arrested for violating Italy's 1939 law that forbids the digging up and trafficking of antiquities. His case is still in court. Swingler was not charged by U.S. authorities. In 1996, Italian courts sentenced him in absentia to four years in prison and $6,000 in fines. U.S. customs began returning the artifacts to Italy on June 30 this year.' 



December 11, 2014

Researcher Christos Tsirogiannis succeeds in getting suspected looted objects withdrawn from Christie's sale

Attic red-figured krater / Swingler
Source: Tsirogiannis (See Looting Matters)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

As noted first on Paul Barford's blog, Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues, the three items at Christie's identified last week by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis as suspected looted objects have been withdrawn from this month's sale in New York City.

"Paul Barford notified me," Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote in an email to the ARCA blog, "I then verified it from Christie's website."

Dr. Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist, identified images in the Christie's sales catalogue that matched images from the Symes-Michaelides and the Swingler archive (Professor David Gill provides more specific information here on his blog Looting Matters).

I asked Dr. Tsiogiannis who contacts the art market when researchers identify objects suspected to have been stolen? This is his response:
The auction houses, and the members of the international antiquities market in general, always have the opportunity to contact the Italian and Greek authorities directly, before the auctions. These authorities will check, for free, every single object for them. Instead, the members of the market not only are not contacting the authorities, but also complain publicly that they have no access to the archives. As long as the market does not cooperate with the relevant state authorities, those authorities will continue to intervene ex officio.

December 9, 2014

Deadline for the Letter of Intent for the 2015 LegacyQuest International Children's Film and Video Festival is this Friday, December 12


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Here's a letter from Shirley K. Gazsi, President, of AntiquityNow, which I received via Linkedin:
I thought I would pass the following information about LegacyQuest along to you as one of my linkedin contacts. This contest is for young teens ages 12–15. I would appreciate it if you could share with any educators and parents who may be interested. 
The deadline for the Letter of Intent for the 2015 LegacyQuest International Children’s Film and Video Festival is Friday, December 12. For those needing an extension, please contact us at info@antiquitynow.org
Co-sponsored by AntiquityNOW and Archaeological Legacy Institute, the film festival is for tweens to explore how ancient history is far from ancient. In fact, there are thousands of ways that the ingenuity of previous generations continues to influence our lives today. We want to encourage children to discover these connections, and in the process, develop a reverence for our global cultural heritage and the importance of its preservation. 
We have another purpose in sponsoring LegacyQuest. Today, wherever we look, we see conflict, whether geographical, political, philosophical, religious or even personal. We seek to instill in children a sense that the world’s people have deep connections, and that understanding and tolerating different ways of thinking enhances our lives and strengthens our global co-existence. 
Please feel free to share the festival information (http://antiquitynow.org/antiquitynow-month/legacy-quest-festival/) with teachers, parents and others who may be interested in submitting a LegacyQuest entry. 
Thank you for your help. 
Very truly yours, 

Shirley K. Gazsi 
President 

December 8, 2014

Thief Returns Medardo Rosso's Bambino Malato (Sick Child) (1893-95) Stolen From the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna

by Lynda Albertson

This weekend ARCA reported that Medardo Rosso's Bambino Malato (Sick Child) (1893-95) had been stolen from the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna on December 5, 2014. 

In an unusually brazen theft, the thief entered the museum during opening hours on Friday and walked off with the small bronze bust of a child, leaving the premises without drawing the attention of any of the staff or security personnel on duty. 

Whether out of fear of being recognized on surveillance camera footage or a rare attack of guilty conscience, the thief or an accomplice returned to the museum and at some point after the first security sweeps, placed the bronze artwork in a storage locker used by visitors near the entrance of the museum.  Hopefully this too has been caught on tape, regardless of the thief's change of heart.

Whether allegorical or coincidence, the fact that the thief was able to enter the museum, not once, but twice, carrying an object without being stopped, is not without some significance.
  
One week ago many of Rome's unemployed archaeologists, librarians, archivists, art historians and conservators symbolically occupied the Pantheon in protest of the lack of paid work or long term contracts for graduates in cultural heritage professions.  Of key concern to the protestors is what they consider to be the exploitation of volunteers, working within the heritage sector with little or no compensation.  These unpaid volunteers are also presently being considered as long term free substitutes for positions once reserved for paid skilled professional, perhaps in answer to the country's never-ending economic recession.  

The protesters were also unhappy about a bilateral agreement between the mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, and ENEL S.p.A. who has agreed to sponsor at least one €100,000 project allowing university students in the United States to examine and catalog hundreds of archaeological objects from excavations conducted in Rome during the 1930's.  The first 249 objects have already been shipped to the University of Missouri, the first beneficiary of the “Hidden Treasure of Rome” project.  Other American institutions, including the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford; New York University; Yale and Harvard have also expressed interest in participating in this energy company sponsored project and this is not sitting well with heritage professionals or university students in Rome.

December 6, 2014

Theft at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte (GNAM) in Rome

By Lynda Albertson

Photo Credit - La Repubblica
Italian newspaper La Repubblica has broke a story that a thief, or thieves, have entered the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte (GNAM) yesterday and made off with a bronze sculpture bust titled "Bambino Malato", in English "Sick Child" created by Medardo Rosso.  According to the article's journalist, whose name is not listed, the museum's authorities estimate the value of the stolen artwork at €500,000.

Medardo Rosso was a Post-impressionist Italian sculptor from Turin who trained at Milan's Brera Academy. Many of his artworks center around depictions of everyday life and imagery.   His break with traditional 19th-century sculptural attitudes earned him the reputation of being one of the country's first truly modern sculptors. To learn more about Rosso, there is an interesting academic article by Sharon Hecker that can be downloaded here on the history and ultimate identification of a wax cast of Rosso’s "Enfant malade" and which further describes the artist's mannerisms and artistic considerations as well as the public's awareness of this particular work.
Photo Credit - Il Gironale
Authorities indicate that the theft at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte occurred around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, while the museum was open to the public.  The bust was positioned on a pedestal near the doorway of Room 48, an area of the museum that is used as a exhibition space located within the right wing of the museum. According to Italy's Il Giornale, the room presently holds artworks that form part of a retrospective exhibition which began in November dedicated to the "Secession and Avant-Garde" which covers artworks by artists immediately preceding the First World War. 

Italy's Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo (MiBACT) has indicated that all of GNAM's cameras and alarm systems were fully-functional at the time of the theft and that  Italy's military police for the protection of cultural heritage (TPC), have assumed command of the investigation.  As the investigation continues TPC officers are interviewing museum staff and reviewing CTV camera footage to reconstruct the details surrounding the theft.

The Galleria holds the largest collection of works by nineteenth and twentieth century Italian artists including Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Alberto Burri, Antonio Canova, Giorgio de Chirico, Lucio Fontana, Giovanni Farttori, Giacomo Manzu, Amedeo Modigliani and Giorgio Morandi. There are also important works by artists outside of Italy including Calder, Cézanne, Duchamp, Giacometti, Braque, Degas, Wassily Kandinsky, Mondrian, Monet, Jackson Pollock, and Rodin.

For further reading on GNAM's exhibition "Secession and Avant-Garde" please see Italy's MiBACT article translated in English here.

December 5, 2014

Opinion: More Questions Than Solutions from the Auction Houses

By Lynda Albertson

Following the successful identification and the subsequent withdrawal of the Sardinian idol, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist and Research Assistant with the Trafficking Culture Project has forwarded ARCA four additional images of antiquities that match photos from the Symes-Michaelides archive.  

Tsirogiannis and Italian heritage professionals have been working diligently for years to make sense of a lengthy catalog photo and forensic documentation, that paint a vivid picture of the complexity of the network of dealers, middlemen, and tombaroli involved in the looting and smuggling of antiquities.

These four identified objects match auction items that are to be included in two December sales events; one held by Christie's New York scheduled for December 11, 2014 and another with Sotheby's New York to be held the following day.

Christies LOT 51: AN EGYPTIAN ALABASTER FIGURAL JUG, estimated at $150,000 -$250,000


 




The object appears in the same condition in the Symes-Michaelides archive. The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.









Christies LOT 95: AN ATTIC RED-FIGURED COLUMN KRATER, estimated at $60,000 -$90,000





The object is depicted in the same condition in the images that have been confiscated by the American authorities from the antiquities dealer David Swingler, among hundreds of antiquities which were repatriated to Italy after it was found that they were smuggled. Swingler's name is not included in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.


The object appears in the auction catalog with its surface cleaned, unlike its appearance in the Symes-Michaelides archive. The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by auction house.






Sotheby's: LOT 6: An Egyptian Diorite Figure of a Priest of the Temple of Mut, late 25th/early 26th Dynasty, circa 670-610 B.C., estimated at $400,000 - 600,000






The object appears in the same condition in the Symes-Michaelides archive.  The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.








Note: These suspect objects have been brought to the attention of authorities in the United States, Italy and Egypt.

More than  four decades have passed since the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Despite greater public awareness of the problems posed by looting, suspect antiquities are still finding their way into auction houses through methods embedded within the licit antiquities trade.  By whitening a tan object's illicit background through legitimate or contrived collection histories, laundered objects, be they from Italy, Egypt, Iraq or Syria, will continue to find their way into the glassy catalogs of licit objects being sold on the art market.

Unless tighter sanctions are imposed by governments or unless the art market itself voluntarily polices itself better, at the behest of culturally aware collectors or the general public, the problem will continue.  Predatory and subsistence looters will continue to supply the demand for materials needed and by proxy encourage the parasitical relationship between them, the middlemen suppliers and the auction houses.

December 4, 2014

Conference Diary: COMCOL's "Collections and Collecting in Times of War or Social and Political Change" Conference in Celje, Slovenia

By Virginia M. Curry

The Third Annual UNESCO ICOM Conference on Collecting (COMCOL) opened December 4 in the jewel-like Slovenian town of Celje.
 
This is the third conference on collecting held by UNESCO ICOM; the first was held in Capetown, and the second in Rio de Janiero. The theme of this year’s conference is “Collections and Collecting in Times of War or Social and Political Change”.

I am surprised to be the sole American participant in the program since it is UNESCO ICOM’s sole annual conference related to museums and their collections.  However, my fellow presenters from as far away as South Korea share a communal joy of museums and the exhibition of both “Tangible” and “Intangible” collections.  As you might have guessed, the “intangible” collections are those of music, such as the literal dumpster recovery of folk and classical recordings from the collection of Swiss broadcaster, Fritz Dur for the Swiss International Radio and an examination of the socio-political metamorphosis of the City of Birmingham in England in response to a changed demographic.

The organizers of this conference accepted my paper, “Re-Inventing the Museum in the Twenty-First Century” which focused on some of the major challenges to curators and some success stories, including but not limited to war loot; theft by organized criminal gangs who steal art from museums and private collections; internal thefts; and vandalism.

The conference meets again tomorrow to discuss: “Reflecting and Using Collections to Memorialize War”. There will also be sessions which focus on  confronting collections in the change of paradigm  from socialism and later in the afternoon a visit to the Museum of Recent History of Celje.

Ms. Curry is a retired FBI agent, a licensed private investigator, and an art historian.