July 13, 2009

ARCA Conference in the Study of Art Crime

The ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime
11 July 2009 in Amelia, Italy

Conference Schedule
10:30am Introduction by Noah Charney
11am Award presentation to Vernon Rapley
12-1pm Bernadine Benson and Derek Fincham
1-2:30pm Lunch
2:30-3:30pm Virgina Curry and Arthur Tompkins
3:30pm ArtGuard Award presentation to Francesco Rutelli
3:45-4:15 Francesco Rutelli talk
4:15-5pm Coffee Break
5pm Award presentation to the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
5:15-5:30 pm Colonnello Luigi Cortellesca talk
5:45pm Vallombroso Award presentation to Professor Norman Palmer
6pm-6:30pm Award presentation to the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
6:30-7 Colonnello Luigi Cortellesca talk
7pm Closing Comments by Noah Charney

‘Primo Convego Internazionale Patrimonio Artistico: furti e recuperi’ gathered together academics and experienced crime investigators to discuss issues in stolen and recovered art objects and honor their peers on 11th July in Amelia, Umbria.

Noah Charney, Director of ARCA and professor of art history at the American University of Rome, opened the day-long event at the Biblioteca Communale di Amelia, the home of the inagural postgraduate program in Art Crime, bestowing the ARCA Award for Art Policing and Recovery to Vernon Rapley, Director of Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiquities Squad.

Detective Sergeant Rapley graciously accepted the award followed by a presentation on the cases and expansion of the department through ArtBeat, the cooperative program with academics and museum professionals. Not only has the relationship decreased museum thefts and increased recoveries since 2005, but the close relationship has improved access and communication between Scotland Yard and the art market, the first step in improving security for art objects. Rapley’s department is focusing more on forgeries and fakes since thefts declined. Scotland Yard will make its database of stolen art objects available to the public next year.

Bernadine Benson, a University of South Africa lecturer on Police Practice, presented her methodology for identifying the illegal market for antiquities in South Africa, a model that many people in the audience said could be applied to other countries desiring an academic model for training police officials on procedures for handling illicit antiquities trading.

Derek Fincham, a Westerfield Fellow at the University of Loyola, New Orleans, School of Law, presented a provocative perspective: the art market is complicit in criminal activities through secretive practices regarding the provenance and sale of objects. Fincham’s comments supported an earlier statement by Vernon Rapley that auction houses would not release to Scotland Yard the names of the buyers who bought forgeries by Shaun Greenhalgh.

Presenters and attendees lunched at the wine bar of Punto Divino for a four-course meal before returning for the afternoon session.

Virginia Curry, a former FBI agent, fresh from an Etruscan archaeological dig, discussed examples of trusted academic and museum professionals who have misused their roles to exploit access, power, and opportunity to steal entrusted objects or enter into conspiracies. “Those same people smart enough to earn doctorates,” she said, “think they are too smart to get caught.”

Curry found in her experience that public institutions are reluctant to report thefts for fear of losing funding. In addition, she found that laws of evidence can also tie the hands of police.

Judge Arthur Tompkins, a District court judge in New Zealand, proposed a permanent International Art Crime Tribunal based upon the successful models of the International Crime Court and using principles from the World Trade Organization.

After a coffee break at Caffe Grande, returnees to the conference found municipal police, Carabinieri and members of the press – Francesco Rutelli, an Italian Senator and former mayor of Rome and a Minister of Culture, had arrived to accept the ArtGuard Award for Art Security and Protection.

ArtGuard, Bill Anderson explained, develops and markets affordable and simple individual alerts for paintings and art objects for budget strapped public institutions but the gadget has become so successful that it has been picked up by the National Gallery in Washington, DC and the Morgan Library, among other prominent institutions.

Signore Rutelli, with the effortless grace of an experienced Italian politician and the head of his political party, accepted his award and congratulated the audience on gathering to support the recovery of art crime. Rutelli stressed that Italy’s art recovery efforts were focusing less on litigation and more on dialogue and reciprocity, loaning objects from Italy of similar or more important value in exchange for repatriating stolen objects from American museums. Rutelli said that an object without a history, without a known archaeological context, is an object without a soul.

ARCA bestowed the ARCA Lifetime Achievement Award in Defense of Art to the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

Colonnello Luigi Cortellesca, the second in command of the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, graciously accepted the award and addressed the audience in full military uniform, describing the organization and highlighting cases. In contrast to Scotland Yard’s policy of treating art crimes as theft and prosecution of criminals first, Colonello Cortellesca said that his units priority is in recovering the art which is irreplaceable since criminals would repeatedly offend and other opportunities would arise to apprehend them.

Afterward, the group enjoyed the majestic view of the Umbrian countrywide, full of olive trees and sunflowers, from the garden of the Palazzo Farratitini with a tour of the ballroom and hotel rooms on the second floor.

A four-course dinner at Amelia’s Locanda Restaurant, with it’s views of the original Roman street, feted the speakers and attendees. The conference was a great success, bringing together politicians, police, and academics from different nations, in the midst of the summer program  focusing on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Property Protection.

- by Catherine Sezgin

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