August 10, 2009

Noah Charney on CBC Radio's Q with Jian Ghomeshi

On 10 August 2009, ARCA Director Noah Charney was featured on CBC Radio's Q with Jian Ghomeshi. In the interview guest hosted by Jane Farrow, Charney discusses ARCA's Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime studies and he describes the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to art crime. Additionally, he answers questions related to what opportunities graduates can expect to pursue upon their completion of the program. For anyone interested in learning more about the MA Program this is a great place to start. To access the Q with Jian Ghomeshi podcast click the title of this post or click here.

Further inquiries can be sent to Mark Durney, Business and Admissions Director of the 2010 MA Program, at ma@artcrime.info .


Q is Canada's liveliest arts, culture and entertainment magazine. It's a smart and surprising tour through personalities and cultural issues that matter to Canadians.


ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art) is an interdisciplinary think tank/research group on contemporary issues in art crime. This international non-profit organization studies issues in art crime and cultural property protection, runs educational programs, and consults on art protection and recovery issues brought to them by police, governments, museums, places of worship, and other public institutions.

August 7, 2009

Charity Lecture in Support of Venice in Peril


Exclusive Art Crime Lecture in aid of Venice in Peril
Noah Charney
on
"Stealing the Mystic Lamb: the true story of the world’s most frequently stolen masterpiece"
and
Vernon Rapley
on
"The Art of Deception: the criminal use of fake and forged art, antiques and antiquities"

We are delighted to announce that author and international art crime expert, Noah Charney, will give the Venice in Peril Autumn Lecture to be held at The Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 1 October 2009, at 7pm. Entitled "Stealing the Mystic Lamb: the true story of the world’s most frequently stolen masterpiece", Noah will give an exclusive and original insight into Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, a work that has been involved in 13 crimes over its 600 year existence. An original speaker who returns for Venice in Peril due to a sell-out talk last year, Noah will be joined by Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley. With a police career spanning 23 years, DS Rapley is head of London’s Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit, a unit dedicated to policing the world’s second largest art market and which recovers, on average, £7million of stolen and laundered art each year.

Thursday 1st October 2009 at 7pm
Doors open at 6pm with public bar and garden
The Royal Geographical Society
1 Kensington Gore, London SW7
To book tickets please either:
Call the Venice in Peril office on 020 7736 6891 or
Email us at info@veniceinperil.org

August 3, 2009

Valued After Destruction: Two Cases of Crimes against Korean Cultural Heritage

Valued After Destruction: Two Cases of Crimes against Korean Cultural Heritage
by Yoo Jin Cheong

Over the past century, South Korea was subjected to several art crimes in which its national pride was tested. The first incident happened while Korea was under the oppressive rule of Japan during the early 20th century. The Japanese empire took liberty in destroying Korean cultural possessions to assert its power. Consequently, the crimes against Korean art came to be associated with Japan. However, the most recent tragedy in Korean art, involved the burning of Sungnye Gate by a Korean citizen who did so for media attention. These two cases share some commonalities: the malicious motivations of the perpetrators who hoped for similar outcomes, the Korean public reactions and the rapid surge in the value of the destroyed art. This essay will analyze the two cases for their classifications under art crime (i.e. iconoclasm and war abuses), with the particular focus on the latter one for its shortcomings in security and fire preventions plans.


1900s Defacement of Gyeongbok gung: Korea Products Exposition

During the early 20th century, Japan started the process of colonization in Asia, mimicking the western imperialistic tendencies; in the countries it took over, Japan tried to discard all nationalistic elements in hopes of “Japanizing” the colonies.[1] South Korea inevitably became a victim of “Japanization” in 1910. During the 34 years of annexation, the nation suffered greatly and lost its national, cultural and artistic identities.

In an attempt to demonstrate power over the conquered dynasty, Japan began to systematically demolish, deface and mistreat all cultural properties and objects that represented the “old” Korea.[2] While burning down palaces and other architectural monuments, Japan particularly spent time degrading one place: Gyeongbok gung, the main palace of the Joseon dynasty. The palace had served as a key symbol of law and order (monarchy) in South Korea.[3] As a result, Japanese conquerors viewed destroying of Gyeongbok gung as parallel to abolishing the Korean authority and spirit. Accordingly, in 1909, they tore the palace down for building materials and sale to the public. Then in 1915, they burned the rest of the third of the building to make room for the Korean Products Exposition.[4] The exposition, which was a display of Korean artistic, cultural and industrial works, was meant to represent “colonialism as fundamental to the progress of both the metropole and the colony.”[5] Similar to the idea of exhibition of Entartetekunst (degenerate art) during WWII, its purpose was to show cultural superiority of Japan. Parts of Gyeongbok gung were left untouched for the pure reason of negative comparison. The wooden structure of Gyeongbok gung viewed as the “old” and “stagnant” Korea was overshadowed by the “new” and “modern Renaissance plus Secession style” of Japanese buildings.[6] Furthermore, just the idea of placing a commercial exhibition in a “sacred palace” aided in “dislodging the authority of the five-hundred-year-old Korean Joseon dynasty.[7] At the exhibition itself, the objects displayed were strategically placed next to the Japanese products for a “hierarchical comparison.”[8]

The Japanese policies towards the Korean cultural possessions paralleled other historical moments in wartime art crimes. The most well-known case was during WWII when the Nazis often held exhibitions and sales of “conquered arts” as a way of degrading other cultures and elevating their own. Prior to WWII, the wartime abuses of cultural objects were integrated into foreign policies; many brought back objects from conquered nations as “trophies” for material profits while others destroyed them for demonstration of power. Plunders and pillages often occurred during armed conflicts, in which cultural heritages of weakened nations were inevitably affected. In that sense, the Japanese actions on Gyeongbok gung followed the familiar pattern of the practices during war crimes. Furthermore, because of its symbolic representation, the demolition of Gyeongbok gung was also an act of iconoclasm that undermined the Korean authority and raised Japan’s own superiority; it inevitably led to a built-in inferiority complex for the South Koreans.

The shocking images of defaced national symbol stayed in the minds of the Korean public. Even post-liberation from Japan, the destruction of cultural heritage in South Korea was forever associated with Japan. However, this thought diminished on February 10th, 2008.


2008 Destruction of the Sungnye Gate

On this date, another crime occurred against a Korean cultural possession: the Sungnye Gate. Being the oldest wooden structure of Seoul, the Gate was proudly located at the heart of the city. However, past February, it was burnt down to the ground by a Korean citizen, erasing the assumption that crimes against heritage only occurred during the Japanese occupation and by the foreigners.

The witness to the arson, Sang-gon Lee, a taxi driver, stated that he saw a man with a shopping bag go into the Gate through the side stairs. Lee noticed red sparks inside the building immediately after the man’s entrance. While calling the cops to notify them of the possible danger, Lee saw the man exit “calmly” out the back gate towards the highway.[9] He added that the whole process took about five minutes. When the police did not arrive in the scene in time, Lee tried to pursue the perpetrator, but lost him on the road. Lee’s response illustrates Anthony Amore’s claim (Director of Security of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) that “security is everyone’s business.”[10] Although Amore’s statement was made towards enclosed museums—under the assumption that visitors who are vested with love for art that they paid to look at are “likely to speak up if they think a person means to do harm to the collection”—the same thought is applicable to the openly accessible cultural heritage. Although the Gate was located in public arena and people did not have to pay to view it, the nationalistic sentiments associated with the work of art heightened its value and made it necessary to be protected. Accordingly, the ordinary citizens unwittingly became part of the security measure and a “vital layer of security, lending…sets of eyes.”[11]

However, naturally, solely depending on the ordinary citizens is not sufficient in protecting art. Colonel Giovanni Pastore, the vice-commandant of the Carabinieri division for the protection of Cultural Heritage, advised that the best first step of defending art on a national level is “prevention.”[12] Arguing that it is the “elementary safeguard against” art crimes, Pastore stressed the need to develop security system around the cultural possessions and to inform the potential criminals of strong penal punishments. He especially advocated the significance of educating the public about the consequences of harming cultural objects, as to deter actions. Unfortunately, the Cultural Heritage Maintenance Committee (CHMC), in charge of laying out the groundwork for security, failed to follow these guidelines and thus brought about the destruction of the Sungnye Gate; firstly, the Gate neither had the proper prevention measures in security nor in the fire protection and secondly, the severity of the punishment for corruption of cultural artifacts was not widely realized.

Despite being labeled as Korea’s number one national treasure, the Sungnye Gate maintained a weak security around it. The Gate was open to public visitation from 10am to 8pm daily. During the open hours on weekdays, there were three guards who maintained the area; however, on the weekends, there was only one person on the patrol. Past the visiting hours, a nearby company (KT Telecom) maintained an aloof watch of the Gate with security cameras and minimal sensors/alarm.[13] According to the newspapers, there were four CCTVs around the cultural property, but no evidence could be gathered against the perpetrator at first because of their impractical placements; one was facing the back door, one inside, and the other two towards the opposite directions. The remote placement of the security cameras failed to capture the crime scene and negated their effectiveness.

Other security measures such as sensors and alarm system also proved to be inadequate in safeguarding the cultural symbol. According to the security guards from KT Telecom and the police department, past cases of false alarms have encouraged them to ignore the warnings. The Gate, as a result of its public nature, was a “playground” of the homeless in Seoul; they often cooked, drank alcohol and slept inside the cultural property. Inevitably, in the past, their frequent traffic had triggered the alarm several times during the nights. Although few times in the beginning, the police often checked on the Gate, after a while, they stopped, realizing the frivolity of the incidents. Consequently, on the night of the fire, the security guards once again overlooked the alarms and only arrived on the scene ten minutes after the initial report when witnesses of the fire frantically gave them a call, by which time, the fire was already blazing.[14]

In addition to its defective security measures, the Gate also lacked proper fire prevention plans. Assigned as a four-star building by the Fire Department, the Gate was only required to maintain limited prevention efforts; the fire marshal later stated that its close proximity to the Fire Department was one of the reasons why it was given a low-risk status. Following the guidelines, the Committee only put in place manual fire extinguishers: four on each floor, totaling to eight.[15] The Committee also reasoned that they did not want to install sprinkler or other precautionary systems because they would have interfered with the aesthetics of the cultural property.[16]

Moreover, the organizational system for fire protection also proved to be passive. The firefighters never received any training on how to deal with the burning of a cultural property. While the Gate’s societal significance and its complete wooden structure should have been a reason enough to create a manual in case of fire, the Committee and the Fire Department neglected to prepare a plan. Though the appropriate response to the fire would have been to break the roof tiles (thus destroying part of the cultural heritage) to prevent its spread, later interviews indicated the hesitancy of the firefighters in following that procedure.[17] As a result, the fire continued to spread and burn the structure down. Although the Fire Department did reveal that they tried to partake in the prevention efforts in the past by facilitating dry runs, the passive simulations only included reviewing the space where the fire truck could park and not how to suppress the fire.[18] Furthermore, the Gate’s property insurance for fire was merely 95,000,000 won (about 75,000 dollars) which was no where near the rebuilding costs.[19]

The destruction of the Gate brought attention to the lack of security and safety measures placed on cultural heritage properties in South Korea. The shortcomings of the Korean maintenance system, correspondingly, had been compared and contrasted extensively with other ones abroad, particularly with Japan. Several newspaper articles covering the Gate’s destruction often described the Japanese security measures to stress the Korea inadequacy. For example, Dae-woong Jun or a Japanese Main Palace, considered to be an utmost important cultural property of the nation, similar to the Korean Gate, has immense security and safety structures; containing smoke detectors, heat and other 215 types of sensors, and alarm and sprinkler system, the Palace is built to immediately response to fire and other crimes.[20] Professor Lee Dong-myung stated that most Japanese buildings have structures which allow for the fire to be contained and exterminated immediately while Korea lacks this strategy.[21] Furthermore, the newspapers often included the shocking responses from Japanese tourists on the failure of the Korean system; one tourist was quoted in saying “this would never happen in Japan. Isn’t that Korea’s National Treasure Number One?”[22] This comparison to Japan is perhaps reminiscent of the decade-old link between Japan and Korean cultural heritage. By appraising Japan’s efficient security system, the media once again directs attention to Korea’s inferiority complex brought on by the Japanese annexation. The complete failure of the security and safety structures stirred disappointment among the public against the Korean government. The inability to protect its number one national treasure was subjected to criticism at home and abroad; it was viewed as a national humiliation.

This result was exactly what the arsonist had hoped for. The perpetrator was later exposed through a confession as Jong-gi Chae, a 70-year-old man with a personal issue with the government. The records revealed that Chae had visited the Gate at least twice, in July and December, at which times, the police suspect he realized the weak security at nights and on weekends.[23] The police also discovered that Chae was a repeat offender of the cultural property destruction. He had previously been charged for setting fire on Chaggyeong Palace in 2006 and had been placed on a two-year-probation in addition to absorbing the renovation costs of $4230.[24] Though Chae suffered financially, he was not imprisoned for his actions. Correspondingly, many argued, reflecting Castore’s statement, in favor of the necessity in harsher punishment for art crimes and publicity of it, claiming that the second arson could have been prevented.

Many speculations have been made both by academia and police forces, regarding the reasons behind Chae’s actions. The biggest motivation for his act, however, seemed to have been to bring attention to what he deemed “injustice” done to him by the government. In 2002, his house in Ilsan-dong was demolished by the government for redevelopment efforts, to build highways. Interviews with his family members and neighbors revealed that Chae never fully recovered after the demolition. Claiming that he never received warning or proper compensation, Chae developed hostility towards the government; he argued that if he were a police officer or a Blue House worker (the Office of the President of Republic of Korea), his house would never have been destroyed.[25] Psychological analysis by the Dongkuk University Professor Yoon-ho Lee showed that when Chae could not resolve his anti-government sentiments, that is when he began to act out to receive societal attention through arson attempts.[26] His act broadly fits the definition of iconoclasm; though not a sexual or a religious symbol, it was a national one. Professor Lee argued that Chae was clearly aware of the cultural value of the Gate and wanted to make a statement against the government in destroying it.[27]

Sungnye Gate was an “iconic reminder of old Korea in the modern Asian city.”[28] In the past, Sungnye Gate served as a city entrance to control the flow of foreigner emissaries, and to block enemies. Though no longer used as an entrance, the Gate was well-known as a landmark that survived both Chinese and Japanese invasions that have devastated all other parts and thus, was a symbol of triumphant Korea.[29] In the past, there had been cases in which protection of cultural possessions were viewed to parallel the country’s power and status; for example, Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, was seen as an object worth preserving and safe-guarding and was often protected against foreigners. Similarly, having the Gate be in-tact despite numerous foreign invasions was seen as a Korean victory and power; therefore, the destruction of it was a national failure. Chae, understanding such vital function of the Gate, committed the malicious act against it as a deliberate attempt of undermining Korea’s power and glory. Furthermore, the fact that the Gate was at the heart of Seoul and was the most treasured cultural heritage for the Koreans was used to Chae’s advantage to intensify the shock. In the end, Chae succeeded in eliminating a cultural property that had served as a symbol for Korea, all at the cost of attention.

The two cases of cultural property destructions in South Korea demonstrate several aspects of art crime. First case of Gyeongbok gung, demolished by the Japanese during the war time, illustrated the abuses brought on by the armed conflicts as a way of showing power over the conquered nation. With the intention of “killing” the Korean spirit, the Japanese forces degraded the once powerful palace of the Korean dynasty, knocking it down for a “degenerate” exhibition. By comparing the “old” Korea to the “new” Japan, the conquerors tried to assert superiority over Korea. The first case shocked South Koreans and caused them to associate destruction of Korean cultural heritage to Japan and therefore, to foreign invaders.

However, the second case of the burning of Sungnye Gate caused them to change their thoughts. The destruction of the second cultural heritage was brought on by a local citizen who was unhappy with the government, demonstrating the psychological patterns of art criminals. Because he was personally offended by the Korean government, he decided to burn down the national symbol in order to focus attention on his problem. In the end, he received what he wanted, a national media’s coverage of his background story at the cost of a life-long sentence. In addition to the tragic demolition of the Korean symbol, the nation also suffered, much to the satisfaction of the perpetrator, from humiliation in its failure to guard its National Treasure number one. The media shed light on the government’s insufficient security and fire plans for cultural heritages, making it the target of the criticisms from its own public and from abroad.

In both cases, Koreans responded in anger and shock. The previously ignored cultural arts were grieved for by the public due to the fact that the perceived value of the art was heightened after their destructions. Since there was no demand for the two art objects, the rarity (especially, the Gate which was seen as the oldest surviving wooden structure of the old Korea) and authenticity, added with the nationalistic sentiments increased their value immensely. Though the importance of these cultural properties were largely overlooked and taken for granted prior to the incidents, the destruction of them allowed the citizens to finally realize their symbolic natures. Furthermore, the second case especially enlightened the public of the need to have better security systems and fire prevention plans for the other cultural heritages. In that sense, the demolition was tragic, but perhaps was necessary for the proper appreciation and protection of invaluable Korean art.


Works Cited


Charney, Noah. Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World. Wesport:
Praeger, 2009.


Chin, Hong-sop. Hanguk misulsa. Seoul: Mounyeh Publishers Inc,, 2006.


Choe, Sang-Hun. “South Korean Gate Destroyed in Fire .” New York Times 12 Feb. 2008. New York Times. 27 Apr. 2009 .


The City History Compilation Commitee of Seoul. Seoul Under Japanese Aggression . Seoul: Jingyang Printing Corporation, 2002.


Kal, Hong. “Modeling the West, Returning to Asia: Shifting Politics of Representation in Japanese Colonial Expositions in Korea.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 47.3 (2005): 507-531. JSTOR. 2 May 2009 .


Kim, Jin-myung. “Fire Insurance .” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .


- - -. “Neglected by the fire marshal law.” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 1 May 2009 .


The Korean National Comission for UNESCO. Traditional Korean Art. Seoul: The Si-sa-yong-o-sa Publishers, Inc., 1983.


Lee, Jae-joon. “Who is the Arson Suspect Chae? .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .


Lee, Seok-wu. “Crime Process.” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .


Lee, Seok-wu. “Failed Prevention System.” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .


O, Kwang-su. Uri misul 100-yŏn. Seoul: Hyun-Ahm Inc., 2001.


Park, Joong-hyun. “Why they couldn’t stop the initial fire .” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 29 Apr. 2009 .

Park, See-young. “How did this happen in the middle of Seoul? .” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo . 30 Apr. 2009 .


Won, Jung-hwan. “The Arsonist’s Psychology .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo . 3 May 2009 .



[1] The Korean National Comission for UNESCO. Traditional Korean Art. Seoul: The Si-sa-yong-o-sa Publishers, Inc., 1983. 21.

[2] The City History Compilation Commitee of Seoul. Seoul Under Japanese Aggression . Seoul: Jingyang Printing Corporation, 2002. 33.

[3] Chin, Hong-sop. Hanguk misulsa. Seoul: Mounyeh Publishers Inc,, 2006. 793.

[4] The City History Compilation Committee of Seoul, 23.

[5] Kal, Hong. “Modeling the West, Returning to Asia: Shifting Politics of Representation in Japanese Colonial Expositions in Korea.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 47.3 (2005): 507-531. JSTOR. 2 May 2009 . 507.

[6] Ibid, 508.

[7] Ibid, 522.

[8] Ibid, 524.

[9] Kim, Jin-myung. “Fire Insurance .” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

[10] Charney, Noah. Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World. Wesport: Praeger, 2009. 102.

[11] Ibid, 102.

[12] Ibid, 91.

[13] Kim, Jin-myung. “Fire Insurance .” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

[14] Lee, Seok-wu. “Crime Process.” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Lee, Seok-wu. “Failed Prevention System.” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

[18] Ibid.

[19] Kim, Jin-myung. “Fire Insurance .” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Park, Joong-hyun. “Why they couldn’t stop the initial fire .” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 29 Apr. 2009 .

Park, See-young. “How did this happen in the middle of Seoul? .” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo . 30 Apr. 2009 .



[23] Lee, Seok-wu. “Crime Process.” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .

[24] Lee, Jae-joon. “Who is the Arson Suspect Chae? .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .


Choe, Sang-Hun. “South Korean Gate Destroyed in Fire .” New York Times 12 Feb. 2008. New York Times. 27 Apr. 2009 .

[25] Lee, Jae-joon. “Who is the Arson Suspect Chae? .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .

[26] Won, Jung-hwan. “The Arsonist’s Psychology .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo . 3 May 2009 .

[27] Ibid.

[28] Choe, Sang-Hun. “South Korean Gate Destroyed in Fire .” New York Times 12 Feb. 2008. New York Times. 27 Apr. 2009 .

[29] Ibid.