November 23, 2010

ARCA's Colette Loll Marvin Lectures on "Curating Art Crime" in Budapest

By Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Last weekend ARCA's Director of Public and Institutional Relations, Colette Loll Marvin, lectured on "Curating Crime" to a group of students in the Arts Management program at the International Business School of Budapest.

Ms. Marvin spoke about several recent museum exhibitions dedicated to the subject of art crime, specifically forgery. Marvin has been conducting research for a documentary on the famed Hungarian forger Elmyr de Hory (1906-1976) who was arguably the most prolific forger of the twentieth century.

De Hory operated primarily in Europe and the United States for three decades and is alleged to have circulated hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of paintings into the art market, according to Marvin. Unable to find success in selling his own original works, Marvin said, De Hory turned his talents and Beaux Arts training towards the crafting of fake paintings in the style of Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse, Dufy, Vlamink and other Impressionist and Modernist masters.

“Fakes and forgeries were once the dirty little secret of the art world,” Marvin said. “No gallery, museum or auction house is entirely free from the embarrassment of a costly error of misattribution or faulty provenance. Duped museums can feel slightly vindicated, however, as there is a growing public fascination in these costly mistakes, as witnessed by the record crowds visiting exhibits dedicated to fakes, mistakes and misattributions.”

The latest exhibit, "Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries" opened this weekend at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit and examines 58 artworks from paintings to decorative arts in the museum's collection whose artist attribution and authenticity have changed since being donated or purchased by the institution.

Professor Jeff Taylor, an American art historian currently completing the doctoral program at Central European University on the subject of the historical evolution of the Hungarian art market, invited Marvin to speak to the class after being asked to serve as a Humanities advisor to her film project.

"Colette's presentation served as the ideal exclamation point to this section of the semester which had been focusing on the problems of the art market, particularly fakes, plunder, and restitution,” Taylor said. “I think the students got a full appreciation for how much these issues are being widely discussed, both in the many recent exhibitions which were shown, but also in terms of Colette's documentary project on Elmyr de Hory, and that seemed to generate a lot of interest among them in the ARCA Postgraduate program."

The Arts Management program at the International Business School of Budapest is a recently added program and boasts a curriculum designed to produce students that are well versed in the business aspects of the art market.

Ms. Marvin also gave a presentation to the undergraduate class about ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate in International Art Crime Studies.

ARCA’s courses include “Art Crime and Its History” by Noah Charney, founding director of ARCA; “Art in War” by Judge Arthur Tompkins of New Zealand; “Art Policing and Investigation” by Richard Ellis, former director of Scotland Yard Arts and Antiques Unit; and “Museums, Security, and Art Protection” taught in 2010 by Anthony Amore, Security Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies has taken place in Italy in the medieval town of Amelia in Umbria from June through August for the past two years and is accepting applications through January 3 for the 2011 program.

In addition, ARCA’s third annual International Art Crime Conference is scheduled for July 9th and 10 next summer in Amelia. Papers for the conference will be accepted in the spring.

Art Crime in Hungary

On November 5 1983, thieves robbed the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest and stole paintings by Raphael (Esterhazy Madonna and Portrait of a Young Man); Giorgione (Self-portrait), Tintoretto (Portrait of a Gentleman and Portrait of a Gentlewoman), and Tiepolo (Madonna and the Saints and Rest on the Flight into Egypt). All of the works, including Raphael’s Esterhazy Madonna, also known as Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist, were recovered two months later by the Italian Carabinieri in an abandoned Greek Monastery near Aigio in northeast Greece. Operation Budapest was a joint investigation between the Italian Carabinieri, the Hungarian police, and the Greek Police.

The Old Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest has a collection of 3,000 Old Master Paintings from the 13th to the 18th centuries, with more than 700 acquired from the Esterhazy estate, a noble family of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Inadequate physical maintenance may have made the museum vulnerable to thieves. A visitor to the Budapest museum in the 1980s described the 1906 building housing the collection as “in a sorry state” with “various roofs leaking and many of its masterpieces draped in sheets of polythene to protect them when rain fell.” The museum had been bombed in World War II and the construction of an underground railway may have damaged the building’s structure.

According to the Commission for Art Recovery, about 20 percent of all Western art in Europe was looted during the war. During World War II, the Hungarian government, a Nazi ally, confiscated art owned by Jews. The Hungarian government participated in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets and agreed to work to identify Nazi-era looted art and opening museum archives for provenance research. However, the Jewish Claims Conference and World Jewish Restitution Organization claims that Hungary has disregarded the principles and not returned art looted from Holocaust victims.

The family of Baron Mar Lipot Herzog, a wealthy patron of the arts, who lived in Budapest and died in 1934, has sought restitution from Hungary with no success, according to a recent article by Judy Dempsey in the New York Times.

Hungary to Sell Communist Relics today published an article by Pablo Gorondi of the Associated Press about an upcoming auction in Budapest of the sale of 230 communist-era relics, including a life-size bust of former Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin.


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