May 2, 2011

ARCA 2010 Alum: Lauren Toleikis

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

ARCA Blog: Lauren, how did you become interested in art crime? What did you learn during the program that surprised you?
Ms. Toleikis: I came from Canada to London to do a masters degree in Art History and Business at Sotheby's Institute. My thesis focused on restitution policies in the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia. Through research and interviews I became highly interested in art restitution. I began to work in a modern British art gallery and continued to read art market related cases, becoming interested in theft and forgery. A family friend recommended I take the postgraduate program at ARCA. The course enabled us to be taught by experts in each of the fields including policing, law, insurance, security, criminology and members of the art trade. I was impressed with how many professional branches are involved in art crime related cases. This is a unique field where numerous expertise are required. Living and learning in Amelia was a great exposure into true Italian culture.
ARCA Blog: What was your field of study?
Ms. Toleikis: For my thesis at ARCA, I focused on theft from national heritage homes within the United Kingdom. Burglaries are an issue with numerous heritage homes in the UK. I combined data based upon the type of entry and what was stolen from the heritage homes in conjunction with prosecution rates within the English legal system. Building on previous cases I analyzed approach of the current legal system in regards to burglary. Notorious groups such as the Johnson family, a group of travelers, targeted heritage homes throughout the country for years prior to being apprehended and charged. Although there has been a recent rise in theft of porcelain, collections of sliver and other antiques have been targeted as well. In 2005 a large Henry Moore statue was taken, garden architecture is also targeted as it does not involve entering the house. While it may appear that items taken consist of primarily small works this is not the case as seen in the theft of a Henry Moore statue in 2005.
ARCA Blog: You are currently working in an art gallery and a law office in London. After completing the program, how so you view these jobs differently?
Ms. Toleikis: In regards to the gallery, since the course I have become much more aware of the prints and paintings we handle. We complete provenance research for our clients and while many of the paintings may have had only one previous owner prior to the artist, it is important to have this information available for our clients. As we acquire a number of works through auction it is important that we complete our own analysis of the work prior to bidding. In Autumn last year (2010) we had an exhibition of one of our artists work that was outside the gallery, in a different location within London. One night, someone broke in and took some of the paintings. As a result we put the works up on the Art Loss register. It is important to remember that while the painting removed may not be a Picasso or a Van Gogh, all forms of art can be a target for thieves. When working in a gallery it is important to document all the work, even a simple photograph, size and title of the work will help in locating the work in the future.
For the legal office, I work for a barrister completing research on art related cases of Nazi looted theft and restitution. I have also helped in writing and reviewing books in both legal and non legal related fields. Working for the legal office in art related claims is an amazing opportunity as I am able to combine my interest in restitution policies and long term loan programs for museums and other institutions, while furthering my knowledge through legal cases.
ARCA blog: The gallery you work for attends numerous national and international art fairs, is art crime an issue at these fairs?
Ms. Toleikis: All fairs, whether national or international are vetted prior to the opening of the fair. The art in each of the stands is examined by a panel. If there are any questionable pieces of art the galleries are asked to remove the work from the fair. They are then able to handle issues of looted or fake work within their company. It is rare that a gallery would allow this to happen as it would project them in a bad light. In larger international fairs such as TEFAF, where there are paintings, antiques and jewellery theft can be an issue. In 2008 a group of people entered the fair and tried on jewellery. They then came back the next day and stole a large amount of it. While security is on hand at art fairs, there are often so many people coming through that it is difficult to regulate each individual.
ARCA Blog: What is next for you in the field of art crime?
Ms. Toleikis: Upon completing my law degree I hope to move towards working with restitution based cases or ownership disputes. I am interested in helping establish long-term loan agreements or other forms of compensation for ownership. I also hope to expand my knowledge to help smaller institutions as well such as galleries and local museums to provide a system of how to handle or what to do when legal claims are brought against an institution whether it be copy right issues, damage or theft.