February 1, 2012

Profile: ARCA Trustee Erik Nemeth and New Lecturer to ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies

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

ARCA Trustee Erik Nemeth will be lecturing in Amelia this summer for the Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies.

Dr. Nemeth is Director at CulturalSecurity.net and Adjunct Staff at RAND Corporation. He will be teaching “Cultural Security: Interrelations of art crime, foreign policy, and perceptions of security” between July 30 and August 10, 2012.

In The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2009, Erik Nemeth published on “Plunderer & Protector of Cultural Property: Security-Intelligence Services Shape Strategic Value of Art.”

In 2010, Dr. Nemeth published “The Artifacts of Wartime Art Crime: Evidence for a Model of the Evolving Clout of Cultural Property in Foreign Affairs” in Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (edited by Noah Charney) among other papers.

In recent years, Dr. Nemeth has presented on panels at the American Society of Criminology: “Cultural Intelligence: data sources on the motivation and means for trafficking” (2009) and “Antiquities Trafficking – Complementary Countermeasures” (2010).

ARCA Blog: Dr. Nemeth, If I understand what you said at the ASC in 2010 is that by looking at public auction sale catalogs, policy makers can understand if there’s a lucrative market for the cultural property of a region and a period. If policy makers understand that there’s demand for cultural property, they can then look at opportunities organized crime may have seized to hire local people to loot archaeological sites for more saleable artifacts and also look for weaknesses in the government that may lead to corruption. Did your studies indicate that certain regions are more susceptible to looting than others? Do you think the governments in these areas are utilizing available data to create policy to stem looting?
Dr. Nemeth: I appreciate your asking about the research. I embarked on the study in 2009 to explore quantitative means of assessing risk in looting of and trafficking in cultural artifacts. By collecting data from auction sales archives, I had a chance to experiment with comparing changes in trade volume and average market value of cultural artifacts by geographic region of origin over a nine-year period. For the dataset to which I had access, African tribal art stood out as increasing along both parameters relative to classical antiquities, pre-Columbian art, Islamic art, and Indian and Southeast Asian art. After analyzing the data, I had two thoughts on how such analyses might support risk analysis. 
Does trading of cultural artifacts reflect political and economic conditions in regions of origin for the objects? For example, quantitative measures of demand for cultural artifacts by region of origin over time could be compared against events in politics and economics for nations in the region. Can the auction market for cultural artifacts provide a quantitative, albeit indirect, measure of the illicit trade? The opaque illicit market has proven challenging, if not impossible, to quantify accurately. Perhaps a structured study of the auction market can help in devising a well defined estimate of the size of the illicit market for antiquities, tribal art, and other cultural artifacts.
ARCA Blog: You will be teaching the course tentatively titled, “Cultural Security: Interrelations of art crime, foreign policy and perceptions of security.” Could you elaborate for our readers on what you will discuss in the classroom, the books you might assign, and what you think your students might discover while exploring this topic?
Dr. Nemeth: Cultural security is a rapidly evolving field. I expect to expand on what the course will cover between now and the summer, but here is what I have in mind so far. I will start with what I would call a traditional understanding of the relationship between culture and security, namely protection of artworks and historic structures during wartime and restitution cases for and repatriation of cultural property after conflict. I plan to examine the relationship in different periods—World War II, the Cold War, and the post-Cold War—which have shaped the political clout of cultural property. The post-Cold War provides a lead-in to a perceptual dimension of the relationship with the targeting of religious monuments in political violence. The simultaneous increase in the financial volume of the art market since World War II adds an economic dimension and forms a relationship between culture and financial security.

I consider myself an integrator of various disciplines in pursuit of an understanding of the evolving role of culture in identity and perception of security, and I anticipate that the students may have greater depth of knowledge than I in particular areas such as history of art, archaeology, criminology, and law. I trust that the students will gain an appreciation for the potential of bridging disciplines to enhance and expand their own areas of specialization. Accordingly, I plan to assign readings of cross-disciplinary studies. Here are a few examples of potential sources. Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World brings together scholars from a range of disciplines, and Cloak and Trowel by David Price creatively examines the controversial relationship between security-intelligence services, anthropologists, and archaeologists. On the perceptual side, science can lend insight into the emotional and symbolic significance of artworks, and Inner Vision by Semir Zeki provides an intuitive introduction to the field of neuroaesthetics. I have other sources in mind, and I suspect that I will work in some of my own publications as well.
Additional information may be found about Dr. Nemeth’s work at http://culturalsecurity.net.

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