September 29, 2012

Renoir Stolen from Baltimore Art Museum in 1951 allegedly found in West Virginia at a flea market two years ago; this weekend's sale aborted; legal battle likely to ensue over who gets the painting

Today's scheduled auction sale of a newly discovered Renoir landscape was cancelled this week when a Washington Post reporter discovered that the painting had been stolen in 1951 from the Baltimore Art Museum (BMA).

Earlier this month, Mary Carole McCauley reported for The Baltimore Sun that an anonymous buyer had purchased the 1879 "Paysage Bord du Seine" for $7 at a flea market in West Virginia about two years ago.  The 6-inch by 10-inch canvas with a gold ornate frame had been one of numerous items sold in a box.  McCauley describes the painting:
The landscape is intentionally blurred and indistinct.  Fast-moving swirls of green, purple and pink and a splash of white mimic the motion of the water and the wind.  The viewer glimpses the river through a scrim of shrubbery, while something gray and vertical looms on the far bank.
Photo by Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images 
The Virginia-based buyer reportedly preferred the frame to the painting, had  let it "rattle around the trunk" of her car and stored it in a "shed with a busted window." The flea market buyer even confessed that she had torn "off the brown paper on the back and threw it in the trash".  Her mother found a "tag on the painting that said 'Renoir, 1841-1919' so the purchaser took the painting to Potomack Company, an auction house she had heard of through the PBS television program "Antiques Roadshow", the new owner told McCauley.

The auction house determined the painting had been purchased by Herbert L. May and Saidie Adler May from Gallerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris in 1926.  Saidie Adler May had donated more than 1,000 paintings to the Baltimore Art Museum.  When McCauley wrote this article, the history of the painting was a "mystery".

Then reporter Ian Shapira of The Washington Post got curious, as he tells Melissa Banks here on NPR, and set out to find out what had happened to the painting since it left Paris almost nine decades ago.  First, Shapira tells Banks, the May family knew nothing about this painting so he went to the Baltimore Art Museum's library and discovered that the painting "Paysage Bords de Seine" had been loaned to the museum by Saidie May.  The museum officials then matched the loan number to their records and discovered a report that the painting had been stolen in 1951.  Shapira speculates that although the May family would like the painting to be returned to the museum, the insurance company that paid out [$2,500] for the stolen artwork may have title to it.

Online in The Washington Post the day before the scheduled auction sale, Shapira showed the museum's loan record on the painting:
"Paysage Bord du Seine" (On The Shore of the Seine), an oil on linen napkin, measuring 5 1/2" by 9" with no artist signature had been purchased for $1,000 in Paris and valued at $2,500 in 1951 when it was exhibited at the BMA in the show "From Ingres to Gaugin".  Mrs. May told the museum that 'Renoir painted this landscape for his mistress, at a restaurant on the Seine - thus the linen napkin.'  The museum index card noted that this Renoir landscape was stolen from the Gallery on November 17, 1951 and had been replaced by a Degas "Self Portrait".
Shapira reported:
In a box full of Saidie May's letters and artwork receipts lay one major clue: records showing that she had lent the painting to the museum in 1937.  The discovery startled museum officials, who had already said the flea-market Renoir never entered their institution.
According to Shapira, the FBI and the museum, who are now investigating details of the theft, could not explain why this artwork does not appear on any registry of stolen or lost art.

Here's a link to the follow up story by McCauley for The Baltimore Sun reporting the painting was stolen and her interviews with the BMA director, the FBI investigator, and the auction house that reports that "Renoir Girl" agrees that the stolen painting should be withdrawn from the auction sale but admits that the money would have been welcome after two years of unemployment.

McCauley reports on the details of the short police report on the stolen painting here: no evidence of a break in, nothing else was stolen, and it was taken sometime between 6 p.m. and 1 p.m.

September 27, 2012

Santa Monica Police Department Works with Pasadena Police Department and other agencies to recover art stolen from Jeffrey Gundlach's collection

Art work by Franz Kline stolen and recovered
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

This evening Richard Lewis, Sergeant, with the Office of the Chief of Police for the Santa Monica Police Department sent a copy of the press release regarding the arrests and recovery of the art to the ARCA blog.

SMPD's Sergeant Lewis also responded to two questions via email: did the publication of the photos of the artwork assist in the recovery of the art? Did the owner's offer of a reward assist in the recovery of the art?
The photos were absolutely a help to the investigation.  As for the reward that was offered by the victim, that may have played a role, but at this stage in the investigation, I cannot speak to that.
Here's the press release that shows the art traveled from the Westside of Los Angeles to San Gabriel Valley:
On September 26, 2012, investigators from the Santa Monica Police Department were contacted by members of the Pasadena Police Department who received a tip concerning where the stolen art from Santa Monica was being held. Based on the information received, Santa Monica’s investigators, with the assistance of the Pasadena Police Department, responded to Al & Ed’s Autosound located at 30 S. Rosemead Boulevard in Pasadena to serve a search warrant. 
During the subsequent search, most of the paintings were recovered and one suspect was arrested for possessing stolen property. He was identified as 45 year old Jay Jeffrey Nieto of Canyon Country, the manager of the Pasadena Al & Ed’s. 
As the investigation continued, additional information was developed that led Santa Monica investigators to a residence in the City of San Gabriel. There the investigators contacted and later arrested 40 year old Wilmer Bolosan Cadiz for possessing stolen property; he was in possession of four of the stolen paintings. 
The last painting was recovered as investigators learned it had been transported to a residence in Glendale. The subject in possession of this painting has been interviewed and is cooperating with investigators. 
Santa Monica Police Investigators are continuing to follow up on leads regarding other possible suspects in the burglary and the location of the remaining stolen property. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective David Haro at (310) 458-8432 or Sergeant Henry Ramirez at (310) 458-8453 or the Santa Monica Police Department (24 hours) at (310) 458-8495. 
Although the investigation continues, cooperation from the following agencies has made the recovery of this valuable art collection possible. 
Pasadena Police Department 
Los Angeles Police Department
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Department of Justice
Interpol
If you wish to remain anonymous, you can call We-Tip at 1-800-78-CRIME (1-800-78-27643), or submit the tip online at www.wetip.com you will remain completely anonymous and may be eligible for a reward, up to $1,000.00 if your information leads to an arrest and conviction, or anonymous tipsters can contact Crime Stoppers by either calling (800) 222-TIPS (8477) or by visiting their website at www.lacrimestoppers.org. To text an anonymous tip to crime stoppers; please view their webpage for detailed instructions. If the information leads to an arrest, the tipster is eligible to receive a reward up to $1,000.00.

LA Times: 'Jeffrey Gundlach's stolen art collection is recovered'

The Los Angeles Times sent out a 'breaking news' email at 5:59 p.m. on September 27:
Recovered art work by Philip Guston (1950)
Star bond trader Jeffrey Gundlach said his $10-million collection of art, which was stolen this month, has been recovered safely. 
Two suspects have been arrested by Santa Monica police, he said.  Gundlach had offered a near-record $1.7-million reward for the collection's safe return. 
Joe Bel Bruno for the LA Times reports that Gunlach said that 'at least one of the paintings [the Mondrian] was in the midst of being sold" and that his Porsche is still missing. 

Sam Ro for Business Insider reports that Gundlach released a statement thanking Detective David Haro and the Santa Monica Police Department for "their skillful, tireless and respectful attention to apprehending the criminals and recovering all of the artwork stolen."

September 25, 2012

Santa Monica Art Collector offers Million Dollar Reward for Stolen Mondrian plus $500,000 for other paintings

Composition (A) En Rouge Et Blanc
by Piet Mondrian
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Santa Monica is a liberal seaside town -- once nicknamed 'The Republic of Santa Monica' -- offering access to beach and upscale amenities just 30 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.  This community of rent controlled apartments (located south) and multi-million dollar homes (located north) around Montana Avenue attracts homeless people to the parks and families to the good public schools.  Last year James "Whitey" Bulgar, Boston's notorious Irish mobster and one of the FBI's most wanted criminals for almost two decades was found in a rent-controlled apartment just blocks up from the busy retail district known as The Third Street Promenade.  Now one of Santa Monica's residents, a wealthy art collector and bond trader, has offered a substantial reward, including $1,000,000 for the return of his painting by Piet Mondrian, for art stolen from his home in September.

Jeffrey Gundlach, founder of the investment firm DoubleLine Capital, held a press conference September 24 to offer a $1.7 million reward for the fine art paintings and other objects taken in a burglary now being investigated by Santa Monica police ("Reward offered by L. A. bond guru adds to intrigue over art theft", Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2012).

"Green Target" by Jasper Johns
Gundlach is offering $1 million for the "undamaged return" (or information leading to) of a picture by Piet MOndrian and another $500,000 for the "successful return undamaged" of "Green Target" by Jasper Johns and two box constructions by Joseph Cornell  ("Bond trader offers $1.7-million reward for stolen art collection"LA Now, Los Angeles Times).  At the brief press conference, Gundlach said "no comment" regarding questions about whether or not the 13 pieces of fine art were insured and or any  details about the burglary or the investigation.  In this article, the LA Times showed images and identification provided by the owner of ten of the 13 stolen artworks: "The Cathedral Tours", 1916, by Guy Rose; "Glory of Autumn", 1930, a California landscape by William Wendt; "Untitled", 1958, abstract by Franz Kline; "Number 14," 1949, by Bradley Walker Tomlin; "The Desert Ramparts", 1920, an oil painting by Hanson Duvall Puthuff; "Green Target", 1956, by Jasper Johns; "Composition (A) En Rouge Et Blanc", 1936, by Piet Mondrian; "Medici Boy", 1946, a wood box construction by Joseph Cornell; and "Painting", 1950, by Philip Guston.

Here's a link to the online Santa Monica Patch which also identifies stolen paintings by Frank Stella and Cy Twombly. 

According to a September 19 press release issued by the Santa Monica Police Department:
On September 14, 2012, officers responded to a residence located in the 500 block of 12th Street on the report of a residential burglary that had occurred sometime between September 12th at 3 p.m. and September 14th at 8 p.m. 
"Cathedral Tours" by Guy Rose, 1916
The victim had just returned home from a trip and discovered that his residence had been burglarized.  Numerous high-end paintings and two wooden box art pieces had been stolen from various rooms throughout the home.  Also stolen was the victim's 2010 red Porsche Carrera 4S, which was parked in the garage, several expensive watches, wine and a small amount of U. S. currency. The estimated loss at this time is believed to be in excess of 10 million dollars.  Preliminarily, the the estimated loss is between 20 and 39 million dollars.
Here's a link to the images of the items reported stolen; Sergeant Richard Lewis is the contact person for the police department (richard.lewis@smgov.net).  Although the LA Times (in the above referenced article) names stolen art work as by Jasper Johns, Piet Mondrian and Richard Diebenkorn, the Santa Monica Police department does not identify the artwork by title or artist.  A search through the FBI's National Stolen Art File Search did not show any stolen paintings by either of the three artists.

Here's a link to a 12-minute video discussion between the Los Angeles Times business section journalist and former FBI agent Robert K. Whittman (.  Business reporter Stuart Pfeiffer asks Whittman if it is more likely that the only 'buyers' the art thieves will find for the stolen fine art are undercover law enforcement.

September 23, 2012

Egypt Exploration Society's 'Webinar' September 29 to discuss the issues of the (legal) antiquities trade and Egyptology

The Egypt Exploration Society (EES) welcomes participation in its September 29 'webinar' discussion, led by panellists including David Gill (of 'Looting Matters') and Marcel Maree (of the British Museum) on the issues of the (legal) antiquities trade and Egyptology.

The panellists will include: Prof. David Gill, Professor of Archaeological Heritage at University Campus, Suffolk, and author of influential blog Looting Matters; Madeleine Perridge, Head of the Department of Antiquities at Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers; Marcel Maree, Assistant Keeper in the Dept of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum; Heba Abd el-Gawad, PhD Student in Egyptology, University of Durham, and recipient of an EES Centenary Award in 2012.

The details of the event can be found here: http://ees.ac.uk/events/index/172.html.

September 18, 2012

Private insurer offers up to $50,000 reward for information leading to the return of a Renoir painting stolen from a Texas residence last year; FBI adds "Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair" to Top 10 Art Crimes

Today the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a press release adding a stolen Renoir painting, "Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair", to its list of Top 10 Art Crimes and advertising a reward for up to $50,000 to be paid by a private insurer for information leading to the picture's recovery. The 1918 painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir was stolen on September 8, 2011. According to the FBI:
The homeowner was watching television when she heard a loud noise downstairs. When she went to investigate, she was confronted by an armed man in a ski mask. ...The painting was taken with its frame intact from the stairwell where it hung. The masked robber, who forced entry through the back door of the home, is described as a white male, 18 to 26 years old, who weighs about 160 pounds and is approximately 5’-10” tall. He was armed with a large-caliber, semi-automatic handgun.
According to Anita Hassan reporting for The Houston Chronicle, the thief entered the home and demanded money and diamonds but the owner, protective of her sleeping son upstairs, offered her painting by Renoir as the most valuable monetary asset available.

The original reward was announced at $25,000, according to information released by The Art Loss Register who reported that the Houston Police Department and the FBI were working on the investigation. The FBI estimates that the stolen painting is worth $1 million. The private insurer is not identified. The painting's image has also been included in databases for The Art Loss Register (accessible for a fee) and Interpol (free access to registered users).

Stolen Renoir paintings

In addition to the Texan "Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow", Interpol's Stolen Art Database identifies 18 Renoir paintings as stolen and still missing since 1938.  The paintings have been stolen from places in Switzerland, France, Argentina, Germany, the United States, Japan, and Italy.

In mid-June 2012, $21 million worth of artwork, including a painting by Renoir and ten drawings by Picasso, were stolen from a businessman in a violent assault in Olomouc in the Czech Republic.

Recovered Renoir paintings

A Renoir stolen from Rome in 1984 re-appeared in Venice in 2009 just months after another Renoir painting stolen from Milan 33 years earlier had also been recovered.

An international law enforcement operation recovered Renoir's "Young Parisian" in Los Angeles and Rembrandt's "Self Portrait" in Copenhagen in 2005.  The two pictures, along with another Renoir, were stolen from the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm in 2000 when thieves used machine guns, tire spikes, and diversionary car bombs to penetrate the museum's security. Stockholm County Police had recovered Renoir's "Conversation" four years earlier in July of 2001.

September 16, 2012

Movies "The Maiden Heist" and "St. Trinian's" offer fun comic twists on the art heist caper

Worcester Art Museum's Renaissance Court (WAM)
by Catherine Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

In Southern California from where I edit this blog, the hot weather here is a great time for cleaning out offices and watching art crime movies.  Here's this week's picks:

The Maiden Heist (2009, now on DVD) tells of how three bland security guards (played with dry humor by Morgan Freedman, Christopher Walken, William H. Macy) steal their favorite works of art which have been targeted to move from Boston to Denmark.  The art works featured were created for the movie.  The Maiden Heist is a love story about the personal magnatism of art and its ability to transform our lives by love as shown in the movie's subplot (Marcia Gay Harden plays the wife of Christopher Walken, a hardworking beautician with dreams of a warmer climate).  This heist movie was partially filmed at Massachusetts' Worcester Art Museum.  In December 2007 the Worcester Art Museum "allowed movie makers to transform its Renaissance Court and galleries into a set for the $20 million feature film The Maiden Heist" (ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore and journalist Tom Mashberg in their book Stealing Rembrandts (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Forty years ago, on Wednesday, May 17, 1972, two men hired by Florian "Al" Monday entered the Worcester Art Museum late in the afternoon and removed four paintings from the walls 'in such a methodical manner' that museum 'visitors assumed the thieves were museum employees doing their jobs' (Stealing Rembrandts, page 42).   Then the two thieves 'remembered to pull down the blue-and-orange ski masks' (SR), placed the selected paintings into sacks, and walked to the main entrance of the museum.  Unfortunately, museum guard Philip J. Evans grabbed one of the thieves and was shot.  The four paintings (Gauguin's Brooding Woman and Head of a Woman, Picasso's Mother and Child, Rembrandt's St. Bartholomew) were later recovered.

The DVD for The Maiden Heist showed a trailer for St. Trinian's, a comedy about free-spirited girls who save their boarding school from bankruptcy.  Under the tutelage of a criminal played by Russell Brand, the students concoct a plan to steal Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring from the National Gallery in London (this painting is owned by the Mauritshuis in The Hague). The caper involves blowing up sewer gates, high wire climbing, and dancing through security beams. A copy of Vermeer's painting is sold on the 'black' market and the original is found by a couple of St. Trinian's schoolgirls.

Both movies can be viewed by middle-school and high-school students.

Other paintings of St. Bartholomew by Rembrandt can be found at the Timken Museum of Art in San Diego's Balboa Park and Los Angeles' Getty Center.

September 13, 2012

Documentarian Brent Huffman Warns of Dangerous Precedent Being Set in Afghanistan if Mes Aynak is destroyed in ordered to mine copper

Brent Huffman filming one of the temples
set for destruction (Frank Petrella) 
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Documentary filmmaker Brent E. Huffman will return to Mes Aynak this December for what some archaeologists call the ‘funeral’ of the ancient site which will be cratered to extract copper (valued at over 100 billion dollars) underground, potentially setting a dangerous precedent for other ancient sites on top of gold, copper, oil and coal mines in Afghanistan.

“My documentary finishes in December which feels like the definitive end to the site,” Huffman said. “I started out with the goal of capturing what is there and to record the difficult process of salvaging objects. But I have come to hope that maybe I can help raise awareness to actually save Mes Aynak, or at least postpone its destruction.”

Huffman and German Camera Productions initially set out to record the Buddhist monasteries and stupas in “the red zone” of this ancient city before a Chinese state-owned company, China Mettalurgical  Group Corporation, (MCC) begins work on a 30-year lease (for which they paid $3 billion) to extract copper by demolishing the entire mountain range.


Abdul Qadeer Temore, lead Afghan archaeologist, working
on the large standing Buddhas. (Brent Huffman)
“My fear is that Mes Aynak will be a precedent and that every site with gold, copper, oil or iron underneath will also be dealt with by this same standard. This is what happens to cultural heritage. This Bronze Age site will be gone when the mountain range is destroyed and all the Afghans will be left with is a toxic crater that will pollute the river and the environment. The future of Afghanistan will be a rush job of leaving polluted craters that will destroy the environment and the cultural heritage.”


The December deadline to end rescue archaeological efforts is pretty firm, according to Mr. Huffman’s discussions with the Afghan Ministry of Culture and the U. S. Embassy. “But the big question is are the Chinese ready to start mining?”

The Mes Anyak archaeological site was rediscovered in the 1960s. Researchers now believe the site not only provides artifacts from the 1st through the 5th centuries but also going back to the Bronze Age. The 400,000 square meter site was never fully excavated or protected from looting during the decades of almost continuous fighting in Afghanistan.

A head sculpted in the Gandhara style. (Brent Huffman)
“Archaeologists are frantically performing rescue archaeology which is pretty destructive. Like looting, much of the context gets lost as archaeologists rush to salvage moveable objects,” Huffman said, explaining that DAFA, the French archaeological delegation, and Afghan archaeologists have worked intermittently over the past two years through harsh weather and dangerous war-zone conditions at this former Al Qaeda training camp.

“My understanding is that archaeologists were given three years to complete a project that should take up to 30 years,” Huffman said. “The area is so dangerous. Last summer a worker uncovered a land mind which blew up in his face.”

“This is an important project to a small group of Afghan archaeologists who have worked at the site for the past two years,” Huffman said. “International archaeologists have visited the site in an advisory capacity but the accessibility has been limited by ongoing military conflict.”

Local people from Logar province have been involved in the digging and the unearthing structures, according to Huffman.

Afghan archaeologists work with crude tools and often protection of the artifacts is limited to coverings by plastic tarps and wooden crates.

“Afghanistan is the Wild West with so much corruption,” Huffman said. “What I don’t like about the argument of mining ‘responsibly’ and ‘preserving’ cultural sites is that in the end it won’t be good for Afghanistan. The money will be lost in corruption, the high-level jobs will go to the Chinese, and the locals will get the low paid slave labor jobs. Plus, the toxins left over from mining will be in the ground permanently. Advocates for Mes Aynak have tried to get cooperation between the mining and cultural preservation but it doesn’t seem that anyone involved sees any value in the Mes Aynak site.” 

A Buddhist stupa from Mes Aynak (Huffman)
“The US Military will be pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2014 which is not good,” Huffman said. “The World Bank has put in a lot of money to support the mining yet there’s a shortage of funds to support the archaeological work. For example, the Czech Republic promised $5,000 to the Afghan team for computers and digital cameras but I was told that the money was stopped from coming through.”

Huffman plans to return to Mes Aynak in December. “In October there will be some 3-D reconstruction work and I will send someone to film that if I can’t go. I will be there in December for what the archaeologists call the ‘funeral’ and I hope we can stop it from happening. There is something so disrespectful about blowing up the site. It’s troubling to have no reverence for the past as if someone is looting your grandparents’ cemetery.”

“In Mes Aynak, the silence gives me a sense of connection to the past,” Huffman said. “My mind floods with what life was like in this vibrant city. Recklessly destroying it is like erasing history.”

“The resilience of this site amazes me,” Huffman said. “It has been through so much as a major hub on the Silk Road. The murals and statues are so fragile and yet they have survived harsh winters, floods and snow and fighting amidst land mines and rocket attacks. Yet Mes Aynak still manages to survive and pull people in who fall in love with it and want to save it.”

“Most Afghans don’t know that this is happening because there’s been no coverage in the local media,” Huffman said. “Americans think of Afghanistan is terrorists or victims or terrorism but it’s not that – Afghans are warm, friendly and open-minded people. The Buddhist sites are a testimony to Afghanistan’s past. The Taliban are an external force that destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan and now the Chinese mining company will do the same thing at Mes Aynak. Afghans need someone like UNESCO to push back against these money deals that don’t care about cultural heritage, but this is not happening today.”

Here's a link to the petition to President Hamid Karzai to prevent the destruction of the archaeological site Mes Aynak and a relevant Facebook page, The Buddhas of Aynak.

Here's a link to the article Huffman wrote for the Asia Society on this subject.

September 11, 2012

Mess Aynak's archaeological wealth from the Bronze Age to ancient Buddhists threatened by excavation of world's second largest copper deposit

An Afghan archaeologist examines
 a Buddha in Mes Aynak (Penn Museum)
by Catherine Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor

What are Buddhas doing in Islamic Afghanistan?

In addition to the gigantic Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, another Buddhist site, Mes Aynak, in Afghanistan is being threatened by the country's desire to improve its economy by extracting natural resources.

Archaeologist believe Afghanistan may have been farmed by humans for as long as 50,000 years. Today's war-torn Afghanistan, with commercial centers and an art culture dating back to the Bronze Age, was controlled by numerous empires and dynasties -- Aryans and the Medes, Achaemenid invasion and Zoroastrianism, Greco-Bactrian rule, Maurya Empire, Sassanid Empire, and the Shahi dynasty. Darius the Great marched his Persian army into the region in 500 BC, almost two centuries before Alexander the Great defeated Darius III. The inhabitants of the area traditionally practiced Hinduism then Buddhism when it became part of the Kushan Empire in the first century.

Located 18 miles south of Kabul, the ancient site of Mess Aynak was rediscovered in the mid-20th century. Now archaeologists have less than four months to extract artifacts from Mes Aynak before a Chinese company begins mining the world's second largest copper deposit.

The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH International) explains in a video the cultural importance of the monasteries and fortifications of Mess Aynak and the other pottery and jewelry found at this 5,000 site. The organization asks that responsible mining methods be used to help preserve the most important archaeological sites.

Here in a CNN video, documentary filmmaker Brent E. Huffman also shows the archaeological digs at Mes Aynak which will be closed in December. According to Mr. Huffman, it would take 30-35 years to properly excavate this site.

A petition to President Hamid Karzai requests the preservation of the ancient site of Mes Aynak. Here's a link to the petition.

Another petition sponsored by the Association for Protection of Afghan Archaeology (APAA) with more than 13,000 signatures asks UNESCO to include Mess Aynak, Afghanistan, on the Endangered Sites and the World Heritage List.

Afghanistan ratified UNESCO's 1970 Convention in 1979.  Two cultural sites are listed on the World Heritage List: Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley (2003) and Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (2002).

Here's a link to the Penn Museum blog with a post about Mess Aynak.

September 9, 2012

Postcard from LA: Street Art at La Brea-Beverly amongst chic fashions and Hasidic Jews

Street art tucked away in corner of car wash at La Brea and Beverly in Los Angeles.
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog editor-in-chief

Graffiti and street art can be found in the Los Angeles neighborhood around the intersection of La Brea and Beverly Boulevard of expensive beauty salons and clothing boutiques amongst a community of Hasidic Jews.

Yesterday a gas station and car wash displayed a rumored Banksy work that has been covered up for years.  When I took a few photos with my phone camera, a worker told me, "Ten dollars for a photo." I laughed and he didn't push the point.

Another artwork reputedly by Banksy boarded up is proposed for an auction sale according to one consultant.

Boarded up Banksy may be sold at auction


For your fun, here are a few photos of designs visible on September 6, 2012.

"SMILE YOUR BEAUTIFUL" by WhIsBe posted on a utility box in front of a sidewalk portrait.

Art pasted on utility box

Sidewalk portrait


September 7, 2012

ARCA Opens Application for 2013 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

View of the civic tower from the garden of Palazzo Farrattini
The official application period for ARCA's 2013 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection has opened.

The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) 2013 Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies will be held from May 31 through August 12, 2013 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy.

This interdisciplinary program offers substantive study for art police and security professionals, lawyers, insurers, curators, conservators, members of the art trade, and post-graduate students of criminology, law, security studies, sociology, art history, archaeology, and history.

In its fifth year, this academically intensive ten week program provides in-depth, postgraduate level instruction in a wide variety of theoretical and practical elements of art and heritage crime. Students will explore its history, its nature, its impact, and what is currently being done to mitigate it. Students completing the program earn a postgraduate certificate under the guidance of internationally renowned cultural property protection professionals.

This program will expose participants to an integrated curriculum which occurs in a highly interactive, participatory, student-centered setting. Instructional modules include both lectures and “hands-on” learning from case studies, in situ field classes and group discussions. At the end of the program, participants will have a solid mastery of a broad array of concepts pertaining to cultural property protection, preservation, conservation, and security.

Students explore such topics as: art crime and its history; art and heritage law criminology; art crime in war; the art trade; art insurance; art security; law enforcement methods; archaeological looting and policy; cultural security; and art forgery.

At the close of the 10 week lecture portion of the program each candidate must complete a considerable piece of written work demonstrating original and significant research. ARCA assigns a supervisor to oversee the research. The supervisor provides final approval of a finished paper, which should be of publishable quality. After completion of all program coursework and the final paper a student is awarded ARCA’s postgraduate certificate in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

Important Dates:

November 15, 2012 - Early Application Deadline
January 15, 2013 - Application Deadline
April 2013 - Advance Reading Assigned
May 30, 2013 - Students Arrive in Amelia
May 31, 2013 - Welcome and Orientation June 01, 2012
June 3, 2013 - Classes Begin
June 21-23, 2013 - ARCA Annual Conference
August 9, 2013 - Classes End
August 10-11, 2013 - Students Housing Check-out **
Nov. 15, 2013 - Research Paper Submission Deadline

**Some students stay a few days longer to participate in the August Palio dei Colombi, Notte Bianca and Ferragosto festivities.

For questions about programming, costs, and census availability, please write to us for a complete prospectus and application at: education@artcrimeresearch.org.

September 4, 2012

40th anniversary of Canada's biggest art theft quietly passes

This painting by Rembrandt was stolen from
the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
 in 1972 and remains missing. 
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor

Forty years ago today three men robbed the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts -- they have never been caught and 17 of the paintings have never been found.

When three men stole 18 paintings by such well-known artists as Rembrandt, Corot, Courbet, Breughel and Millet from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on September 4, 1972 it was the largest art theft in North America.  The thieves have never been arrested for this art heist and the pictures remain missing but it was not the perfect crime.  The setting off of an old security alarm scared the thieves off and prevented them from stealing more art.  And the attempt to ransom back the loot, which also included 39 pieces of jewelry and decorative art, failed.

One of the difficulties of describing the robbery of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1972 is that the police do not show the crime's files to journalists or researchers since the case remains open.  Luana Parker's reporting after the heist for The [Montreal] Gazette under the headline "Art worth $2 million stolen from museum" provided the foundation for much of information about the thieves' physical description and how they stole the paintings and 39 pieces of jewelry and decorative art. Her work is footnoted in an academic article on this subject published in the Spring 2011 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Five years ago, retired journalist Bill Bantey, the museum's director of public relations and the first official alerted to the art heist, wrote an article about the theft. In 2009, I met with Mr. Bantey and retired Montreal police officer Alain Lacoursière to piece together information about the theft.  Mr. Lacoursière discussed information he recalled from working on the case in the 1990s while investigating art crime.

Here's a synopsis of my version of the art heist nicknamed "The Skylight Caper" (by columnist L. Ian MacDonald writing "Montreal this morning" for The Gazette in 1975):

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was robbed in the early hours of Labor Day on September 5, 1972. The city had plenty of distractions that weekend. On Friday night, three men set fire to the Blue Bird Café and Wagon Wheel killing 37 people of the 200 trapped on the supper floor of the country western bar.  On Saturday night, Canada's national hockey team lost 7-3 to the "amateur" team from the Soviet Union which stunned overly confidant fans.  Sunday's newspapers were filled with stories about the victims from Montreal's fatal fire, otherwise Montreal residents were looking forward to a rematch against the Russians in Toronto the next day and marking the end of a summer exposition with fireworks.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the city's most prestigious art gallery was expecting a quiet weekend. The museum's director, its head of security, and even the president of the Board of Trustees were on vacation in Mexico and the United States. The 60-year-old building housing the art collection, created through donations from some of Canada's wealthiest residents, had a skylight under repair and was scheduled to be closed for a major renovation.

Early Monday morning a man wearing "picks" on his boots (similar to equipment worn by telephone and utility repair personnel) scaled a tree outside of the building on Sherbrooke Street to reach the roof. He found a construction ladder, slipped it down to the ground for two more men to join him on top of the museum building.  The three men walked over to the skylight under construction and opened it up. A plastic tarp laid down by the construction crew had de-activated the skylight's alarm. The thieves, who had a 12-pump shotgun and a .38 Smith and Wesson handgun, slid down nylon ropes at about 1.30 a.m. They ordered a security guard to lie down on the floor, when he did not move quickly enough, two shots were fired into the ceiling. Two more guards arrived and the thieves tied up the three guards.  While one man watched the security guards, the other two men gathered up paintings, jewelry and other valuable portable objects.  Luana Parker cites this description of the thieves from the police report:
They said they saw two long-haired men, about five feet, six inches tall, and wearing ski hoods and sports clothes.  One spoke French, the other English.  But they heard another French voice of a man they never saw.
The thieves planned to escape in a museum panel truck parked in the garage.  However, one of the thieves "tripped the side-entry alarm on his way out with the first load, the men ran out, taking what they could" (Parker).

While Parker reported that the thieves "escaped in a panel truck", Alain Lacoursière told me that the thieves ran out of the building, carrying only half of the paintings that they had selected.

Bill Bantey, the senior museum official on duty that weekend, received a phone call from the head security guard about an hour after the thieves had escaped.  He told the security guard to call the police, and then Bantey went down to the museum in the early morning hours.  Ruth Jackson, a long-time museum curator, also arrived at the museum, now a crime scene, and would describe later what she saw:
There was a sea of broken frames and backings, and smashed showcases.  Upstairs in the room where the major theft took place, it was just devastation.  They'd cleaned it out completely. 
For the second pile, they'd gone around selecting from various rooms.  I shudder when I think what might have been if they hadn't opened that door ... With what they'd proposed to remove, if they'd been undisturbed -- it was just like they meant a general clear out of the museum.
Mr. Bantey organized a press conference a few hours later and released information about the stolen paintings.  Only one painting was recovered a few months later.

You can read more about the theft on my blog here and see images of the stolen paintings.