December 14, 2013

Christie's New York Auction of "Antiquities" withdraws "Symes Pan" from sale: Christos Tsirogiannis says that in due course more information will be found about The Medici Pan, the Hermes-Thoth, and the Symes Pan

"Hermes-Thoth" marble once passed
through the hands of Robin Symes
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCAblog Editor-in-Chief

As reported by Professor David Gill on his blog Looting Matters, Christie's New York auction house withdrew the "Symes Pan" identified by Cambridge's Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis from the Schinousa archive. Dr. Gill wrote in an email to the ARCAblog after conclusion of the three-hour "Antiquities" sale at Rockefeller Plaza today:
Buyers of antiquities are rightly concerned about buying objects that can be identified from the seized photographic archives such as the Medici Dossier and the Schinousa images that related to Robin Symes. Institutional reputation is also a factor and auction houses are wanting to distance themselves from any perception of endorsement of the illicit trade in antiquities.
The ARCAblog asked Dr. Tsirogiannis for his perspective on Sotheby's withdrawal of The Medici Pan; the sale of the Symes/Schinousa Hermes-Thoth marble by Sotheby's yesterday; and Christie's decision to not auction the Symes Pan):
The Medici Pan withdrawn by Sotheby's
The Medici Pan in Sotheby's seems to be a totally different case; it appears to lack any collecting history before 1975 and Sotheby's may have to explain when this antiquity passed through the hands of Medici and why Sotheby's did not refer to Medici as part of the collecting history of the object. I am sure that soon we will find out more interesting things about the case of The Medici Pan. 
Although the Hermes-Thoth head was sold with a collecting history before 1970, it is yet to be proved if it is still protected by any bilateral agreements between the US and other countries or breaks any national legislation. One question that Sotheby's may have to answer is when did the object pass through the hands of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides.
Symes Pan withdrawn by Christie's
Regarding the Christie's Pan (lot 114), Christie's may have to answer why they withdrew the antiquity if it has a documented collecting history before 1970 (at least since 1968)? 
I am sure that in due course, more information will be found and will become available regarding these three cases.
The ARCAblog asked the opinion of Fabio Isman -- an Italian investigative journalist who has covered the illegal antiquities market for decades -- of how antiquities are sold in New York City with so little information about where they came from and how they got to the auction houses:
As usual, the auction houses don't quite care about the past. Important, for them, is only money. I think they are not very ethical. And, at the end, after Christos Tsirogiannis pointed out a few objects he recognized, they decided to withdraw two main objects: which was the minimum they could do.
Signore Isman, the author of "Pezzi di Medici e Symes: all'asta: fino a quando?" in the Italian Artemagazine, writes of "The Great Raid" in Italy since 1970 of the illegal excavation of 'at least one a half million artifacts' (Princeton University) that have been sold on the lucrative international market. Isman points out that of the 85 archaeological finds scheduled to be sold at Sotheby's in New York on December 12, that Christos Tsirogiannis, a Greek archaeologist working in England at Cambridge University, has identified two lots 'that are not new for anyone who has dealt with the Great Raid in Italy, from 1970 onwards.' 

Isman writes that Tsirogiannis identified a marble "Hermes-Thoth" from a photograph in the Schinousa archive, a group of photographs recovered by Greek police of objects Robin Symes and his partner Christos Michaelides sold through their gallery headquartered in London. Isman writes that according to Tsirogiannis Sotheby's acknowledges the connection to Symes but points to a private English collection as the source. Tsirogiannis also identified the Greek terracotta pan, withdrawn today from auction by Christies, from the Symes' photographic archives from the Greek island of Schiousa from where Symes and Michaelides conducted business away from the office. Christies listed the Merrin Gallery and a private New York collector as "provenance". Isman writes that Italian investigators have suspected the Merrin Gallery of conducting business with Gianfranco Becchina and Robert Hecht, art dealers allegedly transacting with Medici.  

Isman writes that the third object recognized by Tsirogiannis from one of the polaroids found in Medici's Geneva freeport warehouse is associated with the "Hydra Galerie", opened in Geneva by Medici, under a false name, in 1983.

At the end of this article, Fabio Isman laments the absence of Paolo Giorgio Ferri from the Cultural Heritage Ministry where he served two years before he returned to the Ministry of Justice -- in the past Ferri would have been the one protesting on behalf of the Italian government against the auction of these suspected artifacts.

  

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