Showing posts with label Edward Merrin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edward Merrin. Show all posts

July 2, 2019

Auction Alert - Bonhams Auction House - An il(licit) Apulian red-figure janiform kantharos?

Screenshot of Bonham's website captured 01 July 2019
On July 01, 2019 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified a new potentially tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Bonhams auction house in London at its flagship London saleroom on New Bond Street on July 3, 2019.  This ancient Greek drinking vessel, has two faces looking in opposite directions, one of a satyr and one of a woman and has been identified as traceable to a document and photo within the confiscated Becchina archive and to two showroom photos found within the Symes-Michaelides archives.  

Since 2007 Dr. Tsirogiannis, a UK-based Greek forensic archaeologist and lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has worked to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the archives of individuals known to be involved in the illicit trade of antiquities. Tsirogiannis is also the incoming Associate Professor and an AIAS-COFUND Junior Research Fellow (2019-2022) at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Aarhus.
  

Screenshot of Bonham's website captured 01 July 2019
Vases made by the Iliupersis Painter's workshop were the forerunners to the later Apulian polychrome head vases that were produced throughout the second half of the fourth century before Christ in what is now Italy.  Yet a screenshot of the provenance/collection history listed by Bonham's is scarce and tells nothing about the vessel's discovery or its passage out of Italy.  In fact the auction house's collection history only goes back to 1991 when it appeared as Lot 161 in a Sotheby's New York auction via an anonymous seller on the 18th of June.  This and the mention of Merrin Gallery and an unnamed private collector are all the potential buyer has to go on.   No information is listed on the auction house's website regarding the ancient object's exportation from its country of origin or any checks possibly made with the Italian Carabinieri to ensure this object is not part of the Italian's known databases of suspect objects. 

Becchina Archive Image
According to records reviewed by Tsirogiannis, a handwritten note in the Becchina archive, possibly written by Gianfranco Becchina himself, makes mention of a ‘janiform’ purchase along with other antiquities acquired via middleman Raffaele Monticelli.  The purchase price listed is 60,000 Italian lire and the sale appears to have occurred on March 5, 1988.  All the antiquities listed in this purchase acquisition from Monticelli total 290,000 Italian lire, with the kantharos being the most expensive ancient object in the transaction.

Raffaele Monticelli's role in the illicit antiquities trade is concretised in the now famous illicit trafficking organogram which mentions key individuals associated with Italy's largest known trafficking group.  He was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to four years imprisonment at the Foggia Tribunal for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities  His conviction occurred a little more than a decade after the kantharos appears to have surfaced in the US market in 1991.  

A retired elementary teacher, who gave up teaching for the more lucrative roll of middleman dealer, Raffaele Monticelli is a name well known to the Italian Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Command of the Cosenza and Bari nuclei.  His most recent arrest occurred in 2017 in connection with clandestine excavations of archaeological sites in the Crotone area. At the time of the more recent 2014-2017 investigation, Monticelli's residence was searched and illicitly excavated objects were seized, including some ancient terracotta figurines and a biansata kylix of Greek origin. This new event shows that the trafficker continued to violate Italian law despite prior arrests and convictions well into his golden years.

But returning to the past and to the Bonhams kantharos currently set for sale later this week.

On the trafficking organogram Monticelli is listed just above the territories where he plied his trade: the regions of Puglia, Calabria, Campania, and Sicilia.  This illustrates that he was active in the region where this kantharos was likely produced.  The organogram also specifies that Monticelli was an important part of the Southern Italy cordata which lead upwards to Robert (Bob) Hecht via Gianfranco Becchina and downward to Aldo Belleza.

This connection is further confirmed by testimony given by Frédérique Marie Nussberger-Tchacos, after her arrest in Cyprus in 2002. Tchacos, who also goes by the name Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos, as well as by Frida Tchacos Nussberger, once oversaw the now liquidated Galerie Nefer AG and was once a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA).  Speaking to Italian Prosecutor Paolo Giorgo Ferri, who issued the international arrest warrant for Tchacos and initiated the legal process for her extradition to Italy, Tchacos is quoted as having said:

Becchina Archive Photo.
“a precise triangle” referring to Bob Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina, and Raffaele Monticelli.  She further stated that Monticelli supplied “everything that could be found in the south of Italy; I think Apulian [vases], I think terracottas, I think bronzes. . . .” all of which turned out to be factually true.  Becchina's wife Ursula also affirmed that her husband obtained material from Monticelli.

Monticelli's relationship with Gianfranco Becchina was a lengthy and profitable one.   

Among the 140 folders seized in 2001 from Gianfranco Becchina, there were many suppliers, some of whom were middleman and traffickers in direct contact with those who excavated clandestinely, as well as some tombaroli who communicated directly with the Sicilian dealer.  Becchina's confiscated records contain four folders cataloging his transactions with Monticelli, many of which contain long lists of objects as well as some Polaroids such as the one depicted to the right, from which Tsirogiannis made his matching identification.

This photo depicts the kantharos unrestored, with a large chip in the rim and still covered with incrustations.  It appears to be standing on a wooden shelf in front of a barren concrete wall, possibly at Becchina's warehouse in Basel, or perhaps in a restorer's laboratory and in its entirety also depicts additional objects which have yet to be identified and may be in circulation on the market.

At some period after the object's restoration two photos of the kantharos are taken.  These are found in the Symes-Michaelides archive.  The photos showing the front and back of the object post restoration, and in keeping with the state of conservation found in the Bonhams auction photos as illustrated below.

Top Left & Bottom Left: Bonhams Photos
Top Right & Bottom Right: Symes-Michaelides archive Photos 
As is often the case with objects originating from these known dealers and middlemen one is curious as to the extent of the documentation, if any, was used by Bonhams to evaluate whether or not this particular ancient object had legitimacy on the ancient art market.

During past criminal proceedings then prosecutor Ferri spoke of the Becchina-Merrin relationship believing their involvement could possibly be part of a broader conspiracy to traffic in artifacts that involved the Americans then on trial.  As evidence lending credibility to his statement, a 1993 fax within the Becchina dossier from the Merrin Gallery to Becchina requests that photos of artifacts sent by the disgraced dealer to the Manhattan firm, used to show to potential customers, not be marked with "BEC."  In addition to that other artifacts which have been repatriated to Italy after being tied to Becchina also on occasion passed through the hands via this Manhattan gallery.  Some, later deemed illicit, were sold to various U.S. museums, including the J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles.

Shouldn't the lack of any known provenance before 1991, coupled with the name Merrin Galleries drawn some amount of cautious attention?  Curiosity?  Additional due diligence?

In my own curious searches in completion of this blog post, I asked Tsirogiannis at 07:52 this morning to look for the following object sold by Christie's auction house on June 4, 2008 in the confiscated archives.



This Apulian red-figure Lekanis, drew my attention for its equally spartan collection history but more importantly for the fact that it appears to be by the same workshop, that of the Iliupersis Painter and was aparently sold during a very active period with this particular trafficking band.

By 11:37 Tsirogiannis had found and I have confirmed, what appears to be a second matching object within the Becchina dossier, albeit the Christie's photo shows some overpainting. My impression that the red-figure Lekanis didn't pass the sniff test proved accurate.  According to Tsirogiannis' review, this antiquity comes from the same group of objects that Becchina bought from Monticelli on, you guessed it March 5, 1988!

Could this come from the same find spot?  Could Merrin have bought more of these objects from Becchina?


Let's hope that both auction houses will look into the records of the dealers consignors and purchasers affiliated with these objects.  While the Lekanis has long since been sold, it should be traceable to the current purchaser.  The second should be withdrawn from the London auction to allow the Italian and British authorities sufficient time to conduct a thorough investigation.

NB:  All Identifications have been submitted to the appropriate legal authorities.

By:  Lynda Albertson


January 25, 2018

January 24, 2018: New seizure at the residence of New York Collector Michael Steinhardt

A little more than two weeks ago, following a second set of seizures at the residence and office of Michael Steinhardt in New York City, ARCA wrote a blog post outlining other antiquities from the billionaire's private collection that have raised concerns with illicit trafficking researchers.  

One of those objects was this marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture from Sardinia. 

Image Credit: 
Manhattan district attorney's office
This idol was seized on January 24, 2018 during the execution of a new search warrant carried out by law enforcement authorities working with the Manhattan District Attorney and HSI.  The artifact was removed from Steinhardt's New York City residence.


Image Credit:  ARCA Screen Capture 
Tsirogiannis had matched the antiquity online via Christie's web version of its sale catalog to a photo contained in the confiscated archives of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.  Having made the ID, Tsirogiannis emailed his concerns to US Federal law enforcement and Italian law enforcement authorities working towards eventual repatriation should Italy file a claim.  Additionally he notified ARCA, in hopes of drawing further attention to potentially trafficked pieces that often resurface on the licit market but which omit passages through the hands of known dealers involved in the sale of illicit objects.

The sales catalog for the Christies auction is stored online here, although the photo of the idol has subsequently been removed from the object's accompanying Lot description.  Of note is the addition of a brief entry into the "Cataloguing & details" section of the listing, which states only that the object was withdrawn from the sale.

The artifact above matches perfectly with the image below which Tsirogiannis located in the dealer's archive.   In the art dealer's records the statuette appeared atop a turquoise background and broken in multiple pieces, prior to the object's subsequent restoration.

Image of the Sardinian idol
from the Medici
archive 
Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt in 1997, the Ozieri Culture idol, also known as the Turriga Mother Goddess figure, passed through Harmon Fine Arts and the Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of Leonard Norman Stern, the object had been displayed, but not photographed, in a 1990 "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 when the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction, it apparently was sent back to Steinhardt, where it was later re-identified as still being part of Steinhardt's collection when officers searched his New York City home on January 5, 2018 pursuant to an earlier search warrant.

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 7, 2018

More on the Manhattan billionaire Michael Steinhardt's whose private collection now faces further seizures


As mentioned previously in ARCA blog posts, Michael Steinhardt has a longstanding record of making astute financial decisions, many of which have led to stellar investment performance earnings totalling in the millions on Wall Street.  Unfortunately his culture capital record for making prudent, informed decisions when purchasing antiquities for his $200 million private art collection continues to raise eyebrows, and in Friday's case secure New York seizure warrants. 

As once-master of the hedge fund universe, Steinhardt has the liquidity to be choosy about his art purchases. With a current net worth estimated at $1.05 billion, according to a 2017 article in Forbes Magazine, as well as almost thirty years of collecting experience, he should be aware of the ethics of acquisition and the problems of acquiring objects through questionable dealers or with insufficient or dubious provenance.

Steinhardt is a member of Christie’s advisory board.  He also has a Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. gallery named after him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. All this to say that he should be sufficiently well informed about the ethical obligations of responsibly acquiring, managing and disposing of items in his burgeoning art collection.   When not sufficiently informed, his position of affluence and philanthropic influence affords him the ability to reach out to knowledgable art world connections, who could advise him of the regulatory structures in place and the moral economy of purchasing and collecting illicit antiquities should he have any doubts.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos again initiated custody of ten antiquities, prosecutors state were looted from the countries of Greece and Italy.

Purchased in the last twelve years, the ten objects seized in last week's raid are listed as:

A) Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies.  Vessel attributed to the Triglyph Painter and depicts funerary related iconography featuring a woman and a youth.
Period: approximately 420 BCE.
Measurement: 18 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.
Purchased for $380,000 in 2006.

B) Apulian Rhyton for libations (the “Apulian African Head Flask”) in the shape of the head of an African.
Period: dating to the 4th century BCE
Measurement: 7.5 inches tall by 3 inches at base.
Purchased for $130,000 in 2009.

C) Italo - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned upwards (the “Italo-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 5.5 inches long by 2.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 in 2011.

D) Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head (the “Ionian Ram’s Head”).
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 2.5 inches tall by 4.7 wide.
Purchased for $70,000 in 2009.

E) Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African (the “Attic African Head Aryballos”).
Period: dating to the 5th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall.
Purchased for $150,000 on or about December 17, 2009.

F) Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion (the “Corinthian Lion Vessel”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 600-550 BCE
Measurement: 3.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 on or about November 9, 2011.

G) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl (the “Proto-Corinthian Owl”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.2 wide.
Purchased for $120,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

H) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned backwards (the “Proto-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.7 wide.
Purchased for $130,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

I) Corinthian BUll’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”).
Period: dating to 580 BCE
Measurement: 2.2 inches tall by 2.8 wide.
Purchased for $60,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

j) Bronze Handles (the “Bronze Handles”).
Period: unknown
Measurement: 3.6 inches tall by 9.4 wide.
Purchased for $40,000 in 1996.

Some of Steinhardt's previous risky antiquities gambles:  


2017
Sidon Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) 
and 
a 6th century marble torso of a calf bearer

Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) and
a 6th century BCE marble torso of a calf bearer.

Just last month the US repatriated two Eshamun Sculptures seized from Steinhardt's private collection.  Both pieces found their way onto the international antiquities black market after being stolen during Lebanon's tumultuous civil war.  Before their theft, both antiquities had been excavated at the Temple of Eshmun in 1967 near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon.

In the summer of 2017 Manhattan prosecutors seized the 2,300-year-old marble bull's head while it was on loan from Steinhardt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Prosecutors and forensic art crime analysts also tied the bull's head to a second Steinhardt purchase, also through Lynda and William Beierwaltes.

The Beierwaltes sold the Sidon Bull's head and the Lamb Carrier torso to Michael Steinhardt in 2010 who later of whom loaned the bull's head antiquity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After learning that the marble head was subject to seizure, Steinhardt asked the Beierwaltes to retake possession of the object and compensate him for his purchase.

The Beierwaltes in turn relinquished all ownership claims when the illicit provenance of the objects was solidly made clear.

NOTE: The Beierwaltes were long-term clients of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides at the time of these purchases.

2017
An Anatolian marble female idol of Kiliya type, AKA The Guennol Stargazer

Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York

On April 29, 2017 at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, Christie's applied precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely looted from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press at that time that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted.

During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD was confirmed but not collected.  As a result of the object being contested, the would-be buyer bowed out from the purchase, shortly after the case began being discussed in the international press. 

According to documents, Michael Steinhardt had purchased the Stargazer from Merrin Gallery in August 1993 for under $2 million.  Had the sale not been halted, Steinhardt would have pocketed $12.7 million for the 5,000 year-old Guennol Stargazer, twice the object's pre-sale estimate.

Christie's and Steinhardt issued a motion to quash Turkey's lawsuit.  While the case has not been resolved,  ultimately Turkey's fight for repatriation may hinge on two critical points: whether the country can conclusively show that the piece in question was discovered in Turkey, and whether the nation laid claim to the artifact in a timely fashion, given the length of time Steinhardt had the object in his collection.

2014
A Sardinian Marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture


November 21, 2014 Christos Tsirogiannis identified a $1 million Sardinian marble female idol dating from 2500-2000 B.C.E. scheduled for auction as Lot 85 at Christie's on December 11, 2014 as having been matched with an image he found in the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt, the Turriga Mother Goddess figure had previously made its way through Harmon Fine Arts and The Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of pet food giant Leonard Norman Stern, the object was once displayed, but not photographed, in a "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event in 1990 where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction.  Its current status has not be made public.

2011
United States v. One Triangular Fresco Fragment


April 20, 2011 an incoming parcel was detained in Newark, New Jersey by US Customs and Border Protection authorities.  Inside the package, shipped via the Swiss firm Via Mat Artcare AG, was a fresco fragment which appeared to be a cusp or pediment of an ancient painted tomb from the Necropolis of Andriuolo at Paestum. The shipper was listed as Andrew Baker of Vadus, Lichtenstein.   The consignee was Michael Steinhardt.

Despite the object's obvious Italian origin, the shipment had a customs declaration form which falsified the object's country of origin as Macedonia. The fragment was forfeited to the U.S. government and repatriated to Italy on February 24, 2015.

2007 
(Il)licit Excavations of Maresha Subterranean Complex 57: 
The ‘Heliodorus’ Cave




In early 2007 Michael Steinhardt acquired the so-called Heliodorus Stele from Gil Chaya, an antiquities dealers in Jerusalem, who reportedly is a nephew of the late Shlomo Moussaieff.  Moussaieff once owned one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities in the world, many of which have no verifiable provenance.  After the purchase, Steinhardt and his wife presented the stele to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem as an extended loan. 

The stele contains a magnificent 2nd century BCE Greek inscription which documents a correspondence between the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (brother of Antiochus IV) to an aide named Heliodorus. Unsurprisingly though, the bottom portion of the stele was missing, leaving a gap in scholarship as well as a tell-tale clue that the stele had likely been looted shortly after its extraction, since its base was missing.  Earlier, during 2005 and 2006 excavations at the Maresha Subterranean Complex 57 at Beit Guvrin National Park three fragments were uncovered that were subsequently identified as matching the bottom edge of Steinhardt's stele.  

These fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute "Dig for a Day" program.  The correlation of the fragments' epigraphy and testing of their stone and soil samples from the find site proved conclusively that the fragments were a match completing missing pieces of the stele. 

It was later determined that the stele had been stolen during a robbery at the Beit Guvrin National Park in 2005.  Tel Maresha's head archaeologist, Dr. Ian Stern verified that he remembered arriving on the site on a Sunday morning in 2005 only to find that the cave where the fragments were found, had been “turned upside down,” apparently by looters searching for ancient objects to be sold on the black market.

1995
A fourth century BCE gold phiale


November 9, 1995, U.S. Customs agents seized a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations from Steinhardt's Fifth Avenue residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  The financier appealed the lower court's ruling, only to have the decision of forfeiture affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Despite clear proof that the object was smuggled out of southern Italy, Steinhardt petitioned the lower court's ruling all the way to the United States Supreme Court, in the hopes of retaining the object for his collection. 

The high court found no compelling reason to rehear Steinhardt's case, basing their decision on the basis that the importer had intentionally undervalued the object's worth, transited the object illegally from Sicily to Switzerland, and provided false statements misrepresenting the phiale's country of origin on the object's import documentation. 

The two antiquities dealers involved in the purchase, Robert Haber and William Veres, were each given suspended sentences of one year and ten months imprisonment.  The extent of Steinhardt's culpability though was left vague in the final court filings.  Yet Steinhardt's experience as an art collector and specifically his experience with Haber, with whom he had already purchased some $4-6 million in art objects, raises considerable doubts that his error in purchase could be chalked up to naïveté.  

The fact that the bill of sale from Haber to Steinhardt even stipulated that"if the object is confiscated or impounded by customs agents or a claim is made by any country or governmental agency whatsoever, full compensation will be made immediately to the purchaser" gives the impression that both the collector and his dealer were each fully aware of the potentiality for illegality in the market, possibly with this object specifically.

Each of the aforementioned examples outlined above highlight questionable pedigrees in relation to previous high risk acquisitions made by Steinhardt in relation to his antiquities collection.  Several purchases in fact, overlap with antiquities dealers and middlemen with well known histories of dealing in illicit antiquities.  Each of these purchases demonstrate how little, if any, due diligence was conducted in providing a reasonable assurance that the objects being acquired were not, within the legal statutes of the time, illegally exported from their country of origin.



August 23, 2017

Hedge Hogs and the Art of Wealth: The Curious Background of Michael Steinhardt


Michael Steinhardt has a long standing record of making astute financial decisions, many of which have led to stellar investment performance earnings totalling in the millions on Wall Street.  Unfortunately his culture capital record: for making careful, sound, and informed decisions when purchasing antiquities for his purported $200 million private collection of art, has been anything but stellar. 

As Master of the Hedge Fund Universe, Steinhardt has the liquidity to be choosy about his art purchases. With a current net worth of $1.05 billion, according to a 2017 article in Forbes Magazine, and almost thirty years of collecting experience, he's also a member of Christie’s advisory board.  Tight with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he has had a Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. gallery named after him at the museum. All that to say Steinhardt should be sufficiently well informed about the social and ethical obligations of responsibly acquiring, managing and disposing of items in his burgeoning art collection. 

So why then, with access to so many of the art world's elite, has he chosen to overlook the importance of provenience (country of origin) and provenance (history of ownership) of the objects he fancied BEFORE allowing them to enter or exit his collection and comparing that information within the context of the US and international legal frameworks and abiding accordingly?

I guess traders love to gamble (more on that later) a fortune on their compulsions.

Some of Steinhardt's costly gambles:  

A fourth century BCE gold phiale


November 09, 1995, U.S. Customs agents seized a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations from Steinhardt's Fifth Avenue residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  The financier appealed the lower court's ruling only to have the decision of forfeiture affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Despite clear proof that the object was smuggled out of southern Italy, Steinhardt petitioned the lower court's ruling all the way to the United States Supreme Court, in the hopes of retaining the object for his collection. 

The high court found no compelling reason to rehear Steinhardt's case on the basis that the importer had intentionally undervalued the object's worth, transited the object illegally from Sicily to Switzerland, and provided false statements misrepresenting the phiale's country of origin on the objects import documentation. 

The two antiquities dealers involved in the purchase, Robert Haber and William Veres, were each given suspended sentences of one year and ten months imprisonment.  The extent of Steinhardt's culpability though was left vague in the final court filings.  Yet Steinhardt's experience as an art collector and specifically his experience with Haber, with whom he had already purchased some $4-6 million in art objects, raises considerable doubts as to his naïveté.  

The fact that the bill of sale from Haber to Steinhardt's even stipulated that if "the object is confiscated or impounded by customs agents or a claim is made by any country or governmental agency whatsoever, full compensation will be made immediately to the purchaser" gives the impression that both the collector and his dealer were aware of the potential for illegality in the market, and possibly with this object specifically. 

(Il)licit Excavations of Maresha Subterranean Complex 57: 
The ‘Heliodorus’ Cave


In early 2007 Michael Steinhardt acquired the so-called Heliodorus Stele from Gil Chaya, an antiquities dealers in Jerusalem, who is reportedly a nephew of the late Shlomo Moussaieff.  Moussaieff once owned one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities, many of which were unprovenanced.  After the purchase Steinhardt and his wife presented the stele to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on an extended loan.

The stele contains a magnificent 2nd century BCE Greek inscription which documents a correspondence between the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (brother of Antiochus IV) to an aide named Heliodorus.  Unsurprisingly though, the bottom portion of the stele was missing, leaving a gap in scholarship as well as a tell-tale signature that the stele had likely been looted upon its extraction, since its base was missing. 

Earlier, during 2005 and 2006 excavations at the Maresha Subterranean Complex 57 at Beit Guvrin National Park three fragments were uncovered that were subsequently identified as matching the bottom of Steinhardt's stele.  These fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute's "Dig for a Day" program.  The correlation of the fragments' epigraphy and testing of their stone and soil samples at the find site proved that the fragments were a perfect match, completing missing pieces of the stele.  

It was later determined that the stele had been stolen during a robbery at the Beit Guvrin National Park in 2005.  Tel Maresha's head archaeologist, Dr. Ian Stern verified that he remembered arriving at the site on a Sunday morning in 2005 only to find that the cave where the fragments were later found, had been “turned upside down,” apparently by looters searching for ancient objects to be sold on the black market.  

United States v. One Triangular Fresco Fragment



Despite the object's obvious Italian origin, the shipment had a customs declaration form which falsified the object's country of origin as Macedonia. The fragment was forfeited to the U.S. government and repatriated to Italy on February 24, 2015.

A Sardinian Marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture


November 21, 2014 Christos Tsirogiannis identified a $1 million Sardinian marble female idol dating from 2500-2000 B.C.E. scheduled for auction as Lot 85 at Christie's on December 11, 2014 as having been matched with an image he found in the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt, the object had previously made its way through Harmon Fine Arts and The Merrin Gallery*, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of pet food giant Leonard Norman Stern, the object was once displayed, but not photographed, in a "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event in 1990 where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27th the object was pulled from the Christie's auction for further review. Its current status has not be made known publically. 

An Anatolian marble female idol of Kiliya type, AKA The Guennol Stargazer
Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York

On April 29, 2017 at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, Christie's applied precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely looted from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary 60-day hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted. During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD was confirmed but not collected.  As a result of the object being contested, the would-be buyer bowed out from the purchase shortly after to case broke in the international press. 

According to documents, Michael Steinhardt had purchased the Stargazer from Merrin Gallery* in August 1993 for under $2 million.  Had the sale not been halted he would have pocketed $12.7 million for the 5,000 year-old Guennol Stargazer, twice the object's pre-sale estimate.

A Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE)

Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE),
 (image courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Earlier this month Manhattan prosecutors took custody of a 2,300-year-old marble bull's head, that was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art over suspicions that the antiquity had been pillaged. 

The marble head of a bull was purportedly purchased by Lynda and William Beierwaltes in 1996 for more than US$1 million. The Beierwaltes in turn sold the statue on to Michael Steinhardt in 2010 who later loaned the antiquity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After learning that the object might be subject to seizure, Steinhardt asked that the Beierwaltes take possession of the object and compensate him for his purchase. 

The Beierwaltes have stated they purchased the object through an unnamed London art dealer. NOTE: The Beierwaltes were clients of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides.

Six examples of high stakes "risks" overlapping with names of antiquities dealers many of whom those who analyse art crimes will already recognize.  

Yearning for Legitimacy or Repeating the Sins of the Father?

Steinhardt says the inherent risk in antiquities collecting doesn’t intimidate him. “It is a little bit dangerous, but that is what makes it exciting,” ....“But life is filled with risks, isn’t it?”

Understandably, leading a life on Wall Street makes you look at risk differently than the average person, and hedge fund overlords thrive on tightrope walking high-risk investment tactics in order to bring in lucrative returns.  In a world designed to aggressively accumulate wealth, it's not surprising that Michael Steinhardt approached his art acquisitions apparently enjoying the adrenalin-filled rush from the risk-taking he took.  

Yet with so many examples of getting it wrong; electing to overlook the provenance of the objects he collected in favor of the buy, working with dealers already known to raised eyebrows or prosecutions for undocumented artifacts, and irregular import documentation, Steinhardt's maneuvers shouldn't be interpreted as simple novice mistakes made by a collector with more money than Midas. Despite that, Steinhardt has profited more than he has been held in account for, which shows, unfortunately, that the odds remain remarkably in his favor, despite the alleged illicit purchases. 

Risk vs. Payoff: Lessons from Childhood

But before the legendary Wall Street money manager stepped into the collector's ring, Steinhardt was brought up in working-class Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  He is the son of the late Sol Frank Steinhardt, a reputed gambler and jewelry fence, who was a  lieutenant of the prohibition era crime boss Meyer Lansky.  Lansky was one of the most notorious of the Jewish crime bosses and a valuable money-maker for Joe Masseria's organization which made much of their income through extortion and is reputed to have been one of the most violent gangs of the era.

A gambler, "Red" Steinhardt, as Sol was also sometimes called, partnered with Lansky in Florida and Havana on gambling rackets that helped finance the National Crime Syndicate, alongside Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo, a New York mobster and a high-ranking Capo in the Genovese crime family. 

Before long, Sol Steinhardt's dealings as a farbrekher got him arrested, and in 1958 he was sentenced to 5-10 years on each of two counts for his fencing escapades.   Sol served out his sentence at Sing-Sing prison and Dannemora, the maximum security facility along the Canadian border.  According to Michael Steinhardt's autobiography, Steinhardt Sr. paid for his undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, – most likely with ill-gotten gains.

Antiquities and Risk 

In 2005 Linda Sandler interviewed Michael Steinhardt on antiquities and risk, after his lost his appeal on the gold phiale.  During the interview he said:


I guess some collectors aren't candidates for sainthood either. 

The moral question is this: Suppose you can legally gain the reward and stick other people with the risk. It is easy enough for me to tell you not to do it. But will it change your action? 

By: Lynda Albertson
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* The Merrin Gallery was started by Edward Merrin, now run by his son, Samuel Merrin and Moshe Bronstein, appears in the business records of Sicilian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina, who was charged with receiving and trafficking in looted antiquities.