Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts

November 30, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 - ,,,,, No comments

Auction Alert I: Ancient Palmyran Limestone Head Ca. 3rd-5th century A.D.?



Two different online auction websites, Live Auctioneers and Invaluable each have "sold" a listing for the same Palmyrene limestone funerary bust.  The object on offer was sold November 29th through Palmyra Heritage Gallery in New York City with a closing bid of USD $3,900.

As some of ARCA's readers may recall from an earlier blog post, Palmyra Heritage Gallery is operated by Mousa Khouli who also uses the Americanized name of Morris. Khouli has dealt in antiquities and ancient coins in the New York area for quite some time and has operated his business as both Windsor Antiquities and Palmyra Heritage. His ancient wares have been found on vCoin previously and are currently offered on the online auction powerhouse website eBay using a seller profile called:
palmyraheritagemorriskhouligallery. 

As detailed in that earlier ARCA blog post, involving another potentially suspect object, Khouli moved to New York City with his family from Syria in 1992. Once in America he opened a gallery specializing in objects from the ancient world in 1995. His father had a gallery in Damascus, Syria for 35 years and his grandfather too worked in the art and antiquities trade, meaning that he should likely be well-versed in the legalities of trading in objects from the ancient world.


But knowing the law and abiding by the law, are two different things. 

In 2008 and 2009 Khouli arranged for the purchase and smuggling of a series of Egyptian antiquities, exported from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and then smuggled into the United States under false declarations to the US Customs authorities concerning the country of origin and the value of the antiquities. The illicit objects included a set of Egyptian funerary boats, a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a three-part nesting coffin set, which, according to its hieroglyphics, may have belonged to “Shesepamuntayesher” from the Saite period or 26th Dynasty, and several Egyptian limestone figurines. The contents on the shipping labels and customs paperwork supplied for the imported items were intentionally mislabeled as “antiques,” “wood panels,” and a “wooden painted box.” 

Cultural Property Attorney Rick St. Hilaire, who followed the court case against Khouli and other defendants throughout the federal proceedings, reported in April 2012 that the antiquities dealer/numismatist pled guilty to smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the United States and to making a false statement to law enforcement authorities. In November of the same year United States Senior District Judge Edward R. Korman departed from the federal sentencing guidelines and sentenced Khouli to a relatively light sentence for his misdeeds: six months home confinement, one-year probation, 200 hours of community service, and a criminal monetary assessment of $200. 

Yet looking at the documentation for Khouli's recent auction of the Palmyrene limestone funerary sculpture also raises some questions. At the time of the 2008-09 conviction Khouli provided the purchasing collector with false provenance for the trafficked Egyptian antiquities; documents which stated that the objects were part of a private collection that his father had assembled in Israel in the 1960s.

Under the listing for the Palmyrene limestone funerary bust both websites list: "Private NYC Collection acquired From Israel 10-03-2011 with original Export License from Israel" for the object's provenance.  Along with the written detail, each auction included a reassuring photo for the would-be bidder, a rumpled document written in Hebrew and English that states that the object had been exported from Israel through Sami Taha, an antiquarian and numismatist whose website states he is "serving Jerusalem and the world's market for antiquities from the Holy Land by authority of the Israel Antiquities Authority."

Sami Taha's business is operated with the following details:
Twitter Profile: @BiblicalArtifas
eBay Seller Profile: biblicalartifacts.jerusalem

Until August 2016 he listed himself as an authorised Antiquities Dealer, License No.144 *
Ancient Art of the Holy Land
45 Jaffa Gate, opposite David Citadel entrance
PO Box. 14646
Jerusalem 9114601, Israel
The physical location for his shop has since closed though he is still selling actively on the web. 

* Note:  No copy of this dealer's Israeli Antiquities Authority license has been provided on Taha's website.

If the provenance document provided during the sale for this limestone funerary bust is to be believed, the object was shipped from Israel to a collector in Europe. Interestingly the name listed as the importer,  also shows up on other antiquities traceable to Khouli as the collector listed in the provenance of at least three objects being sold or which have sold through various online auction websites, making these objects equally questionable. 

But what does an Israeli export authorization form actually look like?

Below is an example of an authentic Israeli-issued IAA export approval document issued in 2011 (below left). The document next to it is the one provided by Khouli for the Palmyra bust (below right).


Notice that the documentation provided for the purported Syrian object does not identify the export authority in the header, nor is it rubber-stamped or signed.

But why didn't the limestone funerary bust, allegedly from Palmyra, have any documentation from its country of origin, Syria?

Probably because there isn't any.   The general export of antiquities is altogether banned in Syria in all but the rarest of circumstances and the country's cultural heritage is protected by numerous national laws.  A review of the ICOM red list for Syria shows that authentic funerary busts from Palmyra would likely be classified as a movable antiquity, considered immovable in cases where they are parts or decorations of immovable antiquities (such as gravesites) and covered under the following national rulings:

Decree-Law No. 84 of the Civil Code regarding archaeological objects
covered by specific laws - 18 May 1949

Legislative Decree No. 148 of the Penal Code regarding the destructions
of historical monuments - 22 May 1949

Legislative Decree No. 222 on the Antiquities regime in Syria - 26 October 1963, as amended by the Antiquities Law - 5 April 1999
NOTE: Legislative Decree No. 222 encompasses previous national legislation
regarding the protection of cultural heritage:
Legislative Decree No. 295 - 2 December 1969
Legislative Decree No. 296 - 2 December 1969
Legislative Decree No. 333 - 23 December 1969

Law No. 38 on Customs - 6 July 2006

Decree-Law No. 107 regarding local administration - 23 August 2011

Article 69 of the Syrian Antiquities Law specifically provides that an export license may only be granted with regard to antiquities that are to be exchanged with museums and other scientific institutions, and with regard to antiquities given to an organization or mission after excavations are finished.  Neither of these circumstances appear to be the case with the auctioned funerary bust, making the fact that the object has no other substantiating paperwork, prior to 1963, all the more suspicious.

So if the object is authentic, then who moved the bust from Syria to New York, and how and is it authentic? 

ArchaeologyIN (The Archaeology Information Network) has notified Walid Al-Asad, the former director of antiquities and museums in Palmyra on 28 November about the object's upcoming sale and Al-Asad stated that at first glance the auction photo appears to meet the artistic specifications of a Palmyrene limestone funerary bust.  On this basis, ArchaeologyIN formally notified Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General, Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums (DGAM) in Syria of the potentially suspicious item.

Questioning its entry into the United States on the basis of the material supplied by the seller, ARCA in turn contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New York about its concerns regarding the object's limited import/export paperwork and the bust's purported export provenance from Israel via possibly Oslo.

But small organizations and understaffed source countries, acting alone or in cooperation, cannot tackle all of the triangulations between looters, smugglers, dealers and potential buyers. Without the active support of the art collecting community itself, the problem of illicit trafficking will always be a catch me if you can game of cat and mouse.

The appearance of paperwork, should never replace a buyer's own due diligence.

If crafty antiquities dealers can write anything they want about an object's collecting history when promoting their wares for an auction listing then it's ultimately up to the individual collector/buyer to do their own homework before ethically committing to the purchase ancient art.  This is all the more true of antiquities whose purported origins are from conflict-ridden war zones such as Palmyra.

The antiquities dealer says he has an export license?  Do you, as the potential buyer, know what type of actual import and export documentation an ancient object would need to have to have legally passed out of the object's source country and into the hands of the seller in the dealer's destination country?  Do you as a collector know enough about the heritage protection laws in the country where the object originates to make sure what you are purchasing isn't contributing to a country's instability?

As a morally principled art buyer, who are you are entrusting your purchase to? Do you know the background and ethics of the antiquities dealer you are purchasing an object from?  Has that person been involved in dishonest trading in the past?   Have they falsified documentation previously in furtherance of laundering illicit objects through the licit market either for greed or to satisfy collector's demands?

As a buyer, investing in ancient art, the antiquities collector has the right, but also the responsibility, to ask to see all export documentation and to verify that the object's provenance claims are true, before any money changes hands.

Ethical antiquities dealer with a clean object should have no problem with the close scrutiny.  If they do, or if the deal seems too good to be true, then it most likely is.

For more information on this particular dealer's past history ARCA recommends the following Dr. David Gill's Looting Matters posts as well as the comprehensive federal case reporting of Rick St. Hilaire which can be found here. 

By: Lynda Albertson

July 9, 2013

Tuesday, July 09, 2013 - ,, No comments

Northern Israeli archaeological site unveils granite fragment of Egyptian sphinx -- ancient plunder or gift?

Archaeologist Shlomit Blecher discovered part of a granite Egyptian sphynx in Israel in August 2012, raising the question of plunder or gift?

Dr. Blecher, who manages the The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin, works at Tel Hazor, the ancient Canaanite and Israelite city located in modern Northern Israel.

Here's a YouTube Video from the AFP news agency showing the site and the size of the fragment in comparison to the person holding the granite claws, forearms and hieroglyphics.
Its discovery also marks the first time ever that researchers have found a statue dedicated to Egyptian ruler Mycerinus who ruled circa 2,500 BC and was builder of one of the three Giza pyramids, an expert said.
How did this object travel north? The AFP offers options:
How, when and why it reached Tel Hazor remains a mystery.
"That it arrived in the days of Mycerinus himself is unlikely, since there were absolutely no relations between Egypt and this part of the world then," said Ben-Tor.
"Egypt maintained relations with Lebanon, especially via the ancient port of Byblos, to import cedar wood via the Mediterranean, so they skipped" today's northern Israel, he said.
Another option is that the statue was part of the plunders of the Canaanites, who in the late 17th and early 16th century BC ruled lower Egypt, the expert said.
"Egyptian records tell us that those foreign rulers... plundered and desecrated the local temples and did all kinds of terrible things, and it is possible that some of this looting included a statue like this one".
But to Ben-Tor the most likely way the sphinx reached Tel Hazor is in the form of a gift sent by a later Egyptian ruler.
"The third option is that it arrived in Hazor some time after the New Kingdom started in 1,550 BC, during which Egypt ruled Canaan, and maintained close relations with the local rulers, who were left on their thrones," he said.
"In such a case it's possible the statue was sent by the Egyptian ruler to king of Hazor, the most important ruler in this region." 

July 4, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Spring/Summer 2012: Aleksandra Sheftel on "Looting History: An Analysis of the Illicit Antiquities Trade in Israel"

Aleksandra Sheftel's article on "Looting History: An Analysis of the Illicit Antiquities Trade in Israel" is published in the Spring/Summer 2012 electronic issue of the Journal of Art Crime.
Abstract: The state of Israel has numerous historically and culturally significant archaeological sites. Some of these date back to as early as 8000-7000 B.C, and are important to three of the world’s great religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Unfortunately, many of these sites are targeted by looters who illegally excavate the sites and, in doing so, erase history. This paper is an overview of the antiquities looting problem in Israel. It discusses Israel’s existing laws regarding the antiquities trade, describes the effects that Israel’s wars have had on the illicit antiquities trade, and the different motivations and attitudes of the looters in Israel. The paper also discusses the market players in this trade, analysing the roles the middlemen, the dealers, and the collectors play. It discusses who the looters are, why they engage in their illicit activities, and how they go about their business. The paper discusses ways in which the Israeli government has tried to stop the trade in illicit antiquities, and the debates that surround these and other proposed solutions. The paper concludes by analysing three alternative solutions that Israel could consider implementing in order to curb the looting.
Aleksandra Sheftel graduated “With Distinction” from the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection in 2011.

July 1, 2012

The Spring/Summer 2012 Issue of The Journal of Art Crime is now available to download by subscription

The PDF edition of the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime can now be downloaded by subscribers. This seventh issue is edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA.
 
Academic articles: "Bordering on Alchemy: A Nation of Counterfeiters" by Stephen Mihm; "Daubertizing the Art Expert" by John Daab; "Looting History: An Analysis of the Illicit Antiquities Trade in Israel" by Aleksandra Sheftel; "The Beltracchi Affair: A Comment on the "Most Spectacular" German Art Forgery Case in Recent Times" by Duncan Chappell and Saskia Hufnagel; and "The Forger's Point of View" by Thierry Lenain.

Regular columns: Donn Zaretsky's Art Law and Policy on "When Photography Might be Illegal"; Ton Cremers on "Rise in Thefts from Museums: Due to Economic Crisis?"; David Gill's Context Matters on "Princeton and Recently Surfaced Antiquities"; and Noah Charney's Lessons from the History of Art Crime on "Mark Landis: the Forger Who Has Yet to Commit a Crime".

Editorial Essays: Joshua Knelman on "Headache Art"; Noah Charney on "Appendix on Forensics of Forgery Investigation"; and Noah Charney on "Art Crime in North America".

Reviews: Stuart George reviews "Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists" by Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg; David Gill reviews "Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum" by James Cuno; Catherine Schofield Sezgin reviews "Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art" by Joshua Knelman; Noah Charney reviews "The Deceivers: Art Forgery and Identity in the Nineteenth Century" by Aviva Briefel; and John Kleberg reviews "Leonardo's Lost Princess" by Peter Silverman with Catherine Whitney.

Extras: Noah Charney's interviews with George H. O. Abungu; Ernst Schöller; Joris Kila and Karl von Habsburg; Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch; Thierry Lenain; and a Q&A on "Art Crime in Canada".  

There is also a list of the 2012 ARCA Awards.

March 9, 2011

Rodin's Naked Balzac Bronze Stolen Three Months Ago in Jerusalem During Museum Renovation, Reports Haaretz.com; NPR Adds Quote from the Art Loss Register's Chris Marinello

Rodin Statue of Balzac (Photo Courtesy of Harretz.com)
Although the Israel Museum discovered the theft of Auguste Rodin's "Naked Balzac with Folded Arms" three months ago, the information was not made public until yesterday on Haaretz.com. The heavy bronze could not have been moved out of the museum's garden without the use of a crane and a truck. The police investigation has been ongoing.

NPR.org, in covering the story, added a few quotes from the Art Loss Register's Christopher A. Marinello whom you have read about on this blog.