Showing posts with label Medici Archive. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Medici Archive. Show all posts

June 29, 2020

Object Alert: An Illicit antiquity breezes through the windy city

Hindman Auction Catalogue - 16 June 2020
Lot 157
Most of the time, when one thinks of illicit antiquities one imagines them transiting their way through lofty auction showrooms in London, New York, or more recently, as was in the news last week, Paris.  One doesn't usually suspect a homegrown auction house, from the windy city of Chicago, as a place to spot hot art that once passed through the hands of one of Italy's most notorious bad boys, art dealer Giacomo Medici.  But the market for looted or unprovenanced cultural property in America is still going strong and plundered artefacts have the tendency to scatter farther than you think.  Sometimes, when they do, they turn up in places that we don't expect, well, at least until we do.

An art dealer who post-sentence resides in an expansive seaside villa west of Rome, Giacomo Medici was convicted 13 December 2004 of participation in an organized criminal group as its principal promoter and organizer.  Men in his network plundered large swaths of Italy's territory, with the network's loot making its way into some of the world's most prestigious museums and lining the shelves of extravagant private collections.  But despite the sixteen years that have past since his conviction, Medici's ill-gotten wares continue to bubble to the surface, not unlike Italian gnocchi, one object at a time, in slow dribs and drabs and usually not even mentioning his name as was the case with this recent artefact.

This time, in late June, an investigation lead by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in collaboration with the New York District Attorney's Office and the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage turned up another one of Giacomino's antiquities, this time at Chicago's very own, Hindman Auctioneers, a firm which merged in 2019 with Ohio-based Cowan's and shortened its name from Leslie Hindman to just plain Hindman

Photographed on pages 116 and 117 of Hindman's 16 June 2020 Antiquities and Islamic Art catalogue, Lot 15, A Roman Marble Torso of a Faun with a Goose lists the artefact's provenance succinctly: 

Private Collection. London, acquired in New York in the early 1990s 
Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch. London, 2013

What was provided to back up this claim, or what import, export, or shipping documents were submitted to demonstrate that this Italian antiquity's passages into the United States previously, then back across the sea to the UK, then back into Chicago were legitimate, leaves me curious. 

With no difficulty, and without auction consignment profits to incentivise (or disincentivise) my due diligence, I was quickly, and without too much trouble, able to find and cross-reference the 2013 sale via the Forge & Lynch Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) catalogue.   This sales PDF documented the previous sale of the mythological half-human, half-goat, creature with a discreet tail in a two-page spread.

Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd.,
Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) Catalogue - 2013

Joint proprietors of the art dealership Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd., Forge and Lynch left Sotheby’s in London in 1997 when the auction house began winding down its London antiquities sales, and continued working together for their own ancient art gallery formed in UK in July 2000.  Both art dealers are familiar with the problem children antiquities dealers of yesteryear from their Sotheby's days, and both have continued to get their reputations scorched brokering suspect art via more recent problematic dealers like Subhash Kapoor. 

So even without Medici's name clearly printed on anything provenance-y provided by the Faun's consignor to Hindman, one has to question first where Forge & Lynch themselves got the piece, and secondly, their own provenance entry for the earlier sale of this artefact, which reads: 

Probably acquired in New York, early 1990s  
Private collection, London, early 1990s-2013

This entry leads me to ask why Hindman changed the "probably acquired in New York" to definitely acquired in New York.  It is also curious why Hindman left off the non-specific "Private collection" in London which at first shakes, might appear less problematic than Robin Symes, whose name appears elsewhere in the June catalogue for LOT 83 from this sale. 

Did someone at Hindman find paperwork that changed the Faun's purported New York acquisition from probable into definite?  And what about that private collection in London from the 1990s until 2013.  Wasn't that one line, even vaguely written, not naming names worth mentioning on the big empty space of the full-page advertisement for the sculpture?  So why did Hindman elect to omit this detail?  

My hunch is that Hindman, who voluntarily relinquished the sculpture of the Faun to the authorities once evidence was presented by law enforcement, operates under the assumption that the occasional confiscation of a found-to-be-looted antiquity identified in their sales catalogues is a reasonable cost of doing business in the murky world of ancient art.  

Risks Hindman has already proved willing to take in the past and that illicit antiquities researcher Christos Tsirogiannis, cooperating with HSI-ICE, pointed out in an earlier Hindman auction, published in the auction house's Worldly Pursuits: An Adventurer’s Collection. The Estate of Steve and Peggy Fossett cataloug. In that sale Tsirogiannis identified three antiquities which matched archival photos in the Medici and Symes archives which proved that the objects had once passed through, or been shared with the networks of Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, and Christo Michaelides.

But let's go back to this month's Hindman, June 16th auction catalogue.  In this summer's sale 127 objects out of 273 are listed without any provenance dates whatsoever.  Of the 146 remaining objects included in the catalogue which do list some date references:

15 show collection history dates which predate the UNESCO 1970s convention;
12 show collection history dates only to the 1970s;
85 show collection history dates only to the 1980s;
32 show collection history dates only to the 1990s;
and 2 only go back as far as the 2000s.

Knowing that illicit trafficking eyes cannot monitor every single sale, or inquire about every single object consigned to every auction house around the world, leaving out provenance details creates an environment conducive for a game of risk, with dealers more than willing to play, chalking up any losses from the occasional identified object after it has been illegally exported, as inventory shrinkage.

By limiting the details of what is written in provenance descriptions for objects being sold, dealers and auction houses create intentional impediments to those who try to research an object's legitimacy, making it more difficult to discern when an antiquity has passed through the hands of suspect dealers and when a legitimate object has simply been badly documented by a previous owner careless with their receipts.  And that's just speaking to those interested enough, and with the time to dedicate to actually monitor the previous sales of ancient artefacts.

According to a new report published to the LiveAuctioneers website, this inaugural Hindman ancient art auction brought in nearly $1M in sales, proving once again, that despite all the academics screaming about the necessity for clean provenance, buyers of ancient art, for the most part, are not unduly curious about the collection histories of their potential ancient art purchases.  Likewise, more collectors continue to be oblivious or disengaged as to whether or not the antiquities market is problematic and whether or not their lack of curiosity, and lack of due diligence before buying, acts as a catalyst for the destruction of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean world.

Should Hindman have known better with this artefact and should they have been more forthcoming with all of the collection histories listed for this $1M sale's catalogue? Yes and yes.

Hindman Auctioneers was founded by Leslie Hindman in Chicago in 1982.  The firm was not born yesterday, therefore they should be aware of the problems of illicit material infiltrating the ancient art market.  Thomas Galbraith who took over from Leslie Hindman as CEO of the company she founded, (she remains on the board) previously worked as Artnet’s director of global strategy and as interim CEO for Google Venture's start-up Twyla, an online sales platform for art, meaning they both are experienced in art world sales. Given the people at Hindman's helm, and the company's sales presence on the Live Auctioneers sales portal, it also stands to reason that the Chicago auction house has employees with sufficient technical abilities and talent to Google the legitimacy of the objects they accept on consignment and the names of dealers which are problematic.  Given that neither Galbraith nor Hindman are new to the problems of the world, one can assume that their lack of transparency when it comes to collection publishing collection histories for the objects they auction is a conscious choice.

But despite all this, the windy city seems to be gaining ground in the art market. Phillips and Bonhams, both based in London, having opened there, alongside already existing Christie's, and Sotheby's, to keep Hindman company. And browsing through the names of important London and New York ancient art dealers like Charles Ede Ltd., and Royal Athena Galleries whose's pieces were selling in this June's Hindman catalogue, it seems apropos to remind collectors of ancient art (once again) of the need to open their eyes and ask for proof of legitimacy, before simply forking over cash for what might turn out to be tomorrow's new seizure. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

February 29, 2020

Flash Back to Restitutions: Remembering the Apulian dinos, 340-320 B.C.E. attributed to the Darius painter


A long time ago, in a galaxy seemingly far far away, a red-figure 340-320 B.C.E. Apulian dinos, attributed to the Darius Painter, once lived in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.   The antiquity was purchased by the Met via the Classical Purchase Fund, the Rogers Fund and the Helen H Mertens and Norbert Schimmel gifts in November 1984. 

This red-figure vase, sometimes called a lebed, was decorated with scenes from a comedy, perhaps by Epicarmos, involving one of the numerous adventures of Herakles in which he encountered Busiris, a king who had been advised to sacrifice all strangers to Zeus in order to avoid drought.


In the primary image on the vase and to the right of the altar and column stands Busiris, dressed in traditional oriental-style clothing. He is the one holding a scepter and who is brandishing a menacing knife. Heracles, pictured on the opposite side of the altar, casually draped in a lion's cape, is his intended victim.

Others in the scene include two Egyptians, busy assisting in the pending mayhem.  One carries a butcher's block with more knives while another is seen adding water to a kettle, placed to boil on the fire. There are also servants depicted carrying a tray of cakes, an amphora, and a wine jug. What better way to end a murder than with a quick snack washed down with wine.  

Yet, in the end, Herakles ultimately prevailed over Busiris, much in the same way the Italian government did in February 2006 they reached an agreement with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to return this and five other plundered antiquities identified in the museums collections.

Polaroids photographs of the dinos (inv. 1984.11.7 when at the Met) were seized by law enforcement during a raid at the Geneva Freeport.  These identified the antiquity in three different conditions, first in guilty fragments, then partially restored with the glued joints still visible, and lastly in a photo after it had been purchased and put on display at the Metropolitan Museum.

As Dr. David Gill pointed out, five objects, each attributed to the Darius painter were acquired by different museum institutions between 1984 and 1991, a period when southern Italy was subject to extreme plundering.  Some of those items, are still in museum collections outside of Italy.

In 2001 Ricardo Elia, who surveyed Apulian pottery, estimated that some 31 per cent of the total corpus of Apulian pots totalling more than 4200 vases, all surfaced on the ancient art market between 1980 and 1992 virtually all of which has little or no substantiated history.  A group of 21 of these are (still) on display at the Altes Museum (German for Old Museum) on Museum Island in Berlin, Germany, the major part of which come from a single burial are attributed to the workshop of the Darius painter, and were acquired in 1988.  Documented in the museum as coming from an ancient Swiss collection, photos from the seized Giacomo Medici archive show the fragments from these same vases, still dirty with earth, waiting to be put back together again.

Apulian Vases at the Altes Museum, Berlin
If you want to see this ancient object in its natural habitat and see the video in this post as it works its magic in person, please stop by the fabulous Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto - MArTA and take a look.

If you would like to read more about this grouping of stolen antiquities: please consult the following:

"Homecomings: reflections on returning antiquities", David W.J. Gill

"Analysis of the looting, selling, and collecting of Apulian red-figure vases: a quantitative approach" Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage, by Elia, R J 2001

The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities-- From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museum, by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini

La diplomazia culturale italiana per il ritorno dei beni in esilio. Storia, attualità e future prospettive, by Stefano Alessandrini

Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World, edited by Noah Charney