Showing posts with label Norway. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Norway. Show all posts

August 24, 2017

Theft: The Universitetet i Bergen posts photos of stolen objects to Flickr

The  Universitetet i Bergen has begun uploading images to Flickr of the approximately 400 objects stolen from the University Museum of Bergen in Norway on August 12, 2017. 

Thieves who broke into the museum entered
 through this window on the seventh floor
 of the building. Image Credit: Begin Police
Thieves entered the museum on the Saturday by climbing up a scaffold and breaking a window on the 7th floor.  Currently it is unclear to authorities whether or not the burglary was professional in nature, as apposed to opportunistic. 

Of the items stolen, most appear to be from the Iron Age, Migration Age and Viking Age periods. All the more puzzling as these objects are of historical significance and well documented, so not likely to generate a significant sum if the thieves tried to fence them.

As the public demands an answer as to how 400 objects could be carted away without someone noticing, individuals at the university are trying its best to look towards the recovery of the objects.  In order to spread the word quickly about the impact of the theft, they have established a Facebook group (primarily in the Norwegian language)  Tyveriet på Historisk museum (Burglary at The University Museum of Bergen) and social media hashtags #vikingskatten #vikingtreasure. Their goal being to draw the public's attention to the crime and to make the public aware that these objects may be in circulation.  

January 28, 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - ,,, No comments

Norway: Fire Damaged the village of Lærdalsøyri, part of UNESCO's World Heritage listed West Norwegian Fjord landscape

Borgund Stavkirke, an old church
by A.M.C Knutsson

At 11 pm on Saturday the 18th of January a fire erupted in the village of Lærdalsøyri, in the municipality of Lærdal, Norway. The fire, which is believed to have started in a house on Kyrkjegatan, spread rapidly towards the centre of the village due to strong easterly winds. These winds also hindered the extinguishing work and not until 5 pm the following day the fire was finally under control. [1]

Despite the ferocity of the fire, described by observers as an ‘inferno’, no one is reported to have died or gone missing. However, many people suffered from smoke inhalation and 400 people were forced to seek medical attention.

Whilst Lærdal might be small, it has a grand history. The region is part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed West Norwegian Fjord landscape and boasts sites such as the old Lærdalsøyri village and the Borgund Stave Church, the best-preserved stave church in Norway.[2]

Synneva Eris House (Photo Arlen Bidne)
The history of the old village of Lærdalsøyri reaches back about a thousand years. Since the Middle Ages it has been an important trading centre for the surrounding villages. The buildings that make up present day Lærdalsøyri reach back to the 18th and 19th centuries and are an important part of the Norwegian wooden heritage.[3] Among the buildings in Lærdalsøyri there are 161 protected wooden buildings. In a statement from the National Heritage Board about the fire, the site is described thus:
The wooden houses in Lærdalsøyri are among the most important wood-house milieu in Norway, in line with towns like Røros, Bergen and Old Stavanger.[4]
Unfortunately, despite early reports of little damage to the built heritage, several buildings have been severely damaged with some being permanently destroyed. Thirty-five houses are reported to have burnt down of which six or seven have great historical value.[5] Whilst the fire does not appear to have reached the oldest parts of Lærdalsøyri, the true extent of the fire is yet to be established. 

The Local "Norway's News in English" reports "Listed villa destroyed in Lærdal blaze" that the Synneva Eris House was burned to the ground.

Further Reading
List of recognised heritage sites in Lærdal

May 10, 2013

Norway Celebrates 150 Anniversary of Munch's birth; BBC Broadcast Interviewed Charley Hill last February on the Successful Return of The Scream in 1994

Celebrating the 150 anniversary of the birth of Edvard Munch, the National Museum and Munch Museum in Norway will exhibit more than 200 of the artist's paintings in "Munch 150" on June 2.

Here's a link to a BBC World Service broadcast last heard in February near the anniversary of the 1994 theft of Edvard Munch's The Scream. Charley Hill, former undercover police officer for Scotland Yard's Art and Antiquities Squad (his boss was ARCA Instructor Dick Ellis), describes how he posed as Chris Roberts, a consultant with the Getty Museum to negotiate the purchase of the stolen painting. The broadcast concludes the show with the statement that three of the four convicted of the theft successfully appealed on the grounds that Mr. Hill entered Norway under a fake passport.

Here's a summary of the facts on the 1994 theft as reported by the BBC.

Theresa Veier, an art history and lawyer in Oslo, wrote for the ARCA Blog about the artist and the theft of his work more than 65 years after Edvard Munch's death.

March 1, 2013

Coverage of the first Conference on Protection of Cultural Property in Asia (15-18 February 2013, Thimphu, Bhutan)

Snowy entrance to convention center in Thimphu, Bhutan
By Julia Brennan, ARCA Alum 2009

Part I

The Royal Government of Bhutan graciously hosted the first Asian-based cultural security conference, under the auspices of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCa), and funded by Interpol and the Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs. It was the first attempt to bring together professionals in the culture protection and law enforcement sectors to begin to develop networks and alliances in this region. In funding this convening, Interpol’s goal is to launch stronger initiatives with member states in Asia—promoting engagement and information exchange; regular posting on the stolen art database; and sustainable relationships with Asian country law enforcement and customs agencies.

The Royal Government of Bhutan was a gracious and generous host. For many attendees, it was a first visit to this remarkable and beautiful Kingdom.  This gathering was unlike most conferences where attendees are ‘on their own’ for most evenings and free days.  Instead, the foreign guests were treated to well-organized cultural tours of sacred monasteries and museums, and feted with rich local meals, cultural dance programs, comfortable hotels, hot stone baths, and quick shopping sprees - a rich and generous welcome and introduction to Bhutan. Everyone was humbled by the kindness and all-inclusiveness of our hosts.

The marchang, a traditional Bhutanese ceremony, performed.
Opening day began at the National Convention Center started with the marchang, a traditional Bhutanese ceremony performed to promote an auspicious start to a new endeavor. That night, a deep snow fell blanketing the country – an auspicious sign for our forum to protect cultural heritage. We were profusely thanked and blessed, as indeed the deities were pleased with our conference; the much-needed snow heralded a good start to the new year of the Water Snake, a robust harvest, and an end to the forest fires.

In attendance were about 30 international participants and 60 Bhutanese. The Bhutanese representation included the Cultural Officer and local police chief from each of the 20 national districts, as well as professionals from the Ministry of Home and Culture, local museums, and monasteries. Foreign participants came from Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, The Netherlands, UK, USA, Korea, Australia, Vietnam, China and India. The strongest law enforcement sector heralded from Europe, with the Executive Director of Police Services of Interpol, M. Jean-Michel Louboutin as the Honorable Chief Guest. European police, investigators, criminologists, and customs agents made up the strongest component of the conference.

Interpol's Jean-Michel Louboutin with Brigadier Kipchu Namgyel, Chief of Police Royal Bhutan Police
The 20 presenters, chiefly non-Asian, laid out sound instruments, platforms, and methodologies for combatting the illicit trade and retrieving lost cultural heritage. It was a powerful tool kit that we began with.  It covered national and international laws, conventions, inventories and object ID databases, and international joint customs operations.  Presenters reviewed platforms such as ARCHEO, COLOSEUM, ICOM’s Red List and INTERPOL’s stolen art database.  Additional information was provided about museum security measures; investigations by police and criminologists; the role of prosecutors; the importance of preventative measures adopted from the conservation practice; and grass roots initiatives in culturally-rich areas.  The content-rich agenda even covered liaison with tourist and local infrastructure; use of the media to build awareness and participation; development of emergency and disaster preparedness; and the role of market versus source countries in the fight to protect cultural property.

Sadly, there was little police representation from most Asian countries. Noticeably lacking at this first Asian-based conference were law enforcement, customs, or Ministry of Culture personnel from Thailand, India, Nepal, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Singapore or Malaysia. Several of these countries - Thailand, China, and Singapore, for example - play major roles in international trafficking and trans-shipment.  Others, such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Indonesia, are victims of ongoing looting and theft of their cultural property. The Bhutanese may have benefited the most from this conference, with a strong and broad-based attendance, with several presentations focused on illicit trafficking and theft cases in Bhutan.

There was a paucity of dialogue about other Asian countries, with no mention or discussion of the ever-growing Asian-based market for antiquities. Singapore and Bangkok are both active illicit hubs, with China and Vietnam’s growing population of individuals with purchasing power creating renewed demand for antiquities globally.  Thus, it felt like a missed opportunity to not explore these newly emerging markets and laundering sites. At the same time, perhaps now that the first such gathering is complete, it’s possible that future gatherings will begin to address these major threats to regional cultural heritage.

Bhutan emerged as the star player in this conference and in the protection of their cultural property. A preview of this strong role was the large sign at the national airport customs picturing Bhutanese artifacts and stating “Help Us Protect our Culture and Heritage” (along with caveats, guidelines, and penal consequences). Bhutan is an active member of INTERPOL, with regular communications and postings to INTERPOL’s stolen art database. It also has a sound and growing national database (both written and photographed) of their cultural heritage; training and posting of cultural officers in all the districts widely distributed and culturally-aware police force, and a strong base of nationalism and religious beliefs by the population at large. Bhutan is actively engaged in the protection of their religious heritage and presented several compelling talks focused on the theft and loss, recovery and preventative methods in place.

Bhutanese speakers included: The Minister of Home and Culture, H.E. Lyonpo Minjur Dorji; Mr. Dorjee Tshering, Director General of the Department of Culture; Mr. Tshewant Gyalpo, Director of Department of Culture; and Brigadier Kipchu Namgyel, Chief of Police Royal Bhutan Police.  All gave clear overviews of the current state of cultural property protection, regional statistics of loss, including case studies of the on-going vandalism of remote chortens or stupas. These religious sites are primarily targeted for the possible snatching of the valuable dzi bead, or cat’s eye agates. Since these relic beads are greatly sought after by Taiwanese and Chinese willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a stunning example, the thefts continue, perhaps by hire, and certainly executed by a well-greased international smuggling ring. The violation of these sacred protective sites deeply pains the Bhutanese, and steps are being taken to stem the on-going vandalism. Several law enforcement experts from Europe, as well as the deputy director of UNESCO, met with Bhutanese officials to discuss the urgency of this problem, and launch of a strategy and programs to end these thefts.

Ms. Brennan's coverage of the conference will continue tomorrow.

January 15, 2013

Norwegian police suspect Irish Travellers of Stealing Chinese Artifacts from the West Norway Museum of Decorative Arts in Bergen last week

Maeve Sheehan, a contributing writer for Irish Independent, reports in Irish Traveller gang linked to audacious Norway art heist that Norwegian police "suspect the same gang of Irish Travellers who have already been linked by Europol to a string of robberies, money laundering, and counterfeit goods" in last week's theft of Chinese artifacts from the West Norway Museum of Decorative Arts in Bergen.

Last October, former Scotland Yard art detective Charley Hill spoke of the similarity between "the Irish Traveller raids on art in the 1980s through 2010" and the break-in at the Kunsthal Rotterdam.  Private art investigator Arthur Brand offered his suspicions earlier on this blog regarding the Kunsthal Rotterdam and a theft a year earlier of rhino horns from the Natural History Museum across from the Kunsthal.

May 8, 2012

Art Crime in Film: Jø Nesbo's "Headhunter" steals art from corporate executives looking for new jobs

Here's another example of how an art thief is portrayed in a movie.

The 2011 Swedish film "Headhunter" (the English title now playing in theaters in the U. S.) based on the book by Swedish crime writer Jø Nesbo features a corporate management recruiter in Norway who steals art to compensate for his 'bad genes' and -- in his mind -- his less than desirable stature of 'five feet, six inches' (168 centimeters).  The protagonist narrates that the money earned from stealing art pays for the lifestyle that allows him to keep happy his beautiful statuesque wife.

In this fictional film, the movie's hero, Roger, obtains information from high-level managers seeking new employment that will enable him to rob the client -- is anyone home during the day? do you have a dog? do you own a valuable work of art? Roger has an accomplice who works at a protective security firm who disengages the residential alarm during the burglary.  Roger, in protective clothing, is careful not to leave any DNA evidence and replaces the original artwork with a reproduction before leaving the residence -- all within ten minutes.  Roger hides the stolen paintings in the roof of his car then parks in his garage for his accomplice to retrieve and then sell through a fence in Sweden.

Caledonian Boar Hunt by School of Rubens/Rueters Photo
Roger, under financial pressure, is looking for an expensive painting that will allow him to pay off his outstanding debts and finds out through his lovely wife that a man brought a painting by Peter Paul Ruben's that his grandmother received from a German officer during World War II.

Hiding a painting in the lining of the roof of a car is exactly where thieves hid Cézanne's painting "Boy with a Red Waistcoat" discovered by Serbian police last month.

In the film, one of the artworks stolen is that by Edvard Munch; the other painting, The Caledonian Boar Hunt by Peter Paul Rubens, was allegedly lost during the Nazi occupation of Ruben's hometown of Antwerp.  A painting similar to the image used in the film and by the same title was discovered in Greece last September.  Greece police recovered the 17th century oil sketch ten years after it had been stolen from the Fine Arts Museum of Ghent in Belgium.

December 6, 2011

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - ,, No comments

Post from Norway: Kvalheim accused of selling fake Hamsun and Ibsen documents

by Therese Veier, ARCA Blog Norwegian Correspondent

Geir Ove Kvalheim has been indicted by Økokrim, Norway’s art crime unit, accused of committing extensive forgeries of writings and documents from the world famous authors Knut Hamsun and Henrik Ibsen. One of the buyers of Kvalheim's alleged forgeries is The National Library in Norway[1]. The library bought the supposed fakes via Norli’s antique shop[2]  in Oslo.

When the news about the scale of the forgeries and the indictment broke, Kvalheim found himself in the middle of a scandal that has really upset Norwegian collectors and the National Library as well as experts and scholars on Hamsun and Ibsen[3].

After an ongoing police investigation since 2008, Økokrim has now indicted the 41-year-old man with gross fraud in connection with the resale of a number of writings and documents that allegedly originated from Knut Hamsun and Henrik Ibsen[4]. The indictment includes 13 documents, amongst others [5]:
-manuscript fragments of the novel På Gjengrodde stier / On Overgrown Paths by Knut Hamsun;
-manuscript fragments of the novel John Gabriel Borkman by Knut Hamsun;
-registration letter for the NS (6)  signed by Knut Hamsun;
-pocket almanac from 1943 with Knut Hamsun’s own handwritten notes;
-handwritten obituary by Knut Hamsun for Vidkun Quislings death[7];
-two first editions by Henrik Ibsen’s novel John Gabriel Borkman with dedications to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Edvard Munch;
-a letter from Henrik Ibsen to Knut Hamsun dated 1891, inscription by Knut Hamsun dated 1948; and
-other letters and personal greetings

Constructed ownership
- This is a unique criminal case in both Norwegian and European context. We are very familiar with art forgery, but in this country we have never seen attempted fraud with historical documents in this way or to this extent before, says chief public prosecutor Hans Tore Høviskeland in Økokrim’s environmental crime department. [8]

This type of fraud is really grave, but sadly I do not think it is unique, it may be unique in Norway but not in European fraud history. Fraud cases involving forgery of provenance and documents can be very tricky and hard to detect, but after the well known British case involving John Myatt and John Drewe perhaps people are becoming more aware.

During Økokrim’s investigations to reveal Kvalheim’s forgeries they used font experts and performed provenance research. According to the indictment, information about previous ownership in several cases was constructed by Kvalheim without the knowledge of the various people listed as previous owners. [9]

It sounds as if this was a rather poorly constructed fake provenance that should have been easy to detect when Kvalheim first approached the antiques dealers.

Lars Frode Larsen, a Hamsun researcher, was among those who already early on raised the alarm about possible fakes of Hamsun related documents from Kvalheim’s collection.

-The police investigation has taken more than three years, but I am glad charges have now been brought, says Larsen. [10]

Had a commission agreement
According to Økokrim’s indictment most of the sales where made in the years 2005-2006, through a commission agreement Kvalheim made with Norli’s antique shop in Oslo. Via Norli’s antique shop, several of the fake documents made their way into the National Library’s collection, who during this period bought eight fake Hamsun documents for the total amount of 695 000 NOK (92 000 Euro). [11]

In March 2006, Kvalheim also offered Cappelen's antiquarian bookshop in Oslo the chance to buy a supposedly unknown play by Henrik Ibsen entitled The Sun God. However the bookshop employees expressed doubts about the object's authenticity and did not take it on commission to resell any of these items. However, now, Kvalheim is also charged for this attempt of fraud.

In addition to these crimes, Kvalheim is accused of having sold a fake award evidence, the object is a gold German Cross from the Waffen SS. This was sold to the shop Derek’s Militaria in Tønsberg for the sum of 20 000 NOK.

Embarrassing to have been duped
The head of Norli’s antiquary, Rolf Warendorf is shocked at the extent of the fraud, but believes this is a one-time event.

- It is embarrassing to have been duped in this way. This is not a good thing for us, says Warendorf. [12]

It was Warendorf who first met with Kvalheim in 2005.  He considered the items to be authentic, and agreed to take them in commission.

Probably more fakes in the market
Both Økokrim’s investigators and Hamsun expert Lars Frode Larsen warns collectors that there may be more fakes in the market.
- We have seen that there have been other fakes in circulation than those covered by the indictment, said Høviskeland in Økokrim. [13]

-I encourage people who have purchased items that can be linked to Kvalheim, to perform a thorough check of previous ownership history on the objects purchased, advises Larsen.[14]
On Tuesday 29th of November Warendorf from Norli’s antigue shop could still not say exactly how much material the bookshop had purchased from the collector, except that it is “much more” than those contained in Økokrim’s indictment.[15]

I find some of Warendorf’s statements very alarming, particularly when he says the bookshop has not done anything with their procedures to prevent such scandals in the future. Unfortunately this illustrates the naivety and lack of knowledge about these types of crimes among some of the professionals which in turn makes it easier for conmen to slip fakes into the market.
- I am convinced this is an exceptional case. This is not something that happens every ten or fifty years, says Warendorf.[16]
The National Library has yet not made a public comment about the indictment. The defendant (Kvalheim), and his lawyer, have so far refused to make any comments.

I will continue to follow this case closely. It seems like Økokrim has made a thorough investigation. It sends an important signal that this type of fraud is treated as especially grave, because forging these type of objects can contribute to create a false impression of important people, events and works that are a part of Norwegian cultural and literary history. On the other hand it is naïve and scary that some professional dealers think this type of crime is almost non-existent, and that they seem unwilling to revise their routines for provenance research. It is much harder to reveal forgeries once they are resold and have entered the market or collections, private or public. So in the meantime, it is perhaps best for collectors to follow the old Latin saying “caveat emptor” (Let the buyer beware).

About Geir Ove Kvalheim:
Kvalheim is a Norwegian actor, director and copywriter, as well as being a collector. Kvalheim has been involved in an earlier judicial dispute. In 2009 he was convicted and had to pay Fredrik Jensen, an SS-veteran, the amount of 370 000 NOK (49 000 Euro), after an allegation concerning fraud in connection with a planned documentary film about Norwegian SS-veterans.[17]

In 2001 Jensen also gave the director a loan of 200 000 NOK for production of the documentary; however, the documentary was never finalised.

Text by Therese Veier, an art historian, lawyer and writer. Currently works at Public Art Norway.

[6] Nasjonal Samling was a party formed by Vidkun Quisling.
[7] Vidkun Quisling lived from 18 July 1887 – 24 October 1945, and he was a Norwegian politician. On the 9th of April 1940, with the German invasion of Norway in progress, he seized power in a Nazi-backed coup d'etat that garnered him international infamy. From 1942 to 1945 he served as Minister-President, working with the occupying forces. His government, known as the Quisling regime, was dominated by ministers from Nasjonal Samling, the party he had founded in 1933.

November 28, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011 - ,, No comments

Post from Norway: Unknown Rubens work hung on the wall for 80 years at National Museum

Photo from National Museum
By Therese Veier, ARCA Blog Norwegian Correspondent

It has just been discovered that a very valuable work,  by the world renowned Dutch artist Rubens has been exhibited in Oslo’s National Museum and been part of their collection for 80 years – without them knowing about it. [This text is based solely on information from two articles; one in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten 19.11.2011 which unfortunately is not available on the paper's webpages yet; the other from the National televisions webpages]

'This is not something that we discover every day. It is remarkable. I’m very surprised,' said Nico van Hout, a Belgian curator and Rubens expert. He had come to Norway to determine if the painted sketch was what the museum suspected: a genuine Rubens.

Until recently, the painting had been exhibited with a plaque that said “unknown Flemish artist”. It has now been attributed to the Dutch artist Peter Paul Rubens, one of the leading Flemish Baroque painters who mainly worked in the city of Antwerp.

The museum first came in contact with Nico van Hout when he visited the National Museum in conjunction with the museums Rubens exhibition during spring 2011. He immediately noticed the oil sketch, and told the museum that he thought it was very special. After his visit, van Hout and the museum kept in touch, and continued their discussions about the work and it’s provenance. He suspected that the work might be a genuine Rubens. This week van Hout was invited back to Oslo. He has been able to establish a final attribution, and has now confirmed that the work is a very good sketch by Rubens. In addition, the National Museum’s Rubens work has connections to a very important painting, "The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus" (1617/18) at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, according to van Hout.

'This is a great discovery, which should be internationally known because of the importance of the work,' says van Hout, and points out that the painting is a great Rubens work. 'This is a masterpiece by Rubens. It is an important work from around 1615. One of the reasons the international art world and scholars did not know about this work is because so far it has not been registered in the artist’s catalogue raisonne.'

Peter Paul Rubens's works are known for nudity, sensuality, vitality, color and speed. The National Gallery's new discovery is a good example of his work. 'This is a magnificent sketch, which really shows the life force, brushwork and speed scholars commonly associate with Rubens,' says Nico van Hout.

The scholar was asked, 'How surprised where you when you found an undiscovered Ruben’s work in Oslo?'

'I was very surprised. The National Museum is known for its great collections, but the museum does not attract the number of visitors it deserves internationally. The museum deserves greater international and national reputation.'

Nils Ohlsen, director of the department for historic and modern art at The National Museum, believes that this discovery shows how important it is to have international contacts in the art world. 'This is a joyful day for us. It proves that we have a pretty good collection also when it comes to older art.  It is important to establish personal contact with other gallery owners because they might know more than us.'

Of course the art work will have a considerable increase in its value by this new authentication. Even though prices at auction houses vary, old masters such as Rubens are not often on the market.

'It is very difficult to determine the value of such a work. I do not think there are similar Rubens works on the open market today,' says Ohlsen.  'What is important for the National Museum is that we have a real Rubens work in Oslo, and that we will now be visited by several researchers who might want to write about this sketch.'

The provenance and history of The National Museums Rubens work

The painting that has now been authenticated as a genuine Rubens sketch was originally donated to the museum by the Norwegian art collector Christian Langaard. He donated his entire collection of historic international paintings to the National Gallery in Oslo, which today is part of Oslo’s National Museum of art. According to the museums current director Nils Ohlsen, Langaard meant that the painting was a genuine Rubens. But at that time scientific researchers refused to authenticate the work, and refuted that the painting was by the Flemish master Rubens. Thus the painting was incorporated into the museum collection, but was left unattributed.

'Early in the 19th century a lot of works where wrongfully attributed to Rembrandt and Rubens,' Says Ohlsen.  'After this new technical and scientific investigations where executed, and as a result of this a lot of former attributions to old masters such as Rubens and Rembrandt where then seen to be incorrect, and several works got the label “painted by unknown Flemish master” or “in the school of...” I do not know exactly who it was that examined the National Museums painting, but it was then established that it was not by Rubens.

'The painting is small, and measure only 77 x 32 cm, but the composition is filled with excitement, shadow and light,' says Ohlsen.

The National Museum hopes for more new authentications

The museum will now investigate the provenance on several other paintings in its collection, with the hope that they will discover other unauthenticated master works.

'The National Museum plans to continue this work. The museum owns several other art works that we do not know who painted. We have decided to send picture files of other works to scientists, amongst others in America,' says Ohlsen.

It is not yet certain which paintings that are to be submitted to a closer examination, but the museum has had several suggestions already from van Hout.

'He has given us suggestions about which works we should send to international scholars. And in a couple of weeks we plan to make a complete agenda and list for these new examinations,' says Ohlsen.

The attribution of works is, as the art world and art market has seen several examples of, both difficult and not precise, and neither technical tests nor the eye of a connoisseur can always be trusted. It is especially the high prices art works fetches at auctions, and the increase in value for a work if it authenticated as the work of a famous artist, that contribute to attract unserious experts and fraudsters.

However it is really great that Oslo’s National Museum has been so fortunate as to have one of the works in their collection be authenticated as a Rubens, and as one of the museum directors say, this is not something that happens everyday. But I really hope that the museum has the right connections and will seek the help of professional experts in their future plans to determine the fate and attribution of other works in the collection.

Freelance writer Therese Veier is an art historian and a lawyer and works at Public Art Norway.

October 11, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - ,, 2 comments

Post from Norway: Odd Nerdrum Denied Painting Privileges (Part III)

by Therese Veier

As to the issue of denying Nerdrum to paint, convicts in Norway are usually encouraged to paint or take art classes during their time in prison. The Justice department states to the media, that according to Norwegian laws, it is forbidden to exercise business while in prison. Since Nerdrum makes his livelihood by painting art works, he can possibly make money by selling the works he paints in prison either during or after his sentence is completed.

Nedrum is a controversial person in Norway - many find him provocative and his painting style dated. But personal feelings set aside, is it a lot harder for an artist to be forced not to make art for a limited time period than it is for people in other occupations to be denied performing their occupations?

Is anyone familiar with other similar cases regarding artists and; messy accounting, lack of reporting income, tax evasion, and being refrained from making art for a certain duration of time?

The verdict from the district court has been appealed, and might change in a higher court, but still the verdict is sending a signal to artists and other professionals.

Facts about Odd Nerdum (1944 - ):

Norwegian figurative painter. Some call him a modern classicist.

After studying at the Art Academy in Oslo, Nerdrum later studied with Joseph Beuys, at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.

His primary influences are Carvaggio, Rembrandt and Tizian. One of his most known works are "The Killing of Andreas Baader" from 1977-1978, where he portraits the terrorist as a victim.

His opinions on art have caused several media debates the past 30 years. About 10-12 years ago Nerdrum stated that his art should be understood as kitsch rather than art as such. "On Kitsch", a manifesto composed by Nerdrum describes the distinction he makes between kitsch and art.
Nerdum suffers from Tourettes syndrome.

In 2002 he officially claimed that he would never again make any comments or statements to the Norwegian press.

Over the years Nerdrum has had several pupils / assistants that have wanted to learn his craft because his approach to painting is based on traditional methods that include mixing and grinding his own pigments, working on canvas he had stretched or stretched by assistants rather than on pre-stretched canvas, and working from live models often himself, and in many cases members of his own family. Several of his pupils have said that they feel like outcasts who are not respected in art circles because they aspire to paint figuratively and are inspired by renaissance and baroque artists.

In December 2003 Nerdrum left Norway and bought a house on Island, a country he had travelled to for several years. The landscape on Island, especially the volcanoes and the color of the soil has been of particular interest to the artist, and often served as backdrop for his paintings. In 2011 the artist returned to Norway, he currently resides at Rødvik farm in the Norwegian city Stavern.

October 10, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011 - ,, 2 comments

Post from Norway: Tax Evasion or Conservation Repayment? Odd Nerdrum's Troubles (Part II)

by Therese Veier

Odd Nerdrum kept a storage box in an Austrian bank where he stashed $ 900,000. Why he did this is disputed and seems to be at the core of the disagreement. According to the district court, there is substantial evidence that the artist kept the cash in a storage box in a foreign bank in order to intentionally withhold a substantial amount of profit made from the sale of art works from the IRS.

The artist’s explanation as for why he needed to store such a huge amount of cash is the following:
I kept the money in a bank vault in Austria, as an insurance fund against damages, resulting from a period where I used a particular oil paint that after a few years began to “melt” and slide down the canvas on a variety of pictures that had been sold.
The artist states that he has tried to remedy some of the damage by painting new pictures that would replace the old ones, in addition to putting aside funds in a safety deposit box intended to be used as compensation to collectors that had bought damaged works. At the most, the cash amount in the bank box was $ 900,000, according to Nerdrum.

However the district court does not believe the artists explanation about why he needed and kept a deposit box with cash, because the artist has changed his statements and various reasons as to why he kept such a huge amount of cash in a storage box, and the judge does not believe the artist when he claims that the storage box belongs to his American art dealer.

As to the two-year jail sentence, in the past, courts have tended to be stricter in their punishments for white-collar crimes. Should artists be treated differently from other people just because they claim to be no good with numbers? Does the commercial art world and art speculation encourage artists to, perhaps unintentionally, violate rules for reporting sales and keeping correct accounting of their income without really understanding the full consequences of their actions? Like other professionals, artists have to submit to the same laws and regulations regarding taxes as others, and if their financial abilities are limited they should hire help. But up until now I have not heard of other similar cases where the artist has been sentenced to jail for several years and specifically forbidden to make art works in that period.

This story will be concluded in tomorrow's post.

January 25, 2011

Artist Profile: Edvard Munch, Part Three, The Thefts

By Therese Veier

Munch is one of a few Norwegian artists that have a global market of buyers and collectors. The value and prices for his art have increased, coinciding with an increase in thefts.

On February 23, 1988, in the middle of the night, the Munch painting “Vampyr” was stolen. The thief climbed into the Munch Museum through an open window. With no alarms attached, it was easy to steal the world-famous painting. This was not a planned theft, rather an act of impulse triggered by the open window. Iconic art such as “Vampyr” is impossible to sell, and not knowing what to do with the painting, the thief decided to return it. In August, he walked straight into the police station, carrying “Vampyr” under his arm, hoping this would lead to a milder sentence for a big jewellery theft he had committed in June. The thieves were convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.

Unfortunately, the National Museum in Oslo was not that lucky in 1993 when Munch’s "Portrett studie" a portrait of his sister, was taken from the walls during the museum’s opening hours. The painting has never been recovered. The experience of art crime investigators is often that if stolen art is not found shortly after the theft, it can disappear into the black market for years.

A year after this, in 1994, a few hours before the grand opening ceremony for the Lillehammer-Olympic Games, the National Museum in Oslo was again victim of a Munch theft. This time the museum’s version of "Skrik" (The Scream) was stolen. Knowing that most of the police force would be occupied with security at the Olympics, the confidant thieves planned and executed a theft they knew would take all media attention away from the Olympics and ridicule Norway. The thieves entered the museum using a ladder, smashed a window, climbed inside and stole “Skrik”. They pinned an art postcard on the empty museum wall with the words, “Thanks for the poor security”. The theft took 50 seconds. An inexperienced guard did not react correctly to the museum alarm, and camera images were poor. The theft created headlines worldwide. How could this happen? Was it really that easy to steal a national treasure? With the professional aid of Scotland Yard and Charley Hill, who managed to convince the thieves that the Getty Museum wanted to buy the work back, “Skrik” was recovered. It turned out that the brains behind this brazen theft was Pål Enger, who previously stole “Vampyr” from the Munch Museum. Enger was sentenced to six years in prison for this theft and other petty crimes, his companion, got three years. Museum security was declared a national issue that should be taken serious.

After a few quiet years the Munch Museum experienced Norway’s most brutal art theft so far. On the 22nd of August 2004, both “Skrik” and “Madonna” were stolen by armed robbers during the museum’s opening hours. Shortly after the theft a student at the art academy in Oslo, Malo (Hammaya Rashid), solicited a stunt claiming the thieves had burnt the artworks in fear of getting caught, and given him the ashes from which he had created a new work, “Munch masks”. Lars Fr. Svendsen, a philosophy professor, called the idea brilliant. If the masks really contained the ashes from “Skrik” and “Madonna” this would make Malo’s work one of the most important artworks in the 21 century, and even if they don’t it is still a very interesting and provocative work. Criminality as an art form has never really been explored, but will probably increase in the future, Svendsen stated to the press. Hopefully the majority do not share his views, and tests showed that Malo’s “Munch masks” did not stem from the stolen works.

Later investigation revealed that the theft was a diversion to get the police occupied searching for the paintings while the thieves could execute the largest money theft in Norway (57,4 million Norwegian kroner), the NOKAS robbery. When the NOKAS case came on hearing David Toska, the leader, offered to return the stolen Munch works if certain demands were met, like more frequent visits from his girlfriend. His demands where never granted. Toska and his gang were sentenced for the NOKAS robbery, but Toska was never tried for the museum theft. In May 2006, three men were convicted and sentenced for the Munch robbery, but the artworks remained lost. Two years and nine days after “Skrik” and “Madonna” were stolen from the museum the police found the artworks in Oslo. They were damaged, but could be restored. No reward was paid for the recovery of the works, and no new convictions issued.

To summarize, my impression is that thieves view art thefts as easy, a prank to get media attention, to brag about or as a cover up for their “real” theft. The thieves are tough criminals. Of course museums cannot always prevent art from being stolen, but research and knowledge about art crime, correct security measures and special art crime investigators is necessary.

Databases to register stolen art is an important tool; unfortunately, Norway does not yet have a national database for stolen art.

January 24, 2011

Artist Profile: Edvard Munch, Part Two, The Munch Museum

By Therese Veier

The Oslo Council inherited Munch’s works and property in 1946 and opened a museum in 1963. The museum expanded and renovated in 1994, the 50th anniversary of Munch’s death; the project was largely financed by the Japanese company Idemitsu Kosan co. Ltd.

Apart from a fascination and admiration for Munch’s art in Japan, why did a Japanese company have to finance this? Norway is a rich country by most comparisons, largely earned by oil findings. Isn’t it the obligation of Norway and the Oslo council to take care of our cultural inheritance?

In 2004, the museum experienced a violent theft, and was burglarized in broad daylight by two armed robbers who stole The Scream and Madonna. After this incident, the museum received money from the council to update security.

Immediately after the theft in 2004, the company Det norske Veritas was hired to perform a security analysis to minimize future risks regarding fire, water and humidity damage, and theft and armed robbery, according to Sture Portvik, information and marketing director at the Munch Museum.

Det Norske Veritas report recommended the installation of "a lockable gate for the general public at some distance from the entrance door"; a labyrinth in front of the gate; and metal detectors. The DNV report also recommended that the museum protect the valuable icons with glass and bolt all pieces onto the walls; upgrade burglary protection; and "further fire sectioning of the rooms where the art works are stored.”

“The only possible action towards armed robbers is to create enough time delay so that the police can get there in time,” says Monica Solem, project manager in DNV Consulting. She adds: “At the time of the robbery, there were hardly any barriers to overcome in the museum.”

The Munch museum also contacted other museums to enquire about security measures, and the company ABM-utvikling, that specializes in active and strategic development to strengthen archives, libraries and museums role as cultural and social institutions, according to Sture Portvik.

The museum radically altered their security. Visitors today are reminded of airport security checks when entering the museum, a long wall of bulletproof glass is in front of several art works and guards are placed throughout. Museums face a difficult task in how to best maximize security, be cost-efficient, care for the art works, and still keep the art available for the public.

In the fall of 2010, the Munch Museum hired a new director, Stein Olav Henrichsen. He told the press that the museum still faces big challenges that will have to be solved before the museum is scheduled to move in 2014 into a new building (nicknamed Lambda) by architect Juan Herreros. However opinion is split about whether a new museum should be built by the sea where it might be humid and no room for expansion, or if it is better to keep the present location and renovate the old building at Tøyen. On 17th of January 2011 the council issued a final hearing for the three cultural institutions, the Munch Museum, Stenersen Museum, and Deichmanske Main Library, that are planned to relocate to Bjørvika. The deadline for a final decision is set to the 28th of February.

The museum employees have asked for financial aid because 200-300 paintings badly need technical conservation before they can be moved. Several of the paintings suffer from discoloration and peeling, and they are especially fragile because of Munch’s experiments with technique and material, and his often rough way of handling his art. He would sometimes expose artworks to the elements of nature and let the result be part of his artistic expression.

In September 2010, the council decided to give the museum 26 million Norwegian kroner for conservation.

“The Department is facing a new major challenge: preparing all the works of art to be moved to the new museum building in Bjørvika in Oslo. The emergency conservation project started in the end of September. Project leader is P.hd painting conservator Biljana Topalova Casadiego. Emergency conservation of the Stenersen Collection is soon completed.”

Just before Christmas in December 2010, during a cold period in Oslo (minus 18-20 degrees Celsius), the museum had to close several exhibition rooms, including the main exhibition room. Water ran down the inside of the museum walls, other walls where extremely humid, and the air-conditioner and heating system malfunctioned. The director informed the press that the museum had been struggling for a long time with the task of trying to provide a safe environment for the art in an inadequate building with a bad infrastructure. Several problems are due to lack of maintenance and technical insufficiencies. It is very hard to maintain stable temperatures inside the building, especially when the weather outside is cold, and condensation increases in rooms with outer walls. He compares the climate inside to a sauna, it is humid and lacks oxygen. To prevent permanent damage several artworks were put in storage, and employees took turns wiping the walls with cloths to try and keep them dry.

These problems have now been repaired. On Friday 7th of January the rehabilitation of the main exhibition room was finished, the outer walls of the museum had been isolated, and the damaged surfaces inside fixed and painted, according to Sture Portvik.

On January 21st, 2011, a new exhibition with the title “ Text and image” opened. The exhibition is accompanied by an online publication of Munch’s texts and is intended to be used as a digital search archive. The museum also plans to make all correspondence to Munch available online as well. In 2008, a catalogue raisonné was published, and senior curator Gerd Woll at the Munch Museum is currently working on a catalogue about Munch’s prints that will be released in both Norwegian and English, according to Sture Portvik.

The museum is currently working on a strategy to make Munch’s art more available and to increase the number of visitors as well as encourage more research, with longer opening hours, lectures, concerts, new digitalized material, English translations and a new museum shop, Stein Olav Henrichsen told the press.

It seems that the museum is on the right track with a new director that has the ambition and will to care properly for Munch’s inheritance. I hope he will have the means. He is dependent on financial support from the council, because there is little private art sponsoring in Norway.