Showing posts with label Paris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paris. Show all posts

November 21, 2014

Artnet news highlights report in Le Point about France's anti-fraud brigade raid on the Musée de Lettres et Manuscrits on Nov. 18

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Artnet.com's headline yesterday: "€500 Million Ponzi Scheme Suspected at Paris Museum pointed to an "exclusive" article in LePoint.fr reported by Mélanie DeLattre, Christophe Labbé, and Laure Rougevin-Baville: "Descente de police au musée de Lettres et Manuscrits" (originally published Nov. 18 and updated Nov. 20):
The cosily niche books and manuscripts market may be about to be hit by one its biggest scandals in recent years. And Paris's Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits, as well as its sister organization the Institut des Lettres et Manuscrits, is in the eye of the storm. 
Le Point reported that on November 18, France's anti-fraud brigade raided the museum and the various branches of Aristophil, a company owned by the museum's founder, Gérard Lhéritier. 
The company is suspected by the tax authorities and Tracfin—a public body fighting money laundering and terrorism financing—of “deceptive marketing practices," and “gang fraud." At time of writing, the Aristophil website as well as the websites for the museum and the institute appear to have been taken offline.
The Musée de Lettres et Manuscrits is a small building located at 222 Boulevard Saint-Germain (near Rue du Bac) in the 7th arrondisemont. I have often passed it walking from Cafe de Flore to Musée d'Orsay but in the last 20 years the closest I have come to entering the museum was to grab a pamphlet last January. The entrance itself is off of the street so I always thought the institution was a bit exclusive although according to the brochure, for less than 10 euros you could visit the collection from 10h - 19h every day with the exception of Mondays and three national holidays (Christmas, New Year's Day, and the first of May).

June 16, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014 - ,,, No comments

Art or crime? Palais de Tokyo exhibits graffiti artists who have been arrested for their works

Artdaily.org's Hugo Vitrani (who is identified as a "curator") has written here about the graffiti exhibit, LASCO PROJECT #3, at the Palais de Tokyo, pointing to both the awards and the arrest records of some of the artists:
Successions of black windows, balconies, shadows, satellite dishes: Evol (b. 1970, lives and works in Berlin) highjacks urban space with his stencils of miniature housing projects, placing the peripheral, the invisible, at the heart of cities and institutions. His installation work was awarded the Prix Arte/ Slick in 2010. His scattering of buildings in ruins is a pointed comment on the failure of an architectural and political utopia. Arrested by the police’s anti-graffiti task force in 2012, Cokney (b. 1985, lives and works in Paris) was tried and was fined over 200,000 euro for his illegal paintings on trains and subway cars, a decision which he contested. This incident, and the publicity it received, compelled the artist to eschew the secrecy and clandestinity typically associated with graffiti art, paradoxically allowing him to own up to—and even lay claim—to his work. A celebrated tattoo artist, Cokney worked at Seen (NYC) before setting up at Hand In Glove (Paris). In his installation at the Palais de Tokyo, Cokney combines paintings with the estimates, complaints and reports generated during his trial, thus emphasizing that the police archives and the judicial examination of his work constitute an integral part of his production. More Information: http://artdaily.com/news/70804/Palais-de-Tokyo-in-Paris-brings-together-the-works-of-various-graffiti-and-street-artists#.U58cPJSwKwI[/url] Copyright © artdaily.org
In 2012, Fernanda Hinke wrote in Underground Paris about another exhibit on graffiti culture, including an explanation about urbex -- the creation of "artistic interventions" in abandoned spaces or places forbidden to the public such as the Mines of Paris.

Related topics: Caitlin Willis wrote about graffiti in contemporary Rome in The Journal of Art Crime; Harvard's Robert Darnton spoke about graffiti at the Getty in 2011; and this post discussed the exhibit at the Geffen in 2011.

January 17, 2014

Postcard from Paris: Musée d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris -- galleries restructured and permanent collection displayed away from open windows

Museum view of Eiffel Tower & Siene
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
ARCAblog Editor-in-Chief

PARIS - Musée d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris has undergone a restructuring of its galleries since a thief stole five paintings -- never recovered -- in May 2010. The biggest visible change to visitors today is that the long downstairs gallery facing windows overlooking the Seine and the Eiffel Tower is now a big open space with large, immobile paintings too big to be carried away by one person.
Open gallery with large paintings

Four years ago, portable works by modern paintings hung in the lower level that had access to an outdoor terrace and down steps to the street that runs south along the Seine. Admission to the museum, then and now is free, so it would not have cost a prospecting thief any money to scope out the small works that were be easily removed in the early morning hours while security personnel waited weeks for a part required to fix the security
Shiny lock, sharp shutters
alarm.
Entrance to the permanent collection

Today the museum appeared to have installed large outworks in the area that had been violated, tore down the wall dividers, and opened up the space. The inside metal shutters vulnerable in the break-in appeared well-maintained and locks nickel sharp.

The permanent collection is now displayed away from the large floor to ceiling windows into small rooms carved out of the middle of the building. More paintings, including some by the artists Picasso and Matisse who's works were stolen, appeared to be on display than even two years ago. This afternoon, with the bookstore full of customers and visitors eating and drinking at the cafe, this museum appeared to have no visible scars of the theft. However, I still can't bear to believe that those paintings, including the one by Braque that I so admired, were really thrown in the trash


January 12, 2014

Postcard from Paris: Sunday in Montmartre at Sacré Coeur and Musée de Montmartre

Musée de Montmartre: 12, rue Cortot
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

PARIS - The pitch black winter morning extends to almost 8.30 here in January -- well after my friends and I have selected a slice of quiche lorraine and a baguette from a warm boulangerie in Montmartre for Sunday breakfast. We pass the Le Bateau-Lavoir where Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and later on the second floor apartment (now available for rent) that once served as Picasso's first studio in Montmartre (Rue Gabrielle, 18).

Up a staircase that stretches alongside a very big Irish pub (Corcoran's), the 19th century Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, which survived bombings in 1944, overlooks the city. The basilica supports itself through donations, including the sale of 2 euro and 10 euro novena candles (I lit one for my parents). Although photographs are prohibited inside the church, exhibit panels outside of the areas for prayer include an appeal to support a campaign begun in 1985 to restore the century old Grand Organ. In addition to daily masses, Sacré-Coeur has maintained the Vocation to pray for the Roman Catholic Church and 'the whole world' in front of the 'exposed Blessed Sacrament' since August 1, 1885 (125 years). Exiting the church, I witnessed a head-scarfed woman arguing with one of the dirty ragged beggars sitting outside the door as if urging her to get out of the cold.

Vintage cars attract crowd on Sunday in pedestrian area
On Sundays car traffic is limited in Montmartre to residents and by ten o'clock I had walked through a crowd photographing vintage cars to the Musée de Montmartre, a complex that includes a 17th century house once inhabited by August Renoir; the site of the art supply store frequented by Vincent van Gogh; a park reserve open only to cats; and a vineyard looking down to the infamous cabaret Au Lapin Argile.

The oldest house in Montmartre, built in the middle of the 17th century, was restored in 1959 to house the museum (12, rue Cortot); next door was 'the lodgings of Mr. Tanguy':
Rear of the building under renovation, 10 Cortot
The caretaker's apartment at 10 rue Cortot was inhabited from 1866 to 1873 by Julien Tanguy, an art supplier. Pissaro, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Van Gogh came to get their supplies at his shop in rue Clauzel. When they couldn't pay Tanguy they gave him pieces of their work.
Inside the museum is an exhibit: "Impressions a Montmartre: Eugené Delátre & Alfredo Müller", including a 1897 "Death in a Fur Coat".

Death in a Fur Coat, 1897



















Vineyard overlooking cabaret, Au Lapin Agile (red building)

January 7, 2014

Tuesday, January 07, 2014 - , No comments

Postcard from Paris: Judge Arthur Tompkins writes on 'two extremes of Parisian retail history' and creating art

Painting of Shakespeare & Company, Paris
From the collection of Judge Arthur Tompkins
This post is the second of a four-part series written last autumn during New Zealander's Judge Tompkins sojourn to present papers at an Interpol DNA conference in Lyon. Consider it a warm-up to the ARCA blog traveling to Paris next week.

By Judge Arthur Tompkins

Today [November 2, 2013] I experienced two extremes of Parisian retail history.

First up, Fauchon. Since 1886, from two neighbouring bright pink stores opposite the north-western corner of the Madeleine, Fauchon has catered for the luxury end of the Paris gourmet, gastronome and epicurean market, with a bewildering and hugely tempting array of comestibles – caviar, coffees and teas, and a mouth-watering array of chocolates and biscuits, among very much else – and also served the occasional antipodean interloper.   I ventured in today after a selection of gifts for the family back home, as well as a coffee – having opened the first 'salon de thé' in Paris in 1898, Fauchon’s teas are famous, but coffee is more my legally addictive stimulant of choice.

Having (considerably) lightened my wallet and consumed a fine, although not necessarily fantastic coffee, I bundled my carefully gift-wrapped purchases into the front basket of a Velib bike, and bumped my way across Paris to Shakespeare & Co.

For all sorts of reasons this venerable bookstore across the river is at the other end of the retail spectrum from Fauchon. Ramshackle, crowded, dishevelled, the haunt of aspiring and penurious writers and lovers of literature, and on very many people’s guidebook list of “things-to-see-and-photograph-on-your-iPhone-when-in-Paris”, it sits in a small square with fine views of the front of Notre Dame. Attentive readers may remember that in 2011 I visited the store, with an interesting pictorial result. Here’s my email from that visit:
Dear All,
I spent yesterday, for a couple of hours in the early evening, being photographed by literally dozens of people, and painted by a young woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As you do.
As is my wont when in Paris, I visited the Shakespeare & Co bookshop, after a nostalgic visit to the Bibliotheque Mazarin.  After buying a book, the sun was shining, Notre-Dame was gleaming in the afternoon light, the trees were shady, and all was good in the world.  So I took advantage of Shakespeare & Co's hospitality, and sat myself down in a chair by the front door to read.  It turned out that my position was such that every second person who happened along, and who took a picture of the famous storefront, necessarily included me in the picture.  After a while I began to assume a proprietary air, hoping that when they showed their Paris pics to friends and family back home, then would indulge in a little poetic license and describe me as the owner of the legendary bookshop. I lost count after about 35 or so people had taken my picture...
Then a young woman set up an easel right in front of the store, and began to paint.  I stayed in situ long enough to ensure that she painted me in, and had a couple of chats with her as she did so.  She hailed from Tulsa Oklahoma, and was spending the last three weeks of (I think) a summer college vacation in Paris, and wanted to be a painter.  She has promised to email me a photograph of the finished picture.
In fact, I ended up buying the picture from her, and a copy of it is shown above. The original hangs in my library at home – from which it has not, to the best of my knowledge, been stolen by a passing art crime enthusiast. (Although if that  happened, and the felon in question was prepared to swap it for a purloined Vermeer, I saw a nice one in the Louvre yesterday …).

I pursued a similar pastime - sitting and reading  for an hour or so yesterday out the front of the store.  Sadly no itinerant artist happened along to paint my picture. But I am happy to report that I will again appear in a large number of Paris holiday pictures taken by lots of people of a wide variety of digital devices, including several iPads – which do look faintly ridiculous when held up and used as a camera.

George Whitman, the eccentric founder of the store, died at age 98, in his apartment above the store two years ago, as it happens three months after I visited the store in September 2011. Although I don’t think the two events are connected. Here’s his New York Times obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/books/george-whitman-paris-bookseller-and-cultural-beacon-is-dead-at-98.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Off to Lyon, and Interpol, tomorrow…

July 10, 2013

Fire Damage: 17th century Parisian mansion Hôtel Lambert once owned by the Czartoryski and Rothschild families burns for six hours

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Hazardous materials from renovation work complicated fire fighting efforts to save the Hôtel Lambert on the Île St Louis in Paris early Wednesday morning (Euronews).

Built from 1640-44 for the financier Jean-Baptiste Lambert, the mansion had been purchased in the 19th century by Polish exiles of the Czartoryski family (owners of Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine) and purchased from the Rothschild family in 2007 by a Qatar prince. Many politicians, writers (George Sand) and musicians (Chopin) had worked or stayed at Hôtel Lambert.

Angelique Christafis of The Guardian reported more than 140 firefighters and 50 fire engines battled for six hours a blaze believed to have begun on the roof of the 17th century mansion which has been under a controversial renovation. Damage is being assessed:
The Paris fire brigade, which has not yet given a cause for the start of the fire, said work was taking place to establish the extent of fire, smoke and water damage to historic interiors and decorative artwork on walls and ceilings. 
Before the fire, many works inside the building remained in an almost pristine state, including a series of frescos in the gallery of Hercules by Charles Le Brun, the 17th-century French artist who also worked for Louis XIV.
Hôtel Lambert is included in UNESCO's World Heritage Site, "Paris, Banks of the Seine."

In February, the historic Villa Casdagli in Cairo (and former American Embassy) in also suffered extensive fire damage (here's a report by Dr. Joris Kila, Chairman of the International Cultural Resources Working Group).

August 24, 2012

Book Review: "Hare with the Amber Eyes", Part III

“The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” By Edmund de Waal

Paperback: Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010
Book Review by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief, Part III

Charles Ephrussi moves to a ‘grander’ address at 11, avenue d’Iéna in the 7th arrondissement of Paris and begins purchasing pictures, the first of which were by Berthe Morisot. He would own 40 Impressionist works – by Morisot, Cassatt, Degas, Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir. A true story of Charles, a Manet painting, and an extra asparagus stalk is disguised by Proust in a reference to ‘Monsieur Elstir’s asparagus’. As part of his research, Mr. da Waal traveled to the National Gallery in London to see Monet’s Les bains de la Grenouillère once owned by Charles. Even the back of Charles Ephrussi’s head is depicted in Renoir’s Le déjeuner des canotiers, the Luncheon of the Boating Party. In 1899, Charles sent the 264 netsuke in a black vitrine with green velvet shelves and a mirrored back as a wedding gift to his first cousin, Victor and the Baroness Emmy Schey von Koromla, the great-grandmother of Edmund de Waal.

The netsuke collection was set in the dressing room of the fashionable Baroness at the Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse in Vienna. Emmy’s three children took out the objects and played with them while they visited their mother during her long ritual of dressing for her various social engagements, particularly on Sunday morning when their caregivers had the morning off to attend church. Mr. da Waal visited Vienna and researched the history of the family business and the contradictory relationship of his great-grandfather Viktor to business, art, and his family. During this period, Mr. da Waal tells of how Vienna, which under Emperor Franz Joseph had expanded the Jewish community, became increasingly anti-Semitic under a mayor whose philosophy would mentor Adolf Hitler.

The Ephrussi family considers themselves assimilated Jews, even celebrating the festivities of Christmas. Mr. da Waal describes the luxurious life of this family with the national events that would change their country and ultimately threaten their survival. The Ephrussi family was even able to leave ‘demonstrations against the Jews’ in Vienna during the First World War for their country home in Czechoslovakia for fresh food. Then in 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire is dissolved, the Emperor Karl flees to Switzerland and Austria becomes a republic. Mr. da Waal notes how his grandmother Elisabeth claimed her spot in the academic world as a poet and lawyer, one of the first women from the University of Vienna to receive a doctorate in law. Elizabeth marries a young Dutchman of the Reformed Church at an Anglican church in Paris.

Meanwhile, for two decades between two wars, Austria struggled along until it was annexed to Nazi Germany. Then in 1938, ‘six members of the Gestapo, in perfect uniforms walk straight in [the gates of the Palais Ephrussi].’ The Ephrussi men are declared enemies of the State and arrested. Emmy is relegated to two rooms at the back of the house while her husband Viktor and son Rudolf are imprisoned until they sign away all of the Ephrussi property – businesses, residence, and 100 years of possessions – to avoid being sent to the concentration camp in Dachau. Of all the objects stolen then sold, a loyal housekeeper named Anna risks her own safety to pocket the netsuke a few at a time until she could hide them in her mattress.

After the war, the netsuke are returned to the family and Edmund da Waal’s great-uncle Iggie takes them back to Japan where he spends the rest of his life. And where Edmund the potter and student of Japanese finds the netsuke and learns what those objects mean when they are returned to the culture from which they came.

Here are links to Part I and Part II of this review.

August 22, 2012

Book Review: "Hare with the Amber Eyes" Part II

“The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” By Edmund de Waal
Paperback: Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010


Book Review by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief, Part II

In the prologue de Waal describes what he doesn’t want his book to be:
I know that my family were Jewish, of course, and I know they were staggeringly rich, but I really don’t want to get into the sepia saga business, writing up some elegiac Mitteleuropa narrative of loss…. And I’m not entitled to nostalgia about all that lost wealth and glamour from a century ago.
He does have a vision for his book:
I want to know what the relationship has been between this wooden object that I am rolling between my fingers – hard and tricky and Japanese – and where it has been. I want to be able to reach to the handle of the door and turn it and feel it open. I want to walk into each room where this object has lived, to feel the volume of the space, to know what pictures were on the walls, how the light fell from the windows. And I want to know whose hands it has been in, and what they felt about it and thought about it – if they thought about it. I want to know what it has witnessed.
De Waal expected his project to take six months not the six years his journey took him through archives and libraries from Tokyo to Odessa where his Russian family of grain-exporters originated. A piece of oral history links him from his grandmother to the purchaser of these objects, Charles Ephrussi, who lived on the rue de Monceau (slang for nouveau riche) in the Hôtel Ephrussi in Paris in the late 19th century. As a child, Elisabeth Ephrussi had met Charles at the family’s six storey stone Swiss chalet ‘on the edge of Lake Lucerne’. Elisabeth lived at the Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse in Vienna (not too far from the Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer residence).

Mr. de Waal, one of four sons of a retired clergyman in England, starts with a slender cache of objects from his 80-year-old father then travels to libraries, archives, and to each relevant family residence to piece together this story of collecting. In Paris de Waal discovers that the Hôtel Ephrussi at 81 rue de Monceau is now ‘an office for medical insurance’. The Ephrussi family had branched into banking in Vienna, the capital city of the Hapsburg Empire, and had set up offices in the French capital. One of the Ephrussi men, Charles, was excused from the business of making money. Charles moved from Odessa to Vienna before settling in Paris to live as a bachelor art scholar and collector: ‘He is in the extraordinary position of being both ridiculously affluent and very self-directed.’ Charles traveled throughout Europe gathering information for a book on the German artist Albrecht Dürer: Charles ‘needs to find every drawing, every scribble in every archive, in order to do him justice’ (not unlike this journey of Edward de Waal).

Anti-Semitism haunts the family even in 19th century Paris. Mr. de Waal notes that the diarist Edmond de Goncourt claims Charles has ‘infested’ the salons of Paris as a Jew: ‘Charles, he (Goncourt) intimates, is ubiquitous, the trait of someone who does not know his place; he is hungry for contact, does not know when to shade eagerness and become invisible.’ In addition to Goncourt, Marcel Proust (with more charity) mentions Charles as attending artistic gatherings known as salons. Mr. de Waal reads all of Charles’ reviews published in the monthly Gazette des beaux-arts where Charles was a contributor, editor and an owner. In the 1870s, Charles, who also collected French Impressionist paintings today found in many public collections, purchased collected Japanese art, a rarity in Paris, with his married lover (and incredibly the mother of five children, da Waal notes). Charles purchased 264 netsuke from a dealer in Japanese art, Philippe Sichel. As described by Goncourt, the artists of the netsuke specialized and took their time in sculpting the small intimate carvings. Da Waal quotes an 1889 letter from Rudyard Kipling describing the novelist’s reaction to seeing netsuke when he traveled to Japan:
Unfortunately the merest scratch of Japanese character is the only clue to the artist’s name, so I am unable to say who conceived, and in creamy ivory executed, the hold man horribly embarrassed by a cuttle-fish; the priest who made the soldier pick up a deer for him and laughed to think that the brisket would be his and the burden his companions…
Mr. da Waal describes popular erotic netsuke: “These small things to handle and to be moved around – slightly, playfully, discerningly – were kept in vitrines. The chance to pass round a small and shocking object was too good to miss in the Paris of the 1870s.”

Here's a link to Part I of this review. Here's a link to Part III of this review.

April 8, 2011

Revisiting the musée d'art moderne de la ville de paris: site of the theft in May 2010 of more than $100 million in paintings

Neighbor's graffiti
Interior view of windows


Last month in Paris, I revisited the musée d'art moderne de la ville de paris for the second time since the robbery of five paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Léger, and Modigliani on May 20. Last July the museum was humid and bolts on the interior metal shutters seem to have been replaced in at least one window. I speculated on the theft on the ARCA blog here. This March, the amount of graffiti surprised me. The apartment building next to the museum sported new graffiti unusual for this location.  Skateboarders outside the collection played amongst graffiti-marked statutes.  More prominent museums in Paris visited the same week did not exhibit signs of graffiti. Behind the museum, along the Seine and in view of the Eiffel Tower, graffiti covered the doors of basement entrances underneath the balcony the thief may have used to gain entrance before smashing the windows, cutting the paintings out of their frames and disappearing without notifying any security guards. Nothing has been published about the progress of the investigation and the paintings are still missing. -- Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Graffiti marks statues outside the museum
Rear windows and balcony along the Seine
Graffiti marks basement doors of museum

March 19, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011 - ,, No comments

Paris Diary: Replica of Stolen Art at Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Paris - The statue above the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in front of the Louvre is a replica of the original "The Triamphal Quadriga" more commonly known as "Horses of Saint Mark". The original bronzes, analyzed to be more likely copper supporting the theory that they are more Roman than Greek, sat on top of a column in the Hippodrome in Constantinople until the Venetians took a detour during the Fourth Crusade in the 13th century to loot the Christian city of its wealth, including slicing off the horses' heads to ship back to San Marcos Square in Venice. Napoleon stole them in the early 19th century before they were returned to Venice. The horses outside of St. Mark's Basilica are also a copy; the originals reside inside the cathedral.

March 5, 2011

"The 1970 Convention: Past and Future" Paris, UNESCO Headquarters, March 15 and 16, 2011

UNESCO/S. Delepierre
Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor

I have been invited to attend UNESCO's 40th commemoration on March 15 of the 1970 Convention which outlined UNESCO's fight against the Illicit trafficking of cultural property. One of the speakers has been featured prominently in the news recently: Dr. Zahi Hawass, Ministry of State for Antiquities of Egypt, who recently resigned his newly created post due to his professed inability to secure the museums and archaeological sites in Egypt over the past month.

In the morning, Dr. Hawass is scheduled to speak on a panel titled "Public Debate" moderated by Louis Laforge, Journalist, France télévisions with the following scheduled speakers: Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO; Bernd Rossback, Director of Specialized Crimes and Analysis for Interpol; Alfonso de Maria y Campos, General Director, National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico; Stéphane Martin, President of Musée du Quai Branly; and Jane Levin, Worldwide Compliance Director and Senior-Vice President, Sotheby's.

In the afternoon, a seminar titled "The legal instruments employed for the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property", will be moderated by Francesco Bandarin, Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO with these speakers: Marie Cornu, Research Director of CNRS, France; Lyndel V. Prott, Honorary Professor at the University of Queensland in Australia; Jose-Angelo Estrella Faria, Secretary General for UNIDROIT; Paolo Ferri, former prosecutor for the Republic of Italy and an international legal expert in cultural goods; Antonio Roma Valdés, Spanish prosecutor and expert in international cooperation and crimes against cultural heritage; and John Scanlon, Secretary-General of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

The evening round table, "Illicit trafficking of archaeological objects", moderated by Jean-Frédéric Jauslin, director of the Federal Office of Culture in Switzerland, is scheduled to include these speakers: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki, General Director of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Greece; Cecilia Bakula, former National Director of the National Institute of Culture and Ambassador of Peru; Petty Gerstenblith, Distinguished Research Professor of Law from De Paul University; Ridha Fraoua, Doctor of Law and expert in cultural heritage legislation; Sergio Mújica, Deputy Secretary General, World customs Organization; and Samuel Sidibe, Director of the National Museum of Mali.

You can read more about this commemoration here at the UNESCO website.

February 9, 2011

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 - ,,, No comments

Dr. Tom Flynn Talks to ARCA about his most recent blog post concerning the French auction house scandal and the future of the art market

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

ARCA lecturer, art historian, and journalist Dr. Tom Flynn out of England published his first post of the year on "artknows" about the French auction house scandal and his recent trip to Paris. Always passionate and outspoken, Dr. Flynn graciously answered via email my question about how this scandal will play against the future of the French art market.
Dr. Flynn: French commentators say the process of reform following the Drouot/Savoyard portering scandal has already begun, with investigations in train and potential criminal prosecutions on the horizon. Meanwhile, a new logistics company has been recruited to handle the Drouot's portering, transport and storage services previously conducted by the disgraced cols rouges. Quite how those illegal processes were allowed to take root deep inside in the country's ancient auction nerve centre, and continue unchecked for decades, remains the great unanswered question.

But let's not forget that the international art market has always been amenable to corruption at every level. Look at the Italian antiquities scandal uncovered by Peter Watson. Look at the Sotheby's and Christie's price-fixing scandal. Fakes and forgeries and manufactured provenances abound. Blind eyes are everywhere.

Beyond the Drouot, the French auction scene is still undergoing the slow process of rationalisation following the opening of the auction market to Sotheby's, Christie's and other non-French companies in 2001. That will take time to shake out, but some might argue that it was too little too late and that France long ago lost the battle of the gavels, while London and New York exploited the freedom and latitude of their own unregulated markets. Some analysts claim that Paris is no longer even in third place after London and New York and that Beijing is now the third largest art market centre and expanding at a rate of knots.

That said, new Parisian auction business ventures such as Artcurial, which have taken advantage of external investment made available following the partial relaxation of government regulations, are providing the sort of competition the French art auction market badly needs. Meanwhile, French dealers and collectors are tapping into an increasingly global market, buying and selling in the most commercially favourable centres, whether it be New York, London or Beijing.

The Drouot scandal notwithstanding, Paris still has a lot going for it in the art market stakes. It's a beautiful city with an ancient artistic heritage and a noble tradition of art commerce. Fashionable international contemporary art dealerships are opening all the time in the city's chic quarters around the Marais and in the Avenue Matignon. If it can deal rapidly and effectively with the cols rouges scandal and the recent, highly publicized allegations against the Wildenstein dealership, then perhaps it will turn the page and once again compete on the world stage. The next several months will be critical.
Photo: Colette Marvin and Tom Flynn recently toured art auction houses in Paris.

May 26, 2010

Traficantes de drogas y armas, tras el robo del museo de París

Belén Palanco (Efe) | París


El robo de obras de Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Braque y Léger la madrugada del día 20 en el Museo de Arte Moderno de París, "tiene todas las marcas del crimen organizado", es obra de "traficantes de armas y droga", según Noah Charney, uno de los más reputados expertos en robo de obras de arte.

"El crimen organizado, desde los años 60, ha sido el responsable de la mayoría de los delitos con obras de arte en todo el mundo" y, sobre todo, de robos de cuadros de Pablo Picasso, "el artista con gran diferencia más robado y falsificado en la Historia", dijo Charney.

En la pinacoteca parisina los ladrones se apropiaron de cinco lienzos. El robo de esos óleos, valorados "en cientos de millones de dólares", está en "segundo puesto", aunque "próximo", respecto del mayor robo de la Historia, de unos 500 millones de dólares, que "la mafia corsa perpetró en el museo de Isabella Stewart Gardner (Boston) en 1990", afirmó Charney, fundador de la asociación ARCA, que colabora con organizaciones internacionales para resolver casos delictivos con obras de arte.

"Las piezas robadas en París son del mismo tipo que las que eran sustraídas en la década de los 60 en la Riviera francesa por miembros de la mafia de Córcega (sur de Francia)", señaló este experto. "La mafia corsa, entre 1961 y 1962, tuvo fijación por los cuadros de Picasso y Cézanne, que marcaban récords de ventas en las subastas, lo que culminó en el macrorrobo de 118 Picassos en una sola noche en el Palacio Papal de Avignon (Francia)".
Sorprendente 'modus operandi'

Sin embargo, Noah Charney declaró que el caso del Museo del Arte Moderno le sorprende por el 'modus operandi': el robo fue "limpio" y "sigiloso" y, además, por la noche.

Ello sugiere, a su entender, "que estuvo bien organizado, coninformación desde dentro del museo sobre lagunas jurídicas y gestiones", y "que los ladrones, que no son trigo limpio, tienen un destinatario en mente" para su botín.

A pesar de los sistemas de alarma, los autores, añade Charney, "contaron con algo contundente para burlarlos". Y este es un problema actual de las pinacotecas, en las que, a pesar de que cada vez disponen de más medidas de seguridad, "el robo va en aumento", sobre todo en las horas de apertura al público, como ocurrió recientemente en el Museo Munch, de Oslo.

En opinión de Charney (New Haven, Connecticut, 1979), "la mayoría del arte conocido es robado para chantajear a la víctima o a la compañía de seguros, o como moneda de cambio en negociaciones entre bandas delictivas" por drogas y armas, e incluso en casos de terrorismo.

Del robo de París ha pasado una semana y los lienzos "ni han sido recuperados, ni se ha negociado ningún chantaje, por lo que su destino más probable es, como en el caso de tantas otras obras de arte famosas, que, al ser bienes fácilmente transportables, sirvan para negociaciones entre los grupos del crimen organizado", concluyó.
 

May 21, 2010

Time Magazine on the Paris Heist

ARCA commentary was featured in a variety of publications and news programs on the recent Paris art theft. These include the following:

ARCA Trustee Dick Ellis was interviewed for the BBC:

ARCA President Noah Charney was interviewed for TIME Magazine:


May 20, 2010

Musée d'art modern de la ville de Paris robbed of five paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Modigliani, and Leger estimated at 100 million euros

Rear entrance to musée d'art modern de la ville de Paris
By Catherine Sezgin ARCA MA '09


Correction: The original version assumed that the window's metal accordion shutters were exterior; a visit to the museum in July 2010 showed that the metal shutters were on the inside of the windows. 

For six weeks, the Musée d’Art Modern de la Ville de Paris has waited for parts to fix their security system. Last night, five paintings valued at 100 million euros were stolen between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning from the building in one of the most fashionable districts in Paris, just blocks from the Pont de l’Alma where Princess Diana died in 1997 and north of the Eiffel Tour.

Time Magazine reported in "The French Art Heist: Who Would Steal Unsaleable Picassos?":
According to officials, the thief cut through a gate padlock and broke a window to gain access to the museum, all without alerting the security guards or triggering the museum's alarm system. A security camera filmed the intruder making off with five paintings, but the works were only discovered missing during morning rounds just before 7 a.m. on May 20.
The thief accessed the collection though a rear window of the east wing of the Palais de Tokyo.

No further details have been submitted by museum or law enforcement officials.  One likely scenario is that the thief may have driven a scooter along the Avenue du New York that runs parallel to the Seine where the street has signs posted forbidding parking and heavy black gates that separate the road from the wide sidewalk as is common in central Paris.

Underneath the balcony terrace of the rear portion of the ground floor of the museum, a recessed doorway marked #14 may have provided excellent cover for a parked scooter. The doorway is located about eight to ten feet from the road. Although a barrier exists between the street and the sidewalk,  the openings are wide enough for a scooter to exit onto the sidewalk and then re-enter the traffic later.

After hopping up to the balcony, the thief may have taken out – probably from a bag slung over his shoulder – a tool that would have broken the window and then sawed-off the padlock (Time Magazine) that secured the window’s metal accordion shutters inside the full-story windows. Opening these metal shutters would have created a loud and persistent screeching sound as the metal rubbed against the sliders in the window casements.

Once the glass window was exposed, the intruder may have used the handle of the cutter to smash open the middle panel of the window and to climb into the building. The thief may have known that the security alarm would not alert the security guards, the police, or even notify anyone that the building had been broken into. He would also have known that no security guard would have been patrolling nearby the area of the stolen paintings.

A security video camera caught a masked man entering through the window. The thief may have decided it was too difficult to turn off the security camera and just wore a covering to obscure his identity.

Inside, the intruder selected five paintings from the same period that were most likely located in either the same room or close to one another, removed the works from their frames, and left without disturbing the three night security guards.

The thief broke open a gate, smashed the glass in a window, and had time to remove five paintings from their frames? Why did not one of the guards hear or see any of this activity, especially since the security patrol was aware that the alarm was disabled?

The thief may have removed the paintings from their frames so that they would be easier to carry while he drove away on his scooter. All the paintings, without frames, were of small to mid-size and could easily be carried.

A thief with an automobile and a second driver – who would be waiting in the car since there was no place to park legally – would have saved time by taking the paintings with their frames down from the walls and just thrown the paintings into the back seat of the car. 

The empty frames were finally discovered Thursday morning by 6 or 6.30 a.m. by the one of the three security museum guards.

The Brigade de Répression du Banditsme, the elite police unit that fights organized crime and art theft, was in charge of the investigation.

The day of the theft, the police had littered the terrace with yellow evidence markers around the frames leaning against the balcony. The police officers were measuring the frames and various locations on the patio. 

Chritophe Girard, deputy culture secretary in Paris, estimated the value of the stolen paintings at 100 Euros ($123 million). The five missing paintings are reported as:

“Le pigeon aux petits-pois” (The Pidgeon with the Peas), an ochre and brown Cubist oil painting by Pablo Picasso worth an estimated 23 million euros;

“La Pastorale”, an oil painting of nudes on a hillside by Henri Matisse about 15 million euros. Matisse, the leader, of Fauvism, was a rival and friend of Pablo Picasso. Matisse painted this oil on a 46 x 55 centimeter canvas in 1905.

“L’olivier prés de l’Estaque” by Georges Braque;

“La femme a l’eventail” (Woman with a Fan) by Amedeo Modigliani;

and “Nature-more aux chandeliers” (Still Life with Chandeliers) by Fernand Leger.

According to Paris’ mayor Betrand Delanoe, the museum’s security system, including some of the surveillance cameras, has not worked since March 30 and has not been fixed since the security company is waiting for parts from a supplier (Bloomberg.com, “Picasso, Matisse Paintings Stolen From Paris Museum”, May 20, 2010).

Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is located at 11, avenue du Président Wilson in the 16th arrondisement in Paris, just three blocks west of the Alma Metro station and one block east of the Place d’Iéna and another metro station. The museum, closed on Mondays, is free to visitors for the permanent collection. All five paintings belonged to the permanent collection gathered from private collectors’ generous gifts to Paris’ city museum of modern art.

The 1911 Picasso still life was a gift from Dr. Girardin in 1953. It was featured in the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life in 1937.

The building for the museum was constructed in 1937 and officially opened in 1961 with a collection built from donations from private collectors, especially that from Dr. Girardin. The stolen works were from the oldest part of the collection.

April 15, 2009

New Book on the Theft of the Mona Lisa Misses the Mark—and Reality

The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler (Little, Brown and Company, 2009) professes to tell the real inside story of the theft of the Mona Lisa and begins by mis-spelling the name of the thief. Vincenzo Peruggia spells his name with two “gs,” as may be seen in the widely-published mug shot taken of him by Italian police, after his arrest as he tried to return the Mona Lisa to Italy, after having stolen it from the Louvre. It is rather baffling, then, that the authors of this new work of non-fiction chose to spell the thief’s name with only one “g.” The odd choices do not stop there.

It is perhaps surprising that the complete story of the theft of the Mona Lisa, certainly the most famous art theft in history, has never been the subject of a book of non-fiction. It is mentioned in a number of works, but an in-depth monograph is still wanting. The Crimes of Paris professes to fill that lacuna, and its publishers were optimistic—an excerpt was featured in the May 2009 issue of Vanity Fair. (Another new book of 2009, Vanished Smile by R. A. Scotti, also hopes to tell the story—we’ll see if the author can do better). While the account of the theft and recovery of the Mona Lisa is accurate and reasonably well-written, the supposed true crime conspiracy that the authors have uncovered and present in their work, regarding forgeries of the Mona Lisa and a mastermind called the Marquis de Valfierno who was behind the whole plot, is a load of hooey. The sole source of this conspiracy, a 1932 article in The Saturday Evening Post by American journalist Karl Decker, was dismissed decades ago by all scholars worthy of the name as a wholesale invention—and one so outrageous that it is difficult to understand how anyone could believe it to be true.

Decker claimed to have met a con man named Eduardo while in Casablanca. Eduardo proceeded to tell Decker about his forgery ring in Buenos Aires and Paris, selling American millionaires copies of paintings that he told them were stolen originals. This Eduardo, who also went under the alias the Marquis de Valfierno, claimed that he had hired Peruggia to steal the original Mona Lisa in order to convince six separate American millionaires that the forged Mona Lisa that they were buying from Valfierno was the stolen original.

The Valfierno story was long ago rejected as one of two things: either a wholesale invention by Karl Decker to sell his story, or a wholesale invention by a con man in Casablanca that pulled the wool down over Mr Decker’s eyes. It is a shame, then, that a work of non-fiction professing to tell the true story behind a famous true crime, should so mislead its readers. Without the addition of myth, the story of the theft of the Mona Lisa is rich and enthralling, with a fabulous cast of characters (including Picasso, Apollinaire, and a fascinating French detective), the backdrop of pre-war Paris and Florence, and ripples felt to this day. For not only was the theft of the Mona Lisa the most famous theft of any object in history, but it also inspired other thefts, altered the concept of what makes a work valuable, and proved to be a turning point in the history of art, of collecting, and of art crime.

The book is worth reading for its solid if stolid account of the theft and recovery of the world’s most famous painting. It also covers the backdrop of Paris in the ‘teens, with a variety of characters sketched into what is more a pastiche of a period in time than a thorough exploration of one crime. In terms of setting the scene, painting the atmosphere of a time and place, the book succeeds nicely.

But it is, of course, the art crime that is of greatest interest to this review. The Hooblers’ tale of the Mona Lisa theft would have done well to have ended without the addition of Valfierno—and it would have been nice to have spelled the name of the protagonist correctly. Trying to shoe-horn a myth into one of history’s great true stories poisons the portions that are true, and cultivates the misconceptions about art crime that already abound.