Showing posts with label Virginia Curry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Virginia Curry. Show all posts

October 28, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - ,,, No comments

Reporting from UNESCO ICOM COMCOL 2015 Annual Conference in Soul, Korea

COMCOL is the International Committee for Collecting of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) which aims to deepen discussions, and share knowledge on the practice, theory and ethics of collecting and collections development.

This year ICOM Council on Museum Collecting (COMCOL) is hosted by the National Folk Museum in Seoul, Korea.  

Speakers participating in this conference have gathered from as far away as the Netherlands, Zambia, Brazil, England and myself, from the United States.

On our first day of this conference, we toured the Gyeongbokgung Palace, and were welcomed by an extremely knowledgeable docent at the National Folk Museum in the same complex as the Palace before beginning our conference schedule for the day.  The group also received the Gyeonggido Dodanggut, which is a shamanic ritual of community, designated as Korea’s Important Intangible Heritage #98, held in Suwon, Incheon and other areas of Gyeonggi provence to wish for the well-being and prosperity of a village.  This particular ritual consists of two parts: telling the origin and history of village guardians and praying for safety and longevity of the village and its residents.

The President of COMCOL, Léontine Meijer-van Mench (Germany) , Deputy Director at Museum Europäischer Kulturen (Museum of European Cultures) Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz initiated session one with a presentation, “What does sustainability mean for institutional collecting?” 

Keynote speaker Kidong Bae (Korea), ICOM chair of the National Committee of Koreaand former President of the Korean Museum Association; now, Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology, Hanyang University and Director of the Jeongok Prehistory Museum, Gyounggy Province; Seoul spoke about the History of Collections and Museum Development in Korea.

In the afternoon session Yukiko Shirahara (Japan) Chief curator at the Nezu Museum presented a thought provoking paper on “Addressing the Dilemma of Sustaining Museums and Collections in an Economic Downturn”. The final paper presented by Ho Seon Riw (Korea) concerned the “Future-Oriented Collecting Policy of the National Hangeul Museum.  “Hangeoul” is the unique writing style of Korea.

In the closing of the first day of the conference, students of “Gayatori” performed Gayageum byeonchang, folk songs accompanied by the traditional Korean zither-like instrument the Gayageum.  These students are officially appointed to maintain this important intangible cultural property.  Maintenance of “intangible cultural property” is ICOM’s priority #23.  Gayatori plays Korean traditional musical instrument which includes both 12 stringed and 25 strings in performance, accompanied by flute and choral voices of the players.

This reporter will present in the next day’s session a paper titled, “Renaissance at the Academy: The Rebirth of Connoisseurship and the Examination of the Object”  

December 5, 2014

Conference Diary: COMCOL's "Collections and Collecting in Times of War or Social and Political Change" Conference in Celje, Slovenia

By Virginia M. Curry

The Third Annual UNESCO ICOM Conference on Collecting (COMCOL) opened December 4 in the jewel-like Slovenian town of Celje.
This is the third conference on collecting held by UNESCO ICOM; the first was held in Capetown, and the second in Rio de Janiero. The theme of this year’s conference is “Collections and Collecting in Times of War or Social and Political Change”.

I am surprised to be the sole American participant in the program since it is UNESCO ICOM’s sole annual conference related to museums and their collections.  However, my fellow presenters from as far away as South Korea share a communal joy of museums and the exhibition of both “Tangible” and “Intangible” collections.  As you might have guessed, the “intangible” collections are those of music, such as the literal dumpster recovery of folk and classical recordings from the collection of Swiss broadcaster, Fritz Dur for the Swiss International Radio and an examination of the socio-political metamorphosis of the City of Birmingham in England in response to a changed demographic.

The organizers of this conference accepted my paper, “Re-Inventing the Museum in the Twenty-First Century” which focused on some of the major challenges to curators and some success stories, including but not limited to war loot; theft by organized criminal gangs who steal art from museums and private collections; internal thefts; and vandalism.

The conference meets again tomorrow to discuss: “Reflecting and Using Collections to Memorialize War”. There will also be sessions which focus on  confronting collections in the change of paradigm  from socialism and later in the afternoon a visit to the Museum of Recent History of Celje.

Ms. Curry is a retired FBI agent, a licensed private investigator, and an art historian.

June 18, 2014

The Legal Case of the Mummy Mask of Lady Ka-nefer-nefer at the St. Louis Art Museum Ignites Discussion on Museum Security Network after Courthouse News Reports US Court Rules US Government Could Not Prove Theft

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Updated to reflect published comment by Rick St. Hilaire

In 2011, the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) took legal action to keep the  Mummy Mask of Lady Ka-nefer-nefer from being taken by the U.S. government on the grounds that authorities knew about the mask as early as 2005 and that a five-year-statue of limitations period had expired ("St. Louis Art Museum Sues the United States to Preclude a Forfeiture", ARCA blog, Feb. 16, 2011). Jack Bouboushian reported in "Egyptian Mummy Mask Will Stay in St. Louis" for Courthouse News Service on June 17:
(CN) - An ancient Egyptian mummy mask will remain in the St. Louis Art Museum because the U.S. government cannot prove the mask was stolen from Egypt when it went missing 40 years ago, the 8th Circuit ruled.
[Rick St. Hilaire submitted a comment to the ARCA blog which we published and are reprinting here for your ease of reading -- you may also refer to his blog, Cultural Heritage Lawyer:
The CN article is inaccurate. The appeals court did not rule that the U.S. government failed to prove that the mask was stolen from Egypt. Instead, the appeals court ruled that the lower district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the government’s post-dismissal motion asking for leave to file an amended civil forfeiture complaint. That amended complaint, if accepted by the lower court, contained the allegations that the mummy mask was stolen property. Therefore, the substantive case involving whether the mask was stolen was never litigated. That is what prompted appeals court judge Diana Murphy to write a concurring opinion that agreed with the dismissal of the Ka Nefer Nefer case on procedural grounds, but addressing a caution because of the substantive matters raised but never addressed by the case: "Museums and other participants in the international market for art and antiquities need to exercise caution and care in their dealings in order to protect this heritage and to understand that the United States might ultimately be able to recover such purchases."
Security Consultant Ton Cremers, whose emails were cited in SLAM's 2011 complaint (see ARCA Blog post here), initiated a discussion today on Museum Security Network (MSN) then told the ARCA blog:
In cases of looted, stolen and smuggled cultural goods always the laws of the 'consumer' countries prevail, and most unfortunately not the laws of the victim countries. There is no doubt at all that the Ka-nefer-nefer mask was stolen. The Saint Louis Art Museum is not a member of ICOM [International Council of Museums] and never should be as well.
Dick Ellis, retired police officer for Scotland Yard and an ARCA Lecturer on a course on art investigations, wrote on MSN (quoted here with his permission):
If nothing else, this case identifies a lack of understanding in the processes available to those wishing to recover their stolen cultural property. We may not like the laws or legal processes of a country, but they are what you have to work with and if the wrong option is taken in the recovery process and you fail to meet the required deadlines then your case will fail, as it has in this case. 
Having followed the twists and turns of this case and actually obtained a copy of the records that exist in Egypt showing where the mask was at specific dates it is clear to me that the wrong process was adopted. Rather than sue for the return of the mask, Egypt should have resorted to the same process that put Fred Schultz in prison for contravening US property law. This would have resulted in the FBI actually having to investigate the conduct of those involved in the sale of the mask to the museum and the provenance that was provided in support of it. 
If these investigations had produced evidence that criminal offences had been committed within the jurisdiction of the US courts then those responsible may well have faced a trial under the criminal process, and had the provenance as supplied to the museum been proven to be bogus then it is doubtful that the museum would, or could have resisted a subsequent claim for the return of the mask. 
Having worked with the Egyptian authorities on the successful prosecution of Tokeley Parry, Fred Schultz and others, which established the effectiveness of prosecuting under national property laws rather than cultural property laws, it is disappointing to find that the many lessons of that case appear to have been forgotten so quickly.
Virginia Curry, a retired agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), also wrote on MSN (quoted here with her permission):
While I am not an attorney, I've been successful in all my investigations and have investigated hundreds of similar cases involving  international  property theft and smuggling. Generally, a U.S.  Federal Inter-pleader action, which is a civil, not criminal procedure, occurs AFTER the federal criminal case has been proven that property is in fact stolen and has a nexus to interstate-international transportation or communication (Title 18 United States Code Section 2314, 2315.)
Dick you will remember that our collaboration (under a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty Request)  the theft of the Teniers painting by a U.S. citizen was just that.  The painting was proven stolen at federal criminal  trial in the U.S. -- even though it was stolen from a London dealer, in London.  That court trial, which led to the guilty plea of the thief of the action of transporting property internationally, determined that the painting was stolen.  The court then acknowledged the ownership of the property by the London dealer. 
In my opinion, a case which FIRST proved that the mask was illegally imported to the United States, rather than relying on the logical presumption, especially when there is sufficient extant evidence to do so, would have prevailed.  
I agree with Dick: Consulting with field experts such as he and myself and a dozen others with well known, actual convictions with restitution in similar criminal cases can avoid such "procedural issues" -- such as the "untested legal theory" (that I interpret as the presumption of stolen and smuggled, rather than the presentation of evidence) as expressed by Judge Murphy.
For background on the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask residing at the Saint Louis Museum, Ton Cremers referred readers of MSN to Malcolm Gay's 2006 article "Out of Egypt: From a long-buried pyramid to the Saint Louis Art Museum: The mysterious voyage of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask", Riverfront Times, Feb. 15, 2006.

In 2012 at ARCA's Conference on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, Leila Amineddoleh discussed the issue of this Egyptian Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask and its probably looted origins.

SLAM's website describes the provenance for the Mummy Mask of the Lady Ka-nefer-nefer:
Provenance:1951/1952 -Mohammed Zakaria Goneim, excavated at Saqqara, Egypt [1]
by 1952 - Unknown Dealer, Brussels, Belgium [2]
- early 1960sKaloterna Collection [3]
early 1960s -Private Collection, Switzerland, acquired from Kaloterna collection [4]
by 1997 - 1998Phoenix Art, S.A. (Hicham Aboutaam), Geneva, Switzerland, purchased from private collection [5]
1998/03/30 -Saint Louis Art Museum, purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A. [6]
Notes:[1] Excavated by Mohammed Zakaria Goneim, Keeper of the Antiquities of Saqqara, at Saqqara, during his first season (1951-1952) at the site [Goneim, Mohammed Zakaria,"Excavations at Saqqara; Horus Sekhem-Khet, the Unfinished Step Pyramid at Saqqara." Vol. 1. Cairo: Imprimerie de L'Institut Français D'Archéologie Orientale, 1957].
A letter from a scholar, dated December 12, 1999, indicates that the other objects from the Saqqara excavation group were displayed together in the Cairo Museum, suggesting that they were put on display right after Goneim's excavation. The scholar suggests that the mask was never displayed with the other excavated objects and was probably awarded to the excavator himself. This would correspond with its appearance on the European art market soon after its excavation [SLAM document files].
[2] In a letter dated February 11, 1997, Charly Mathez confirms that he saw the mask in a gallery in Brussels in 1952. According to a letter dated October 5, 1999, he did not remember the name of the gallery [SLAM document files].
[3] In a letter dated March 19, 1998, Hicham Aboutaam indicated that an anonymous Swiss collector acquired the mask from the Kaloterna (possibly Kaliterna) family. In a letter of July 2, 1997, addressed to Hicham Aboutaam, the Swiss collector stated that this acquisition took place in the early 1960s [SLAM document files]. The name "Kaloterna" may be a misspelling of the common Croatian name "Kaliterna." The Swiss collector also had an address in Croatia, and it is possible that the collector became acquainted with the Kaloterna (or Kaliterna) family there. 
[4] See note [3]. The Swiss collector requested anonymity.
[5] The Swiss collector's letter of July 2, 1997 confirms the sale of the mask to Aboutaam [SLAM document files]. Aboutaam also states that the mask was in the United States from 1995 until 1997, possibly indicating that it was in the possession of the New York branch of Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A. during that time [letter, September 23, 1997, SLAM document files]. 
[6] Invoice to the Saint Louis Art Museum dated March 12, 1998 [SLAM document files]. Minutes of the Collections Committee of the Board of Trustees, Saint Louis Art Museum, March 18, 1998.
In The New York Times article "Do You Know Where That Art Has Been?" (Rod Stodghill, March 18, 2007) Hicham Aboutaam's legal problems (and that of his gallery, Phoenix Ancient Art were identified:
For the Aboutaams, whose father started the gallery in Beirut in the 1960s, the makeover will require not only overhauling some of its business practices, but also restoring a public image dogged by legal and ethical questions. In 2004, after an investigation by the United States Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Hicham Aboutaam pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with his importing and selling for $950,000 a silver ceremonial drinking vessel that at the time was alleged to be part of the plundered Iranian Western Cave Treasure. He paid a $5,000 fine. That same year, an Egyptian court sentenced Ali Aboutaam in absentia to 15 years in prison after he was accused of smuggling artifacts from Egypt to Switzerland. The charges against him were later dropped by the Egyptian court due to a lack of evidence. Such run-ins with the law have made big museums nervous even when nothing may appear untoward. In 2001, the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth returned a 2600 B.C. Sumerian statue it had bought from the brothers for $2.7 million for a refund. Hicham Aboutaam said that questions surrounding the taxes on his parents’ estate unraveled the deal.

May 10, 2014

A Report on the second day (and conclusion) of Authentication in Art at The Hague

Presentation on discovery of a new van Gogh painting
by Virginia M. Curry

The second session of the Authentication in Art Congress at The Hague presented a tour de force of scions defining the new intersections of science, art history and the law.

Dr. Ella Hendricks (Senior Paintings Conservator, Van Gogh Museum) and Muriel Geldof (Conservation Scientist, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands) in ‘Evaluating technical and analytical studies of Van Gogh’s paintings in support of attribution 'contemplated the  role of art-technological studies in the process of attributing and authenticating paintings by Vincent van Gogh in terms of consistency of the materials and techniques used, also leading to improved connoisseurship by informing and therefore refining our perception of the artist’s changing styles and techniques' (program).

In ‘Van Gogh and his oeuvre: the attribution process evaluated’ Dr. Tilborough (Senior Researcher, Van Gogh Museum) and  Teio Meedendorp (Researcher, Van Gogh Museum) emphasized that both transparency and access are key to their research.  This philosophy of transparency in research recently permitted Dr. van Tilborough and his team to discover and authenticate a new van Gogh painting, “Sunset at Montmajour”. The team compared “Sunset” to  van Gogh’s “The Rocks” from the Fine Arts Museum in Houston, and they were able to discern that the paintings were completed within two weeks of each other.

Dr. Ellen Landau discussed Pollock's "Mural" 
“We carried out art historical research into the style, depiction, use of materials and context, and found that everything indicated that the work is by van Gogh," according to Dr. Tilborough. " We were able to track the provenance to Theo’s collection in 1890 and it was sold  in 1901.  Letters from the artist refer to this painting."

Many thanks to Dr. Ellen Landau (Professor  emeritus of Art History, Case Western Reserve University) for her presentation, “Conservation as a Connoisseurship Tool: Jackson Pollock’s 1943 Mural for Peggy Guggenheim, A Case Study” which highlighted the joint analysis of Pollock’s 1943 painting “Mural” recently undertaken by the Getty.  The analysis debunked many misconceptions concerning the manner in which Pollock worked, and converted me thereby, to a deeper understanding and appreciation of his art.

Professor Robyn Slogget (Director, Center for Cultural Materials Conservation, University of Melbourne) and her associate, paintings conservator Vanessa Kowalski, highlighted several case studies involving the forgery of aborigine art and the pitfalls eventually overcome to develop a protocol of examination and non-invasive analysis -- assisting in successfully prosecuting a case of forgery of aborigine art in Melbourne.

PhD Student Elke Cwiertnia (Northumbria University, Newcastle) in ‘Examining artworks attributed to Francis Bacon (1909-1992) to aid authentication’ presented the methodology of examination and preservation employed by the Francis Bacon research project in their efforts to publish a catalogue raisonné of Bacon's work.

Panel chaired by Lawrence Shindell
The lively panel discussion led by art law attorney Lawrence Shindell examined the impact of current authenticity issues on the art market. The expertise of the responding panel drew on multiple perspectives ranging from those of the legal and academic communities to market economics.  The panel included Dr. Friederike Grafin von Bruhl, William Charron, Randall Willette, Dr. Jeroen Euwe and D. Anna Dempster.

Following the panel discussion, the congress group traveled for an exclusive view of the exhibition "Mondrian and Cubism, Paris 1912-1914” (in partnership with MOMA) at an opening hosted by the Mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, and presentation by Hans Janssen, curator at large for modern art.

Ms. Curry is a retired FBI agent, a licensed private investigator, and an art historian.

May 8, 2014

Authenticity in Art Congress 2014: Retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry reports from The Hague

Martin Kemp presented "It Doesn't Look Like Leonardo"
on the first day of the Authenticity in Art Congress
by Virginia M. Curry

THE HAGUE -- The Authenticity in Art Congress opened Wednesday here at the Louwman [Automobile] Museum in The Hague to discuss how the seemingly opposed spheres of  science and art history connoisseurship  might be aligned  to synthesize a protocol for establishing authenticity of art, specifically paintings.

Jugen W. Wittmann, the Senior Manager of the Mercedes Benz archives and Collection Brand Communications, presented the protocols utilized by Mercedes Benz to preserve the integrity of their vehicles against forgery.  Documents in their archives record each car manufactured and the “as delivered” condition of the vehicle to the original owner, with the serial numbers recorded on the vehicle. Wittman noted that such transparency is important since although there were only 33 of the Mercedes SSK ever built, there are more than 100 hundred registered as SSKs with the international Vintage Collectors Group.

Keynote Speaker Javier Lumbreras, the CEO of Artemundi Global Fund, discussed the collection of art and the frustrations of the purchaser who is burdened with the proof of due diligence.  He concluded by saying that inasmuch as science cannot provide a “bulletproof” decision which can stand up as evidence in court, litigation, in his experience, is not worth the effort.  Lumbreras drew an analogy similar to that of Jugen Wittmann of Mercedes Benz by noting that of the fourteen Rembrandt works in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art only seven of them have an agreed authenticity.

Professor Martin Kemp, FBA, Emeritus Professor in the History of Art, Trinity College Oxford, (and an acknowledged Leonardo scholar) initiated the section on the Historical Developments in Painting Authentication and spoke about professional opinion in his paper, “It Doesn’t Look Like Leonardo”. Professor Kemp argued the construction of evidence of authenticity as “The judgment by eye in science and art and the tendency for the eye to see what it expects to see.”  He illustrated his point by comparing the points of view of a traffic accident, such as the point of view of the insurance adjuster, driver, weatherman, etc. noting that each one’s interpretation of what they see is relative to their interest. Professor Kemp concluded that the observable consequences of the visual techniques of historical and scientific that are the most specific in identification are the most malleable.  Above all, he cautioned, “We should be more cautious and prudent in our personal investments in our malleable acts and seeing.”

Marker for Vermeer in The Hague
Dr. Margaret Dalivalle presented a paper, “Picturarum vere Originalium: Inventing originality in early Modern London", which explored the question of originality of paintings and the invention of the idea of artistic originality in the eighteenth century.

Professor Frank James, Professor of the History of Science, Head of Collections and Heritage of the Royal Institution, London, spoke about the work of Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday who developed chemical techniques in the late 18th, early 19th century to understand, conserve and record archeological and artistic objects, such as the wall painting and vase painting from Pompeii; the Lewis chess pieces; the unfurling and attempts to read the Herculaneum Papyri; and their comparisons with the pigments found on the Elgin marbles.

Dr. Lynn Catterson, an Art Historian from Columbia University, presented an extraordinary paper and cautionary tale about Stefano Bardini and his Art of Crafting Authenticity.  Dr. Catterson's research led into the archives of Stefano Bardini whose expertize involved the forgery of “originals” and falsification of context and provenance.  Dr. Catterson’s research  in the Bardini archive challenges the accepted comparanda and consequently, perceived authenticity and attributions in major museums.

Dr. John Brewer, Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences, CalTech, discussed the Duveen Trial of 1929,  the hazards of presenting scientific evidence of authenticity in court, and the subsequent rejection of conflicting  connoisseurship in court.

Evan Hepler-Smith, a Historian of modern science and doctoral candidate at Princeton University, discussed the early utilization of x-ray to fit the material, intellectual and social contours of authentication and  connoisseurship.

Ms. Curry is a retired FBI agent, a licensed private investigator, and an art historian.

September 15, 2013

Italy loans Renaissance masterpiece to MFA, Boston as part of exhibit on recovery work by the Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage

Piero della Francesca's "Senigallia Madonna"
Piero della Francesca's "Senigallia Madonna", a 15th century tempera and oil on panel, is on display through January 6, 2014, at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. This cultural exchange is part of the Italian government's program, 2013 - The Year of Italian Culture in the United States.

In the Boston Globe, Geoff Edgers reports in "A museum, a heist, a rescued 'Madonna'":
The 24-by-21-inch work is a prime example of how a seemingly grim acknowledgment -- that the MFA had acquired works most likely looted from Italian soil -- has been turned into a bountiful cultural exchange. Back in 2006, under pressure and scrutiny from Italian investigators with photographic evidence that showed works looted sometime before they arrived in US museums, the MFA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York struck deals to send objects back.
Here's a link to the MFA's website and a video about the work of the Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

Edgers writes:
The loan of the Piero is part of a campaign by the Carabinieri, Italy's military police, to publicize their effort to recovery stolen artworks. So the MFA's Lee gallery will feature extensive wall labels detailing both the significance of the work as well as the tale of the theft.
Virginia Curry, who spoke at ARCA's first international art crime conference in 2009, was interviewed for the article:
Virginia Curry, a retired special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who has worked closely with the Carabinieri and also on the 1990 Gardner theft, said the MFA loan truly helps both parties. The MFA gets to show a priceless masterpiece. The Italians, sometimes criticized for reclaiming artworks on prime display in the United States and putting them in storage or in little-seen galleries, are able to share the country's culture.
“That’s really the purpose of it,” said Curry, who is based in Texas. “They’re showing that they’re willing to bring something back. That they’re not just going to demand the return of this material to be placed in a storehouse in Italy because they can’t display it as well as at the MFA or at the Metropolitan. They’re trying to show some responsibility and willingness to share their culture.”

July 17, 2013

SMU Announces Dick Ellis and Virginia Curry in "The World of Art and the Fine Art of Crime" at Southern Methodist University from October 14-18, 2013

Richard Ellis
Art crime investigators Richard "Dick" Ellis and Virginia Curry will present another seminar in "The World of Art and the Fine Art of Crime" at the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University from October 14 - 18, 2013.
The seminar will be presented by two internationally noted art crime investigators. Richard “Dick” Ellis is a former detective with New Scotland Yard, where he founded and led the Art & Antiques Squad for more than a decade. Virginia Curry is a former FBI undercover agent and Art Crime Team member whose high-profile cases have been chronicled in such books as Chasing Aphrodite and The Medici Conspiracy (see full bios at end of release). 
Topics to be covered include the following: 
• Museums: A lecture on museum operations will be followed by a trip to a regional art museum, where participants will visit with professionals regarding exhibit curation, conservation, security and provenance issues. 
Virginia Curry
• Auction houses: A talk about the auction business is followed by a visit to an auction house, discussion with staff, preview of an upcoming auction and participation in a mock bidding experience. 
• Art galleries: A lecture on galleries’ roles in identifying tastes, finding clients and working with them to build collections is followed by visits to local galleries and meetings with owners and artists’ representatives to discuss current collecting trends in contemporary and traditional art. 
• Art crime and looted cultural heritage: From Egyptian antiquities to Native American art to Nazi thefts during World War II, issues of rightful ownership, provenance and repatriation of art works continue to challenge art organizations and governments worldwide. Current cases will be discussed by international experts.
Last summer, Mr. Ellis and Ms. Curry presented their symposium at Stonehill College.

Mr. Ellis is also a lecturer at ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Ms. Curry presented at ARCA's International Art Crime Conference in 2009.

Here a link to this event on the SMU website for additional information about registering for the seminar.

October 25, 2012

Former FBI Agent Virginia Curry on Cultural Security, Fire and Safety, and “Utility” of stolen art

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Virginia Curry, a licensed security consultant, was the FBI Agent responsible for the facilities security and personnel security for 35 locations in greater Los Angeles subsequent to the events of 9-11.  Ms. Curry provided perspective on the trade-off between protecting buildings against theft and protecting people in the event of an emergency. Prior to becoming an FBI Special Agent, Ms. Curry surveyed and approved casino security measures in Atlantic City as a New Jersey state investigator.  I followed up via email with Ms. Curry recently to ask her professional opinion regarding the thieves breaking into the Kunsthal Rotterdam on October 16:
This is about safety and risk management.  Fire and safety codes always ensure that, in the event of an emergency, all doors must release from the inside to allow someone inside during an emergency to exit to safety. The preservation of human life is more important than goods or money (even in a casino).
Without going into further detail, what they did was actually more of a takeoff on the scheme of "How to Steal a Million" [the 1966 movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole] where the thieves took advantage of the weakness of a security system and the human element.  In this Rotterdam case, the human element was again the sanctity of life over the value of property. The perpetrator did not necessarily have to include a member of museum staff, but rather someone who had access to the building prior to this event.
You cannot change the default setting on the inside door releases in an emergency. As pointed out earlier by Ton Cremers, institutions need to make it harder for someone to get to what they are trying to protect. Building in physical delays such as walls and doors is like building a maze around a high value item "the cheese".
Security professionals assessing risk always determine how long it takes to breach the security measures, resolve the maze and return to safely exit the facility in a direct comparison to the primary responders. If the protocol calls for an alarm to be verified prior to the notification of the police, this delays the police response time, which is also predicated on their own law enforcement priorities.
I very much concur with Dr. Tom Flynn’s recent assessment that stolen art has “utility”. The power of “utility” in economic theory is not necessarily always measured in a cash value.

August 2, 2012

Former Scotland Yard Detective Dick Ellis "Waxes Poetic on the Topic of Due Diligence"

Former Scotland Yard Detective Ellis Teaching at Stonehill
Since this week's art crime program in Massachusetts sold out and not all of us can attend, ARCA Blog asked Retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry to keep us posted on the activities. This is Ms. Curry's latest note and photograph:
Here's Richard Ellis instructing class on the topic of due diligence at the "World of Art and the Fine Art of Crime" symposium at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts.

July 31, 2012

Retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry Notes a "Lively" Beginning to Stonehill College's Art Crime Symposium with former Scotland Yard Detective Richard Ellis

July 30th was the first day of the art crime symposium conducted by retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry and retired Scotland Yard Detective Richard Ellis at Stonehill College outside of Boston.

A lecture on the economics of art began the day followed by lunch on campus. Then the sold-out class reviewed an auction preview at Kaminski Auctions in Beverly, Massachusetts, Ms. Curry reported to the ARCA blog. Diane Rivas led a "lively" discussion about the auction market, Curry wrote.

Alex Bond (ARCA 2011) is at the Stonehill Symposium and is pictured here with Ms. Curry and Mr. Ellis.

Richard Ellis also teaches at ARCA's post graduate certificate program in International Art Crime Studies.

June 16, 2012

Stonehill College's "The World of Art and the Fine Art of Crime" Symposium has added seats

Retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry, who will co-teach with Dick Ellis "The World of Art and the Fine Art of Crime" symposium at Stonehill College this summer, would like to inform interested students that two seat have been added to the program.

"It has come to our attention that spam filters some emails failed to accept our response emails," Curry wrote in an email to the ARCA blog.  "In order to address the inquiries which we have received after the close of registration, we have added two additional seats to this very special program, on a first come, first serve basis."

The Stonehill College Symposium runs from July 30 to August 3, 2012.  Details may be accessed on the website:

June 4, 2012

Retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry Editorializes about Help Wanted Advertisement at the Guggenheim

by Virginia M. Curry, Guest Contributor and Editorial

It’s June, and the newly graduated crop  of art historians buoyant with their expectations and burdened with six digit tuition loans pour out of college nationwide seeking employment. However these students now confront a dilemma which was certainly never experienced by the original art historian, Giorgio Vasari.
Museums are no longer sanctuaries for art education and appreciation.  Museum directors are now much more likely to have a business degree than an art history or anthropology degree.  Exhibitions are now mounted as though they are infomercials for automobiles and lifestyle products such as cars and dresses.

One of the richest museums in the United States just recently fired their staff of art educators in favor of replacing them with a “robust” and free volunteer force of docents.  The prices paid by this institution for art at auction are ever record shattering while the value of the art educator is reduced to zero.  Could this possibly get worse for the art historian and educator?  Yes, it has.

This week I received a listing of positions presently available for art historians.  Frankly, most of these offer the opportunity to relocate to New York and work for free or at a salary which is less than the national poverty level.  It is absolutely appalling to think you could actually qualify to live on food stamps.

Please note below this original current job opening, posted on for an “art guide” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In this instance, the Guggenheim proposes that the art educator, who is "preferably bilingual" also perform the duties of a security guard!

This new commentary reduces the post graduate art history education to an expensive and frivolous indulgence which qualifies you to either work for free as a docent or "stand for long hours" as a sort of art informed  security guard at the Guggenheim.  Should security guards be insulted?  Will art historians be distracted?

As both an art historian and a licensed security consultant it is my opinion that this concept is wholly ridiculous and will create a new breeding ground for internal theft by employees who are both underpaid and angry and have access to exhibits.  It is my professional experience that when university and museum managers (who were far better compensated than these guards) felt that they were entitled to more compensation for their education and performance,  they exploited the weaknesses of their facilities and raped the collections.  Two examples easily come to mind: Dr. Patrick T. Houlihan former director of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles and Professor Jane Crawford, Director of Graduate Honors program at UCLA.  These individuals exploited their facilities and embezzled art and artifacts. Neither of these individuals was asked to be bilingual and stand guard for hours for menial pay in New York City. Both of these "professionals" were convicted at trial of their thefts. They explained to family and accomplices that they were motivated by anger and resentment of the poor compensation they received for their education and experience.

Current Job advertisement from
Gallery Guides

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
New York, New York
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is seeking Gallery Guides. Gallery Guides serve a dual role as both security guard and art educator.  They are responsible for the security and safety of the artwork and of visitors, and for actively encouraging visitors to discuss their questions and ideas about art.  They are trained and certified in compliance with New York State Certification regulations, and trained as a gallery educator to the standards of the museum's Education department.  They are required to attend and actively participate in all trainings (paid) in security guard procedures, education techniques and exhibition content.  As frontline staff, they are required to maintain a welcoming and professional attitude towards visitors and staff at all times.  Annual performance evaluations will be conducted jointly by the Director of Security and Senior Manager of Adult Interpretive Programs. 
* Provide security during public hours in accordance with established security procedures; keep visitors at prescribed distances from artwork; monitor the flow of visitors in the galleries and report any incident involving visitors touching or damaging art work. 
* Provide for the safety of staff and visitors on the museum's premises during public and non-public hours; assist with evacuation during emergencies; report problems, suspicious activity and safety hazards to a Supervisor and/or Assistant Supervisor.
* Thoroughly prepare for all exhibitions; actively encourage and discuss questions from visitors about current exhibitions, the collection, the Frank Lloyd Wright building, the museum and its history; respond to visitor queries about practical matters such as directions.  
* Overtime is offered but not required.
Qualifications and Requirements:
* A firm schedule of 4 or 5 days, must be available Friday and Saturday
* BA/BFA in art history, studio art, museum education or related field required; MA/MFA encouraged to apply.
* Ability to stand for multiple hours
* Ability to remain alert at all times
* Must qualify for the New York State Security Guard Certification.
* Experience with security issues preferred.
* Professional demeanor and commitment to museum policies, procedures and security/education philosophies.
* Strong interpersonal and communication skills; experience working with the public required, teaching experience preferred.
* Solid working knowledge of modern and contemporary art.
* Bilingual a plus.
* References required.
The Guggenheim offers a competitive salary and excellent medical, dental, life, disability and pension plan coverage.  Our staff also enjoys generous vacation, sick leave and personal days, access to a variety of cultural institutions, discounts to museum stores and a stimulating and collegial work environment.
Qualified applicants please send your resume, cover letter, including salary expectations, and three references to Indicate the job title "Gallery Guides" in the subject line.  Only those applicants who meet our requirements for this position will be contacted.
Sadly, it is now easier and far more lucrative to work at McDonald' s where the only educational requisite is the ability to make a hamburger from a photograph of a hamburger.  I understand that McDonald's also has great job security, health benefits,  and probably better opportunities for advancement.


May 6, 2012

Curry and Ellis: New website for Stonehill Art Crime Symposium

Virginia Curry and Richard Ellis at Q&A session
 at the Southeastern Technical High School, September 2011
Virginia Curry and Richard Ellis, formerly of the FBI and Scotland Yard, respectively, have a new website for Stonehill Art Crime Symposium they will be teaching this summer.  (You can read more about this program here on the ARCA blog).

The website address is here.  The program also has a twitter account @artcrimeclass for information updates.

In support of the Stonehill Initiative, ARCA is offering a tuition subsidy for its postgraduate certificate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection for students who complete the Stonehill short course. 

February 29, 2012

FBI Agent (Retired) Virginia Curry and former Scotland Yard Detective Richard Ellis Will Team Up This Summer to Teach An Art Crime Course at Stonehill College in Massachusetts

Virginia Curry and Dick Ellis holding a painting
 by David Teniers, Peasant Filling His Pipe,  stolen from the
Richard Green Gallery in London.
ARCA supports this short course program as a precursor to our Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Program.  Attendees to the Stonehill program will qualify for a fees reduction to ARCA's 10 week program if they attend both programs.  Please contact for more information.

Former Scotland Yard detective Richard Ellis and former FBI Agent Virginia Curry will team up to teach "The Fine Art of Crime and Art World Basic Primer" at Stonehill College from July 30 to August 3, 2012 at North Easton, Massachusetts.

Richard Ellis is a professional art crime investigator and a director of the Art Management Group. Based in London he is a former detective with New Scotland Yard, where he founded and ran the Art & Antiques Squad for over a decade.  FBI Special Agent (Retired) and Art Crime Team Investigator Virginia Curry is a FBI certified and highly successful undercover agent/instructor and former FBI Security consultant, now privately licensed by the State of Texas. This is the description for their course:
Presenting our partnership with Stonehill College, in which we take full advantage of the beautiful campus and the rich resources of the greater Boston area we offer participants a "hands on" connection and an exceptional experience of scholarship and professionalism with art.  There will be lecturers on campus each morning focusing on topics which initiate the novice aficionado to the economics of art, provide suggestions for researching their own areas of art interest and of course we will discuss crimes against art and share our first hand international experience, scholarship and current topics in the field. 
In the afternoons we visit several museums, premier art galleries and conduct practical exercises, such as participation in a mock auction at Stonehill, and learn about how auctions are conducted at a major Boston fine art auction house our behind the scenes visit.   We will meet museum professionals who will explain their function in regard to exhibition preparation and curation. We’ll try our hand at solving the most important unsolved museum heist in U.S. history. We will observe how conservation specialists work and how security managers manage the risk of the exposure of their treasures.  We'll speak with the curator of an important corporate collection to see how business collects and presents investment art. We'll experience the culture of Boston from the Red Sox at Fenway Park to the clambakes of Cape Cod.  This unique seminar adventure equips you to pursue your interest in collecting and appreciating art and understanding the diverse crimes against art like none other.

Lunches on site at Stonehill College are included.  Transportation for excursions is included.  Scheduled evening events and socials such as the opening Sam Adams Boston Lager toasting reception, Boston Red Sox game, and the closing clam bake, barring inclement weather or unforeseen emergency, are included.  All basic course materials (handouts, etc.,) are included.  Other evening meals and meals off campus are at personal expense.  Local lodging at a discounted rate is available, which includes breakfast and transportation to Stonehill College and return.  Discounted airfare has been arranged through American Airlines for travelers.
Cost: $2,250. A Deposit of $300 is required to reserve your place by May 1, 2012; balance must be received by June 1, 2012.  Kindly respond early since participation is quite limited.
For more information please contact:

December 15, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011 - ,,, No comments

Retired FBI Special Agent Virginia Curry to be featured speaker in Los Angeles at the Society of Television Engineer's Holiday Dinner

Virginia Curry with Richard Ellis earlier this year
Retired FBI Special Agent Virginia Curry will be the featured speaker for the Society of Television Engineer's Holiday dinner in Burbank on Thursday December 15.  Curry's talk, "The Fine Art of Crime - Hollywood versus Reality" will talk about art sleuths, those elite detectives who specialize in investigating and solving art crimes - brazen thefts, forgeries, looting and vandalism around the world.

Curry is a charter member of the FBI Art Crimes Task Force. Virginia is one of a small number of detectives who specialize in investigating art crimes. Together with her Scotland Yard colleague, Richard Ellis, Virginia has also been involved in a number of international art related criminal investigations that read like Hollywood scripts.  Her experience has also included studio assets, such as stolen animation cells, piracy and "genuine" (fake) propos from famous films.

During her service with the FBI Mrs. Curry successfully completed many major art crimes investigations and undercover assignments.  She has been honored for her achievements by both the FBI and the City of Los Angeles.  Mrs. Curry has represented the FBI at various national and international symposiums concerning cultural patrimony issues, and has also served as liaison to other national law enforcement agencies, including the Carabinieri of Italy and La Guardia Civil of Spain. Among other awards, Mrs. Curry received a commendation from the City of Los Angeles for recovering Native American artwork stolen from the Southwest Museum. Virginia was also a consultant to the Getty Museum on the Object ID project.

Mrs. Curry holds a graduate degree in Gemology from the Gemological Institute of America and a Masters Degree in Italian as well as Spanish Literature.   She is currently completing a Masters Program in Art History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

October 25, 2011

Virginia Curry: From the FBI to Etruscan archaeological sites

Southern Methodist University reported on October 18: "Ancient Etruscan childbirth image is likely first for western art".

by Virginia Curry

In 2009, I had the honor of lecturing at ARCA’s First International Symposium in Amelia on the topic of “Crimes by Those Most Trusted” in which I highlighted my interviews and investigation of Dr. Marion True which as an FBI Special Agent assigned to the Los Angeles Field Office, I performed pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request of the Italian Government. Those interviews resulted in the Getty Museum’s first return of two objects purchased without receipt or provenance: an Etruscan tripod and a candelabrum to Italy. After retirement from the FBI, I enrolled as a graduate student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, majoring in Art History and had an experience which re-kindled my desire to preserve and protect cultural patrimony. Now working on my thesis which considers the Etruscans in their funerary context, I am especially sensitive to our inability to now connect some of these artifacts with their historic context.

Also in 2009, I had the unique opportunity to participate in the six week Poggio Colla Field School and Mugello Valley Archeological Project as teaching assistant to Professor P. Gregory Warden, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Associate Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU, who co-directs this project with Professor Michael L. Thomas, University of Texas. Sponsoring institutions of the Poggio Colla Field School include the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, Franklin and Marshall College, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

The Poggio Colla Field School is unique because of its inter-disciplinary and hands-on approach to the regional landscape analysis which combines excavation, land survey, archaeometry and visiting lecturers who are leaders in their field, such as Professor Phil Perkins, London Open University and others. Professor Perkins, an expert on Etruscan black paste pottery known as “Bucchero” recently identified two pottery fragments excavated by a student in this field school at Poggio Colla as the earliest representations of a birthing scene found in Western art.

This is also an exciting program because of the emphasis given to local community outreach programs which include a local Dicomano Museum exhibit of the artifacts in their own region and opportunities for local Italian high school students to learn field techniques and excavate at the site with a local archeologist. Parents and students learn the importance of physical context of the find and pride in the preservation of their local history.

The goals of the Poggio Colla Field School are summarized on the Mugello Valley Project Website, “Mugello Valley Archeological Project” found at

“If archaeology is to survive as a discipline into the next century, it will have to develop a broader base of support and will have to change its image from an elite and esoteric discipline understood by only a chosen few. Archaeological sites are becoming endangered by pollution, construction, and human pressures that run the gamut from neglect to outright vandalism. We hope that over the years, through our field school, we will train a large number of individuals, some of whom may go on to become professional archaeologists, but most of whom, no matter what their career, will become advocates of cultural and archaeological preservation.”

October 2, 2011

Stonehill College: "Veteran Art Detectives Discuss Most Notorious Cases at Martin Institute"

Photo: Virginia Curry and Dick Ellis
Here's a link to Stonehill College's website and the post about the lecture by former art police investigators, Virginia Curry (FBI) and Dick Ellis (Scotland Yard). Cases highlighted included "Peter the Cheater"; forger Elmyr de Hory; the thefts at Russborough House; looting of Egyptian antiquities; the Sevso Silver; and the involvement of James "Whitey" Bulger in the 1990 theft of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

September 12, 2011

Art Theft Detectives Virginia Curry and Dick Ellis Will Discuss Some of the World's Most Intriguing Cases at Stonehill College on September 20

Art detectives Virginia Curry and Dick Ellis will discuss some of the world's most intriguing cases at Martin Auditorium at Stonehill College on September 20.

Virginia Curry, a retired FBI Special Agent and charter member of the FBI Art Crimes Task Force, has been involved in many high profile art theft investigations throughout her career.

Dick Ellis, an art crime investigator for over 20 years, began the Art and Antiques Squad at New Scotland. He has many notable recoveries such as "The Scream", looted Chinese and Egyptian antiquities, as well as valuable items from private British Collections.

There will be a reception from 5.30 to 6.30 p.m. followed by a presentation from 7:00 p.m. Stonehill College is located near Boston in Easton, Massachusetts.

Mr. Ellis has taught for the past three years at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies. Ms. Curry has written for The Journal of Art Crime and presented at ARCA's International Art Crime Conference in 2009.