Showing posts with label art dealers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art dealers. Show all posts

February 18, 2015

Sir, how much is that (2nd Century B.C.E.) Vase in the Window? Part II

Antiquities traffickers continue to make headlines in multiple countries in 2015.  In this three part series, ARCA explores current art trafficking cases to underscore that the ownership and commodification of the past continues. 

Part II - The Dodgy Dealer and Conflict Antiquities - Buyer Beware

Tuesday, investigative reporter Simon Cox's "File on Four" program on BBC Radio 4 featured a radio segment titled "Islamic State: Looting for Terror".  A synopsis of the episode on antiquities looting in its written form, and with accompanying video excerpts, is available on the BBC News Magazine website here. The full audio of the radio program is available in MP3 format here.

The program illustrated, with present-day examples, how illicit antiquities trafficking  sells cultural heritage objects that are often poorly protected, difficult to identify, and easy to transport across international boundaries, especially during conflicts due to the flow of refugees.  The radio broadcast featured interviews with both London and Middle East experts, one of whom, Dr. David Gill of Looting Matters, validated that conflict antiquities do make their way into the UK art market and from there on to collectors.

But rather than recount the program's content, which on its own deftly underscores that the illicit market in conflict antiquities is alive and producing devastating results for source countries like Syria and Iraq, this article focuses on the buyer's side of the market and explores the attitudes of complacent dealers who too often treat the furor over smuggled antiquities as a bothersome nuisance that interferes with their ability to make  living.

In the world of crime, morals follow money.

Not wanting to enter into the ongoing oppositional debate with antiquities dealers or collectors, I decided to spend some time listening to the folks involved in the trade as they talked with one another about collecting and the collecting market. Too often heritage protection advocates get pigeon-holed as the noisy minority of academic archaeologists who oppose acquisition of unprovenanced ancient art.  My goal was to be anything but noisy, and to merely observe.

Publicly, pro-collector blogs frequently argue that nationalistic retention laws for antiquities neither preserve sites nor objects, nor do they benefit the larger interests of civilization and mankind.  But what do collectors and dealers have to say to one another about their own responsibility to preserve site?  And how do they truly feel when it comes to merchandise that enters the art market as a result of the illicit antiquities trade?

To get a better understanding I started by reading through the websites of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) and the Association of Dealers & Collectors of Ancient & Ethnographic Arts.  Both the IADAA and the ADCAEA's mission statements advocate for the responsible and legal trading and collecting of antiquities. 

  • promote awareness and understanding of ancient and ethnographic art collecting through open communication with members and the public.
  • support the preservation and protection of cultural objects around the globe through responsible and legal trading and collecting.
  • educate and inform members on policies and laws that affects the international movement of cultural property.
  • advocate and support the establishment of clear, transparent and fair laws governing acquisition, ownership and commercial disposal of artifacts.
  • promote a Code of Conduct that underscores the professionalism of our members through responsible and ethical practice.
  • advocate the establishment of a comprehensive digital database register within the USA to secure appropriate title to art and artifacts for museums, dealers and collectors and restore legitimacy and value to objects registered.
Good objectives to strive for even if I found their December 29, 2014 blog post a lot more threatened and defensive as this opening paragraph shows.
As a result, several American museums have been coerced into giving objects to foreign governments that have claimed them as their rightful property purely for political purposes.  American collectors and art dealers as well have been forced to repeatedly defend themselves against all manner of claims by foreign governments for countless pieces of art work that have been dispersed around the globe.  Increasingly, Americans have had to defend themselves in costly litigation against foreign governments who use American lawyers, US Customs, and Homeland Security, and the Press to pursue spurious claims against US citizens.  At the same time these foreign nations do very little to protect their archaeological resources or stem the tide of illicit excavation on their own soil.  The old paradigm of “antiquities collecting equals destruction of cultural heritage and therefore must be abolished” is naive at best and slanderous at worst.
To understand the reason for this defensiveness among dealers and collectors I thought it worthwhile to listen to them chat amongst themselves in non-official capacities, perhaps learning about what drew them individually to the field rather than assume I understood how dealers and collectors truly feel by looking at their safety-in-numbers mission statements.  Wording for large public statements often makes for adversarial lines in the heritage protection sand.   

I joined several collecting groups in hopes of better understanding "their side of the story".  Clearly heritage protection professionals and dealers and collectors should be able to solve their differences if if there is goodwill on all sides.

But is there?

One of the first comments I came across discussed Muslim militants threatening ancient sites in Iraq and Syria.  One dealer staunchly stated over email...
The lesson is clear here. The best overall strategy to preserve mankind's shared global heritage is NOT to keep it all concentrated in the original source countries, but rather to widely distribute it around the world.
"Widely distributed" having the added benefit of also generating revenue for dealers and a source of joy for the buyer.  Each doing their part to salvage history away from the ongoing conflict. But was their viewpoint a noble one?   The rest of the email is listed below for the reader to decide...

Hopefully they will loot and sell them first rather than destroying them! But then we dealers would probably be charged with funding terrorism by our wonderful politically correct governments.
Further in the same conversational thread another mid-level dealer replied...
I have bought many ! objects of ' fetishes and gods' from Moslem Runners who have no problems selling these pieces; nor do I have in buying then.
apparently referring to the secular nature of some Muslim looters and smugglers who don't necessarily subscribe to the religious ideology of Isis, Isil or Da'ish when selecting antiquities for trafficking.

Perhaps in jest, or perhaps by way of introduction, another dealer wrote a How-to email on how to smuggle antiquities from Egypt saying...
 Hello to you all.

I would like to share with you my thought regarding how a piece you end up buying in auction like Bonhams or Christie's is actually looted.

- A poor farmer in Egypt finds it while plowing his land.

- He is scared to report it considering the hell he will go through, confiscating his land , ending up in jail , family dying from hunger etc... so he sells it to the local dealer in the village

- Local dealer sells it to the middle man in Cairo

- Middle man sells it to the big boss in Cairo.

- Big boss smuggles it to an Arabian gulf country, e.g. Qatar, Dubai (UAE), Bahrain

- Piece then shipped to a stupid European country , e.g. Portugal.  sorry, stupid meaning = level of customs awareness

- Then an invoice is made from a dealer in another European country e.g. Belgium, to this Portuguese dealer for the piece, of course nobody checks, it's an EU transaction, no tax , no customs.

- Based on the Belgian invoice, the Portuguese dealer make an export license to U.S.A from ministry of culture, piece origin from Belgium, this totally cancels the fact that the piece came from the Arabian gulf.

- Item received in the U.S, no trouble, legal ,

- Item sold in auction  + old European collection, legally entered to U.S , customs paid.
Do ethics even enter into collector-dealer purchase discussions?  For some yes, but too frequently no.

In listening to collectors' observations I found that not all were black sheep.  While some over-sharing group members aired their profession's dirty laundry, others called for restraint in purchasing and recommended that dealers and collectors stick to objects with verifiable collecting histories.  Some dealers and collectors reached out to one another to help determine if a piece had value, was original or knew someone in the business who might have information on the object's past in the antiquities marketplace.   At face value their motive appears to be less driven by ethics and more by the desire to preserve value for money on object purchases and investments. Objects with sketchy pasts are still money spent in purchase but make for risky investments.

Some dealers and collectors outed dealers known to have sold fakes or to have had problems with previous law violations like Mousa Khouli who also goes by the name Morris.  Dealers reminded new members of the group that Khouli had sold through  Windsor Antiquities as well as Palmyra Heritage, and through eBay as palmyraheritagemorriskhouligallery.

Several group members pointed out pieces that they found problematic on Khouli current auction events such as this listing for an Ancient Roman Egyptian Painted stucco Mummy Mask c.1st century AD and this Palmyran Limestone Head Ca. 3rd-5th century A.D.  I myself notice he trades in Syrian coins, ancient glass and mummy cartonnage.

Khouli is not new to the art and antiquities profession.  He moved to New York City with his family from Syria in 1992 and opened a gallery specializing in the ancient world in New York City in 1995. His father had a gallery in Damascus for 35 Years, and he learned the business from his grandfather who also worked in the art and antiquities collecting field.  When prosecuted in 2012 he was already a seasoned and substantial seller in the New York market.

But Khouli eventually pled guilty to smuggling ancient Egyptian treasure and to making a false statement to law enforcement authorities.  He was sentenced to six months home confinement, one year probation, and 200 hours of community service, along with a criminal monetary assessment of $200.  Today he continues in the business he knows, the buying and selling of history. 

The response by his peers for his misdeeds?....   
Everyone's at it, he just happened to get caught.
Interestingly, like with the How To Smuggle recipe the earlier dealer described, Khouli's smuggled objects were imported via Dubai.

Maybe the one thing heritage workers and the collection community should agree on is that the "white" (clean) art collecting trade is dirtied when black market antiquities are circulated via suspect dealers and purchasers. Singular source countries, acting alone, cannot tackle all of the triangulations between looter, smuggler, dealer and buyer without the active support of neighboring countries, law enforcement and the art collecting community themselves.

Yesterday's Cambodia, is today's Syria and tomorrow's Ukraine, as the grey market of antiquities shifts from one vulnerable nation or one conflict zone to another.

by Lynda Albertson

February 19, 2014

"Riverside County Art Dealer Arrested in Federal Cyberstalking Case" (U.S. Attorney's Office Press Release Feb. 12); FBI Art Crime Team Investigating

FROM:  Thom Mrozek
Public Affairs Officer
United States Attorney's Office
Central District of California (Los Angeles) 

Issued on Wednesday, February 12 at 8:30 a.m. PST. EDS: a copy of the criminal complaint is attached. 
LOS ANGELES – The owner of a Temecula art gallery who allegedly stalked, harassed and attempted to extort several art world professionals was arrested today on federal cyberstalking charges. 
Jason White, 43, of Temecula, was arrested this morning without incident by special agents with the FBI. White’s arrest comes after federal prosecutors yesterday filed a criminal complaint that charges White with stalking, a crime that carries a potential penalty of five years in federal prison. White is expected to make his initial appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. 
According to the complaint, White engaged in a stalking and extortion scheme that targeted several art world professionals with whom he had had business relationships. When those business relationships ended, White posted derogatory information about his former associates on websites he had created, and then used threatening emails to demand hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for taking the websites down. According to the complaint, White repeatedly made extortionate demands through harassing text messages and emails, and when his demands were not met, he threatened violence.
In one part of the scheme, White targeted his former employer, an art publisher, as well as his supervisor at the art publisher’s company. After creating derogatory websites in the art publisher’s name, White allegedly sent threatening text messages to the art publisher, the publisher’s son, and his former supervisor. According to the complaint, in a text message to his former supervisor, he threatened to find her family and make her pay with “fear, anguish, and pain.” On several occasions, according to the complaint, White obtained pictures of her child and sent pictures of the child to the victim with comments such as “it will be very unfortunate if something was to happen to him.” During this time, according to the complaint, White continued to demand payment in exchange for taking down the websites he had created, and made it known to these victims that their business reputation would be ruined and that his websites would forever show up anytime anyone searched for their name on the internet. 
Late last month, White allegedly went to the Facebook page of a well-known artist represented by the art publisher and posted a picture of himself, along with a statement that he was focusing on the artist’s wife and child. White allegedly wrote that he would be waiting in the bushes to “knee cap a child.” Through the Facebook message, White told the artist, “your children are my end game.” 

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court. 
The case against White is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Art Crime Team.

CONTACT:    Assistant United States Attorney Sarah Levitt
                        Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section
                        (213) 894-2579 
Release No. 14-022

January 3, 2014

Friday, January 03, 2014 - , No comments

Resistance fighter and Paris art dealer René Gimpel died on this day in a concentration camp in 1945

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

On this date, January 3, in 1945, Paris art dealer René Gimpel (born 1881), brother-in-law of the art dealer Joseph Duveen, died in Neungamme concentration camp.

In The Rape of Europa, Lynn Nicholas recounts that René Gimpel, had traveled the year before his death to Geneva to see an exhibit of paintings from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Barcelona after General Franco paused 'bombing operations so that the paintings could be removed' to safety during the Spanish Civil War:
In an extraordinary international effort, a Committee for the Salvage of Spanish Art Treasures, cooperating with the League of Nations, as well as French and British cultural agencies, backed by private money raised in a little more than twenty-four hours from collectors in Europe and America, organized a truck convoy to move the collection to France. There the precious cases were loaded on a special twenty-two-car train and taken to a Geneva, where they were exhibited in a show not likely to be equalled, for these are things which never normally travel, and certainly not en mass: all the great Velázquezes, Bruegel's Triumph of Death, 26 El Grecos, 38 Goyas, Dürer's Self-Portrait: 174 paintings in all.
Anyone who could, from Kenneth Clark and Bernard Berenson to Matisse and Picasso, travelled the long road to see it. Late in August one of the last visitors, the Paris dealer René Gimpel, wrote in his diary [on August 24 from Geneva, in the second to last entry of his journal]:
The conflagaration is not far from bursting in upon us. We have been here for forty-eight hours to see the Prado Exhibition... Death hangs over our heads, and if it must take us, this last vision of Velázquez, Greco, Goya, Roger van der Weyden, will have made a fine curtain.
Gimpel's book, Journal d'un Collectionneur (Diary of an art dealer, 1966, English translation by Joseph Rosenberg), recounted the art world between the wars 1918-1939, citing sales and prices of art, giving his opinions in brief posts like this one on 'March 12, 1918/Fake painting':
A fake Gainsborough, a Blue Boy, has just been knocked down at the Hearn sale in New York for more than $32,000. It's harder to sell a genuine painting.
Gimpel wrote on March 25, 1924, under the heading "Vandals":
A specialist in Egyptian art has told me that he is waiting for a large Egyptian statue. To get it out of Egypt, it was cut into forty-six pieces, and the work of reconstitution is being done in Paris. This happens every day.
His last entry: "September 3/Paris, We're at war."

Sir Herbert Read writes in the introduction of the 1966 translated journal that René Gimpel's father, who established the family gallery in Paris in 1889, had been an Alsatian 'who had come to the French capital because as a French citizen he could not tolerate the terms of the Treaty of 1871':
René Gimpel was imbued with the same spirit of revolt, and during the Second World War he and his sons were to participate actively in the Resistance. René was eventually interned by the Vichy authorities for his underground activities, released in 1942 but then re-arrested by the Germans. In prison he taught English to his fellow prisoners, to prepare them, as he said, for the liberation. He was sent with a convoy to Germany and suffered great hardships under which his healthy finally broke down. 
Louis Martin-Chauffier, fellow-prisoner in Neuengamme concentration camp toward the end of 1944, described his end in a letter written some years later to Jean Guehenno (quoted in M. Guehenno's Preface to the original French edition of the journal): "Physically he was no more than a shadow of his former self, as was usually the case with all of them, but morally he had not changed, and that is infinitely rarer. Knowing that he was soon to die, he continued as if nothing was happening, to speak of life and to give to his companions, overwhelmed by exhaustion, despair, and disgust, the example of the serenity of a man who, having nothing more to lose and having done what he can, is left with only one duty, which is not to flinch and to help others."
René Gimpel's papers are archived at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art.

November 16, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: Highlights on De Spiegel's "Phantom Collector"

De Spiegel: Max Liebermann, "Two Riders on the Beach"
As pointed out in a long article, "Phantom Collector: The Mystery of the Munich Nazi Art Trove", De Spiegel Online, English, November 11, 2013, by Spiegel Staff, in 1901 Max Liebermann, an Impressionist painter, created "Two Riders on the Beach" and exhibited it in Berlin and in the Hermes art salon in Frankfurt. Four years later, in 1905, Berlin gallerist Paul Cassirer sold the painting to a sugar refiner from Breslau, David Friedmann.
On Dec. 5, 1939, three months after the war broke out, Dr. Westram, a senior government official in Breslau, wrote a letter to the Reich minister of economics, under the heading: "Seizure of Jewish Art Collections." 
One passage relates to the "estimated value of artworks owned by Friedmann, a Jew." According to Westram, Friedmann's collection included French Impressionists "like Courbet, Pissarro, Raffaelli, Rousseau," along with "good German" landscapes. "The painting by Liebermann (Riders on the Beach) would likely fetch at least 10 to 15,000 Reichsmarks abroad," he wrote. He also noted that he had forbidden Friedmann from selling his artworks without permission. It is unlikely that he later sold the works despite Westram's instructions. 
De Spiegel: Sample of Gurlitt collection
'Forfeited to the Reich' 
When Friedmann died in 1942, his villa was sold at auction and the proceeds were "forfeited to the Reich." His daughter Charlotte was deported to an SS death camp in 1943 and murdered there.
De Spiegel's article recounts the family history of Hildebrand Gurlitt (part Jewish from an 'educated middle-class-family'); Hldebrand Gurlitt's dismissal twice from two positions by the Nazis; his success at dealing in art (1935); and the Nazi's characterization and assemblage of "Degenerate art".
On Oct. 25, 1938, Gurlitt gained access to the storage facility containing the "degenerate" art, which included works he had once acquired for the museum in Zwickau. They were kept at Schloss Schönhausen in Berlin. Gurlitt had customers in Basel and New York. He, like other dealers, also secretly sold graphic works in Germany. Hamburg art historian Maike Bruhns learned that Gurlitt showed drawings by Paul Klee and Emil Nolde to customers he trusted in the basement of his Kunstkabinett gallery. 
Art to the Highest Bidder
Gurlitt took on more than 3,700 works on paper from Schloss Schönhausen. In May 1939, he sold the Franz Marc painting "Animal Destinies" to the Kunstmuseum Basel for 6,000 Swiss francs, for which he received a commission of 1,000 francs. For the same amount of money, he bought 1,723 works on paper from Schloss Schönhausen in mid-December 1940. They included watercolors, prints and drawings by Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and other Expressionists. Gurlitt signed his letters to the officials in Joseph Goebbels' propaganda ministry with the words "Heil Hitler!" or "With German greetings."
A companion later recalled that Gurlitt drove a small car in those days, and that he would see "paintings by Munch, Corinth and Franz Marc emerging from the car like some colorful ball of yarn, and it was never quite clear how all of it could have fit into that tiny car."
Then came a defining moment in Gurlitt's career. His friend Hermann Voss, director of the Dresden State Art Collections and special commissioner for the planned "Führer Museum" in Linz, Austria, hired him in 1943 to build Hitler's art collection. Gurlitt brokered the purchase of paintings from various countries, including the occupied countries of Western Europe -- France, the Netherlands and Belgium -- for several million Reichsmarks. He was provided with privileges and given the necessary documents. A letter from the "Special Commissioner for Linz" certified that Gurlitt was buying works of art "for the purposes of the Führer," and that it was "of great interest in terms of cultural policy" that the art dealer be allowed to "complete his mission expeditiously." 
Hitler's Art Commissioner
Hitler's special commissioner for Linz had his office at the Dresden State Art Collections, where records were kept on the looted art. The purchases made for Linz between December 1942 and April 1945 are documented in the so-called "Wiedemann list." It includes the transactions conducted by Gurlitt's gallery.
Under the first entry, dated Sept. 6, 1943, Gurlitt delivered four paintings, including a work by Claude Joseph Vernet called "Seaport by Moonlight," for 40,000 Reichsmarks. One hundred thousand Reichsmarks were paid for the first delivery.
Gurlitt kept himself busy after that. Within a year, he delivered well over 100 paintings, rugs, drawings, miniatures, portraits, sculptures, tapestries and pastels to the special office. According to the list, the value of the artworks, which was already at rock bottom because of the pressure the Nazis were exerting on private collectors, was more than 9.2 million Reichsmarks, of which Gurlitt received a 5 percent commission.
The last Gurlitt painting arrived at the special office on Sept. 6, 1944. The work, "Madonna and Child Between Angels," by a member of the early Italian school, was priced at 200,000 Reichsmarks.

In an interview with Allied Forces in 1945, Gurlitt denied purchasing art stolen from Jewish families which De Spiegel questions:
Gurlitt toured the territories occupied by Nazi Germany like a kind of traveling salesman. In France he acquired 19th-century paintings for German cigarette manufacturer Philipp F. Reemtsma. He attended auctions that sold off looted art from museums and stolen art that authorities had seized from Jewish owners. Is it possible that he knew nothing of the origins of this artwork?
In regards to the bombing of Hildrebrand Gurlitt's home in Dresden in 1945:
In the spring of 1945, part of Gurlitt's collection was in Dresden; the family was living at Kaitzerstrasse 26 at the time. During the Allied air raids on the night of Feb. 13-14, the building was nearly completely destroyed, but Gurlitt was apparently able to save most of his art trove. In mid-March 1945, as he later wrote in a sworn statement, he was able to salvage the remainder of his "safeguarded paintings" and pack them in "roughly 25 crates," along with numerous boxes with hundreds of drawings and prints. 
He then transported the collection in a "truck with a trailer" to Aschbach in the southern German state of Bavaria, where he said he stored it in a castle that was soon captured by advancing US troops. "All crates and boxes," said Gurlitt, "were carefully checked by American commissions on a number of occasions." Many of the works were confiscated and brought to the central collecting point in Wiesbaden, he noted.
Gurlitt insisted to the Allies that he was not a Nazi, De Spiegel:
American officials were skeptical, and described Gurlitt as withdrawn and nervous. They thought his behavior was suspicious, and asked him why he had brought crates with the stamp of the Dresden state art collections to western Germany, along with alleged gold bars. He remained evasive.
At the same time, he agreed to give back a number of works in his possession that he had acquired in France. He also compiled a comprehensive list of the paintings that he had purchased in France during the war, which included Rodins, Chardins and Rembrandts.
Yet, De Spiegel writes:
The fact of the matter is that Hildebrand Gurlitt led two lives, as shown by many file documents. The Hamburg Police Department wrote in 1947 that Gurlitt allegedly "profited enormously" from the period of the Third Reich. "Aside from an exaggerated sense of business acumen, he reportedly took advantage of the predicament of the Jews and associated with men from the counterintelligence service." 
This was based on testimony by Gurlitt's former secretary Ingeborg Hertmann. She noticed that Gurlitt "maintained regular business and personal contacts with the Propaganda Ministry, Dr. (Rolf) Hetsch (the Propaganda Ministry's consultant for the visual arts), ... (Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert) Speer and (Propaganda Minister Joseph) Goebbels." 
In the years 1942 and 1943, she said that he "only worked for the Führer." She went on to say that at the Hamburg Kunsthalle -- an art museum in the city -- he purchased paintings by Liebermann "at cheap prices that were incomprehensible to me and sold them for astronomical amounts of money." The secretary added: "When the Jews were deported to the Lodz ghetto, they entrusted Gurlitt with all of their paintings to be sold. After a while, these people wrote letters, asking him to send money because they were starving. Gurlitt then told me in a calm and indifferent manner to send 10 Reichsmarks to the Jew."
Nevertheless, the Americans were generous. Gurlitt was allowed to keep the works of art that he had declared his private property at the collecting point of the US administration in Wiesbaden. In December 1950, the US high commissioner approved the return of 134 paintings and drawings from the "Gurlitt collection." In addition to the artwork, there were Nepalese antiquities and Meissen porcelain. For two additional works of art, the art dealer produced a certificate from a Swiss friend who attested that he gave Gurlitt a Picasso and a Chagall in Switzerland "around 1943." He subsequently received these works as well. A photo of the Chagall, an "allegory with three moons," was shown last week at a press conference. 
In Gurlitt's later years, before he died in a car crash in 1956, he served as the director of the Düsseldorf Kunstverein from 1948. He still had an enormous amount of energy, and he transformed this small art association into a captivating institution, which of course showed modern art. He also continued to deal in artwork. Indeed, it's likely that after 1945 Gurlitt added a number of works to the collection that was found at the home of his son Cornelius in Munich. 
The paintings returned by the Americans also included Max Lieberman's "Two Riders on the Beach," which had somehow made its way from David Friedmann's conservatory in Breslau to Gurlitt's crates of artwork in Dresden.