Showing posts with label museum security network. Show all posts
Showing posts with label museum security network. Show all posts

February 16, 2011

Ton Cremers Weighs in on the lawsuit by the St. Louis Art Museum on Keeping the Ka-Nefer-Nefer Mask


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Questions have arisen about the legal status of an 3,200 year-old Egyptian mummy mask from a noblewoman at the court of Ramses II that has belonged to the St. Louis Art Museum for more than two decades.

The Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask, with its inlaid glass eyes and shimmering plaster face, has been on display since the museum purchased it in 1998 from a New York art dealer for $499,000, according to Jennifer Mann, reporting for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on “stltoday.com” in the article “Art museum sues to keep Egyptian mummy mask.”

Ton Cremers, security consultant, and operator of the website news service, Museum Security Network in The Netherlands, is mentioned in the lawsuit that cites numerous emails Mr. Cremers sent to government officials in 2005 and 2006 call for an investigation, according to Mann.

I reached Mr. Cremers in Rome and he, traveling on with an iPad and without his usual computer, referred us to his response today that he posted on the MSN Google Group:
Ton Cremers: There is NO doubt whatsoever that this mask was stolen from a storage in Saqqara. One does not need to be surprised that the infamous Aboutaam brothers were the ones selling this mask. They are 'renowned' for trading in dubious antiquities without any provenance. In this case they just made up a fake provenance: supposedly the mask had been part of a Swiss private collection. Yes, Switzerland again....

Anybody who has read Peter Watson's books, Sotheby's The Inside Story and The Medici Conspiracy, knows that the Swiss route should be distrusted. The Aboutaam fake provenance was very easy to unmask because the Swiss collector mentioned by them in the provenance had never heard about this mask.

According to the ICOM deontological code, no museum should keep stolen objects, no matter any legal context. There is a knack in this case: the Saint Louis Art Museum is not a member of ICOM and apparently does not mind the ICOM ethical code. If they had been an ICOM Member, they should have been thrown out of this organization immediately. It is an outright lie that they performed due diligence when achieving this mask, for they did not.

In my view, Brent Benjamin, the director of the SLAM, is nothing else than an outright buyer of stolen property (yes, I am aware that his predecessor actually bought the mask). His standpoint is that Egypt must prove that the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask was stolen. That is putting the world upside down. One thing is sure beyond any doubt: The mask was not excavated in Missouri.

The Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask must return to Egypt as quickly as possible.
ARCA blog: Is it appropriate to mention your emails in the lawsuit and how will this impact the Museum Security Network?
Ton Cremers: I really do not know who quoted my 2005 - 2008 messages about the Ka Nefer Nefer mask in the present law suit. As far as I am concerned there is no objection against using my messages since all of these have been sent publicly. Using these messages will not have any impact on the Museum Security Network. At least not any negative impact. It really shows that the MSN is regarded as a very serious factor in the struggle against illicit trade in cultural goods.

February 3, 2011

Journal of Art Crime: Columnist Ton Cremers on 'Security & Safety Reflections'

In his column "Security & Safety Reflections", security consultant Ton Cremers, founder of the Museum Security Network, writes about “Tracking and Tracing of Stolen Art Objects” in the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime (Fall 2010). Cremers questions the “not always very trustworthy” marketing of a UK-based company, RFID (radio frequency identification); addresses the complexity of tracking and tracing objects inside and outside museum buildings; and describes the difference between active and passive tags.

Ton Cremers was awarded the 2003 Robert B. Burke Award for excellence in cultural property protection.

To seek out this piece, and many others, consider a subscription to the Journal of Art Crime—the first peer-reviewed academic journal covering art and heritage crime. ARCA publishes two volumes annually in the Spring and Fall. Individual, Institutional, electronic and printed versions are all available, with subscriptions as low as 30 Euros. All proceeds go to ARCA's nonprofit research and education initiatives. Please see the publications page for more information.

August 28, 2010

More on the Security Breakdown in Cairo

The stolen work, "Poppy Flowers"
 A week ago today the 1887 work Poppy Flowers, by Vincent van Gogh was stolen from a Cairo museum.  Hadeel Al-Shalchi has a very good piece reporting on the security (or lack of it) at the Mahmoud Khalil museum in a piece for the AP which you can read on MSNBC

I'm quoted at the end of the piece, noting that the best way to protect works of art is not necessarily with an elaborate electronic security system.  Those alarms and sensors certainly play an important role, but for a nation like Egypt, an active, engaged security guard who isn't dozing off as these guards perhaps were, would seemingly have been a successful deterrent for the thieves.  They apparently walked in and cut the work from the frame during hours the museum was open.  And I want to make clear that when I was quoted in the piece saying "It's not an exciting job, but you need to take it seriously", I mean that security staff at museums are professionals, and should be given that status.  In Cairo, these guards were certainly not expected or required to maintain an adequate standard, and the theft and damage of this artwork is the unfortunate result.  But hopefully Egypt will learn from this crime, and enact some sound security procedures to ensure more works of art are not stolen in the future. 

When Ms. Al-Shalchi called me to discuss the theft, she told me she had learned that many of the guards may have been praying—this is still Ramadan—while the theft was taking place, that they may have been dozing off, and that the museum was not heavily visited on the day of the theft.  But perhaps most troubling of all were the breakdowns in technology at the museum.  As the piece states, there were no working alarms, only seven of the 43 cameras were in operating condition, and video from the cameras is recorded only when a guard "senses" an incident may be taking place.  As Ton Cremers, founder of the Museum Security Network says, this is not a good state of affairs for the protection of such valuable artworks: "The value of the van Gogh is $40 (million) to $50 million . . .  A complete security system of that museum would be $50,000, and to keep it running would cost $3,000 a year. ... Need I say more?"

Also of interest will be the arguments against repatriation of other classes of objects—such as the bust of Nefertiti—on the grounds that Egypt is not going to be able to adequately care for the object when it is returned.  yet Art theft occurs in every nation, and bad security is bad security whether the museum is in Egypt, Europe, or North America.  Thieves will exploit obvious gaps in security.  As Mark Durney, current moderator of the Museum Security Network, asked this week "Why are some national collections not as well protected as others? Who, in addition to the thief, is responsible for the theft?"  I think that is the right set of questions to ask, yet they need to be asked whenever a museum is unprepared for a theft, whether that museum is in Egypt, or France—where the security system at the Modern Museum may have not been in working order earlier this summer when five works were stolen
  1. Hadeel Al-Shalchi, Security problems abound in Egypt's museums, Associated Press, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38884911/ns/technology_and_science-science/ (last visited Aug 28, 2010).

March 26, 2010

Museum Security Network: New Management

Ton Cremers, the founder and moderator of the Museum Security Network, has decided to pass the ownership and responsibilities of the MSN onto me, Mark Durney. Before I introduce myself, I have a few words on Ton's advances and innovations in the field of art crime for which we are eternally grateful.

Over 14 years ago, when Yahoo! was under a year old and Google was still two years away from "logging on," Ton Cremers had a vision to expand the local Dutch cultural property protection and preservation discussions to the global village. With the assistance of some new technologies, this vision became the Museum Security Network. As Dante said in the Inferno, "From small spark great flame hath risen." For those who are unaware of its size and scope, the MSN now receives over 13,500 visitors a month. Rest assured that I do not plan on diverging from Ton's vision rather I hope to contribute to it and build on the solid foundation and reputation he has already established.

Currently, I am pursuing a year-long Masters in Cultural Heritage Studies at the University College London's Institute of Archaeology. For the past two years, I have maintained Art Theft Central - a blog that discusses recent news about art crime as well as contributes insights into the trends in the field from a variety of perspectives. Additionally, I serve as Business and Admissions Director for ARCA - the Association for Research into Crimes against Art. As an undergraduate at Trinity College (Hartford, CT), I majored  in History and completed a thesis on deconstructing the Thomas Crown Affair art heist scenario. I have had experiences from a financial strategy consulting firm with 90,000 employees worldwide to a local community bank to most recently, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where I worked as a security guard/gallery officer.

My work in the realm of art crime, like Ton's, has been largely voluntary. Hopefully, this conveys my passion to pursue the protection and preservation of our shared cultural heritage through theoretical, experiential, and practical approaches.

The MSN will continue to operate as a forum to update and engage those interested in the heritage and culture sectors. In the upcoming months, there will be a transition period as well as some transformations during which I hope to expand the MSN's volunteer base among other projects. I have invited Jonathan Sazanoff to continue assisting with the MSN's daily operations. I ask that the followers of the MSN exhibit the same confidence that Ton has placed in me so that together we can continue his mission.

Thanks for your support. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments you can reach me at mark@artcrime.info .

Mark Durney, March 2010