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April 20, 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017 - , No comments

Repatriation: The Cleveland Museum of Art returns WWII looted bust of Drusus Minor to Italy

Sometimes the repatriation of a looted object is a long time coming. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 the Cleveland Museum of Art and Italy's Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo - MiBACT announced with great public fanfare and press releases that an agreement had finally been reached for the transfer of a marble portrait head representing Drusus Minor (Drusus Julius Caesar, 13 B.C.E.-C.E. 23) back to its country of origin.

The object was part of a group of sculptures excavated in the 1920s that had been displayed in the Civic Museum of Sessa Aurunca from 1926 until it went missing some 70+ years ago at the end of the Second World War.  It is speculated that the object was taken by military personnel, perhaps in search of war mementos.

When the museum first announced the object's acquisition in 2012 they made no mention of who the marble head was purchased from, nor what the purchase price was.  

Seeking to establish an exception to the AAMD's Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art the cached version of the now removed AAMD website object information page listed the object's details and collection history as follows:

Object Title:  Head of Drusus Minor (13 B.C. – A.D. 23)Measurements:  H. 35 cmCreation Date:  probably after A.D. 23 and likely before A.D. 37Credit Line:  Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. FundMuseum Name:  The Cleveland Museum of ArtCulture:  RomanCountry of Origin:  AlgeriaObject Type:  SculpturesMaterials / Techniques: MarbleProvenance Information: Fernand Sintes before 1960; sold at auction at Hôtel Drouot-Richelieu Paris on September 29, 2004, lot. no. 340, unknown purchaser; Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A.(2004); sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art by Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012.Exhibition Information:  No DataPublication Information:  Piasa, Paris, Hôtel Drouot-Richelieu, Archéologie, 28–29 Septembre (Paris 2004) 74, lot. no. 340. Phoenix Ancient Art, Imago, Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture, (New York 2007) cover, III.

Section of the AAMD Guidelines relied upon for the exception to 1970: 

Cumulative facts and circumstances - Explain why the object fits the exception set forth above: The Cleveland Museum of Art has provenance information for this work back to the 1960’s, but has been unable to obtain documentary confirmation of portions of the provenance as described below. The work was sold at public auction in 2004 when it first appeared on the art market. The work was initially identified and published as Tiberius, but was later (after 2007) recognized as a likeness of his son, Drusus Minor. A certificate of origin was issued dated the day after the auction by Jean-Philippe Mariaud de Serres (deceased 2007), who assisted the prior owner and consigner, Fernand Sintes. The certificate stated the sculpture came from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Sintes of Marseilles; that the sculpture had been in Mr. Sintes’s family for many generations; that the family’s name was Bacri; and that they had lived in Algeria since 1860. The museum contacted Mrs. Sintes who confirmed on behalf of herself and Mr. Sintes that Mr. Sintes’ grandfather, Mr. Bacri, had owned the sculpture; that Mr. Sintes inherited the sculpture from his grandfather; that Mr. Sintes brought it from Algeria to Marseilles in 1960; that he had inherited it from his grandfather prior to bringing it to Marseilles; that the sculpture was sold at the Hôtel Drouot in 2004; and that they had worked with Mr. de Serres. The portrait, monumental in scale and of great historical importance, belongs to a major category of Roman imperial portraiture not otherwise represented in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Drafted by the the Association of Art Museum Directors and adopted by the AAMD member institutions in the US, Canada and Mexico, the AAMD guidelines, set standards by which member museums should conduct due diligence when acquiring archaeological material and ancient art.  These guidelines serve to discourage member museums from purchasing antiquities unless solid collection histories prove that the object was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970, or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970.

Filling in the gaps on one repatriated object's collection history 

Through the dedicated work of multiple researchers, archaeologists, and lawyers in Italy, France, the UK, the US and Poland, we know the following:

The French auction house's website recorded that the sculpture was sold as lot. 340 to an anonymous buyer at a Hôtel Drouot auction in Paris on September 29, 2004 for €324,000. 

The Cleveland Museum of Art acquired the ancient Roman portrait of the son of Emperor Tiberius 8 years later, from Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquities dealer with galleries in Geneva and New York, whose has been discussed with recurring frequency on the Association's blog.

An image of the Drusus Minor bust graces the cover of the 2007 edition of the Phoenix Ancient Art catalog Imago, dedicated to four hundred years of Roman portraiture.  This cover photo can be seen in the screenshot taken from the dealer's eTiquities website below. 


It is unclear if the bust remained in the Aboutaam brothers' inventory from its 2004 purchase until its eventual purchase by the museum in 2012.

The museum's 2012 purchase was made possible from a credit line tapping the Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund.  Iron, coal, and shipping magnate Leonard C. Hanna Jr. was an avid art collector, theatergoer, and patron of the arts. At his death, Hanna left a bequest of $34 million USD to the Cleveland Museum of Art making it the best-endowed art museum in the United States.  Income from the Hanna endowment fund is restricted to the purchase of art.

Sessa Aurunca, Remains of the theatre (scavi 1925–1926)
Image Credit: Soprintendenza Archeologia della Campania
In the October-December 2014 Bollettino D’Arte, produced by Italy’s Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, author Giuseppe Scarpati deduced that documentation stored in the Neapolitan archives of the Superintendence Archeologia della Campania, included previously unpublished photos which catagorically confirm that the object was originally discovered between 1925-1926 in Italy when Amedeo Maiuri was excavating the Gagliardella district of Sessa Aurunca, near the site's theater.

The black and white photos found in the Naples archives were taken in 1926. Contact find records of the documented measurements for the ancient marble head, also match records from the Cleveland museum's ancient art collection. 

Image Credit Top Left and Bottom, Soprintendenza Archeologia della Campania, 1926
Image Credit Top Right: ARCA
In a still earlier Italian article, published before the museum's purchase, by the Italian Societá Nazionale di Scienze Lettere ed Arti Napoli, Volume LXXV 2008-2011,  Scarpati had already documented the find images, as well as site diagrams by Sergio Cascella whose documentation reconstructs the zone of the the excavation find spot, the theatre at Sessa Aurunca.

With all this documentation, transfer of the object by the Cleveland Museum of Art back to Italy was clearly the only appropriate resolution.

But will the museum will be reimbursed by Phoenix Ancient Art?

At the time of this article, William Griswold, the museum's director at the Cleveland Museum of Art declined to comment on whether his museum would be reimbursed by the Aboutaams. 

And if the museum is not reimbursed? 

According to a 2014 US government, there are upwards of 35,000 museums in America.  But how many museums employ dedicated provenance researchers to conduct research, to trace an object's history of ownership, and to clarify the circumstances surrounding the potential costly acquisition of an artwork or an antiquity with illicit or looted origins?

In 2016 Cleveland Museum of Art was named the second best museum in the U.S. by Business Insider magazine, just one step behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Perhaps given the diplomatically touchy nature of repatriating looted objects, which necessitates both parties drafting tedious carefully-agreed upon press releases about how wonderful one another is, museums might be wiser to invest in more personnel with solid provenance researching backgrounds to vet objects before their purchase.

In the long run, provenance researchers are cheaper than having to forfeit a pricey accessioned treasure, not to mention,  museum directors aren't subjected to those cheesy photo opportunities with cultural attachés wearing diplomatically-pasted-on grins.

Food for future purchasing thought

A statement from the ICOM International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods states: 

Might be worthwhile to re-read this suggestion before signing a check for that new must-have acquisition.  Failure to engage in due diligence causes institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art  to suffer at their own hands.

By:  Lynda Albertson


References accessed and interviews used for this article


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ARCA internal research data

Avvocatura dello Stato and the Procuratore Aggiunto dello Stato, Italy

Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo

Stefano Alessandrini, consultant to Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo and the L'Avvocatura dello Stato - Italy. 

Paul Barford, http://paul-barford.blogspot.it/search?q=drusus+cleveland&max-results=20&by-date=true

Sergio Cascella - https://www.academia.edu/2199517/Un_ritratto_di_Tiberio_da_Sessa_Aurunca_ritrovato_RAAN_LXXV_2008-2011_pp._345-368

David Gill, http://lootingmatters.blogspot.it/search?q=drusus+cleveland&max-results=20&by-date=true

Giuseppe Scarpati - https://www.academia.edu/24236780/IL_RITRATTO_DI_DRUSO_MINORE_DAL_CICLO_STATUARIO_GIULIO_CLAUDIO_DI_SESSA_AURUNCA


Rick St. Hilaire - http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.it/2017/04/drusus-head-revisited.html

March 24, 2017

Repatriation: Roman sarcophagus held at Swiss Freeport finally clears last hurdle for its return to Turkey

Image taken September 23, 2015
by the Office of the Attorney General of the Canton of Geneva - Image Credit: AFP
In December 2010, Swiss Federal Customs Administration authorities, acting under new customs legislation to combat trafficking in works of art, requested access to the inventory of Phoenix Ancient Art SA., a major supplier of museum-quality antiquities, which stores ancient works of art at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève, a freeport located in a sprawling grey industrial building on the corner of a busy junction in southwest Geneva. 

For more information about freeports as a tax free haven to store art, please see a few of ARCA's earlier blog posts here, here, and here

At the time of the audit, authorities inspected the holdings of both Phoenix Ancient Art and its warehouseman and freight forwarder, Inanna Art Services.  During this inspection, Swiss authorities discovered, but didn't physically seize, a 1-2 ton, 150-180 CE Roman sarcophagus which depicted the twelve labours of the ancient Greek war deity, Hercules. According to customs information on file for the antiquity, the sarcophagus was imported into Switzerland in the name of Phoenix Ancient Art, which often used Inanna Art Services to store its goods or to transport works of art to and from other countries. 

This extraordinary ancient funerary object, likely only one of four of this significant quality documented in the ancient art world, had little in the way of detailed provenance.  For a piece of its quality to have nothing tying it to a previously known ancient art collection; no notations of its discovery or find spot, and nothing notable in the way of published scholarly examination of its style and iconography, rang alarm bells in Switzerland. 

In a recent video, with Al Jazeera news, Ali Aboutaam claimed that the ancient funerary object had been purchased by his father and had been in their family for 25 years. While under their control, he indicated that the sarcophagus had always been stored at the Geneva freeport aside from when it was shipped to the UK for conservation treatment.   Ali Aboutam added that in 2010 the object was sold to the Gandur Foundation as a donation to the Musée d’Art ed d’Histoire in Geneva and according to Phoenix Ancient Art's attorney Bastien Geiger, Sleiman Aboutaam purchased the object in the early 90s.

Phoenix Ancient Art had proposed the sarcophagus to billionaire Swiss tycoon and commodities trader, Jean-Claude Gandur in the spring of 2010 for an estimated $1 - 4 million saying that the firm was acting on behalf of a third party whom they interestingly refused to disclose.  Gandur, who made a fortune during the 1990s buying oil concessions in Africa, has long been a powerful collector of ancient art, as well as a long term patron of the Musée d’Art et d’histoire in Geneva. 

In consideration of the donation, Marc-André Haldimann, head of the archaeology department of the Musée d’Art ed d’Histoire of Geneva and the director of the museum, Jean-Yves Marin, went to the freeport and inspected the sarcophagus to carry out an appraisal for consideration.  The pair however remained highly skeptical of the lack of established information on the ancient sarcophagus, which implied possible illicit origins.  

How could such a prestigious object emerge on the ancient art market having never been talked or written about previously?   

Wouldn't the archaeologist who discovered such a masterpiece have mentioned this spectacular find in his or her field notes?  

Wouldn't a scholar of some repute have compared it in an academic article with the other known artworks by the same signatory group of sculptures or other sarcophagi depicting Hercules?

The only documentation Phoenix Ancient Art produced which attested to the fundamental question of this exceptional object's past, were independently established statements attesting that the ancient work of art was part of the Aboutaam collection from 2002 onward and a certificate from Art Loss Register attesting the object had been checked against ALR's known stolen art database registry.  Ultimately the sale to the Gandur Foundation was cancelled, in no small part because of suspicions that the object had been smuggled out of its source country. 

In March 2011, the Specialized Body for the International Transfer of Cultural Property at the Swiss Federal Office of Culture (FOC) issued a statement that they believed the sarcophagus had originated from the general area of the famous marble quarries of Dokimion in Phrygia, the present day Antalya region of Turkey. The Dokimeian white marble sarcophagus was likely sculpted sometime during the the second century, when the area was under Roman rule. 

Based on the FOC's examination, Swiss authorities alerted their counterparts in Ankara, and Turkey in turn, issued a demand for the restitution of the rare antiquarian work by a letter rogatory of July 2011. Turkey also sent a request for mutual assistance to the Geneva court and an inquiry was formally opened in Switzerland to look into alleged violations of the Cultural Property Transfer Act (LTBC).  This act requires art market professionals keep a register for 30 years, in which the "origin of the cultural property" is to be documented. 

In order for the sarcophagus to have been in good standing in Switzerland under the LTBC, the dealers would be obliged to prove that the acquired object was in an old collection outside the source country prior to 2005 or to demonstrate that the object was not stolen or exported illicitly after 2005.

In October 2013, the case made its way through Swiss court. The Geneva Chief Public Prosecution Office and the Chief Public Prosecutor of Antalya conducted a comprehensive joint study with the Swiss magistrate in charge of the case traveling to Antalya, Turkey where Turkish Public Prosecutor Osman Şanal provided access to witnesses.   

Testimonies were heard from Professor Haluk Abbasoğlu and Professor İnci Deleman who conducted excavations in the region where the sarcophagus was illegally excavated.   The Swiss prosecutor also met with an unnamed imprisoned smuggler serving time on a separate smuggling charge in Elmalı prison.  This smuggler allegedly confirmed that the artifact had been looted and smuggled out of Turkey. 

Based on the evidence gathered, on September 21, 2015 Swiss authorities ordered the repatriation of the sarcophagus. But international legal proceedings move at a snail’s pace and the return of this one object, approved by the Geneva Court of Justice on May 2, 2016, was slowed again, due to a challenge by the Swiss Federal Court. 




More on the dealers involved in this repatriation case.

Phoenix Ancient Art operates a gallery in New York city as well as in Geneva Switzerland.  Founded by Sleiman Aboutaam in 1968, the firm was incorporated in 1995.  The second-generation family business is now managed by Sleiman's sons, Hicham Aboutaam and Ali Aboutaam, who took over the firm's operation after Sleiman’s death in 1998.  The firm has been embroiled in a significant number of antiquities-related controversies. 

A sampling (not a complete listing) of other instances of concern involving this firm include:

A third-century CE South Arabian alabaster stele the brothers attempted to sell in May 2002 via Sotheby’s auction house in New York for approximately $20,000 to $30,000 in which they listed the provenance for the piece as having belonged to a private English collection. Sotheby's researchers conducting due diligence before the auction found published photographs of the stele indicating that this tablet, carved in low relief, with an image of the fertility goddess Dat-Hamin, had been stolen in July 1994 from the Aden Museum in Yemen's port city during the country's previous war.  This object was forfeited to the U.S. government in December 2003 and eventually returned to Yemen.  

Hicham Aboutaam was arrested in 2003 for smuggling a looted ceremonial drinking vessel from Iran into the US, claiming that it had come from Syria.  Hicham pled guilty to the charges in 2004, paid a fine, and the vessel was returned to the Iranian authorities.  Hicham Aboutaam stated that his conviction stemmed from a "lapse in judgment."

The Egyptian authorities have accused Ali Aboutaam of involvement with Tarek El-Suesy (al-Seweissi), who was arrested in 2003 under Egypt’s patrimony law for illegal export of antiquities. Ali Aboutaam was tried in absentia, pronounced guilty and was fined, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in the Egyptian court in April 2004.  To date, he has not served any of the Egyptian sentence. 

The Aboutaams voluntarily repatriated 251 Antiquities valued at $2.7 Million to the State of Italy in May 2009 tied to one of Italy's most notorious smuggling rings.

Advice on collecting ancient art

ARCA encourages its readers to remember that the only way to avoid looting is to pressure dealers and collectors to not participate directly or indirectly in looting through their sourcing and purchases.  Collectors of ancient art are only the most current stewards of objects with long and telling histories. The provenance, or ownership history of a piece of art is important and should detail strong proof that an object has come from a legitimately traded collection.  

Buying and trading in ancient works of art, without well documented collecting histories, simply for their beauty or for the purpose of rescuing them from countries in conflict, only encourages further looting and further laundering of smuggled illicit objects. 

ARCA strongly discourages collectors and museums from buying or accepting objects that cannot pass the 1970 test or which lack a legitimate export permit from the actual and correct country of the object's origin.

By: Lynda Albertson

September 29, 2015

While the West Seeks Tighter Curbs on the Trade in Antiquities Looted by ISIS, Italian Suspect Antiquities Continue to Appear at Major Auction Houses

Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another grouping of suspect antiquities set for auction October 1, 2015 at Christie’s in London.  Each of the objects appears to have ties to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. Becchina was convicted of antiquities trafficking in 2011.

Since 2007, Dr. Tsirogiannis has actively identified illicit antiquities depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying the relevant government authorities when matches are discovered.  An expert on the illicit antiquities trade, Dr. Tsirogiannis teaches ARCA's illicit antiquities course.  He also serves as Research Assistant to the Trafficking Culture Project at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research located at the University of Glasgow.

Despite having apparently “clean” collection histories, each of the antiquities listed below (Lots 6, 8 and 16) — or strikingly similar ones — appear in photographic evidence confiscated by the Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during their investigation into the network of traffickers affiliated with Gianfranco Becchina.


The three antiquities on offer at the upcoming sale at Christie’s are said to come from Professor Heissmeyer’s antiquities collection; A fourth antiquity (lot 93) was temporarily confiscated by the Swiss authorities in 2008 from the Japanese illicit antiquities dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi and has now been put back into circulation within the antiquities market. 

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri Art Squad and Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Unit with the evidence for these new identifications.  

In detail, the suspect antiquities are:
Left - The oinochoe depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same oinochoe on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015


The oinochoe’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Germany, acquired prior to 1990.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from the above in 2005 (inv. no. 32).
Beazley Archive no. 9024860.

The same oenochoe seems to be depicted in a Polaroid image from the Becchina archive. In the archival photo the vase is covered with encrustations, lying on what appears to be a plastic tray, while a handwritten note, also in the archives, states that this antiquity was sent for restoration, among other antiquities, on 1 December 1989 to Sandro Cimicchi, Gianfranco Becchina’s usual restorer.

Left - The cup depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - The same cup on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The cup’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1995 (inv. no. 17).
Beazley Archive no. 9024849.

In the Becchina archive, what appears to be the same cup is depicted in a Polaroid image, upside down and partially covered with encrustations, among three other cups. The similarities can be identified from the position of the panthers painted on the lower portion of the cup's body. A handwritten note states that the cups were bought by the middleman Raffaele Monticelli on 4 March 1993. Another handwritten note on the Polaroid states: ‘V/ Hae CH’ [sold to Hae Swiss Francs]. In 2002 Monticelli was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities. (Isman 2011b: 50; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 292) and as recently as today had 22 million euros worth of his real estate assets confiscated by the state for his alleged involvement as an international antiquities trafficker.    

Left - The lekythos depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, United Kingdom, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1992 (inv. no. 23).
Beazley Archive no. 21590.

An object that appears to be the same lekythos is depicted in two professional images from the Becchina archive. A handwritten note states: ‘E Nov 78’.
Left - The lekythos depicted during its confiscation
in a photograph taken by the Italian authorities
 during the raid at Horiuchi’s warehouse in Geneva in 2008.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015

The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Anonymous sale; Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, 14 November 1986, lot 213.
Formerly private collection, Japan, acquired privately in 1997.


This lekythos was found and confiscated during the raid of the Swiss and Italian authorities at the warehouse of the Japanese dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi in the Geneva Freeport in 2008. The Italian authorities could not prove the illicit origin of this particular lekythos and
although Horiuchi did not supply any documentation to prove the licit origin of the lekythos, the vase was returned to Horiuchi. 

In total the Italian authorities confiscated 337 antiquities from Horiuchi depicted in the Becchina, Medici and Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives. Horiuchi's name also comes up in a 2014 repatriation case involving another Becchina linked antiquity, a 1,800-year-old sarcophagus lid depicting a sleeping Ariadne.  

It should also be noted that this same lekythos also appeared at one time on offer at ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery, owned by the Aboutaam brothers, one of whom was convicted in Egypt for antiquities smuggling and the other of whom pleaded guilty to the falsification of at least one customs document. 

In relationship to that listing  the lekythos appeared as ‘SOLD’ on the ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery website. In the October sale listing Christie’s fails to state the name of the consigner, although they do so in the case of the other three lots (Professor Heissmeyer).

In the three first cases, Christie’s ‘due diligence’ seems to have stopped short of tracing the collecting history back one step further, which would have opened the window on the Becchina transactions.  In the fourth case (lot 93), Christie’s record lists the 1986 and 1997 transaction dates in the lekythos’ collecting history, but completely avoids mentioning the authorities’ raid of Horiuchi’s warehouse in Switzerland or the subsequent passage or ownership of the vase by the convicted Aboutaam brothers, through their ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery in New York and Geneva.

In total, these are just four objects in a string of tainted auctions with fairly good documentation proving their likelihood that these objects were looted.  If the art market cannot hold itself to task on objects where there is a known and extensive photographic record of illicit activity how will the art market perform its due diligence on antiquities coming from conflict countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen where no confiscated smuggler dossiers exist?

Due diligence of looted antiquities, be they Italian or conflict-based, has to be meaningful and not merely plausible, in the furtherance of a sale's commission.  Partially-documented histories in an object's collection background, do not necessarily always point to fresh looting or illegal export but when the objects background looks murky, as is the case with these objects, the art market needs to step up its game and voluntarily refuse to participate in the laundering.

UPDATE - October 01, 2015 Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities prior to the auction scheduled today in London.  

Lynda Albertson






February 7, 2015

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

2015 has barely started and antiquities traffickers have begun making headlines in multiple countries.  In this three part series, ARCA will explore three current trafficking cases in detail to underscore that the ownership and commodification of the past continues. 

Part I - Operation Aureus - Bulgaria's Blues

On January 30th the State Agency for National Security (DANS) in Bulgaria reported that it had conducted two significant trafficking investigations into illegally circulated ancient and medieval objects and coins.  The two-month long probe started November 26, 2014 and ran until January 26, 2015 during which time DANS officers conducted thirty-six searches in eleven cities seizing a total of 2,289 objects protected by Bulgaria’s Cultural Heritage Act.  The Act encompasses intangible and tangible immovable and movable heritage as an aggregate of cultural values which bear historical memory and national identity and have their own academic or cultural value.   SANS reported that they detained several individuals for their participation in an organized criminal group trafficking in antiquities but their names have not been currently been released to the public, citing the ongoing nature of the ongoing investigation.

Google Maps Looters

Google Maps Looters
From an ancient world perspective, Bulgaria has some of the richest archaeological sites in Europe.  From an economic perspective, regions such as Severozapaden, have some of the lowest-ranked economies in Bulgaria and the European Union.  That makes archaeologically rich areas, like Ratiaria, which is located on the Danube River, near the modern day city of Archar, in the Vidin District of Northwest Bulgaria particularly vulnerable.  With unemployment high and limited work possibilities since the fall of Communism, its not surprising that subsistence looters have treated the site as their own personal Automatic Antiquities Machine.  The territory has been so heavily looted in the past twenty years that even a Google Street View car managed to snap shots of a local looting crew while mapping area roads.

Working with shovels and metal detectors, looters generally make little, often passing their finds on to local middlemen dealers, like this one arrested in Ruptsi, Bulgaria in in 2011. Hiding in plane sight,  the business man was known among the locals and among treasure hunters as an active dealer in cultural goods in the region and was brazen enough to keep a storage of heavier items in his garden.

Where There are Looters there are Buyers and Not all Roads Lead to Rome

While the number of items seized in this 2015 Bulgarian investigation is distressingly large, the types of objects confiscated are all too familiar to art police who's investigative work revolves around combating heritage looting and smuggling.  To those who examine heritage trafficking in search of patterns there are also a few interesting points to consider.

The Bulgarian investigators seized everything from pottery and figurines, bronze and precious metal, jewellery of all types, ancient and medieval seals, religious crosses and icons, pieces of marble, and even Thracian weapons and horse-riding decorations. The objects have common denominators: they were, for the most part, easy to traffic because of their small size and they were the types of objects buyers willingly purchase, and with increasing frequency via online auction sites. 

Whether or not these items were destined for sites similar to eBay would be a hypothesis that hasn't be proven, but what we can underscore is that there is an ongoing supply market furnishing ancient objects for online transactions.  Platforms like eBay, with millions of auctions annually, are difficult for law enforcement to police, but easy sites for traffickers to navigate to connect with potential buyers internationally. The seller can be relatively anonymous and as their ratings are built on successful sales with satisfied customers, shady dealers can add or drop seller profiles to masquerade as being ethically legitimate.

Who is their preferred buyer?  

The individual who is willing to purchase heritage objects from anonymous suppliers.  The novice collector or aficionado who is not worried about owning objects which might turn out to be fake or might not have a pristine collection history that explains the context of the item, where it has originated from or who has been its custodian up until the point of sale.  For the purpose of this article ARCA has highlighted three current online auctions with similar Bulgarian items to those seized during the Aureus investigation.

Auction I lists a purported 9th century BC Ancient Bronze Thracian Fibula. The object was being offered by a seller in Bulgaria but listed nothing in the way of collection history as was absent in most of the auctions we viewed.  Provenance isn't something auction participants seem to require in order to consider an item attractive for purchase.

Auction II claims to be of a rare iron Thracian battle weapon, CIRCA IV-Ic. B.C. This  auctioneer is reportedly UK-based, applying a layer of legitimacy, but the item's auction detail states the object will be shipped to the buyer "from Eastern Europe".  Again there is no collection history and the buyer is far removed from the trafficker.
Auction III lists an object on sale described as an Ancient Thracian Honrseman Bronze Figure. This auction item has purportedly travelled a long way and is now being sold by a Canadian antique trader, again without benefit of a collection history indicating how it made its way to North America. The seller does not appear to be a novice, and states he has been in the trading business since 1970.

Interesting Observations

During the Bulgarian DANS investigation law enforcement officers also seized metal detectors and specific geophysical detecting instruments used to determination of the exact position and depth of objects while still in the ground thus showing that these devices are not used exclusively by law-abiding recreationists willing to abide by established laws.

Like with Italy's Gianfranco Becchina case, officers confiscated binders with multiple photos, auction house catalogs and invoices indicating that the scale of items being sold was a fluid enterprise level operation and not a casual one-off sale. 

Landscapes of looted terrain in Bulgaria have a similar moonscape pattern to those we have seen repeatedly in satellite imagery in Syria and Iraq.  This should be highlighted as proof that large-scale antiquities looting is not solely a funding source for criminal groups such as ISIS in conflict zones but also a source for revenue streams in economically challenging areas with a high rate of under or unemployement.  In this Google Street View image one can see an example of the looting pits that cover large swaths of Bulgaria terrain as well as a brazen group of looters working in broad daylight as an organized team.
 
In addition to searching workshops, DANS agents undertook an evaluation of Bulgaria's largest private museum in search of irregularities. The businessman who owns this vast collection was listed in law enforcement press releases using his initials, "VB".   Bulgarian press have indicated that the initials represent millionaire Vasil Bozhkov who is known to have a vast collection of Roman, Greek and Thracian works of art and who's coin collection is listed as one of the most extensive in the country. Bozhkov is also the founder of The Thrace Foundation an organization active in heritage-based events.

Previously, in January 2009, Petar Kostadinov published an article reporting that Vassil Bozhkov and Bulgarian prosecutor Kamen Mihov were alleged to have been involved in government-level corruption  plot devised to prevent the extradition of international art dealer Ali Abou’Taam to Egypt on antiquities trafficking charges.

The allegations presented in the newspaper article cited an email published by Dutch private art investigator Arthur Brand to the Museum Security Network mailing-list.  A representative of Phoenix Ancient Art replied to David Gill's Looting Matters blog with this letter relating to the detention of Ali Aboutaam in Sofia.  No mention of Mr. Bozhkov's relationship with the art dealer was made.

Eight months later, a diplomatic cable from the US Embassy in Sofia, dated September 11, 2009, released first via WikiLeaks and later republished by the Sofia News Agency Novelite indicated that Bozhkov has been long suspected of having ties to organized crime.

On January 14, 2015 the US ambassador to Bulgaria Marcie B. Ries and Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Petar Stoyanovich signed a memorandum of understanding at the National History Museum in Boyana on the outskirts of Sofia.  This US/Bulgarian MOU calls for the protection of cultural heritage and is designed to prevent the illicit trade of Bulgarian cultural heritage items into the United states and to allow the return of said items to Bulgaria of any such item confiscated. 

ARCA will continue to follow this case as details on the investigation are released.

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA











(Photos: dans.bg)
References Used in this Article

http://www.all-sa.com/GaleriasCataluna.html

http://html.ancientegyptonline.org/spain-recovers-egyptian-artifacts-in-smuggling-ring/

http://archaeology.archbg.net/

http://www.elmundo.es/cultura/2015/01/28/54c8d1f5e2704e4e0c8b457f.html

https://www.europol.europa.eu/content/european-police-arrest-35-and-recover-thousands-stolen-cultural-artefacts

https://frognews.bg/news_85185/DANS-pogna-V-B-proveriavat-antichnata-mu-kolektsiia/

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Colonia+Ulpia+Ratiaria/@43.5557251,24.675708,9z

http://www.guardiacivil.es/ca/prensa/noticias/5219.html

http://www.lavanguardia.com/sucesos/20150128/54425193062/desmantelada-banda-arte-egipcio-ilegal.html

http://lootingmatters.blogspot.it/2009/01/sofia-detention-comment-from-phoenix.html

http://m.novinite.com/articles/162960/Bulgaria+Busts+Int%27l+Antiquities+Trafficking+Ring

http://www.novinite.com/articles/130391/WikiLeaks%3A+US+CDA+Report+on+Top+Bulgarian+Criminals#sthash.1qrWNiES.dpuf

http://www.museum-security.org/2009/01/bulgarian-prosecutor-kamen-mihov-and-bulgarian-millionaire-and-art-collector-vassil-bozhkov-were-alleged-to-have-been-involved-in-an-elaborate-scheme-to-let-international-art-dealer-ali-aboutaam-esc/

http://www.museum-security.org/2009/01/press-release-the-continuing-story-about-art-dealer-ali-abou%E2%80%99taam-can-justice-be-bought-in-bulgaria/

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/264380100_Pegman_caught_looters_in_the_act!_How_digital_media_can_help_raising_awareness_of_looting_and_destruction_of_archaeological_sites._The_example_of_Ratiaria._The_European_Archaeologist._Issue_41_Summer_2014_25-27

http://sofiaecho.com/2009/01/21/666138_bulgarian-prosecutor-art-collector-conspired-to-free-controversial-art-dealer-journalist-alleges

http://sofiaglobe.com/2015/01/30/bulgaria-busts-international-antiquities-trafficking-ring/

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/archaeology-in-crisis-bulgaria-plagued-by-grave-robbers-a-524976.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EBay

December 24, 2014

David Gill publishes on "The Case of the Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask" in the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
  ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

In the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, David Gill publishes "The Case of the Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask". Here's the abstract:
In 1998 the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) purchased an Egyptian 19 Dynasty mummy mask from Phoenix Ancient Art for USD$499,000. In December 2005 it was suggested on the internet that the mask had been removed from the archaeological store at Saqqara and this led to an extended legal tussle between the museum and the Egyptian authorities. The acquisition of the mask was explored by Laura E. Young in an unpublished study that includes some of the documentation key to this discussion (Young 2007). The case has also appeared in a wider discussion of archaeological ethics (Gill 2009b, 95). It is appropriate to review the case now as the two parallel legal cases relating to the mask were terminated in 2014.
David Gill is Professor of Archaeological Heritage and Head of the Division of Humanities at University Campus Suffolk. He was a Rome Scholar at the British School of rome and a Sir James Knott Fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was subsequently part of the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology at Swansea University, Wales, UK. He has published widely on archaeological ethics with Christopher Chippindale. He has recently completed a history of British archaeological work in Greece prior to the First World War.

Subscriptions to The Journal of Art Crime or individual copies of eEditions or printed issues may be obtained through ARCA's website here.

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.

July 7, 2011

Leila Amineddoleh, Courtney McWhorter, Michelle D'Ippolito and Sarah Zimmer will form the panel “Fresh Perspectives on Art and Heritage Crime” at ARCA's Third Annual International Art Crime Conference in Amelia on July 10

"Fresh Perspectives on Art and Heritage Crime", a panel leading the schedule on the second day of ARCA's International Art Crime Conference, will feature Leila Aminddoleh, Courtney McWhorter, Michelle D'Ippolito, and Sarah Zimmer.

Leila Amineddoleh, an alumnus of ARCA’s postgraduate program and Boston College Law School, will present: “The Pillaging of the Abandoned Spanish Countryside”:
"Spain is rich in art treasures: artwork ranging from religious works, modern paintings, ancient architecture, Roman ruins, and Visigoth remnants are densely scattered across Spain’s cities and countryside. Whereas some of the art is world-renowned and protected, much of the art is still hidden in churches and in depopulated towns and is left vulnerable to damage and theft. Spain’s cache of hidden works has great cultural value to the Spanish cultural identity; however, these works are often misappropriated because their existence is virtually unknown or unprotected. This paper sets forth recommendations for Spain to follow to protect is patrimony, most importantly the necessity of creating an extensive catalogue, encompassing both State and Church property."
Leila Amineddoleh has twice published articles in the Art & Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter of the Art & Cultural Heritage Law Committee of the ABA Section of International Law, including “The Getty Museum’s Non-Victorious Bid to Keep the ‘Victorious Youth’ Bronze” (Winter 2011, Vol. III). She is currently Intellectual Property Legal Consultant at Independent Legal Counsel and Of Counsel at Lysaght, Lysaght & Ertel in New York.

Courtney McWhorter is currently completing her final year as an Honors student at Brigham Young University, for a Bachelors in Art History. She has worked as a teaching assistant and is an art student to John McNaughton. She has done extensive travel while studying abroad, visiting places such as Greece, Italy, Austria, and Belgium, as well as completing graduate courses while studying in Mexico. She is also a committee member of the Art History Association. Ms. McWhorter will present “Perception of Forgery According to the Role of Art”:
"How we view forgery is dependent upon how we view art as a society. In this paper I will argue that forgeries have been received differently according to the role art is playing at the time they are discovered. I will show how the role of art began changing during World War II, due to the looting of Nazi leaders, and how this affected forgery, using the case of the Van Meegeren forgeries as an example. I will show how art is valued today according to its historicity, rather than its aesthetic capabilities. Such a claim explains why forgeries could have once been acceptable, but now are not because they falsify history. They are placed into historical contexts where they do not fit and thereby misconstrue the public view of history. This paper is important because it shows that by understanding the perception of forgeries at certain periods, we can better understand the role of art and the values placed upon it in society."
Michelle D’Ippolito is completing her final year at the Univeristy of Maryland College Park, majoring in Anthropology with minors in Art History and French. She has interned for the Smithsonian Institution and the Department of the Interior, where she wrote an online course in basic museum collections care. Michelle has an article, “The Role of Museums in the Illegal Antiquities Market,” under review for publication. Ms. D’Ippolito will present “Discrepancies in Data: The Role of Museums in Recovering Stolen Works of Art”:
"The ability of investigative agencies like Interpol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to effectively recover stolen works of art depends in part on how comprehensive and complete their databases of stolen works are. The scope of these databases and their effectiveness in recovering artwork depends on how many reports of theft are submitted by museums to the investigative agencies. This paper looks at the various influences that inform a museum’s response to theft, including sending in reports of theft. It examines how a concern with public image and a lack of funding affect the resources museums have at their disposal to handle museum theft and provides some strategies to improve the deterrence of museum theft worldwide."
Sarah Zimmer is a part-time faculty member in the Photography department of the Art Institute of Michigan. She has studied in both the United States and Italy.  She graduated from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2010 with a Masters of Fine Arts in Photography. Ms. Zimmer's works of art have appeared in many different exhibitions, including two solo exhibitions: “Presenting” at Four White Walls in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2005, and “Presence” at the Galleria La Corte in Florence, Italy, in 2007. Ms. Zimmer will present “The Investigation of Object TH 1988.18: Rembrandt’s 100 Guilder Print”.
In 2008, while working at an archive of an unnamed institution it was discovered that an etching by Rembrandt van Rijn was missing from the collection. According to a letter on file it was approved to be sent out for restoration in 1998. However, no record was ever found to confirm that it was sent out for treatment. It was last accounted for in a 1990 inventory. Months were dedicated to digging through files and paperwork. After attempting to track the object starting with its provenance, port of entry, and adoption into the collection, the paper work dropped off and a more rigorous search began. Emails were sent and searches commenced, until one afternoon in 2009 I received a letter from the head of the institution asking me to halt the investigation with no explanation offered. While the particular piece’s rarity and monetary value hold no comparison to the Rembrandt cut from its frame during the 1990 Gardener Museum heist, the unnamed institution continues to guard the knowledge of the prints disappearance. This object and the circumstances that ensued led me to further investigate and explore a larger system of values using Rembrandt as a model. I began by questioning the institutional value of maintaining the secret of a missing artwork that was not of any particular rarity or monetary significance.