July 28, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - No comments

Lessons in Looting

Lessons in Looting
By Stephanie Goldfarb

“Preservation of cultural heritage is of great importance for all peoples of the world and it is important that this heritage should receive international protection.”

Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the large-scale looting of Iraq’s cultural treasures from archaeological sites and museums has captured the attention of the world. Civilians, museum directors, archaeologists and politicians have watched with dismay and desperation as the cradle of civilization has been systematically stripped of its cultural heritage. Under the less than watchful gaze of the occupying forces of the United States and its coalition, Iraq fell victim to some of the most extensive and costly wartime looting the world has ever seen. In the shadow of this tragedy, however, lurk the ghosts of lootings past.

The looting of Iraq is an eerie reminder of the state-sponsored looting of Kuwait by Iraq during its August, 1990 invasion and subsequent seven-month occupation. In the wake of current cultural devastation, the systematic pillage of Kuwaiti heritage has been buried in the dust of the Gulf War, ignored and forgotten. Yet the Iraqi looting of Kuwait, particularly of the Kuwait National Museum and Dar al-Athat al-Islamiyya, was one of the greatest art crimes of the twentieth century. In order to understand the significance of the plunder of Kuwait, this event must be contextualized within a history of wartime art looting. Plundering the artistic and cultural heritage of a defeated adversary is a practice stretching back to the earliest civilizations. The scale and purpose of these looting practices has changed throughout history, and an examination of the evolution of wartime thievery of cultural heritage will allow for an understanding of the trajectory which led to the cultural rape of Kuwait in 1990.

In the earliest stages of human civilization, wartime art crimes were committed in order to glorify the victory of the conqueror. The oldest work of art known to be plundered in antiquity is the victory stele of the Akkadian ruler Naram-Sin, which commemorates Naram-Sin’s defeat of the Lullubi in a battle which took place around 2250 BC. In 1158 BC, the Elamites conquered this area and seized the stele as a prize of war, adding an inscription in Elamite which records and “celebrates the Elamite triumph over Naram-Sin’s much the later decscendants”. The victory of the Elamites was emphasized by the pillage of Naram-Sin’s own monument of triumph. There are many other instances of wartime art looting during the first millennium BC: the sack of the Temple of Solomon in 586 BC, the pillage of Athens by Xerxes in 479 BC and again by Sulla in 86 BC, and the seizure of art in defeated provinces by early feudal Chinese kings . All of these examples exhibit a similar underlying motivation—to symbolize the conquering power of the victor.

The Romans perpetuated the tradition of cultural plunder as a symbolic glorification of their conquering empire. The first wide-scale Roman looting took place during the sack of Syracuse between 214 and 212 BC. In The Parallel Lives, Plutarch describes the looting that took place under the direction of the general Marcellus: “He carried back with him the greater part and the most beautiful of the dedicatory offerings in Syracuse, that they might grace his triumph and adorn his city . . . trophies of triumphs”. For Marcellus, bringing home the loot of Syracuse was a way to celebrate his victory and to enrich his own city. Seizing the art of a conquered people and bearing it to Rome was a physical manifestation of Roman strength and virtue, and the pillaged art existed in Rome as constant reminders of military success.

Roman looting continued throughout the republic and into the imperial era. The most notable instance of wartime looting during the Roman Empire occurred during the sack of Jerusalem in 70 BC by the Emperor Titus. The Roman army pillaged the Temple and bore the treasures back to Rome, where the victory, looting and triumphal parade of stolen treasures are still recorded on the Arch of Titus to this day. This depiction in the friezes of the Arch demonstrates how looting had become an integral component of Roman military conquest. Victory was completed by the act of sacking an enemy city and bearing their cultural heritage home as trophies of military superiority: “parading captured artworks . . .symbolized conquest to the citizens of the victorious nation”. In the millennia since these Roman triumphal parades and the erection of monuments celebrating the looting, the Roman experience has become a model for subsequent empires that have adopted the same conception of wartime art looting.

During the Dark Ages and early Middle Ages, however, plundering lost much of the significance which it held during the Roman Empire. In these centuries, looting “tended to be strictly practical, the victorious general being more interested in that which could be eaten, worn, or turned into coin”. Thus, in these centuries, the motivation for art looting had become strictly economic and utilitarian. However, in the Renaissance, the plunder of art was largely propagated for cultural enrichment, which became the primary motivation for wartime looting . The Romans benefited greatly from the pillage of other peoples’ cultural heritage: almost all Roman art, architecture and literature was influenced or inspired by objects looted on the battlefield and paraded back to Rome in triumph. However, cultural enrichment was an added bonus for the Romans, as the main purpose of looting lay in the glorification of Roman victory. In the Renaissance, however, cultural enrichment became the central and primary impetus for the plunder of art. For example, Gustavus Adolphus, the seventeenth century king of Sweden, turned his court at Stockholm into a “cultural center” by filling it with loot plundered from across the continent . However, looting for the enhancement of culture, as practiced by Adolphus and other great plunderers of the Renaissance, would largely disappear with the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon perpetuated a wide-scale systematic seizure of art which would surpass all art crime which had previously been perpetuated during war. Napoleon strove to model his own empire after that of the Romans and consequently embraced the Roman paradigm of wartime art looting. For Napoleon, looting was thus a declaration of triumph, as it had been for the Romans, but it was also a demonstration of his ideological goals. Napoleon imagined that he was founding a new empire to rival that of Rome, and sought to demonstrate the similarity (but also the superiority) of Napoleonic France to ancient Rome. In order to align himself with the Roman Empire, Napoleon not only embraced the Roman model of looting, but specifically sought to seize the treasures of the Roman Empire itself. For Napoleon, conquering Rome meant conquering a symbol of power, and hence he “took symbolic possession of its treasures rather like a savage eating the heart of a noble enemy in order to ingest his powers”. He believed that “the Romans, once an uncultivated people, became civilized by transplanting to Rome the works of conquered Greece”, and France would do the same.

As a result of this ideological goal, Napoleon’s armies purged Rome of its most treasured cultural objects, including over 500 paintings and sculptures from the Vatican . On July 27-28, 1798, the first envoy carrying the treasures taken by Napoleon in Italy arrived in Paris—an occasion celebrated by the triumphant parade of the looted art through the streets of Paris . This spectacle included some of the most distinguished works of classical art—the Laocoon, the Apollo Belvedere, the Medici Venus, and the Discobolus among others—a parade which “deliberately echoed the classical Roman triumph”. The Horses of San Marco, the great bronze statues which graced San Marco in Venice, were another pivotal item on Napoleon’s wish-list. To Napoleon, the Horses of San Marco were the physical embodiment of the conqueror as plunderer:
The Horses of San Marco sum up, in their eerily beautiful forms, two millennia of cultural plunder. Venice herself had plundered them—from Constantinople after the infamous sack of 1204. But Constantinople, too had obtained them by violence.

As a result, the Four Horses were taken to Paris as yet another emblem of Napoleon’s triumph. Thus, wartime plunder under the reign of Napoleon exhibited a characteristic which had not previously been a major part of looting—the integration of ideology into plunder. Pillage of cultural heritage was perpetuated not only for military glory (as it had been for the Romans), not only for cultural enrichment (as it had been during the Renaissance), but also to further the ideological goals of Napoleon’s regime.

Napoleon further contributed to the development of wartime art plunder by instituting an extensive system of state-sponsored looting in the countries that his armies conquered. Hitherto, looting was largely an activity perpetuated by individual generals or even individual soldiers in an army. During the sack of a city, the conquering general and army would simply take what they desired from the vanquished, without direction from the king or emperor. In contrast, for the first time, Napoleon instituted a government-run, systematic plunder of Europe. In 1794, the Commission Temporaire des Arts established a subcommittee to compile lists of works of art in countries where the republican army was expected invade . Under Napoleon’s specific direction, his armies seized thousands of works of art throughout the countries he invaded. Therefore, under Napoleon, wartime art looting became a large-scale, state-sponsored, military activity perpetrated for ideological and other reasons.

The most well-known large-scale wartime art looting was perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II. However, during the reign of the Nazis, plunder became an entirely different and vastly more dangerous military policy . The Nazi plunder of cultural heritage began with the appropriation and destruction of “degenerate” art in Germany itself and eventually grew into a broad-scale looting operation throughout its many occupied territories. The Nazi art operation began with the seizure of Jewish property, as a component of the larger Nazi propaganda campaign against the Jews. Ultimately art thievery expanded to include any other works that Nazi officers, especially Hitler and Goering, desired—either for personal collections or for Hitler’s intended super-museum in Linz. Art was pillaged throughout the countries which Germany invaded and occupied, including Austria, Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Ukraine and Italy.

As under Napoleon, Nazi art looting was state-sponsored, but the Nazis took it to an entirely new level. Seizure and confiscation activities were overseen by Alfred Rosenberg, the intellectual head of the Nazi party, and the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), a special division of the Nazi forces charged with “one simple objective: the looting of Europe’s art”. In the judgment delivered at the Nuremberg Trials, it was declared that the Einsatzstab Rosenberg was “a project for the seizure of cultural treasures”. During the trial, Rosenberg was held responsible “for a system of organized plunder of both public and private property throughout the invaded countries of Europe” and was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Such a systematic, government perpetrated execution of art crime was unparalleled in the history of the world. Furthermore, the extent of the activities far surpassed any previous instances of wartime looting. Rosenberg himself aptly proclaimed the looting accomplished by the ERR as “the greatest art operation in history”. An examination of the monetary value of the art seized by the Nazi party proves that this claim was not empty boasting. Francis H. Taylor, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, estimated that the total value of all art looted by the Nazis to be $2-2.5 billion, an amount equivalent to $21.6-27 billion today.

What truly distinguished the Nazi art looting from any previous wartime art plunder, however, was the extent to which it was ethnically, religiously and racially motivated. The purposes of wartime art looting are nuanced and complex, and Nazi plunder must be understood as the result of a multiplicity of motivations—economic and political considerations played a role, but plunder was also perpetuated for vital ideological reasons. Looted art provided a continual source of nourishment for the Nazi war machine—art which was not desired for either the personal collections of Hitler and Goering or for the German museums was auctioned off to provide much needed funds. Political revenge also served as a major motivation for Nazi looting. In 1940, Goebbels initiated a project called “Repatriation of Cultural Goods from Enemy States” in order to seize all artwork of German origin or provenance taken from the country since 1500 (and particularly during the Napoleonic Wars). However, art looting by the Nazi party was primarily motivated by the ideology of Aryanism. Art seizures began as yet another way of denigrating the Jewish people and other societal groups deemed inferior by the Germans. The Nazis sought to glorify Germanic works of art and destroy “degenerate” ones. Perpetration of art looting became an extension of the larger Nazi program of ethnic, religious and racial cleansing, and in this way is completely unique from all other wartime art plunder which preceded it.

The emotional and economic devastation which resulted from the Nazi art looting program pervaded Europe in the years after the war. As the complexities of returning the collections of museums, palaces, churches and private collectors from across Europe came to light and with the condemnation of Rosenberg and other leading looters at the Nuremberg trials, the attention of the world became focused on the protection of cultural heritage. The Nazi art operation had shown the world how devastating the impact of art plunder perpetrated to promote ideologies of racial, ethnic and religious cleansing could be. As a result, on May 14, 1954, on the initiative of Italy, UNESCO called a Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict at The Hague which was attended by 86 nations. The nations of the convention declared that “damage to cultural property, belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind” and consequently that “it is important that this heritage should receive international protection” . All ratifying nations agreed in Article 4 Section 3 to “undertake to prohibit, prevent and if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property”. Unfortunately, the Hague Convention of 1954 did not prohibit further wartime art looting, as several recent instances demonstrate: the destruction of historic buildings in the Balkans during the 1990’s, the targeting of religious monuments by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and most recently the nation-wide looting of archaeological sites and museums in Iraq in 2003. Art crime of the post-cold war era combines “the cultural cleansing of World War II and the large-scale looting of the Cold War era”, a terrible combination which is demonstrated not only in the previously given examples but also in the devastating looting of Kuwait in 1991.

During the seven-month Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, the Kuwait National Museum and Dar al-Athat al-Islamiyya were pillaged in one of the greatest wartime art looting expeditions of the twentieth century. On the orders of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi army looted over 20,000 valuable artifacts which were removed to the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad. The seized art was primarily from the Islamic Art Collection housed at the Dar al-Athat al-Islamiyya—an unparalleled collection of Islamic cultural heritage which was on permanent loan to the museum from Sheik Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al Sabah and his wife Sheika Hussah Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah. The Iraqi army did not constrain itself to looting art. During the occupation, the army also seized important archives from the foreign ministry, the prime minister’s office and other government departments. Nor did Hussein’s army limit its activities to looting. After the museums were thoroughly looted, they were torched during the withdrawal of the Iraqi army from Kuwait in March 1991. The armies not only set fire to the museum, but also gutted the interior of Parliament and burned the library at the Self-Receptor Palace as if they were a “medieval army which conquered, looted and then burned”. The Iraqi pillage of Kuwait thus included not only art, but was a complete and utter destruction of Kuwaiti cultural heritage.
In order to truly understand the significance of the looting of Kuwait, this event must be analyzed within the historical framework of wartime art looting as explicated in this paper. In many ways, the plunder of Kuwait follows in the long historical trajectory of conquerors that seized the property of subjugated nations. Until very recently, art and cultural relics were “widely accepted as ancillary prizes that rightfully fell to the victors of military conflicts”. Thus, looting under the Hussein regime evoked “the behavior of conquerors in earlier wars, including European monarchs and Napoleon”. Just as the Emperor Titus, Napoleon and so many other conquerors had paraded the cultural heritage of defeated nations into their cities as symbols of victory, Saddam Hussein embraced the stolen art as trophies of war. Technology brought the triumphal parades which had once graced the streets of Rome and Paris into the living rooms of the Iraqi people, as Hussein exhibited the collection stolen from the Kuwait National Museum on Iraqi television as “war booty” in September 1990. However, Iraqi wartime looting seems to exceed the bounds of this sort of traditional “law of nature” looting, where the strong exact what they will from the weak.

Rather, in its extent and in the ideological motivations driving the plunder, Iraqi wartime looting most closely recalls the looting by the Nazi party. Looting under the Hussein regime was both formally and ideologically similar to wartime art plunder by the Nazi party:
The systematic looting of public collections in Kuwait by Saddam’s bureaucrats had imperialistic overtones similar to the Nazis’ looting in Eastern Europe during World War II. . .special teams methodically inventoried and confiscated valuable historic, archival, scientific and reference collections in order to reduce the cultural patrimony of a conquered people and increase their own.

Hussein employed a similar system of methodic looting, perpetrated by special teams charged with the seizure of valuable cultural objects, just as the ERR had been under the Nazi regime. Most shockingly, however, for Hussein, just as it had been for the Nazis, the primary purpose of ransacking and ultimately razing Kuwait’s museums was to eliminate its cultural identity. For this reason, the Iraqi troops sought “to confiscate or destroy the cultural artifacts of Kuwait”. Thus, art looting was just one component of a “systematic effort to strip the nation of its very identity”. Hussein’s program of ethnic cleansing motivated the systematic looting of Kuwaiti heritage in an uncanny, uncomfortable resurgence of Nazi art plundering from the previous century. Consequently, the looting of Kuwait is important not only because of the extent of the plundering, but also because of the purposes behind it.

The ethnic, religious and racial cleansing which had motivated Nazi art looting, and which the nations of the world had so desperately sought to prevent in the future, returned in the terrifying cultural rape of Kuwait. Eighty-six nations ratified the Hague Convention of 1954 and thus resolved to protect the cultural heritage of the world from ever again falling victim to the wide-scale wartime plunder of the past several millennia. Yet, the systematic looting of Kuwait’s national heritage during the Iraqi occupation proves that despite this and other resolutions designed to protect cultural heritage, wartime looting is a clear and present danger. Like Hitler before him, Hussein attempted to use the pillage of cultural heritage to strip a nation and a people of its identity and ideals in order to further his program of ethnic cleansing. Yet today, this devastating, methodical destruction of Kuwaiti nationhood is all but forgotten. Thus, the looting of Kuwait’s cultural heritage offers a caveat to all peoples: the horrors of ideological wartime looting are not a ghost of the past; they are a threat of the present. For this reason, protection of cultural heritage must be a priority for all nations.

Chamberlain, Russell. Loot! The Heritage of Plunder. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1983.
Fisk, Robert. Something Evil Has Visited Kuwait City. The Saddam Hussein Reader: Selections from Leading Writers on Iraq. New York: Thunder's Mouth P, 2002. 288-91.
Hayden-Guest, Anthony. "Great Art Thefts of the 20th Century." Forbes 28 Feb. 2001. Forbes Magazine. 19 Apr. 2009 .
Houpt, Simon. Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 2006.
Knuth, Rebecca. Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction. Westport: Praeger, 2006.

"Iraq to Return Kuwaiti Loot." Online Article. 14 Aug. 2002. BBC News World Edition. 19 Apr. 2009 .

Merryman, John Henry and Albert E. Elsen. Law, Ethics and the Visual Arts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.

Miles, Margaret M. Art As Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Nemeth, Erik. "The Artifacts of Wartime Art Crime: Evidence for a Model of the Evolving Clout of Cultural Property in Foreign Affairs." Art and Crime. Ed. Noah Charney. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2009.

Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Plutarch, Parallel Lives: The Life of Marcellus, 21-22.
Riding, Alan. "AFTEREFFECTS: ART OBJECTS; In Kuwait, Lost Items And a Blackened Museum Are Effects of Earlier War." New York Times 11 May 2003, sec. 1: 16. New York Times. 11 May 2003. 19 Apr. 2009 .
United Nations. UNESCO. Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. 1954. The Hague Convention of 1954. 19 Apr. 2009 .
Wines, Michael. "CONFRONTATION IN THE GULF; Iraq Seen Looting Kuwait of Identity." New York Times 29 Sept. 1990, sec. 1: 4. New York Times. 29 Sept. 1990. 19 Apr. 2009 .

July 23, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009 - ,, No comments

ARCA Postgraduate Program in The New York Times

ARCA is pleased to draw your attention to an excellent feature article in The New York Times (Wednesday, 22 July 2009) on ARCA's Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Property Protection.

We at ARCA would like to clarify a few points raised by the article.

Among the speakers at the ARCA Conference this July 11 was a judge from New Zealand named Arthur Tompkins (not Ngarino Ellis, as listed in the article).

We wish to emphasize that ARCA is a non-profit, and the tuition for the Program goes exclusively to covering expenses. The tuition is on the low end for a similar European master-level programs, and the short, intensive nature of the program means that the total expenditure for all students is a fraction of the cost incurred by 9 or 12-month long postgraduate programs, when one calculates the living expenses for the year and the income lost by professionals who would need to take a year off of work. ARCA's ultimate goal is to run the Program, like its other activities, free of charge--but this target can only be reached if ARCA receives financial support through philanthropy and grants in the future. Further the Director of ARCA receives no monetary compensation for his work as Director.

Finally, the journalist inadvertently raised an excellent point about the lack of solid, comprehensive empirical data and statistics about art crime worldwide, when she mentioned that Interpol could not corroborate the statistics about art crime mentioned by various scholars at the ARCA Conference and discussed in ARCA's book, Art & Crime.

One of the greatest issues in art crime today is the lack of sufficient empirical data to back up experiential and anecdotal information provided by professionals in the field of art protection, the art trade, and policing. This is a point that we stress repeatedly in our book, Art & Crime, and in interviews with and lectures by ARCA staff. Based on discussions with prominent members of international police squads (including the Carabinieri, FBI, the Dutch Politie, the Slovene Policia, the Spanish Policia, Scotland Yard, and many more), art criminals, members of the art trade, museum security directors, archaeologists, art lawyers, and more, scholars such as those associated with ARCA have developed an understanding of the extent and impact of art crime that preceeds the availability of sufficiently extensive data to prove the widely-agreed upon speculation. Prominent informed sources have regularly listed illict art and antiquities as the third highest-grossing criminal trade (as in tradeable commodity) worldwide over the past forty years, behind only drugs and arms. This is a fair indication of the severity of art crime, and the involvement in art crime of organized crime groups, and the use of illicit art and antiquities to fund terrorist activities, are widely known. However the statistics have never been complete enough to draw the serious attention of most of the world's governments.

One problem has been the lack of data kept by police around the world. Most police are told to file stolen art along with general stolen property. This means that many art crimes go unreported by the police, as the theft of a Rembrandt is not filed in a manner distinct from the theft of a Buick or a DVD player. As a result, art crimes reported to the police are often lost, misfiled, and never reported to larger national police agencies, and therefore never reported to Interpol. But this issue is made more difficult by the fact that many art crimes go unreported by the victims. Museums and galleries may be loath to admit their own security failures, while private collectors may not have declared ownership of some objects in their collection, in order to avoid luxury tax. The result is that only a fraction of art crimes are reported and, as mentioned, those that are reported are likely as not to be filed in a way that makes it difficult to sort out art crime from general property theft. The looting of antiquities is another difficult component. Antiquities tend to be looted from remote sites, jungle tombs or coastal shipwrecks, that may go undiscovered for months or years, if someone comes across them at all. Even if an illegal excavation site is discovered, there will be no record of what was at the site to begin with, if the site was never before excavated. Therefore police may learn that a tomb has been opened, but have no idea what to look for, because the contents are known only to the thieves.

Police are too often unaware of the severity and nature of art crime for the very reason that good analyses of art crime are rare, due to the poor data available, which is itself caused by inadequate filing systems. The problem then becomes cyclical: with so little data available, professionals continue dismissing art crime as a trifling, and occasional misdemeanour, making good news stories and thrillers, involving the collectibles of the wealthy, whose affluence protects them from real misfortune. One of the goals of ARCA is to take a step outside of that cycle, by informing police and the art world about art crime, explaining how it functions, and why it is necessary to take it seriously.

This briefly illustrates the uphill hike that the united front of academics and art, police, and security professionals face in order to establish and develop this new field of the interdisciplinary and practical study of art crime. For more information and extensive discussions of this, please see Art & Crime (Praeger 2009).

July 20, 2009

ARCAblog Podcast: The Vinland Map

Reading from the research of John Yates, Yale 2010, ARCA Director Noah Charney discusses the mysteries behind Yale's acquisition of the Vinland Map. Additionally, he explains the multi-faceted controversy surrounding the authenticity of this mappa mundi, which some scholars believe is evidence supporting the theory that the Vikings were the first Europeans to land in North America. On Friday, 17 July 2009, at an international cartographers' conference in Copenhagen, Rene Larsen, rector of the School of Conservation under the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, told Reuters, "All the tests that we have done over the past five years -- on the materials and other aspects - do not show any signs of forgery." Accordingly, the map continues to make headlines. The podcast can be found here or by clicking the title of this post.

July 13, 2009

ARCA Conference in the Study of Art Crime

The ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime
11 July 2009 in Amelia, Italy

Conference Schedule
10:30am Introduction by Noah Charney
11am Award presentation to Vernon Rapley
12-1pm Bernadine Benson
1-2:30pm Lunch
2:30-3:30pm Virgina Curry and Arthur Tompkins
3:30pm ArtGuard Award presentation to Francesco Rutelli
3:45-4:15 Francesco Rutelli talk
4:15-5pm Coffee Break
5pm Award presentation to the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
5:15-5:30 pm Colonnello Luigi Cortellesca talk
5:45pm Vallombroso Award presentation to Professor Norman Palmer
6pm-6:30pm Award presentation to the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
6:30-7 Colonnello Luigi Cortellesca talk
7pm Closing Comments by Noah Charney

‘Primo Convego Internazionale Patrimonio Artistico: furti e recuperi’ gathered together academics and experienced crime investigators to discuss issues in stolen and recovered art objects and honor their peers on 11th July in Amelia, Umbria.

Noah Charney, Director of ARCA and professor of art history at the American University of Rome, opened the day-long event at the Biblioteca Communale di Amelia, the home of the inagural postgraduate program in Art Crime, bestowing the ARCA Award for Art Policing and Recovery to Vernon Rapley, Director of Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiquities Squad.

Detective Sergeant Rapley graciously accepted the award followed by a presentation on the cases and expansion of the department through ArtBeat, the cooperative program with academics and museum professionals. Not only has the relationship decreased museum thefts and increased recoveries since 2005, but the close relationship has improved access and communication between Scotland Yard and the art market, the first step in improving security for art objects. Rapley’s department is focusing more on forgeries and fakes since thefts declined. Scotland Yard will make its database of stolen art objects available to the public next year.

Bernadine Benson, a University of South Africa lecturer on Police Practice, presented her methodology for identifying the illegal market for antiquities in South Africa, a model that many people in the audience said could be applied to other countries desiring an academic model for training police officials on procedures for handling illicit antiquities trading.

Presenters and attendees lunched at the wine bar of Punto Divino for a four-course meal before returning for the afternoon session.

Virginia Curry, a former FBI agent, fresh from an Etruscan archaeological dig, discussed examples of trusted academic and museum professionals who have misused their roles to exploit access, power, and opportunity to steal entrusted objects or enter into conspiracies. “Those same people smart enough to earn doctorates,” she said, “think they are too smart to get caught.”

Curry found in her experience that public institutions are reluctant to report thefts for fear of losing funding. In addition, she found that laws of evidence can also tie the hands of police.

Judge Arthur Tompkins, a District court judge in New Zealand, proposed a permanent International Art Crime Tribunal based upon the successful models of the International Crime Court and using principles from the World Trade Organization.

After a coffee break at Caffe Grande, returnees to the conference found municipal police, Carabinieri and members of the press – Francesco Rutelli, an Italian Senator and former mayor of Rome and a Minister of Culture, had arrived to accept the ArtGuard Award for Art Security and Protection.

ArtGuard, Bill Anderson explained, develops and markets affordable and simple individual alerts for paintings and art objects for budget strapped public institutions but the gadget has become so successful that it has been picked up by the National Gallery in Washington, DC and the Morgan Library, among other prominent institutions.

Signore Rutelli, with the effortless grace of an experienced Italian politician and the head of his political party, accepted his award and congratulated the audience on gathering to support the recovery of art crime. Rutelli stressed that Italy’s art recovery efforts were focusing less on litigation and more on dialogue and reciprocity, loaning objects from Italy of similar or more important value in exchange for repatriating stolen objects from American museums. Rutelli said that an object without a history, without a known archaeological context, is an object without a soul.

ARCA bestowed the ARCA Lifetime Achievement Award in Defense of Art to the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

Colonnello Luigi Cortellesca, the second in command of the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, graciously accepted the award and addressed the audience in full military uniform, describing the organization and highlighting cases. In contrast to Scotland Yard’s policy of treating art crimes as theft and prosecution of criminals first, Colonello Cortellesca said that his units priority is in recovering the art which is irreplaceable since criminals would repeatedly offend and other opportunities would arise to apprehend them.

Afterward, the group enjoyed the majestic view of the Umbrian countrywide, full of olive trees and sunflowers, from the garden of the Palazzo Farratitini with a tour of the ballroom and hotel rooms on the second floor.

A four-course dinner at Amelia’s Locanda Restaurant, with it’s views of the original Roman street, feted the speakers and attendees. The conference was a great success, bringing together politicians, police, and academics from different nations, in the midst of the summer program  focusing on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Property Protection.

- by Catherine Sezgin

July 1, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009 - ,, No comments

ARCAblog Podcast: The Looting of the Amber Room

Reading from the research of Joel Knopf, Yale '09, ARCA Director Noah Charney examines the fate of the Russian Amber Room during World War II. In addition to discussing the history of the Amber Room, this latest podcast offers some analysis of the three major theories surrounding its looting and destruction. The podcast can be found here or by clicking this post's title.

Unreported Art Crimes

In the most recent US News & World Report Ulrich Boser has written an article on the FBI Crime Team. While researching for this piece Boser referred to ARCA's Art Crime Facts page, and asked me why so many art crimes go unreported. In my response I discussed how objects from unknown archaeological sites have not yet been registered, studied, or cataloged prior to the theft and thus are left unnoticed. Museums may be reluctant to report art thefts because it highlights shortcomings in their security. An institution's and its leadership's respect and reputation are at stake as well.

Additionally, in my discussion I described how museums and cultural institutions are often wary of reporting thefts as it can discourage other institutions and individuals from loaning works of art for special exhibitions - the cash cow for many institutions. To confirm my suspicions that special exhibitions are a source of considerable income I examined the 2006-2007 financial reports of several high-profile art museums. For example, the Philadelphia Museum of Art reported an income of $1,839,449 from special exhibitions. This amounted to a shade over 29% of the museum's program service revenue ($6,281,637 - program service revenue is revenue from admissions, special exhibition ticket sales, concession sales etc., BUT not membership dues or government grants - usually the largest portions of an institution's total revenue). Another institution, the Wadsworth Atheneum reported that in 2007 its income from special exhibitions was more than double its income from regular admissions ($842,218 versus $401,527 respectively). Although special exhibitions can be great sources of income for museums, they are also instrumental in sustaining and attracting donors and grants.

While scrutinizing a number of institutions' balance sheets I found some other things of note regarding special exhibitions and an institution's spending. The Wadsworth Atheneum whose net assets total just a little over a tenth of that of the Art Institute of Chicago nevertheless tallies more in special exhibition expenses than the Art Institute ($1,066,435 versus 1,061,113 respectively). Evidently, the Wadsworth views special exhibitions as great opportunities for growth.

Finally, it would appear that loan fees are not sources for much income for art museums. Of the institutions I researched only the Art Institute of Chicago listed how much loaned art brought into the museum ($166,140). Accordingly, it is clear that any fear for the security and safety of an institution's work of art certainly outweighs the potential (albeit minimal) monetary gains and could therefore dissuade them from loaning it to institutions that are considered to be at risk or prone to art theft.

*Original Post at Art Theft Central

June 3, 2009

The Art Market: How Lending Fuels Art Crime

ARCA is pleased to present a series of papers written by graduates of Noah Charney's course on art crime, taught at Yale University in the Spring of 2009. The following article was written by Elizabeth Sebesky.

The Art Market: How Lending Fuels Art Crime

The term “art market” is a contradiction in terms. The act of turning art into commodity, into a form of collateral or financial asset, fights against the instincts of art lovers, who cherish its priceless, intrinsic value. However, Iain Robertson, Head of Art Business Studies at Sotheby’s in London, points out in his monograph, Understanding International Art Markets and Management, that even though “art and money might still seem like uncomfortable bedmates, […] the relationship is sacrosanct.” The psychology that fuels the acquisition of material wealth also drives art collection: “the acquisition of art, a tangible ‘consumption good’ with ‘social capital’, is also seen as a positive addiction.” Furthermore, the characteristics of art crime are quite similar to those of financial over-extension to the point of bankruptcy and white collar crimes, such as investment fraud, security fraud, and money laundering. In fact, Interpol has recently reported that “financial crime[s] such as money-laundering” are believed to be “intimately connected in many cases [with] the drugs, arms and the illicit art and antiquities trades.” Although there are many overlaps between art crime and national and international financial markets, the impact of art lending companies, that turn art into collateral, has been relatively unexamined and is pertinent today and in other times of economic downturn. By presenting a case study on the recent upsurge in this financial practice, pointing out some of the problems and pitfalls of art lending and the art market more generally, and then recommending some preventative measures and solutions, this paper will help raise consciousness on the ways in which art lending practices can contribute to and enable art crime.

The Psychology of the Art Market as It Leads to Art Crime
It is important for art historians and art economists to go beyond a traditional neoclassical economic analysis of the art market when examining art crime. Instead of analyzing common topics such as the distinction between public and private art supply, scholars and professionals in the field must pay attention to both “the extrinsic and intrinsic motivation” of players in the art market and the “dynamics of interaction” between these two motivations. The intrinsic motivation can be defined as psychological attachment to the art itself or what the art represents for the buyer. External motivation connotes the practice of distilling aesthetic value into a pure monetary figure or financial asset. The first step to serious investigation is to put both of these motivations in financial terms, such as “psychic return” and “consumption benefit” respectively. Those who care primarily about “psychic return” are “pure collectors”, who purchase or hold onto artwork due to their personal regard for it and ignore price fluctuations in the market. In contrast, “pure speculators” are more willing to sell their art due to “unpredictable financial risk (price variations) and uncertain attribution” and are most concerned with the art object’s “consumption benefits.” Understanding the psychology behind these “consumption benefits” allows art historians and art criminologists to focus on individual players—such as lenders, dealers, and investors—who all have their personal psychological justifications for criminal actions. 

The Art Lending Company: “Private Banking for the Art World” Recently, news sources, including The New York Times, reported that art lending companies across America have had a recent upsurge in business from art owners, collectors, and dealers, who have decided to leverage their art objects. The most prominent companies include Art Capital Group, Art Finance Partners, Sotheby’s Financial Services, Emigrant Bank’s Fine Art Finance, ArtLoan, and lending services at the “art advisory wings” of large banks such as CitiGroup, Bank of America, USB, and Deutsche Bank. Art Capital predicts that they will make about $120 million in art-related loans in 2009, up $40 million from 2008; Art Finance Partners reports a 40% rise in business over the last six months. Similarly, owner Ray Parker Gaylord of ArtLoan says that he has “seen ‘exponential’ growth in the last year even though it charges interest rates of 18-24%.” Independent companies not attached to big banks are desirable to some clients, who wish to keep their financial affairs especially private or separate from other parts of their personal finances or for those unable to get a loan from bigger art financing companies. The owner of Art Capital, Ian Peck, admits that clients come to them in times of financial trouble—“burned by Ponzi schemes.” Generally, these art lending companies charge 40% of what they appraise the artworks to be worth. Often, they gain full possession of the art objects if their clients default. These statistics indicate the success of this corner of the art market and that it fulfills a real function for art owners in economic trouble. 

Those seeking capital can receive loans that are “asset-based”, meaning they come from temporarily exchanging property (in this case art objects) instead of being credit-based. Across the finance industry, pieces of art are considered “unconventional assets.” Art owners looking for cash have a few options: they can “borrow against” their artwork (fine and decorate arts, antiques, and collectables), receiving what is called a “term loan”; here, the owner can temporarily lend his/her art pieces without selling them outright in order to get money or “liquidity.” Another option that most private firms offer is if an owner knows he/she wants to sell an art object outright, he/she can borrow a certain amount of money based on a “low-end auction estimate” of the price in advance of the sale; this practice allows clients to continue investing while waiting for consignment to occur. Sometimes the art object is not the only object that is used as an asset and is combined with other forms of leverage in a collateral package. Additionally, some of these private companies offer loans for art dealers, based on the value of their industry, and carry out “consignment financing” to provide financial support to dealers so that they can effectively sell their art objects.

A recent article from The New York Times, published on February 23, 2009, “No Banking on Art”, uncovers the private financial situation of the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz, who was forced to do business with Art Capital Group; it is reported that she used her estates, but even more shocking, her “‘copyrights, photographic negatives, [and] contract rights’ existing or to be created in the future” for $5 million of collateral. This opens the door to uncharted territory about lending intellectual property rights in exchange for cash and signals the need for revisions in art law.

One of the most pressing issues surrounding art lending companies is that they generally pride themselves on providing confidential service; this lack of transparency translates into the potential for illegal transactions and “grey” territory. Ian Peck, co-owner of Art Capital, describes his business as being “very discreet” and advertises Art Capital as “private banking for the art world.” The New York Times withheld the name of a client of Art Capital, a former investment banker in New York, upon his request, as “he did not want friends to know his financial situation […].” If providing confidential services for clients, who are embarrassed or prideful, becomes too big of a priority for art lending companies, they run the risk of inaccurately keeping records of appropriate transactional documentation and in-house inventories. Within the body of this New York Times article, a few other clients comment on the “legal messiness” that ensues due to the lack of data open to public access; this “messiness” is amplified by the sensitivity of a business where art owners must face losing their prized possessions. In his book, Iain Robertson confirms what the news has been reporting: “the art market’s often covert and secretive buying and selling practices do encourage or at least permit high levels of criminal behavior.”

The high risk behavior that accompanies dealings in the art market facilitates what Patrick Boylan, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Policy and Management at the City University of London, calls “deception crimes.” Boylan reports that “in addition to theft (in the narrow sense), burglary or robbery, the art sector also experiences a fourth significant group of theft crimes, which are usually much more difficult to detect, namely obtain[ing] property or […] financial advantage by means of deception.” These “deception crimes” include forging documents, diverting works of art without proper authority, and money laundering. Clients run the risk of being too confident in these lenders to keep track of their art due to the persona that these private companies adopt and therefore do not impose a third-party monitor. Many of the companies mentioned in this paper purposely take on rich, famous clients such as Veronica Hearst, Annie Leibovitz, and Julian Schnabel for the status of their own business. This preoccupation with status can cause lenders to favor one client’s pieces over another, giving a certain collection favored security measures.

These social interactions and networking tasks may detract from the overall effectiveness of the business: for example, it is important for lenders to research the provenance of objects in their possession in case they were illegally acquired somewhere along the line. If the art lender does not know the provenance of an object, he/she could unknowingly perpetuate the crime by passing it on to an auction house or dealer. As their degree of separation becomes greater, these auction houses or dealers become even more “in the dark.” “Client confidentiality” also makes it easy for sellers to simply not tell the loan company that an art object has a criminal provenance and use a loan to purposely exchange “dirty money” for “clean cash.” Are protective measures in place to prevent this from happening? Furthermore, do these art lenders have the expertise and experience to come up with a monetary amount for Annie Leibovitz’s copyrights and contractual rights: a topic that hasn’t even been well established in the body of intellectual property law? Are they taking her on as a client irresponsibly for status reasons without having adequate legal background? Baird Ryan, co-owner of Art Capital boasts that “because his firm understands the art market better than regular banks, artists can make attractive borrowers.” However, are these lenders within relatively small companies prepared to take on these many different roles? 

Asymmetrical information between the buyer and seller is another way in which a lack of information transparency affects the art market. In Art & Economics, Bruno Frey confirms that art markets are driven “by a strong prevalence of behavioral anomalies” of the buyer and seller, who interact in a subjective manner while conducting business. This leads to disparity in the pricing and the background information or provenance of the art object. In Iain Robertson’s Understanding International Art Markets and Management, Professor Boylan writes a chapter that informs the study of art crime by pointing to ways in which the art market falls short:

Although there are many similarities between the art and financial markets, there are crucial differences, which make pricing art and accounting for risk in the art market much less accurate and effective than in the stock market. The measurement of art returns is subject to unacceptable levels of misinformation, and profits and losses are often shrouded in mystery. Most art businesses are privately owned, small enterprises jealously guarding price information. Client identity is confidential and the buyers prices have paid outside auction are hard to verify. Finally, there is no obvious benchmark for art, which makes risk assessment very difficult.
What Professor Boylan refers to as “unacceptable levels of information” applies to small lending companies, who conceal transactional information. In addition to creating “dark alleyways” where art crimes can occur, this lack of transparency compounds the difficulty of pricing art. The process of liquefying art assets or borrowing money against art objects presents high financial risk to the seller or loan client as well as the buyer or art lending company; this is because the translation of aesthetic value or what Iain Robertson calls “psychological dividends” into dollar amounts is not clear-cut. The seller’s assessment of the economic value of the work takes into account his/her personal regard and taste. In this way, the seller may not get as much money as he/she thinks the art object is worth. Not only is the art object devalued in a humanistic sense, but this exchange into money also paves the way for nefarious activity: art lenders can make a profit off of clients, who default and hand over their objects, by eventually selling the object to a third party auction house or dealer for more than it was originally appraised due to a discrepancy in information exchange. 

Thus, another risky area surrounding art lending companies is the physical storage of the art piece when it changes hands between buyer and seller. Taking on the role of the middle-man, art lenders must use adequately secured storage and gallery facilities when they repossess the art objects from clients that default on their loan payments. There are three areas where the art pieces could be at risk: in transit on the way from the client’s possession to that of the lending companies or from a lending house to an auction house or dealer, in the lending companies’ main facilities/gallery, and in a storage facility separate from the executive offices. In her article for Art & Crime, “Implications of Art Theft in the Fine Art Insurance Industry”, Dorit Straus tracks the number of thefts that occur in certain places; she notes that most thefts do not occur in alarmed museums, but in privately owned locations: out of thefts reported to the Art Loss Registry since 1991, 4,884 have occurred in “private residences” compared to 3,040 thefts in “art galleries and corporations”, 889 in museums, 388 in-transit and 482 in warehouses. Although there are a surprising number of thefts recorded in transit, an even vaster number of objects are stolen from galleries and corporations. 

The New York Times article, “No Banking on Art” that is mentioned in previous paragraphs above describes Art Capital’s headquarters as a swanky building on Madison Avenue previously owned by Sotheby’s that “looks at first like an art gallery.” The reporter goes on to note that “two Warhols, a pair of Rubens portraits of Roman emperors and a pink nude by the contemporary Mexican painter Victor Rodriguez hang on the cool white walls [while] a sculpture of the faun by Rembrandt Bugatti sits on a windowsill in a conference room where transactions are discussed.” It is the mix of art with financial business that is the most disconcerting: should the Rembrandt really just loaf on the windowsill in a conference room? If the lending company chooses to display its repossessed artworks (which are sometimes even put on display and open to the public), it should institute much tighter security measures that are on par with museum-level protection strategies. In addition, some companies, such as ArtLoan, declare that they prefer to make loans on items that are “physically small and thus easy to store or to ship to auction houses and dealers in case of a default.” Due to their size and portability, these small objects are prime targets for theft, vandalism, forgery, and in-house theft. This “pawnshop” atmosphere flagrantly provokes art crime.

Lastly, the storage facilities of art lending companies, similar to what Dorit Straus classifies as “warehouses”, pose potential risk to the companies and to cultural heritage protection as a whole. Art Capital’s website gives clients options to keep their works “in one of [their] secure storage facilities in New York City or displayed in [their] Madison Avenue gallery space.” However, these storage facilities most likely do not have extensive security measures and do not protect efficiently against damage. Straus points out a fact about insured art in warehouses that carries over to the discussion at hand: namely, that “many warehouses provide open storage, allowing multiple artworks from a single collection to be dispersed throughout the warehouse.” Thus, art lenders run the risk of losing or misplacing art on loan due to a lack of inventory control in these open facilities. One necessary question to ask is whether the pieces that are housed in a gallery, storage facility, or in transit, are insured. The objectification of art through business transactions can create an atmosphere over time where company members stop being as cautious with the objects, becoming less concerned about damage, destruction, theft, or misplacement. 

Although this paper has pointed out a few areas of concern in the art market that can lead to art theft, appropriation, and the manipulation of documentation for financial benefit, there are viable solutions for preventing art crime. The first key is to broadcast a public service announcement or information campaign in print, television broadcast, and online reporting that portrays art crimes as tied to the art market to be as serious as white collar crime. In the wake of public outcry over the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, it will be easier to shape the popular conception of art crimes if their implications are compared to the scale of national and international financial crimes. The second part of this information campaign should focus on drawing out the connections between art crime as tied to the art market and organized crime syndicates: in both arenas, money laundering and the use of art as collateral can occur. Linking activity that the public regards as benign, privileged, and elite to that of drug syndicates and organized crime may make the public more conscious of the potential loopholes and dark shadows surrounding art lending companies.

Another prevention strategy that hits at the very essence of most of the problems discussed above is the “de-commodification” of objects that are part of financial transactions. This, of course, is difficult to do because, after all, art lenders and art finance companies make their business turning art objects into temporary or permanent collateral for their clients. However, is there a way to integrate the aesthetic value or “psychic return” of the artwork into the overall assessment of the monetary value? If this is accomplished, this can help deter lenders from participating in immoral (and possibly illegal) greedy behaviors such as selling the repossessed art object for more than which it was originally assessed. Other preventative measures include treating art objects as precious, meaningful cultural objects in promotional material, websites, and in day-to-day interactions with clients. If daily discourse focuses on inherent value aside from numbers, this psychology may deter criminal activity. This is especially important for massive, country-wide impersonal banks with art advisory branches that grant loans. Finally, if an art lender is working with a client that is lending a whole collection or especially a portion of his/her own works (or copyrights), the lender should make it a mission for the client to be able to keep at least some of the items outright, without loaning everything. Additionally, if subjective value is assessed, then some items can be assessed as more important and prioritized to be saved from possible repossession after loan default. According to this alternative strategy, the art financier would give out loans for many “lesser-priced” items (priced according to this subjective, personal scale) instead of a few “high-priced” items and leave out the one “highest priced” (most personally valuable) item. Basically, the art lender would balance the value of the art to the client with the monetary benefit of the art to their company in order to protect against art crime: if art objects are kept with those that love them and therefore practice exemplary safety precautions, the eventual theft or vandalism that could occur if sold to another buyer can be prevented.

These ideas about how to “foolproof” lending companies from participating in art crimes can also come from the advice of specialists who seek to revamp art investment or art insurance practices. For example, just as art lending companies offer money for art, art insurers provide cash for a stolen object, which “offers some consolation, [but] […] never equal[s] the return of the actual objects.” Therefore, art lending companies should follow the same philosophy as art insurers: that “it is thus in the best interest of both public and private collections to undertake the necessary precautions to evaluate their situation with an eye towards preventing theft.” One of these “necessary precautions” is the insurance underwriting process, which assesses areas of risk to the artwork and develops prevention strategies. Dorit Straus holds up the National Endowment for the Art’s Arts Indemnity Program as an esteemed example of how efficient underwriting and risk prevention are used to “exceed even the private sector’s insurance and industry review and diligence in risk assessment.” Perhaps the National Endowment for the Arts can serve as an example to art lenders who can apply similar strategies to their “at-risk” areas such as storage spaces, galleries, and transit vehicles. Being conscious of the risk, coming up with strategies, and taking inventory of objects, are all first steps to the proactive prevention of art crime.

Art lenders can also learn from advocates of art investment reform. The art market requires an overseeing board, an umbrella organization that maintains transparency, keeps records in the public eye, and serves as a watch-dog. David Kusin, founder of Kusin & Co., an economic research firm, recommends revamping the art market by reorganizing the board of directors of various institutions and “replac[ing] the socially connected members with independent, seasoned operating executives from other sectors to improve governance.” This non-partial overseeing board could be in charge of monitoring how art is handled during financial transactions and managing the tenuous and sensitive process of converting art into monetary value, whether as collateral or as investment.

In addition to creating an overseeing board of directors, David Kusin recommends creating both a “standardized nomenclature” and “a statistically based system for capturing sector-wide transaction data in real time” for the art market. Although Kusin focuses specifically on bettering art investment in his article, these improvements can successfully inform art lending practices. Even though Kusin postures himself in this article as looking to the future when the global capital market will rebound, these changes need to be implemented right away; these measures will not only eventually respond to a thriving market, but will also improve the transparency and structure of art finance along the way. In “The Current and Future Value of Art”, Iain Robertson suggests a similar solution: the construction of an “art index” that offers comprehensive, real-time information. He notes that six dominant global indices (including the All Art Index, the British Art Market Research, the Standard & Poor 500, the American Mei/Moses Index, the Art Sales Index, and the French Art Price Index, “only offer partial price information.” He points out the importance of “serious attempts [that] are being made to bring transparency to the art market and to create indices against which international, not just industry, investors and speculators can bet.” Not only will this improve transparency of information throughout the industry, but it will also provide realistic, accurate information that may deter investors, who do not have the means to invest in art. Additionally, an accurate assessment of the risk will prevent investors from being victims of fraud. The bottom line is that the greater the financial risk and the higher the stakes, the worse it is for the fate of that art object. If information in the art market becomes just as transparent as other financial sectors, then art objects will be at less risk for being misplaced, stolen, or illegally bought as a result of investment Ponzi schemes. David Kusin warns wisely that such overarching operational “systems don’t create monopolies, disclose propriety intellectual property or reveal operational secrets, [but] the costs of continued failure to build this capacity for the art sector are untold.”

If the suggestions above are applied to art lending practices, the probability of art crimes occurring within the art market will most likely decline. Furthermore, these preventative measures can and should be implemented more comprehensively throughout other aspects of the art market, such as art investment, art insurance, financial bankruptcy as it applies to art, and white collar crimes, such as securities fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering. In turn, the further study of how art crime is closely tied to all of these aspects of the financial market will raise consciousness about the importance of art crime and how simple it is to stop by reforming certain elements of financial transactions. This paper has touched on several practices recommended by art insurance agents, economic scholars, and art investors and has applied them to solutions for “fool-proofing” art lending. However, this is a topic that should be explored further. It is important for all players in the art finance industry to work together to revamp these practices and to pay attention to how they as individuals help to fuel art crimes. 

The implementation of these suggestions will help improve the fiscal health of the art finance sector overall, allowing art collectors, artists, and dealers, who wish to hold onto their art objects, to avoid turning to art lenders for capital as frequently. This will help to lower the art crime rate by keeping prized possessions with those that prize them on a personal level. On a psychological level, when fiscal health improves, those participating in the art market will inevitably feel less anxiety and embarrassment when no longer required to use art (or as much art) for capital. And, happiness directly affects art crime rates. Of course, ironically, this hypothetical scenario seems to benefit most everyone in the art industry except the art lending companies themselves. However, this presents a good problem for the art world: perhaps these companies can target their businesses around “consignment financing” for art dealers, to keep money moving, and around art advising for collectors and dealers. In this way, instead of primarily granting loans and exchanging art for money, art lenders can help clients maintain their personal financial health in order to keep and protect their art.

Written by Elizabeth Sebesky

May 23, 2009

Thirteen Looted Zurbaráns

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) was one of a handful of masterful Spanish painters to take inspiration from the revolutionary style of shadows and light and realism invented by Caravaggio. Along with Ribera, Murillo, and later Velazquez, Zurburan is part of an elite group of ingenious Spanish Baroque painters who form the core of what became known as the Golden Age of Spanish Art. Zurbarán combines the drama of the Baroque, in terms of dynamic moments and theatrical painted lighting, with realism and the Catholic mysticism that has always been a part of Spanish artistry. His themes were almost all religious, and he received particular acclaim for a number of highly-realistic depictions of monks emerging from shadows.

Zurbarán was born to a Basque family in Fuente de Cantos, in the Badajoz Province of Spain. He studied painting in Seville, and worked first in Llerena, before settling back into Seville in 1629, where aside from two years of his life (1634-1635), when he painted at the royal court in Madrid, he would live and work until 1658. His popularity as a painter starting to wane, Zurbarán left Seville for Madrid, where he lived out the last decade of his life.

Zurbarán’s earlier works show the influence of Caravaggio, and the Tenebrist post-Caravaggio style taken up and made new by Ribera and Velazquez. Zurbarán’s work developed more along the lines of his fellow Sevillan and contemporary, Murillo (see entry number nine in this museum), who was wildly popular. Many critics agree that the move away from the Caravagesque and more toward the occasionally-cloying sweetness of Murillo was a shift for the worse, choosing popular sentimentality over high drama and action.

Zurbarán’s work has been the subject of high-seas adventure. In 1756 an English ship seized cargo from a Spanish vessel, that was carrying the thirteen paintings by Zurbarán, a complete series depicting the Old Testament Jacob and his twelve sons, painted 1640-1645. The captured paintings were offered for sale in England. Richard Trevor, the Bishop of Durham (1707-1771), bought twelve of the thirteen paintings for £124. But the Bishop was foiled in his attempt to buy the complete series, as the portrait of Benjamin, Son of Jacob was snapped up by Peregrine Bertie, Duke of Ancaster (1714-1778) before the Bishop made his bid. The Bishop of Durham commissioned the artist Arthur Pond to paint a copy of the Zurbarán Benjamin (seen in the image above), as the Duke of Ancaster refused to sell, quite pleased with his purchase, albeit of captured art.

In 2001 the Church Commissioners planned to sell the series of twelve paintings, today worth an estimated £20 million (a nice profit from £124). As there was a public uproar, they determined to keep the works and re-evaluate their own financial straits in 2010. But do they own the works, after all? If the paintings were seized from a Spanish vessel, rather than having been legally purchased, and then sold on, who has the current rightful title? The original Spanish owners? The Spanish government? Or did all this happen so long ago, that the current English owners should retain the rights?

May 15, 2009

Carabinieri Celebrate 40 Years Fighting Art Crime

To celebrate 40 years of success against art crime, the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and Italian Ministry of Culture has planned a series of major exhibitions, in Naples, Florence, and Rome, throughout 2009. 

Established in 1969, the Carabinieri Comando per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale was the world’s first dedicated art squad, established in response to a rash of thefts on the part of Organized Crime throughout the 1960s, culminating in the 1969 theft of Madonna’s Nativity from the chapel of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily. The Caravaggio, thought to have been stolen by the Sicilian Mafia, is still number one on the list of world’s most wanted stolen art. 

The Carabinieri are far and away the largest and most effective art police force in the world, with over three-hundred full-time agents. They also have much more to deal with, as Italy has nearly ten times as many art crimes reported per year than any other country. The Italian government has been one of the only governments to take art crime as seriously as the crime warrants, and to dedicate sufficient resources to the art police. Most countries have no dedicated art police, and those that do tend to be under-funded and receive insufficient support from their governments.

Exhibitions of recovered masterpieces will be held at the Palazzo Reale in Naples, the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, and the Galleria Palatina in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. An exhibition catalogue, entitled “L’Arma per l’Arte,” will also be published. Reviews of the catalogue and exhibitions will appear in the Fall 2009 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. 

ARCA is proud to support Italy and the Carabinieri, and would like to congratulate founding trustee Col. Giovanni Pastore of the Carabinieri for his efforts throughout his career. ARCA is also pleased to award Gen. Giovanni Nistri of the Carabinieri, with the 2009 ARCA Award for Lifetime Achievement in Defence of Art. The 2009 ARCA ArtGuard Award for Art Protection & Security will be presented to former Italian Minister of Culture Francesco Rutelli, at the awards ceremony at ARCA’s conference this July 11 in Amelia.

May 12, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - No comments

Study Art Crime in Rome


8 May 2009: Professor Noah Charney, a world renowned expert on art crime, comes to AUR for the fall 2009 semester fresh from a run at Yale University where he just offered a highly successful course on the subject. His course AH 283 - Traffickers, Thieves And Forgers: Art Crime will meet for thirteen Wednesday evenings beginning on 9 September from 6:15 to 9:15 pm in the Auriana Auditorium on Via Pietro Roselli on the AUR campus. The first lecture is free and open to the public. Those wishing to take the course for credit, as an auditor or as an attendee will be able to enroll at the first class.

Art crime has evolved from a relatively innocuous crime of passion carried out by individuals (often for ideological as much as financial reasons) into the third highest-grossing criminal industry in the world. Today’s art thieves are usually connected to organized crime and stolen art and antiquities are used to fund drugs and arms trafficking and terrorist acts. Professor Charney’s course will explore the history of art crime and its impact upon our society. It will also examine how art can be protected and recovered.

Noah Charney holds advanced degrees in Art History from the Courtauld Institute in London and the University of Cambridge in Great Britain. He has worked closely with law enforcement agencies across Europe to study the phenomenon of art crime and is the founding director of ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes Against Art) www.artcrime.info. Recently a Visiting Lecturer at Yale University, he has just joined the faculty of the American University of Rome as Adjunct Professor of Art History.