May 8, 2012

Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - No comments

Fabio Isman for Il Messaggero: "l'Atleta del Getty deve essere confiscato"

Journalist Fabio Isman wrote on May 4 of the Italian judge's ruling that the Fano Athlete had been smuggled out of Italy and wrongfully sold to the Getty Museum in Il Messaggero in the article titled "l'Atleta del Getty deve essere confiscato."

With the writer's permission, we are reproducing the text here:
ADESSO al Getty resta solo la remota speranza che i giudici abbiano sbagliato ad applicare la legge: l’estremo ricorso in Cassazione; infatti, il Gip di Pesaro Maurizio Di Palma ha confermato la confisca del bronzo alto oltre un metro e mezzo del IV o III secolo a.C., l’«Atleta vittorioso», da molti (erroneamente) attribuito a Lisippo, e ripescato nel mare di Fano nel 1964; il progenitore della Grande Razzia, costata al nostro Paese un milione e mezzo di antichità scavate di frodo dal 1970. Il vecchio Jan Paul Getty non lo voleva: era disposto a comperarlo solo con una «clearence» italiana; appena morto lui, il museo con il suo nome l’ha acquistato. Una delle stelle assolute della Villa Romana di Malibu (la copia di quella dei Papiri di Ercolano:
pazienza se un po’ «kitsch»): è al centro di una sala, e per lei il museo non ha mai voluto intavolare trattative con il nostro Paese. Invece, è confiscata: ribadita la decisione, dopo un primo ricorso californiano, con gran spreco di avvocati.
I motivi, in realtà, c’erano tutti: ripescato al largo di Fano (e quanto non conta) un venerdì del settembre 1964 dal peschereccio Ferri Ferruccio comandato da Romeo Pirani; poi sbarcato in Italia; sotterrato; a lungo celato a Gubbio dai Barbetti, fratelli cementieri, e dal prete Giovanni Nagni, perfino nella vasca da bagno; infine, forse trasferito in Brasile e comperato in Germania dal museo per quasi quattro milioni di dollari nel 1977. Fosse Lisippo, sarebbe senza pari: nessuna sua scultura si è salvata dal tempo; ma, pur non essendolo, rimane una statua rarissima: simile, anche nelle vicende del naufragio, ai Bronzi di Riace. Magari era destinata a un gruppo celebrativo, nei santuari di Delfi, o Olimpia; le mancano solo i piedi. La guerra per riaverlo è stata (ma anche sarà) davvero strenua: Alberto Berardi, ex assessore provinciale di Fano, ha consegnato ai giudici un pezzetto della concrezione che rivestiva il bronzo, salvata dal disseppellimento da un campo di cavoli; gruppi locali, come Cento città, non si sono mai arresi, con il ricorso al Pm dopo una serie di processi infausti (in uno, assoluzione perché il corpo di reato non era stato esibito!); Maurizio Fiorilli, viceavvocato generale, ha coltivato il giudizio; il Pm Silvia Cecchi ha chiesto la confisca nel 2007; il Gip Lorena Mussoni l’ha decisa due anni fa. Invano il Getty ha invocato la buona fede: da alcuni documenti, messa perfino in serio dubbio; avrebbe potuto avere più «diligenza».
Il Getty, che ha restituito oltre 60 pezzi (ed altri sembra li stia per rispedire in Italia), non ha mai voluto nemmeno discutere della statua, così importante da essere nota come «bronzo Getty» tout court: capezzoli in rame; occhi spariti che forse erano in avorio; 50 chili di peso; fusione a cera persa; braccio destro alzato, come per incoronare la testa di alloro; i capelli in ciocche, perfettamente scolpiti. Di cinque marinai che lo hanno ripescato (e non capivano che cosa imbrigliasse le loro reti: ad un certo punto, temevano un cadavere), alcuni se ne sono ormai andati. La «querelle» sul luogo esatto, e discusso, del ritrovamento, è senza un senso: anche se in acque internazionali, su una barca dalla bandiera italiana, nascosta nella Penisola, esportata senza alcun permesso, la statua appartiene al nostro Paese. Già due volte i giudici l’hanno stabilito. Il Getty, nel 2007, nelle trattative con Francesco Rutelli allora ministro, si era impegnato a rispettare il volere dei magistrati; sono più concrete le speranze, anche se sarà ancora battaglia.
For a translation to English, please use Google Translate.

Art Crime in Film: Jø Nesbo's "Headhunter" steals art from corporate executives looking for new jobs

Here's another example of how an art thief is portrayed in a movie.

The 2011 Swedish film "Headhunter" (the English title now playing in theaters in the U. S.) based on the book by Swedish crime writer Jø Nesbo features a corporate management recruiter in Norway who steals art to compensate for his 'bad genes' and -- in his mind -- his less than desirable stature of 'five feet, six inches' (168 centimeters).  The protagonist narrates that the money earned from stealing art pays for the lifestyle that allows him to keep happy his beautiful statuesque wife.

In this fictional film, the movie's hero, Roger, obtains information from high-level managers seeking new employment that will enable him to rob the client -- is anyone home during the day? do you have a dog? do you own a valuable work of art? Roger has an accomplice who works at a protective security firm who disengages the residential alarm during the burglary.  Roger, in protective clothing, is careful not to leave any DNA evidence and replaces the original artwork with a reproduction before leaving the residence -- all within ten minutes.  Roger hides the stolen paintings in the roof of his car then parks in his garage for his accomplice to retrieve and then sell through a fence in Sweden.

Caledonian Boar Hunt by School of Rubens/Rueters Photo
Roger, under financial pressure, is looking for an expensive painting that will allow him to pay off his outstanding debts and finds out through his lovely wife that a man brought a painting by Peter Paul Ruben's that his grandmother received from a German officer during World War II.

Hiding a painting in the lining of the roof of a car is exactly where thieves hid Cézanne's painting "Boy with a Red Waistcoat" discovered by Serbian police last month.

In the film, one of the artworks stolen is that by Edvard Munch; the other painting, The Caledonian Boar Hunt by Peter Paul Rubens, was allegedly lost during the Nazi occupation of Ruben's hometown of Antwerp.  A painting similar to the image used in the film and by the same title was discovered in Greece last September.  Greece police recovered the 17th century oil sketch ten years after it had been stolen from the Fine Arts Museum of Ghent in Belgium.

May 7, 2012

The Getty should return the Fano Athlete to Italy, Judge rules

Governor Spacca and an image of the
 Fano Athlete at a press conference
 in LA last year
Jason Felch, who has been covering this story since 2006, reported for The Los Angeles Times that on May 3 a judge in Marche confirmed that the J. Paul Getty Museum should return the Fano Athlete to the country from which it was illegally exported.

Felch, co-author of Chasing Aphrodite, posted the judge's ruling on his website here.

On the blog Looting Matters, David Gill encourages The Getty to cooperate before additional legal steps reveal more problems. Gill also provides an overview of the 'collecting history' and Italy's years long political fight on his blog here.

This is the victory Governor Spacca of Marche spoke of when he visited the Getty in March 2011 in an attempt to negotiate a friendly resolution (reported here and here on the ARCA blog).

May 6, 2012

ARCA Grad Julia Brennan helps launch Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

Julia Brennan in her Thai Ruan Ton dress outside museum.
ARCA Alum '09 Julia Brennan, a textile conservator, was one of the international consultants who helped  to develop the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Thailand.

The institute focuses on preserving and reviving the Thai silk industry.

Here and here are two articles on the Queen's textile museum.  Brennan trained the conservation staff, helped design and set up the conservation lab, and worked with the team to treat, prepare and install more than 150 textiles for the inaugural exhibitions.

The museum will open to the public on May 9th.

Curry and Ellis: New website for Stonehill Art Crime Symposium

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

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

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

May 4, 2012

A Petition for the U. S. Senate to Abandon S. 2212 and to vote for the Stolen Artwork Restitution Act


by Pierre Ciric

As a second generation holocaust survivor, I have concluded that S. 2212, in shielding any government-related foreign institution from ANY liability or suit in the United States for claims for artworks related to cultural exchanges, and subject to pillage, plunder or illegal excavation, is appalling.

In 1998, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and its members promised to perform in-depth provenance research for their entire collections, during hearings held by Jim Leach, Chair of the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services.

Not only did AAMD fail to honor those commitments, but it is now lobbying to continue the tragedy of the Holocaust and all subsequent genocides, by asking Congress to ensure that theft from owners in times of war and dictatorship and the greed resulting from its commercial exploitation are officially protected from justice.

The so-called Nazi carve-out in the bill gives the illusion that Nazi-looted art claims will be preserved, which is both untrue and unfair.

I am sponsoring the petition "Senate: Abandon S. 2212, Vote for the Stolen Artwork Restitution Act." We reached 130 supporters in less than three days after the Petition was online.  Supporters appear to represent a wide variety of interests across various social, age and cultural groups.  The petition can be found at: https://www.change.org/petitions/senate-abandon-s-2212-vote-for-the-stolen-artwork-restitution-act.

Pierre Ciric practices law in New York.

BOOK REVIEW CONCLUDED: Joshua Knelman's Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

(You may find the first two parts here and here)

In London, Julian Radcliffe, founder of the Art Loss Register, a private company originally funded by auction houses and insurers to create a database of stolen art, tells Knelman of his effort to establish a stolen art database for art dealers and auction houses.  The company also reported over $200 million in art theft recoveries by 2008, including recoveries of paintings by Cézanne, Edouard Manet, and Pablo Picasso.

“Famous paintings are just a small percentage of what is being stolen,” Radcliffe told Knelman, [adding that] most of the art on the ALR list consists of minor paintings and antiques, and fewer than 1 per cent of those are ever recovered.

Radcliffe explains that art dealers often didn’t question why they could purchase a painting cheaply.  Sometimes if art dealers found out the art was reported stolen on ALR, they would not buy the work but refer it to someone else.  Even art thieves like to search the database to see if a painting has been reported stolen.

In the over 1,000 recoveries Radcliffe has enjoyed, in only three cases was the thief not after the paycheck for the stolen art, and most of the art that wasn’t immediately passed on to a dealer or auction house was stored in a vault, a closet, an attic, or a basement.
“Transactions in the art world are often carried out anonymously … and this cult of secrecy can be taken advantage of by criminals,” said Radcliffe.  “The art trade is the least regulated and least transparent activity in the commercial world, and the portability of the times and their international market make them very attractive for moving value, unobserved.”
Radcliffe said that the average value of stolen art is under $10,000 and that thieves will pass these items off to fences, who will then move them into the outlands of the art market: to small auction houses or galleries, or across oceans…. About half of all stolen art recovered by the ALR was found in a different country from where it was originally stolen. 

In the United States, Knelmen meets Special Agent Robert K. Wittman, then a Senior Art Investigator for the Rapid Deployment Art Crime Team for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Wittman was six months away from retirement.  The 1996 law, The Theft of Major Artwork had made it a federal crime to steal from a museum or to steal a work of art worth more than $5,000 or older than 100 years.  Knelman tells how Wittman recovered a Norman Rockwell painting in Brazil just three months after helping with the recovery effort after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Knelman meets Matthew Bogdanos who had lived one block from the WTC on 9/11.  The assistant U. S. district attorney, a Marine reservist, led the art theft investigation of the National Museum of Iraq after looting in 2003, and established an amnesty program to recover the stolen antiquities.

In the fall of 2009, Knelman meets Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Art Crime Team which had reorganized in response to the looting of the Iraqi museum.  Magness-Gardiner echoes what Knelman heard in his first meeting with an art thief in Toronto six years earlier about an unregulated and undocumented art market based on secretive transactions involving millions of dollars.

I asked Magness-Gardiner if it was fair to say that no one had a handle on how large the black market in stolen art had become.  “Yes, that’s fair to say,” she answered....  “When we say ‘black market,’ really what we mean are those stolen items that are in the legitimate market and shouldn’t be there.  The black market isn’t separate.  So we’re talking about items that have no history.  The collectors, the museums, and the dealers all partake on some level.”

Magness-Gardiner explains:
“Art is one of the biggest unregulated markets in the U. S.  The business of art tends to be very closed and secretive.  It is still business done on a handshake.  Financial transactions are quite difficult to track, because you don’t have a paper trail.  How art is bought, sold, and moved is a challenge in itself to understand.  When a piece of art is bought or sold, there is the movement of the physical object from one location to another.  There is also the transfer of money from one bank account to another.  There is nothing to link those two events.”
Magness-Gardiner addressed the lack of information about the collecting history or previous ownership of an object of art or cultural property:
“Another problem built into a business-on-a-handshake model is the issue of provenance.  The first thing we tell a new agent to do is to find out whether or not the work of art that has been stolen is, in fact, real.  Where does it come from? Where are its records? We don’t know until we do a background investigation on the piece of art.”  She continued, “Looking at the authenticity of a piece is always detective work.  Unlike most other material items manufactured today, art does not have serial numbers.  Lack of a serial number is one element that really distinguishes art from other types of property theft.  The only parallel is jewellery and gems – difficult to trace because they don’t have a serial number either, and so they are particularly valuable to thieves,” she said. 

“The middlemen and the dealers don’t want other people to know their sources.  This can stem from a legitimate business concern, because if other dealers find out who their sources are, they could use those same sources.”
Knelman dedicates a chapter to the art crime investigator, Alain Lacoursière, who had worked on art thefts as part of his police job until he retired. When Knelman met the new generation of the  Quebec Art Squad they didn’t know of the work of the LAPD Art Theft Detail until Knelman told the French-speaking detectives of Hrycyk’s work.

In Hot Art, Knelman successfully brings a personal narrative navigating the disparate international world of art theft and recovery that almost unknowingly tell of the same story of theft and laundering stolen art through the legitimate market and the limited resources to combat the problem.  From England’s first art investigative team, the Sussex Police’s art and antiques squad, in 1965 to information flourishing on the internet through blogs such as Art Hostage (written by the former  Brighton Knocker Paul "Turbo" Hendry), and information dispersed by Interpol, the LAPD’S Art Theft Detail, Quebec’s Art Crime Squad, and the Museum Security Network, who in the English-speaking world will be the next law enforcement officers to continue the work of its pioneers?

May 3, 2012

BOOK REVIEW CONTINUED: Joshua Knelman's Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

(Continued from yesterday)

In 2008, as economic chaos grips the bond markets and art prices continue to increase, Knelman interviews Donald Hrycyk of the Los Angeles Police Department; Richard Ellis, former head of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Squad; Julian Radcliffe of the Art Loss Register; FBI Art Investigator Robert Wittman; Matthew Bogdanos who led the recovery effort for antiquities looted from the National Museum of Iraq in 2003; Giles Waterfield, the former director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery who helped to recover “the Takeaway Rembrandt”;  and Bob Combs, head of The Getty’s security.

Knelman finds cooperation with Detective Hrycyk of the LAPD’s Art Theft Detail, the nation’s only full-time municipal unit dedicated to investigating art-related crimes.  The detective discusses solved cases, methods of investigation, and takes Knelman to the evidence warehouse. Knelman recounts Hrycyk’s background from patrolling the streets of South Central Los Angeles to the detective’s patient and precise work investigating art thefts.  In 2008, Hrycyk was training his partner, Stephanie Lazarus, just as his former boss and mentor, Bill Martin, had trained Hrycyk 1986 to 1989.

In Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, art theft was a hidden crime, blending many different worlds.  It cut across socio-economic lines and could move in a heartbeat from blue-collar to white-collar criminals.  A thug who knew nothing about art except that it was valuable could steal a painting; that same afternoon, the painting could wind up in the possession of an auction house; within the week or the month, it could be sold to one of the Los Angeles art elite.

In addition to visiting art galleries, auction houses, and museums, Hrycyk read the 1974 book by Laurie Adams, Art Cop, about the work of a former undercover New York City narcotics officer, Robert Volpe, who was probably the first detective in North America to investigate art theft full-time.  Knelman writes:
Volpe’s investigations included burglaries, robberies, and consignment frauds – when an artist or patron would lend a piece of work to a gallery and the gallery would vanish or refuse to return the art.  He believed that art theft in New York in the 1970s had reached the same stage as narcotics a decade earlier.
Hrycyk tells Knelman that the unregulated art world (just like the drug dealers Hrycyk arrested for years) relied upon a code of ethics where not asking for information seems to be part of that world’s business practices.  Buyers and sellers of art use middlemen just as drug dealers do.  “It is considered rude to ask questions about the provenance of an artwork – who owned it, where it came from.  Embarrassment is often one of the leading factors for secrecy,” Hrycyk tells Knelman.

Martin retired in 1992 but it wasn’t until two years later that Hrycyk returned to the Art Theft Squad to work with a rotating string of partners until he chose Lazarus to train in 2006.  Hot Art opens with a chapter on a ride-a-long with Hrycyk and Lazarus to the crime scene at an antiques store on La Cienega and recounts the detectives’ investigation.  A year later, Lazarus would be arrested for the murder of her ex-boyfriend’s wife and this year she was convicted of the crime.  Hrycyk, one of the most senior officers of the LAPD, has no successor to continue the investigative work built upon two decades of contacts in the art market.

Knelman’s sister, a student at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, introduces her brother to her thesis advisor Giles Waterford who had been the curator at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1981 when “the takeaway Rembrant” was stolen for the third time.  Rembrant’s very small painting titled Jacob de Gheyn III is an example of “Headache art” which attracts significant media attention.  Waterfield recounts his negotiations with a German businessman for a “Finder’s Fee” that leads to the recovery of the painting.

Paul "Turbo" Hendry tells Knelman that ‘there was one detective in London, in particular, who made his reputation dealing with headache art cases’, Richard Ellis, the man who re-started Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad.

As a detective, Ellis had been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including reclaiming a Vermeer from a criminal organizer in a chase that lasted seven years and spanned half a dozen countries.  That case was chronicled thoroughly in The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art, by Mathew Hart.

Ellis’ interest in art theft began with the burglary of his parents’ home in 1972 and the subsequent recovery of his family’s property at the Bermondsey Market, London’s Friday-only open market of junk and antiques.  Ironically, Ellis was never allowed to work on the Philatelic Squad that evolved from investigating crimes in the stamp market to the unregulated antiques industry that operated as Scotland Yard’s first Art and Antiques Squad.  Knelman recounts Ellis’ strategy of reopening the department in 1989 after it had been closed for five years. Ellis cases included the recovery of paintings stolen from the Russborough house in 1986; the 1994 recovery of Edvard Munch’s The Scream stolen from Norway’s National Gallery; and Jonathan Tokeley-Parry’s smuggling of antiquities out of Egypt in the 1990s. Knelman writes:
For Ellis, the Russborough case provided the link between stolen art and organized crime, diamond dealers, and a network that stretched across Europe.  The Schultz case, which involved 14 countries on four continents, proved that the stolen art network was sophisticated and involved criminals at all levels of the trade, from the men who dig in the dirt to the men in the shops and galleries on Madison Avenue.
Ellis retired from Scotland Yard in 1999.  ‘He told me that his success as a stolen-art detective was primarily due to his ability to gather information.  He relied on a network of informants to keep him abreast of what was happening in the criminal underworld.  His squad of detectives paid cash for useful information.  “Every Friday the calls would come in.  Payday,” Ellis explained.

Book review concludes tomorrow.

Sotheby's Sells Munch's "The Scream" for $119.9 in New York City -- the most expensive artwork sold at auction -- over the objections of the descendants of the Jewish collector Hugo Simon who owned it from 1926 to 1937

Sotheby's sold Evard Munch's "The Scream" for $119.9 million in New York City tonight.

Lot #20, identified from the 'Property of the Olsen Collection', a pastel on board in the original frame, measures 32 by 23 1/4 inches, executed in 1895, and signed 'E. Munch' and dated in the lower left corner.  It is one of four versions of an man with an open mouth, his hands clasped to the side of his head, recognizable to even middle school children.  The artist lived from 1863 and to 1944.

According to Sotheby's provenance information, Arthur von Franquet purchased the work in 1895.  The Berlin banker and Jewish art collector Hugo Simon had acquired it by 1926 and by October, 1993, Mr. Simon had left the painting on consignment with the art dealer Jacques Goudstikker in Amsterdam.  Simon left it with the Kunsthaus Zürich by December 1936.  Then it was on consignment for sale by Simon in January 1937 with M. Molvidson, Konst & Antikvitetshandel in Stockholm where Thomas Olsen, the current owner's father, purchased it.

Jori Finkel for The Los Angeles Times reported that the price of $119.9 million set the record for the most expensive artwork sold at auction:
The identity of the buyer, who was bidding by phone during the 12-minute auction, has not been confirmed.  Bidding started at $40 million, with at least five bidders.
Today the Holocaust Restitution Project posted a link on its Facebook page to an article in a German newspaper that the great grandson of Hugo Simon, now living in Brazil, told the newspaper "Die Welt" that the painting had been sold "out of necessity" when his family fled from Germany during the Nazi era. the Holocaust Restitution Project documents property losses at the hands of the National Socialists and their allies across Europe from 1933 to 1945.

May 2, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Joshua Knelman's Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Interpol and UNESCO listed art theft as the fourth-largest black market in the world (after drugs, money-laundering, and weapons).  But what did that mean? After I’d been following [Bonnie] Czegledi’s career for several years, one point was clear: don't look at the Hollywood versions of an art thief -- the Myth.  This is a bigger game, with more players, and the legitimate business of art is directly implicated.  A lot of the crimes are hidden in the open.  Stealing art is just the beginning.  Then the art is laundered up into the legitimate market, into private collections, into the world's most renowned museums.
 -- Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art

Toronto journalist Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art (Tin House Books, 2012), introduces to the general reader the international problem of art crime and the limited resources of legal authorities in fighting this problem in the first decade of the 21st century.

In 2003, Knelman was just a 26-year-old researcher for the Canadian magazine Walrus when he stumbled down the rabbit hole of art theft and recovery.  A gallery owner hesitant to speak about the theft of $250,000 worth of photographs stolen two years earlier opens up to Knelman after police recover part of the stolen artwork.  Knelman eventually contacts the suspect’s lawyer, and that leads to a midnight phone call from the thief who has been investigating Knelman. The two meet in a café in Toronto.  The aspiring reporter is physically threatened, given stolen art, and then lectured by the thief about how the secretive business practices in the legitimate art market actually supports art crime.  Thus begins Knelman’s adventures through the world of thieves and investigators of looted art.

The journalist befriends Bonnie Czegledi, a Toronto attorney specializing in art crime, who educates Knelman about the types of stolen art and cultural property: missing Holocaust-looted artworks; pillaging of antiquities from source countries such as Egypt, Afghanistan, and Turkey; multi-million dollar thefts from museums worldwide; and unreported thefts from galleries and residences.  Knelman writes:
The world’s cultural heritage had become one big department store, and thieves of all kinds, at all levels, were shoplifting with impunity, as if the one security guard on duty was out on a smoke break.
Stolen art can be laundered through auction houses and art dealers; police aren’t trained to investigate art theft; and lawyers aren’t trained to prosecute them.  “Meanwhile, the criminal network is international, sophisticated and organized,” Czegledi says.

Ten years ago when Knelman first met Czegledi, tools to recover stolen art included Interpol’s stolen art database; the International Council of Museum’s guidelines for the buying practices of museums; the International Foundation for Art Research; and the Art Loss Register.

For example, Knelman relates that a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum was offered the chance to buy some Iraqi antiquities (the institution declined).  This was after the National Museum of Iraq was looted in 2003 and about 25 years after Canada had signed the 1970 Convention barring importing stolen artwork across international borders.

Knelman points out that only a handful of detectives worldwide have the expertise and training to investigate art thefts – from the pairs of police officers located in Montreal and Los Angeles to the larger European squads in England and Italy.

In 2005, Knelman’s published an article in The Walrus, “Artful Crimes” which highlights art crime in Canada against an increasingly global and transnational problem.  But he wasn’t done with the story.  Two years later, Knelman paid his own way to join cultural attorney Czegledi at the International Ccouncil of Museum’s conference in Cairo.  American prosecutor Rick St. Hilaire guides him through Egyptian history of ancient art crimes and summarizes the problem of smuggling of antiquities today which Knelman smartly summarizes in his book.  Knelman also meets Alain Lacoursière, the police officer that initiated the study of art crime in Quebec, while dodging an Egyptian conference organizer who demands the journalist pay a higher rate on his hotel room – Knelman sleeps on the floor in another room to avoid paying the organizer his cut.

By 2008, Knelman has a contract to write an investigative book on the mysterious and increasingly violent black market for stolen art.  He goes online to find an art thief interviewed by the magazine Foreign Policy.  He tracks down Paul Hendry, a Brighton knocker who graduated to handling millions of dollars in stolen paintings and antiques.  “We struck up what turned out to be a three-year conversation,” Knelman writes.  “We started to talk once, twice, sometimes three times a week.”

“It was easy to make a living from stealing art, according to Paul, if a thief made intelligent choices, if he stayed below a certain value mark – about $100,000.  Less was better.  Don’t steal a van Gogh.  To someone who knew how to work the system, the legitimate business of fine art became a giant laundry machine for stolen art.  You could steal a piece and sell it back into the system without anyone being the wiser.”
 
“It’s called ‘pass the hot potato,’” Paul told me.  “A dealer sells it on to the next dealer, and the next, until nobody knows where it came from.  It’s a fantastic system!  And that system is the same wherever you are.  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about London, New York or New Delhi,” he explained.  “Art is something you have to think about as a commodity that goes round in circles.  The only time it appears in the open is when someone tries to filter it into the legitimate art market – auctions, art fairs, gallery sales, dealers.  Otherwise it’s hidden away inside someone’s home.”

Hendry grew up in Brighton and learned his outlaw trade as a “Knocker” who talked elderly residents out of their art and antiques.  Since 1965 Sussex Police had been responding to a high number of residential burglaries and created England’s first Art and Antiques Squad that operated until 1989.

According to Paul, in the 1960s Brighton closed down a large open-air market and built a huge shopping mall, Churchill Square.  Produce vendors started going door to door, which created opportunities to buy “good junk.”  They became known as “knockers”.

Knockers sold “junk” to antique dealers at a price higher than they had paid for it.  Knocking turned into a devious game that allowed thieves to peek at the inventory inside the houses of the upper middle class.’

Hendry tells Knelman of his poor and chaotic childhood, his training on the streets of crime, and how he hires local men from the neighborhood bar to break into homes and steal family treasures that Hendry can then sell.

The second part of this book review continues tomorrow.