December 13, 2013

Duryodhana statue from Prasat Chen, Cambodia: "Voluntary" Repatriation by Sotheby's and consigner

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO

Located 120 kilometres (75 mi) away from Siem Reap and the ancient site of Angkor, Chok Gargyar is often referred to in legal proceedings by its modern name, Koh Ker. The site and its temple complexes once made up the 10th century capital of the Angkorian empire.  It is also one of the most remote and inaccessible temple sites in Cambodia.

The decision to repatriate the Duryodhana Hindu warrior follows the Metropolitan Museum of Art's June 2013 restitution of two life-size sandstone masterworks from the same temple complex.   The two "Kneeling Attendants" had graced the the entrance to the Met’s South East Asian galleries since they opened in 1994.

Throughout the investigation Ms. Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa has maintained that she inherited the statue via her husband’s estate and that he had purchased the statue in good faith in London in 1975.  A copy of the the United States legal complaint can be viewed here.

As part of the Stipulation and Order of Settlement accord signed on Thursday December 12, 2013 by Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, Sotheby's and U.S. federal attorneys, comes the statement that the plaintiffs “voluntarily determined, in the interests of promoting cooperation and collaboration with respect to cultural heritage,” that the object should be returned to Cambodia. Sotheby’s Spokesman, Andrew Gully went on the record to add that “the agreement confirms that Sotheby’s and its client acted properly at all times.”

It is interesting to speculate if this accord was in any way influenced by Aaron M. Freedman who pled guilty this month to six counts of criminal possession of stolen property valued at $35 million.  He was the long term manager of Subhash Kapoor’s art gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. As part of his plea agreement, Freedman has agreed to work with New York and US investigators with their investigation and prosecution of Kapoor who is currently being held in a Chennai jail awaiting trial.

Sotheby's sells Symes marble matched by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis in the Schinousa archives for more than $4.6 million today; Sotheby's withdraws The Medici Pan; and Christie's in NY aims to sell Symes Pan tomorrow

Looting Matters: Hermes-Thoth
Image: Schinousa Archive
Today Sotheby's auction house in New York sold an ancient marble head for more than $4.6 million even after Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis pointed out that the piece, owned by Robin Symes, matched an image in the Schinousa archives. 

On December 5, Professor David Gills wrote on his blog "Looting Matters" under the post Symes and Hermes-Thoth about a 2,000 year old marble head for sale at a New York auction house today:
I am grateful to my Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for pointing out that the head of Hermes-Thoth due to be auctioned at Sotheby's New York next week had once passed through the hands of Robin Symes (December 12, 2013, lot 39). The estimate is $2.5-3.5 million.... Colour images of the head feature in the Schinousa archive where they were identified by Tsirogiannis.

In 2006, Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini published The Medici Conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities, from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's greatest museums, an expose about the network of tombaroli and art dealers who funneled looted antiquities into private and public collections from the 1960s through the 1990s. Peter Watson wrote Mr. Symes legal problems in "The fall of Robin Symes" in 2005. On Trafficking Culture, archaeologist Neil Brodie summarizes the illegal activities of Giacomo Medici, convicted in 2005 of receiving stolen goods, illegal export of goods, and conspiracy to traffic. Here's how Symes is believed to have been involved:
By the late 1980s, Medici had developed commercial relations with other major antiquities dealers including Robin Symes, Frieda Tchacos, Nikolas Koutoulakis, Robert Hecht, and the brothers Ali and Hischam Aboutaam (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 73-4). He was the ultimate source of artefacts that would subsequently be sold through dealers or auction houses to private collectors, including Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman, Maurice Tempelsman, Shelby White and Leon Levy, the Hunt brothers, George Ortiz, and José Luis Várez Fisa (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 112-34; Isman 2010), and to museums including the J. Paul Getty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Sotheby's Hermes-Thoth
Neil Brodie explained in September 2012:
Investigative reporter Nikolas Zirganos took a special interest in the activities of British antiquities dealer Robin Symes, and was present in April 2006 when Greek police raided a villa on the island of Schinoussa belonging to Symes and his deceased partner Christos Michaelides. Zirganos described how the villa on Schinoussa was used for what he described as the ‘preparation and closing of deals’ (Zirganos 2007: 318). The villa was in effect a social and commercial hub, where Symes and Michaelides would entertain archaeologists, museum curators, conservators and wealthy collectors to gossip about the market and what was available for purchase, and to arrange sales. Thus, it was possible for a customer to purchase an illicit artefact on Schinoussa without actually coming into contact with it. The artefact would be smuggled separately to Switzerland, where the customer could take possession of it.
Jason Felch, author of Chasing Aphrodite and an investigative journalist for The Los Angeles Times, wrote of Symes in January 2013:
Last year, the Getty quietly returned 150 marble fragments in the collection (88.AA.140 - 88.AA.144) to Italy after evidence emerged that they joined objects found in the same looted tombs of Ascoli Satriano that produced the Getty's Griffins and statue of Apollo, which were returned to Italy in 2007. The objects and fragments were acquired in the 1980s from London dealer Robin Symes.
Dr. Gill described the Schinousa archive last June on "Looting Matters":
This photographic archive records the material that passed through the hands of a London-based dealer. If material from this archive resurfaces on the market, it would be reasonable to see the full collecting history indicated. But such information would no doubt be provided by rigorous due diligence searches.
December 12, 20013, Sotheby's sold the late Hellenistic marble head of Hermes-Toth for $4,645,000 (Hammer's Price with Buyer's Premium)."

The Medici Pan withdrawn from sale at Sotheby's New York

Professor Gill also noted in "Looting Matters" that Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis identified "The Medici Pan" that was later withdrawn from the sale:
Sotheby's New York are due to auction a giallo antico marble bust of Pan next week (December 12, 2013, lot 51). The estimate is $10,000-$15,000. Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has pointed out to me that a polaroid image of the sculpture was found on the Geneva Freeport premises of Giacomo Medici.
The Symes Pan for sale Dec. 13 at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza

Again, on the blog "Looting Matters", Dr. Gill writes about another item for sale that caught the eye of forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis:
Tsirogiannis has now identified a terracotta Pan from the Schinousa archive that is due to be auctioned at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza (December 13, 2013, lot 114, estimate $8000 - $12000). Christie's have offered the following collecting history:
with Edward H. Merrin Gallery, New York, 1968.
Private Collection, New York, 1968-2011.
So when was the Pan in the possession of Robin Symes? What is the identity of the private collection? Is the collecting history presented by Christie's robust? What authenticated documentation was supplied to Christie's?
The Edward H. Merrin Gallery has been linked to the bronze Zeus returned to Italy, material in the collection of Dr Elie Borowski, as well as the marble Castor and Pollux on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Italian Artemagazine  in "Pezzi di Medici e Symes all'asta: fino a quando?" (authored by Fabio Isman and his team) asks why illegally excavated antiquities from Italy are being offered for sale in New York City after Cambridge's Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has identified the items to archives collected in police raids.

December 12, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013 - ,,,, No comments

Felicity Strong on "The Mythology of the Art Forger" in the Fall 2013 issue of ARCA's Journal of Art Crime

Felicity Strong uses the biographies of Han van Meegeren and Elmyr de Hory, amongst others, in her academic article on "The Mythology of the Art Forger" in the tenth issue of The Journal of Art Crime. From the abstract:
In the twentieth century, there has been the rise in the depiction of the art forger in non-fiction biographies and memoir. Distinct from scholarly research, these portrayals of individual art forgers have developed a common mythology, which weaves through each narrative. The art forger is mythicised as a hero; the failed artist protesting a corrupt art market dominated by greedy art dealers and scholars. In Australian culture, this mythology has its roots in the wider legend of hero criminal such as in the story of Ned Kelly and includes elements of the North American ‘trickster’ mythology. It also feeds into a broader anti-intellectualism and mistrust of the establishment, particularly in the depiction of art curators and connoisseurs. This mythology is evident in a number of biographies of notable forgers, such as Han van Meegeren and Elmyr de Hory, which intersect with the sub-genre of memoir, in the personal accounts of Tom Keating, Eric Hebborn and Ken Pereyni. These narratives fuel the ability of the forgers to construct their own public persona and feed into the wider mythology of the art forger.
Ms. Strong's article begins with:
“Art forgers are endowed with the same evil attractiveness as emanates from great criminals”. Thierry Lenain
Art historian Otto Kurz in his book, Fakes: a Handbook for Collectors and Students, summarizes the basis of the mythology of the art forger. He refers to the “often repeated story of the innocent forger, dished up every time one of the great forgers has been found out”. This mythology more or less follows the same narrative arc across each story: beginning with childhood struggle, such as Tom Keating, described as “born with every disadvantage except a loving mother, or Eric Hebborn, who described his maternal relationship, “as her favourite, my ears were those she liked to box the best, my bottom was the preferred target for an affectionate kick”. Most of the art forgers overcome their struggles through learning the tools of the art trade, working for restorers or conservators and slowly developing a common distain for the cultural elite and art market. Keating is characterized triumphing over adversity through his talents, as he “taught himself reading and achieved a much broader cultural than most of today’s A-level students and feather- bedded graduates”. The art forgers who began their career as failed artists rail against the agents of the market; dealers, gallery owners, critics and curators; whom they perceive as having wronged them. They begin to create forgeries, justifying their production on their perceived mistreatment by the cultural elite. This is evident in the case of Han van Meegeren, who trained as an artist and held a number of solo exhibitions before he began to forge old master painters. Some commentators claim it was series of poorly performing shows and negative reviews by Amsterdam’s arts community, which drove him to forge Vermeer. He allegedly refused the offer of critics, who approached van Meegeren for payment in return for positive appraisals of his shows, resulting in negative reviews. Jonathan Lopez dismisses the idea that he was pushed into forging, claiming that van Meegeren was creating forgeries well before this time, motivated purely by the money that more established artists could command.
Felicity Strong is a PhD candidate in her second year of research at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She has a Master of Art Curatorship and has worked in commercial galleries in Melbourne and London. Her PhD research is focused on discovering the extent to which perceptions of art forgery are influenced by depictions in cultural context, such as in literature, on screen and within an art museum environment.

Design for this issue and all issues of The Journal of Art Crime is the work of Urška Charney. Here's a link to ARCA's website on The Journal of Art Crime (includes Table of Contents for previous issues).

Bojan Dobovšek and Boštjan Slak on "Criminal Inspectors and Art Crime Investigation in Slovenia" in the Fall 2013 issue of ARCA's Journal of Art Crime

Bojan Dobovšek and Boštjan Slak write on "Criminal Inspectors and Art Crime Investigation in Slovenia" in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. This is the academic article's abstract:
The aim of the paper is to present some presumptions about the criminal investigation of art and historical heritage-related crimes. Because credible literature on art crime investigation is rare, especially with clear empirical data, we have decided to survey Slovenian investigators about their opinions and experience relating to art crimes. Slovenian investigators rarely come across art crime cases, even in connection with other types of crime. Our survey showed that Slovenian criminal investigators are indifferent regarding keenness for art-related criminal cases investigation-: cases are not very “desirable” but also they are not “non-desirable.” In addition, investigators do not agree that they have enough knowledge about art-related crime. The most positively evaluated was cooperation with other instructions (like INTERPOL). The study results also showed that more dedication should be devoted to education about investigating art crimes; especially prosecutors and judges lack such knowledge. Some problems and experiences about academic research methods are also debated in the paper, therefore providing some help to future researchers. Our pilot study has shown that (at least in Slovenia) qualitative research methods would be more suitable. However the findings of our research are still useful to those who develop strategies for investigating art-related crimes, and for further academic research.
From the introduction:
Art crimes are most often defined as “criminally punishable acts that involve works of art” (Conklin, 1994, p. 3). Passas & Proulx (2011, p. 52), are more detailed: “... subsumed under the rubric of art crime are such activities as diverse as art thefts and confiscations, vandalism, faked and forged art, illicit excavation and export of antiquities and other archaeological material.” We list these definitions of art crime simply because most countries also penalize criminal acts against art and cultural heritage in such a broad sense. Without a doubt, such broadness limits the research of art crime, as individual acts are lost in the statistics of property crime, under which art crime falls. One can only examine the rough numbers of the frequency with which art crime occurs per year. Only in notorious cases do we have more data, but the majority of data remains uncollectable1 or, as is the case in Slovenia, it isn’t consistent, as determined by Vučko (2012) in her study. She noticed that there are severe discrepancies between annual data about art crime that the General Police Directorate gives to the public, to researchers, and that which was published elsewhere (ibid). Dobovšek, Charney, & Vučko (2009) see one of the reasons why criminologists and criminalists aren’t keen on empirical studies of art crime, in the fact that even though there are extensive art crime databases kept by INTERPOL, the FBI, and private organizations, these are sometimes hard to access. Moreover, because of social and, mainly legal, specifications of different countries, the available data only enables country-by-country analysis (Durney & Proulx, 2011).
Bojan Dobovšek is Associate Professor and Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security, University of Maribor, Slovenia. Boštjan Slak is a postgraduate student at the Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security, University of Maribor, Slovenia. 

Design for this issue and all issues of The Journal of Art Crime is the work of Urška Charney. Here's a link to ARCA's website on The Journal of Art Crime (includes Table of Contents for previous issues).

December 11, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - ,,, No comments

Update on the search for the oeuvre of Polish artist Moshe Rynecki by his great-granddaughter

Elizabeth Rynecki has written about her search to identify and recover her great-grandfather's oeuvre of art which Moesche Rynecki hid around Warsaw during World War II before he was believed to have perished in the Majdanek concentration camp in 1943 of which is written:
After the Germans destroyed the Warsaw ghetto in spring 1943, SS and police officials deported between 18,000 and 22,000 survivors of the uprising, including women and children, to Majdanek as forced laborers, along with the equipment of some of the Warsaw ghetto workshops. The SS intended that these prisoners would work for the benefit of a new SS-owned labor deployment concern, East Industries, Inc. (Ostindustrie, GmbH). The surviving documentation is insufficient to determine whether and how many of the Jewish survivors of the Warsaw ghetto were killed upon arrival at Majdanek. As many as 3,000 may eventually have been transferred to the Budzyn forced labor camp. 
Here's an article in the Spring issue of The Journal of Art Crime about the loss of works by Moesche Rynecki: 
At the outbreak of the Second World War, my great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943), took his oeuvre of work (about 800 paintings depicting the Jewish community) and divided them into bundles to be hidden in and around the city of Warsaw, Poland. He gave a list of the locations where works were hidden to his wife, son, and daughter, in hopes that after the war the family would retrieve the bundles....After the war, my great-grandmother Perla and her cousin went to see if any of the bundles of the paintings survived. They weren’t very hopeful because of the enormous devastation in and around Warsaw. They found just a single package in the Pragash district, across the river Vistula. The package was in the cellar of a home. As my grandfather George recalls in his memoir:
The people were away, and the paintings, all on paper or parchment, fairly small, were strewn on the basement floor in the cellar. Some damaged, some cut in half with scenes missing. They seemed to have gone through the same fate as the Jewish people – massacred and destroyed. About 12-15 percent of Jews survived the Holocaust. So did my father’s paintings. One hundred and twenty were found out of a count of close to eight hundred works. (G. Rynecki 94)
Here's a link to her blog which updates her journey and work on the documentary Chasing Portraits: A Family's Quest for Their Lost Heritage. This blog post on Nov. 5 tells about the photos of paintings Ms. Rynecki saw in the Otto Schneid archive at the University of Toronto Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library.

Here's on article published on Oct. 31 in The Canadian Jewish News by Fern Smiley (ARCA Alum) "Search for lost pre-World War II art bears fruit in Toronto". Ms. Smiley wrote:
While it’s possible that much of Moshe’s extant oeuvre has been stolen, this can’t be easily proven. Since Moshe’s work was never recorded or catalogued, it’s impossible to prove whether paintings that surface at auctions, for example, came from the bundles. As an art historian, Rynecki can search for her great-grandfather’s paintings, establish relationships with those who have his pieces, and potentially learn the stories that tie all of those who have experienced the work into a larger narrative.
 In return, she receives gifts, and that night at her talk, Prof. Barry Walfish gave her several more. After the questions ended, he raised his hand and explained to Rynecki and the audience that the University of Toronto Library, where Walfish works as a Judaica specialist, holds handwritten letters of her great-grandfather as well as more than a dozen photographs of his paintings. Among them was a photo of the damaged painting she showed during her talk.
In the rain, after a long lecture, Walfish accompanied Rynecki to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, where he opened two archival boxes from the Otto Schneid archives. Schneid, a European-born Polish painter, sculptor and historian, wrote a book on modern Jewish art in the Diaspora. In his research, he solicited autobiographies and photos of artwork from dozens of Jewish artists in Europe, including Moshe. In 1938, after Germany’s annexation of Austria, the printing of his authoritative book by his Viennese publisher was halted by the Nazis. Schneid fled Poland for Palestine, but never saw his book in print. A Hebrew version that he prepared in Israel and was ready for publication in 1957 also never saw the light of day. The unpublished manuscripts, in German and Hebrew, along with all the background material he collected, were gifted to the Fisher Library by his widow, Miriam, in 2002.
Out of the boxed archives came more than a dozen photos of paintings Rynecki had never seen before, including one called Kabbalist and one haunting death-bed scene of Moshe’s own father, as well as the intact photographic reproduction of his watercolour Prayer, and a handwritten letter in Yiddish from Moshe to Schneid, introducing himself, which begins: “I was born an artist…”- See more at:

December 9, 2013

"Victorian Art Theft in England: Early Cases and Sociology of the Crime Noah Charney and John Kleberg in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

The Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime includes an academic article by ARCA Founder Noah Charney and John Kleberg on "Victorian Art Theft in England: Early Cases and Sociology of the Crime". This is the abstract:
Victorian England represents a distinctive sociological Petri dish for criminologists. Attitudes towards crime, the myth of the gentleman thief, and the important veneer of respectability beneath which flowed a rich vein of immorality and criminal activity are all unique to the time and place. And yet the influence of Victorian crime can still be felt today. The general public still assumes that thieves, in particular art thieves, adhere to Victorian (and later Edwardian) stereotypes: that art thieves are non-violent, educated men of gentlemanly aspirations. This was the case in some famous cases, notably that of Adam Worth, described here. But the perception among the general public has not caught up with the more devastating realities of art crime, that it is the third highest-grossing criminal trade worldwide since the Second World War, and that it is entwined with the drug and arms trades, and even terrorism. This paper examines two famous Victorian art theft case studies, discusses the Victorian origin of museums and the art market, and concludes with how these high-profile cases influenced the public perception of art theft, and continues to do so to this day.
This is an introduction to the article:
Victorian England represents a distinctive sociological petri dish for criminologists. Attitudes towards crime, the myth of the gentleman thief, and the important veneer of respectability beneath which flowed a rich vein of immorality and criminal activity are all unique to the time and place. And yet the influence of Victorian crime can still be felt today. The general public still assumes that thieves, in particular art thieves, adhere to Victorian (and later Edwardian) stereotypes: that art thieves are non-violent, educated men of gentlemanly aspirations. This was the case in some famous cases, notably that of Adam Worth, described here. But the perception among the general public has not caught up with the more devastating realities of art crime, that it is the third highest- grossing criminal trade worldwide since the Second World War, and that it is entwined with the drug and arms trades, and even terrorism. This paper examines two famous Victorian art theft case studies, discusses the Victorian origin of museums and the art market, and concludes with how these high-profile cases influenced the public perception of art theft, particularly the archetype of the “gentleman thief,” and continues to do so to this day. 
The extent of theft of fine art across the world, while estimates vary, is most certainly a significant contemporary issue. But the history of such theft, punctuated by extraordinary examples in times of war, is less well documented until more recent times. Two examples, one by an amateur and one by a “professional,” demonstrate the perceived potential value to criminals in Victorian times in England. Known thefts of art from churches exist but it may well be that these two cases represent the earliest examples for financial gain of the theft of fine art.

While details on the amateur thief and the investigation are less available the stories of both are, nonetheless, interesting as possibly the first significant theft of art during this period.
Noah Charney holds Masters degrees in art history from The Courtauld Institute and University of Cambridge, and a PhD from University of Ljubljana. He is Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Rome, a Visiting Lecturer for Brown University abroad programs, and is the founder of ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, a non-profit research group on issues of art crimes. Charney is the author of numerous academic and popular articles, including a regular column in ArtInfo called “The Secret History of Art” and a weekly interview series in The Daily Beast called “How I Write.” His first novel, The Art Thief (Atria 2007), is currently translated into seventeen languages and is a best seller in five countries. He is the editor of an academic essay collection entitled Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger 2009) and the Museum Time series of guides to museums in Spain (Planeta 2010). His is author of a critically acclaimed work of non-fiction, Stealing the Mystic Lamb: the True History of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece (PublicAffairs 2011), which is a best seller in two countries. His latest book is The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting (ARCA Publications 2011). Upcoming books include The Book of Forgery (Phaidon 2014), The Invention of Art (Norton 2015), and an as yet untitled edited collection of essays on art crime (Palgrave 2014).

John Kleberg is a retired Assistant Vice President at The Ohio State University where he was instrumental in organizing a program to identify and record un-catalogued art and artifacts possessed by the University as well as having administrative responsibility for security, police, and other business and finance operations. He also has been a law enforcement administrator, trainer, and educator in Ohio and Illinois. His undergraduate degree is from Michigan State University, graduate degree from the University of Illinois, and he has done post-graduate work at The Ohio State University and Kent State University. He is the author of numerous articles on campus safety and security issues, co-authored several books and is a consultant on campus security issues, including campus museums, libraries, and galleries.

Design for this issue and all issues of The Journal of Art Crime is the work of Urška Charney.

Here's a link to ARCA's website on The Journal of Art Crime (includes Table of Contents for previous issues).

December 6, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: The Economist publishes letter from Judge Tompkins on "Hildebrand Gurlitt's secret"

Here's a Letter published in The Economist (December 7, 2013; from the print edition):
Dealing with stolen art
* SIR – The discovery of a treasure trove of so-called “degenerate” art in a Munich flat triggers many challenges for Germany, not the least of which is, what to do with all these unique art works (“Hildebrand Gurlitt’s secret”, November 9th)? If many of the works were stolen from their original owners around 70 or so years ago then they should be returned to the heirs of those same dispossessed owners.
Getting close to doing that is the great challenge. Undoing the harm of the theft of any work of art, even more so when the theft was part of the evil of the Nazi regime, is a uniquely international problem. It demands both an international but also a creative answer. What is needed is, in short, an adhoc International Art Crime Tribunal. Such a tribunal would be assisted by art historians, provenance researchers, advocates to assist the commission and, crucially, claimant advocates and advisers to work with claimants so that they can properly and effectively present their claims. By this means the tribunal could create the kind of independent, neutral ground necessary for the lasting resolution of the disputes that will inevitably arise concerning the stolen art.
The tribunal should be entrusted with the task of resolving the fate of each work of art, not only by deciding the historical and legal claims to it, but also by explicitly evaluating, and giving equal weight to, the moral claim of the claimant. This is crucial. In the past claims to art looted in wartime have been undermined or destroyed by insufficient legal evidence to establish prior ownership, even though the moral claim for return of looted art is clear.
None of this is new. Precedents for all these aspects of the proposed tribunal exist, and have in a variety of settings and circumstances been used during recent decades. The challenges presented by these pictures provide a rare chance to bring together many of the valuable lessons learned over the long years of hard-won, accumulated experience gained in trying to undo the art crimes of the Nazis.
Trustee and faculty member of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art
Hamilton, New Zealand

December 5, 2013

Thursday, December 05, 2013 - ,, 1 comment

"The Crime That Pays? The Canadian Print Media's Construction of Art Fraud, 1978-2012" authored by Josh and Adie Nelson in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Josh and Adie Nelson authored "The Crime That Pays? The Canadian Print Media’s Construction of Art Fraud, 1978-2012" in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. From the abstract:
This article examines the Canadian print media’s construction of art fraud from January 1978 until December 2012. Our content analysis of N=386 articles reveals that art fraud was portrayed as a low-risk crime that pays and as a “victimless” crime. In contrast to conventional crime news, which is situated in the front portions of newspapers, articles on art fraud were most often positioned in sections devoted to “entertainment.” The media’s portrayal of art fraud as a phenomenon that was more entertaining than vexatious resonated in its portrayal of offenders as charming rogues and artful dodgers, with the most notorious of offenders depicted as heroes, and in its casting of victims as fools or “legitimate” victims. This peculiar construction would seem to offer considerable inducements for schadenfreude, a revelling in the misfortunes of others.
From the article's introduction:  
Examinations of the “professional imperatives” (Chibnall, 1977: 23) that guide press reporting on crime have repeatedly suggested the folly of supposing that these dicta encourage a faithful rendering of the incidence and dynamics of crime. Thus, in emphasizing that journalists are tasked daily with producing a “certain quantity of what is called ‘news’,” Breed’s (1955) classic study suggested how this role obligation could catalyze a “persistent search in the drab episodes of city life for the romantic and picturesque, its dramatic accounts of victim and crime” (see also crime: e.g., Ericson, Baranek & Chan, 1987, 1989, 1991; Hugill, 2010; Katz, 1987; Peelo, 2006; Rajiva & Batacharya, 2010). While the frenetic quality of this quest may have abated in more recent eras with the rise of “supermarket journalism” (Mawby, 2010a, 2010b; McGovern, 2010) and the concomitant ability of journalists to “simply ‘buy’ their stories off the shelf from the press offices that are responsible for ‘managing the media’ about a particular crime or event” (Wilson, 2011), journalism’s cynical mantra, “if it bleeds, it leads,” continues to resonate both its disdain for coverage of the mundane and prosaic and rapt readiness to endow statistically atypical incidents with especial lustre. As Reiner (2002: 307) observed in his commentary upon the news media’s tendency to position the extraordinary as ordinary, “[f]rom the earliest studies (e.g., Harris 1932) onward, analyses of news reports have found that crimes of violence are featured disproportionately compared to their incidence in official statistics. Indeed, a general finding has been the lack of relationship between patterns and trends in crime news and crime statistics.”
Josh Nelson is a graduate student at the University of Guelph in the department of art history & visual culture and, beginning in September, 2013, a doctoral student in art history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. His doctoral research addresses a criminal event that the Canadian print media early and, ostensibly enduringly, dubbed the “Great Canadian art fraud”; it examines the social context in which this highly-publicized incident emerged in media reports of the early 1960s, was weighted with significance, framed as portentous and defined as a “crime against culture.”

Adie Nelson received her PhD at the London School of Economics and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology & Legal Studies at the University of Waterloo. She is the author/co-author/editor/co-editor of approximately two dozen books and her writings have appeared in journals such as the British Journal of Sociology, Psychology of Women Quarterly, the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Qualitative Sociology and the International Review of Victimology.

Design for this issue and all issues of The Journal of Art Crime is the work of Urška Charney.

Here's a link to ARCA's website on The Journal of Art Crime (includes Table of Contents for previous issues).

Thursday, December 05, 2013 - ,,, No comments

Isabella Stewart Gardner Theft: Boston's WGBH News' Emily Rooney reports Anne Hawley's first public comments about threats after the theft and interviews FBI Investigator Geoff Kelley about why suspect(s) not named and speculates about the paintings

Boston's WGBH's Emily Rooney reported Dec. 3 that the FBI has issued "wanted posters" for the 13 missing artworks stolen in 1990:
The posters don't sport the usual most-wanted suspects. instead, they display the missing artwork in an effort to get someone to come forward with what they know about the most significant art heist in history.
In addition, Ms. Rooney reported that "Gardner Museum director Anne Hawley is opening up about the loss":
"It was such a painful and horrible moment in the museum's life," Hawley said. Until now, Hawley has said little about the theft and what happened in the immediate aftermath. "We also are being threatened from the outside by criminals who want attention from the FBI, and so they were threatening us, and threatening putting bombs in the museum," she said. "We were evacuating museum, the staff members were under threat, no one really knew what kind of a conundrum we were in."

WGBH News' Emily Rooney interviewed Jeff Kelley, a special agent in the FBI's Boston field office, and a member of the art crime unit.

Emily Rooney: You have been in this for at least ten years.
Jeff Kelley: It is actually 11 years now I have been the investigator on this case.

Rooney: You essentially know who did it.

Kelley: Yes.

Rooney: Why can't you say?

Kelley: We have to temper what we put out there in the public, and we certainly want to get the assistance of the public and we feel it is important to kind of lay our cards out on the table and say we know who did it, and we know who is involved, but we need your help. 
Rooney: The former Boston Herald reporter Tom Mashburger has a great tale of being, essentially, blindfolded and taken to a place where somebody unrolled something and he got some chips. Is there any possibility what he saw is one of the real pieces?

Kelley: I know Tom and he has the utmost integrity. But from what I have learned about the art itself, I don't think that what he saw was the actual painting. He described it as being unrolled, kind of unfurled, but from speaking to the experts at the museum and at other museums, the paintings are so thick that they would really be almost impossible to roll up.

Rooney: Do you think that they are still in existence and do you think together — because with 13 objects, some of them are odd objects, they weren't all paintings — to think that they're together?

Kelley: I don't know if they are still together. I think they are all in existence.
Note: The correct name of the reporter "Tom Mashburger" is Tom Mashberg.
Here's a link to the YouTube video:

December 4, 2013

Wednesday, December 04, 2013 - , No comments

DIA evaluation of $2 billion includes only 'works bought directly with city funds' -- Detroit Free Press

Last summer Christie's evaluated the artworks of the Detroit Institute of Arts as part of a city bankruptcy filing; now "Orr says DIA masterpieces worth less than thought," writes Mark Stryker for the Detroit Free Press
The 459 most valuable masterpieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts have a fair-market value of less than $2 billion, Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr said Tuesday. That figure is significantly below most predictions for the value of the art, which many observers expected to reach at least several billion dollars — perhaps as much as $8 billion. A figure less than $2 billion is likely to inflame the passions of bondholders, unions and other creditors who see DIA masterpieces as a prime source for recovering the billions they are owed by the city. It also increases the chances that a court battle over the fate of the DIA will become even more contentious as Orr prepares his plan of adjustment to restructure city finances. On another front, the lower-than-expected estimate could make it easier for Orr to justify his push to extract roughly $500 million in revenue from the DIA to help restructure the city. A high Christie’s estimate had been widely expected to increase pressure on Orr to demand even more from the DIA. “I do think it gives creditors more ammunition,” said Nicholas O’Donnell, a Boston-based attorney who specializes in art-related law. 
In May, the Free Press consulted art dealers and auction records to estimate the market value of 38 big-ticket works at the DIA. The tally was $2.5 billion. Included in those works were six paintings bought by the city between 1922 and 1930 that also were evaluated by Christie’s. The newspaper’s estimate for those works was more than $500 million, including price tags between $50 million and $150 million for Matisse’s “The Window,” Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance” and Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait.” So how could 459 works add up to less than $2 billion? Part of the answer could be that many of the DIA’s most valuable works — including those by Caravaggio, Ruisdael, Van Gogh, De Kooning, Giacometti, Cezanne and others — were not evaluated because they were either donated to the museum or bought with funds other than city dollars. Though every piece of art at the DIA is owned by the city regardless of how it was acquired, Orr decided to evaluate only works bought directly with city funds to avoid messier legal entanglements of donated works and expedite the evaluation process. The DIA owns roughly 65,000 works.

The Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime Now Available

The e-Edition of the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime is now available. Noah Charney is Editor-in-Chief of the 10th issue published by ARCA; Marc Balcells, John Jay College of Law, and Christos Tsirogiannis, University of Cambridge, serve as Associate Editors. In the Letter from the Editor, Dr. Charney writes: 
For this issue, I’m pleased to introduce two new editors who will put together the JAC along with me: Marc Balcells and Christos Tsirogiannis. Readers will know their written work from past issues, and they will not only help me to edit, but also contribute regularly, with Marc taking on the role of our primary book reviewer, and Christos preparing a new regular column. They interview one another in this issue, to provide an introduction to readers. In this issue you’ll find academic papers on art theft in the Victorian era, the in-depth story of the looting and return of the Axum obelisk, two pieces on art fraud and forgery, and a dissertation from one of our program graduates on Armenian “cross-stones” in Azerbaijan.
Table of Contents:

ACADEMIC ARTICLES: "The Crime That Pays? The Canadian Print Media’s Construction of Art Fraud, 1978-2012" by John and Adie Nelson; "Victorian Art Theft in England: Early Cases and Sociology of the Crime" by Noah Charney and John Kleberg; "Criminal Inspectors and Art Crime Investigation in Slovenia" by Bojan Dobovšek and Boštjan Slak; "The Mythology of the Art Forger" by Felicity Strong; and "Destruction of Jugha Necropolis with Armenian Khachqars (Cross-stones) in Azerbaijan" by Marine Fidanyan.

REGULAR COLUMNS: David Gill's Context Matters on “The Cleveland Apollo Goes Public”; Noah Charney's Lessons from the History of Art Crime on “Art-Burning Mother & Art Loss Register Issues”; and Christos Tsirogiannis' Nekyia on “From Apulia to Virginia: An Apulian Gnathia Askos at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts”.

EDITORIAL ESSAYS "Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You: the Axum Obelisk" by Suzette Scotti.

REVIEWS Marc Balcells reviews The Venus Fixers by Ilaria Dagnini Brey and Saving Italy by Robert Edsel. 

EXTRAS "Marc Balcells Introduces Christos Tsirogiannis" and "Christos Tsirogiannis Interviews Marc Balcells".

December 3, 2013

Tuesday, December 03, 2013 - , No comments

Persian chalice authentic or fake? Dutch Art Investigator Arthur Brand has no doubts

Dutch art investigator Arthur Brand is of the opinion that the chalice "that helped make possible the Iran nuclear deal, as reported in the media, is a fake."

In the LA Times article by Christi Parsons "The chalice that helped make possible the Iran nuclear deal" has been surrounded by controversy regarding its authenticity:
Some experts believe the vessel, known as a rhyton, was crafted in the 7th century BC in what later became the Persian Empire, now Iran. It features three trumpet-shaped cups that sprout from the body of a griffin, a fabled creature that typically has the head and wings of a bird and the body of a lion. On the chalice, the eyes are deep-set and wide open, like those of a bird of prey. The object was allegedly part of a cache of antiquities found in a cave near the Iraqi border in the 1980s, shortly after Iran's Islamic Revolution. "These were great treasures from a great civilization," said Fariborz Ghadar, an Iranian scholar who served as a deputy economic minister to Iran's shah. "Their discovery was of great significance to those who consider themselves Persians, who honor that period in history." 
In 2003, the chalice surfaced in the hands of a well-known antiquities dealer, Hicham Aboutaam, who ran a firm based in Geneva. As he passed through U.S. customs at Newark International Airport, Aboutaam presented a certificate indicating the vessel was from Syria. He was waved through. Aboutaam then set out to document the object's value. Three experts he consulted determined it was from Iran; two concluded it was consistent with the antiquities taken from the cave. An art collector was prepared to pay $1 million, but federal investigators caught wind of it. They charged that the object had been taken from Iran illicitly, making its importation to the U.S. illegal. The dealer was prosecuted and paid a $5,000 fine. The chalice was then placed in a climate-controlled storage unit. The value of the chalice remains uncertain. Some have maintained that it is not 2,700 years old at all, but a modern fake. But Iranian officials have insisted it is genuine and demanded its return.
Arthur Brand pointed out previous questions about the object's authenticity in an Oct. 14 article by Frud Bezhan in Radio Free Europe "U.S. Gift To The Iranian People A 'Fake':
Unfortunately, according to Hamid Baqaie, the former head of Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization, the artifact is without question a modern forgery. "Firstly, the way it has been made and the style in which it has been made shows it's a fake. This artifact doesn't have any roots in ancient Iran," Baqaie says. "Secondly, from a technical point of view the materials used to make it also show that it's not an original." 
Archeologist Oscar White Muscarella, a former curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has gone on record as saying he, too, does not believe the artifact is the real deal. He wrote in a paper published last year that it took only a glance at a photograph of the artifact to convince him it was a fake.
Dutch art investigator Arthur Brand wrote in an email:
I saw many western-cave objects, some looted, more fake. I saw them too in the Aboutaams' shop. The one the USA gave to Iran is mostly fake, partly constructed from original pieces. I even know who did the construction. It is the same man who made the partly fake which was offered in Germany a few years ago. I made a documentary about that piece, together with the German ARD. Skip to 8.10.
Another Western-cave invention of the Aboutaams, in their shop, secretly filmed by me (see photo below):

December 1, 2013

ARCA Associates participating in International Conference on Protecting Cultural Heritage As a Common Good of Humanity: A Challenge for Criminal Justice; Italian conference scheduled Dec. 13-15 in Courmayeur Mont Blanc

ARCA's CEO Lynda Albertson; ARCA lecturer Richard Ellis and 2012 and 2013 award winners, Jason Felch and Duncan Chappell, will be speaking at the International Conference on Protecting Cultural Heritage As a Common Good of Humanity: A Challenge for Criminal Justice on December 13-15 in Courmayeur Mont Blanc in Italy 13-15 December 2013.

This cultural heritage protection conference is the initiative of International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations; Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme-ISPAC; Fondazione Centro Nazionale di Prevenzione e Difesa Sociale-CNPDS; and Fondazione Courmayeur Mont Blanc in co-operation with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime-UNODC, Vienna under the auspices of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
ISPAC is organizing an International Conference aimed at exploring the indispensable role of crime prevention and criminal justice responses, at both international and domestic level, in combating all forms of trafficking in cultural property and related offences in a comprehensive and effective manner. This Conference addressed to international organizations, national enforcement agencies, academics, cultural institutions, private sector operators in art and antiquities follows a long-established commitment of ISPAC in the protection of cultural heritage and public goods as one of the most relevant challenges for contemporary criminal policy. Cultural heritage has come to be perceived not only as an asset for the "source Countries", but also, more relevantly, as the object of a cultural right any human being is entitled to, as well as a fundamental heritage for the whole mankind. Hence the growing interest that the United Nations, as well as many other international organizations, have been developing in the phenomenon, and the commitment to produce and implement international legal instruments aimed at protecting cultural heritage. 
In the past, several instruments have been adopted. The prevention and sanctioning of harms traditionally inflicted to cultural property during wars was the first aim to be pursued through the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954), and its Additional Protocols as well as the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions (1977). Other interventions by the international community focussed on illicit imports, exports and transfers of ownership of cultural property under any kind of circumstance, and namely the UNESCO Convention (1970), as well as the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (1995). The international commitment to the safeguard of cultural heritage found also expression in several other international instruments, such as the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001), the European Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property (1985), the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (1969) and its revised version (1992). 
Nowadays the pervasiveness of this phenomenon, and its very complex features, are increasingly acknowledged at both international and national level. Trafficking in cultural property, as well as all other crimes related to cultural objects (such as looting, illicit import and export, forgery, and so on), are believed to be a constantly growing sector of criminality, and an increasingly attractive one for national and transnational criminal organizations. Hence, too, the growing involvement of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in drafting and implementing international instruments to face offences against cultural heritage. Since 2009 several initiatives were adopted pursuant to Economic and Social Council resolution 2008/23. In its resolution 2010/19, then, the Council considered that the Organized Crime Convention (2000), as well as the UN Convention against Corruption (2003), should be fully used for the purpose of strengthening the fight against trafficking in cultural property. At its twentieth session, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice prepared a draft resolution (2011/42) entitled Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Protect Cultural Property, Especially with Regard to its Trafficking, in which it mandated the Secretariat to further explore the development of specific guidelines for crime prevention and criminal justice responses with respect to trafficking in cultural property, and invited Member States to submit written comments on the UN Model Treaty for the Prevention of Crimes that Infringe on the Cultural Heritage of Peoples in the Form of Movable Property. Finally, in April 2013, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice recommended to the ECOSOC a draft resolution on Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Protect Cultural Property, Especially with Regard to its Trafficking, to be submitted for adoption to the General Assembly. The Thirteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (to be held in Qatar in 2015) will specifically focus - among others - on comprehensive and balanced approaches to prevent and adequately respond to new and emerging forms of transnational crime, such as trafficking of cultural property. 
ISPAC's Conference aims at exploring the indispensable role of crime prevention and criminal justice responses in combating all forms of trafficking in cultural property and related offences in a comprehensive and effective manner; the need for States to consider reviewing their legal frameworks, in order to provide the most extensive international cooperation to fully address trafficking in cultural property; the possibility for national jurisdictions to make trafficking in cultural property (including stealing and looting at archaeological and other cultural sites) a serious crime, as defined in art. 2 UNCTOC, as well as to fully utilize that Convention for the purpose of extensive international cooperation; finally, the importance of a speedy and effective finalization of the Guidelines, on the basis of the work carried out in the last years. Further issues worth consideration will be the need for credible and comparable data on different aspects of crimes against cultural property, including the links with transnational organized crime and the laundering of illicit proceeds, as well as the benefits of collecting and comparing best practices both in the public and in the private sector. 
PROGRAMME (contacts with panellists are in progress)
Opening Session • LODOVICO PASSERIN de ENTRÈVES, Chair of the Scientific Committee of the Courmayeur Mont Blanc Foundation, Italy • FABRIZIA DERRIARD, Mayor of Courmayeur, Italy • AUGUSTO ROLLANDIN, President, Region of Aosta Valley, Italy • LIVIA POMODORO, President, Court of Milan, Italy; CNPDS/ISPAC Chairman • Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism • Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Keynote Address • JOHN SANDAGE, Director Division for Treaty Affairs, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime-UNODC, Vienna, Austria 
Session I ILLEGAL TRAFFIC OF CULTURAL PROPERTY : THE NEED FOR A REFORM Chair DUNCAN CHAPPELL, Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology, University of Sydney, Australia; ISPAC Board Member
• Cultural Heritage and Commons: New Tasks for International Community. UGO MATTEI, Professor of Private Comparative Law at University of Turin, Italy; University of California, Hastings College of Law, USA 
• Curbing Illegal Traffic of Cultural Property: Initiatives at the International Level STEFANO MANACORDA, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Naples II, Italy; Collège de France, Paris, France; Deputy Chair and Director ISPAC 
• Anatomy of a Statue Trafficking Network: an Empirical Report from Regional Case Study Fieldwork SIMON MACKENZIE, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of Glasgow, UK
• ALBERTO DEREGIBUS, Colonel, Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, Carabinieri Corps, UNESCO, Paris, France
• SARA GREENBLATT, Chief, Organized Crime Branch, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC, Vienna, Austria
• FOLARIN SHYLLON, Professor at Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan, Nigeria 
Session III INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES NATIONAL JURISDICTION Chair EMILIO VIANO, Professor, Department of Justice, Law and Society, American University, Washington DC, USA 
• HUANG FENG, Professor of Criminal Law, Director Institute for International Criminal Law, Beijing Normal University, China 
• DEREK FINCHAM, Associate Professor, South Texas College of Law, Houston, USA 
• Cultural heritage crime in the Islamic Penal Code of Iran MIR MOHAMMAD SADEGHI, Professor of Criminal Law and Head of Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran; UNESCO Chairholder for Human Rights, Peace And Democracy, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran 
• HELENA REGINA LOBO DA COSTA, Professor, University of São Paulo, Brazil (tbc) 
• ADOLFO MEDRANO MALLQUI, Professor of Criminal Law, Lawyer, Lima, Peru Coffee Break 
SESSION III (continued) POLICE COOPERATION Chair EMILIO VIANO, Professor, Department of Justice, Law and Society, American University, Washington DC, USA 
• RICHARD ELLIS, Founder of Scotland Yard! s Art and Antiquities Squad, London, UK • ANTONIO COPPOLA, Major, Head of the Operative Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, Carabinieri Corps, Rome, Italy 
• STÉPHANE GAUFFENY, Colonel, Central office for the fight against Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods (OCBC), Central Directorate of Judicial Police, Paris, France (tbc) 
• DOMENICO GIANI, Inspector General of the Gendarmeria Corps, Vatican City (tbc 
SESSION III (continued) RETURN, RESTITUTION AND CONFISCATION Chair LUIS ARROYO ZAP ATERO, Professor of Criminal Law, Universidad Castilla-la-Mancha, Spain
• Restitution and International Judicial Cooperation MARC-ANDRÉ RENOLD, Professor of Art and Cultural Property Law; Director of the Art-Law Centre; Holder of the UNESCO Chair in the International Law of Cultural Heritage at the University of Geneva, Switzerland
MARIE PFAMMATTER, post doctoral researcher, University of Geneva, Switzerland
• PASCAL BEAUVAIS, Professor, University of Paris Ouest Nanterre, Paris France
• STEVEN FELDMAN, Partner, Herrick, Feinstein LLP, New York, USA
• MARK V. VLASIC, Senior Fellow & Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University, Washington, USA
• ROBERT WITTMAN, Art Crime Investigator, President of Robert Wittman Inc., Pennsylvania, USA
• JAMES RATCLIFFE, Head of Recoveries, The Art Loss Register-ALR, London, UK
• LYNDA ALBERTSON, Chief Executive Officer, Association for Research into Crimes against Art-ARCA, Rome, Italy
• ROBERT N. LAYNE, Executive Director, International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection, Denver, CO, USA
• MARK STARLING, Chair, International Convention Of Exhibition And Fine Art Transporters-ICEFAT, Toronto, Canada
Round Table PROTECTING CULTURAL PROPERTY: CASE STUDIES AND BEST PRACTICES Chair SIMON MACKENZIE, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of Glasgow, UK 
• GIOVANNI MELILLO, Prosecutor, Court of Naples, Italy 
• FABRIZIO LEMME, Professor and Lawyer, Rome, Italy
• TESS DAVIS, Vice Chair of the American Society of International Law! s Cultural Heritage and the Arts Interest Group - Researcher SCCJR, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK 
• FABIO ISMAN, Journalist, Italy 
• JASON FELCH, Journalist, Los Angeles Times, USA 
Conference Venue Conference Hall, Hôtel Pavillon Via Regionale, 62 - 11013 Courmayeur (AO) Official Languages English and Italian with simultaneous interpretation 
Conference Secretariat Fondazione Centro nazionale di prevenzione e difesa sociale-CNPDS Palazzo Comunale delle Scienze Sociali 3, Piazza Castello - 20121 Milano MI Tel.: +39 02 - Fax: +39 02 E-mail: - Home page: Home page:

November 30, 2013

Is it a Pollack? New York Times Journalist Patricia Cohen looks at the case between two women and a painting; a few professionals weigh in

From the New York Times: Is this a Pollack?
In "A Real Pollock? On This, Art and Science Collide" by Patricia Cohen for the New York Times (Nov. 24), the argument between Jackson Pollack's widow Lee Krasner and his lover Ruth Kligman is examined in the authentication of a 'small painting with swirls and splotches of red, black, and silver'.
Until her death, in 2010, Ms. Kligman, herself an artist, insisted the painting was a love letter to her created by Pollock in the summer of 1956, just weeks before he died in a car crash. But the painting was rejected by an expert panel set up to authenticate and catalog all of Pollock’s works by a foundation established by Ms. Krasner. This month, it seemed the dispute that outlived both women might finally be settled. Ms. Kligman’s estate announced that forensic tests — comparing samples from the loafers Pollock died in, his rugs and his backyard — had linked the painting with Pollock and his home. But instead of resolving one dispute, the findings only reignited another, one that pits traditional ways of determining whether a work is genuine against newer technologies. 
On one side stands Francis V. O’Connor, a stately Old World-style connoisseur with a Vandyke beard and curled mustache, who believes erudition and a practiced eye are essential to judging authenticity. Mr. O’Connor, a co-editor of the definitive Pollock catalog and a member of the now-disbanded Pollock-Krasner Foundation authentication committee, said “Red, Black and Silver” does not look like a Pollock. “I don’t think there’s a Pollock expert in world that would look at that painting and agree it was a Pollock,” Mr. O’Connor said at a symposium this month.
On the other side is Nicholas D. K. Petraco, a retired New York City detective and forensics specialist who examined the painting at the request of the Kligman estate. Approaching the canvas board as if it were a body at a crime scene, Mr. Petraco said he had no doubt the painting was made at the Pollock house and is linked to Pollock. “I’ve had cases with less materials than this where people are spending 25 to 30 years in jail,” he said.
As technology advances, the art world has turned to microscopic analysis and pigment testing to buttress — or challenge — the judgments of a tiny club of experts whose opinions have long been treated as law. This pursuit of scientific validation has only deepened as art historians and institutions like the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which shut down its authentication board in 1996, retreat from certifying art for fear of being sued. But science has its limits. Paint or paper may help establish the date of a work, while hair and fibers can help pinpoint where it was made. A work’s provenance must also be verified. Still, connoisseurs — as well as most auction houses who rely on them — maintain that true authorship cannot be established without an expert evaluation of the composition and individual strokes that reveal an artist’s “signature.” In this case, the difference of opinion could be worth millions. Unauthenticated, “Red, Black and Silver” would be listed as “attributed to Pollock” and carry an estimate of no more than $50,000, said Patricia G. Hambrecht, chief business development officer at Phillips auction house, where the painting is consigned. If judged a Pollock, the painting’s estimated value would soar to seven figures, she said.
Ms. Kligman’s account of the painting dates to the summer of 1956 when she was 26 and living in Pollock’s house in East Hampton, N.Y., after Krasner, having caught the lovers together, sailed for Europe. Pollock was in an alcoholic tailspin and hadn’t painted in two years. As Ms. Kligman detailed in a new introduction to the 1999 edition of her memoir, “Love Affair: A Memoir of Jackson Pollock,” the artist was on the lawn when she brought him his paint and the sticks he used. After he finished, he said, “Here’s your painting, your very own Pollock.” A friend of Ms. Kligman’s, Bette Waldo Benedict, has said Ms. Kligman told her the same story at the time.
Art forensics have primarily concentrated on what a painting is made of. But Mr. Petraco, who has decades of experience with the New York Police Department crime lab and is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, looked at what the painting contained: the dust, hairs, fibers or other detritus that might have fallen on the surface and under the paint. Because Mr. Petraco, who holds a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry, has more experience analyzing red blood than red paint, he decided to perfect his technique for removing materials without damaging the painting by making some Pollock-like drip paintings in his backyard in Massapequa Park, on Long Island. (It’s tougher than it looks, he confessed.) Despite what one sees on television crime shows, hairs and threads cannot be traced to a specific individual or sweater, Mr. Petraco said. What builds a forensic case is not any single piece of evidence but a combination of consistent factors. In this case, Mr. Petraco said the clincher was discovering a polar bear hair, a rare find in a country that has banned the import of polar bear products for more than 40 years. “Is there a polar bear in this story?” Mr. Petraco wondered. There was. A polar bear rug that had adorned the living room floor in 1956 was still in the East Hampton attic.
Colette Loll, a private fraud investigator who worked on the case, said she had no preset agenda. “I was looking to poke holes,” she said but “fraud just wasn’t supported.” Both she and Mr. Petraco said they had donated their services to the estate. Ms. Loll said the case presented “a real opportunity to shift the paradigm away from the dictatorship of the connoisseur, where only one or two people who sit on their thrones can decide what is and what is not an authentic painting.
Mr. O’Connor, who is widely viewed as one of the top authorities on Pollock, said art forensics are valuable, but in this case he found the results “redundant and essentially irrelevant.” The painting may have been made in Pollock’s yard but that doesn’t mean it was made by Pollock’s hand. He did not speculate by whose hand it might have been. To Mr. O’Connor, connoisseurship is just as rigorous as forensics. Its methods, he acknowledged, “can seem mysterious, if not laughable, to the lay person.” But the connoisseur, he said, has “absorbed into visual memory the artist’s characteristic form — his shapes, compositional devices, linear rhythms, typical colors” and handling of paint well enough to detect a fake. In “Red, Black and Silver,” a silver wash covers the canvas and a black ovoid shape near the center serves as a focal point. No other Pollock has either of those characteristics, he said. In 1995, the authentication board offered to designate Ms. Kligman’s painting as a problematic work, which meant that if other scholars, with further study, labeled the work as authentic, the board would not object. But Ms. Kligman rejected that qualification. In Mr. O’Connor’s view, “the Kligman work is in limbo with respect to authenticity.” Whether it remains that way is an open question: After all, precisely what happened between two people, now dead, who were alone on a summer afternoon in an East Hampton yard 57 years ago may ultimately be beyond the ken of science or connoisseurship.
ARCAblog found three professionals on Linked In who offered opinions on this issue of connoisseurship versus forensics and the recent Pollock case.

Dr. John Daab, a Certified Fraud Examiner specializing in art and forgery research, posted the question on Linked In: "Connoisseurship v. forensics and the recent Pollock case: Isn’t time to take the mystery and politics out of authentication?" He offered this perspective here:
The recent Pollock work given a thumbs down by a so called Pollock expert was no more than a magic trick smoothed over by an assemblage of gibberish seemingly portrayed as scholarly analysis. The connoisseur expert used facts and scientific verbiage to drive his conclusions but the science (Chaos Theory) was unrelated to the subject matter and has been challenged by other scientists as bogus when related to Pollock’s works. The facts supporting the expert call consisted of a recent movie about Pollock and not a well carried out investigation based on acceptable methodologies, replicable, and verifiable by others. The connoisseur Pollock expert even got some of his facts wrong regarding forensic experts. Forensic experts are deemed expert by the Judge in a particular case, and their expertise can be jettisoned at any time during a trial via an In Limine challenge. Further, forensic graphology is not considered to be field of expertise in a court of law, whereas Questioned Document Examination and Examiners are. Yes the world of connoisseur expertise is mysterious and those of us involved in forensic examination of fine art raise the question of why now with all our advanced technology and empirical processing are we still using hocus pocus to authenticate? (The Knoedler gallery case with 60 bad calls by 20 experts demonstrates how bad the problem really is.) What seems to be happening is that the world of the connoisseurship is undergoing a paradigm shift. Just as we found that the world did not end at the horizon we are now finding that the world of connoisseurship is unraveling due to its subjective and intuitive nature. The solipsistic nature of connoisseurship coated with gobbledygook and sleight of hand magic is under siege with its cloak of scholarly analysis slowly dematerializing.
Toby Bull, Senior Inspector with the Hong Kong Police Force and Art Risk Security Consultant at TrackArt, wrote:
Good article. As a 20+ year policeman with a CID background, who holds both a Fine Arts degree & an Art Authentication (covering Forensics) qualification, I took up this very same topic when I presented a paper at The World Congress of Forensics back in 2011 titled, "Connoisseurship versus Science or Connoisseurship plus Science -- Methods in Art Authentication". My conclusion was that, generally, there is too much dismissal of the value science can bring and that it should very much be a case of science supporting the experts' eyes -- but that's just a humble copper's point of view.
It's a common-enough problem (the 'snobbery' of the connoisseur & dismissal of what scientific testing can bring to the table) , and was the case here in HK too - certainly 10+ years ago - with regard to tests on Chinese antiquities / ceramics, but slowly the positives of what - and just how easily - science can detect a fake has been gaining ground, with the best dealers now taking this on board. The number of fakes being sold are still legion, with many dealers knowingly putting fakes out there into the local market, exploiting the ignorance of the general one-off buyer. It's still a case of knowing which dealer one can trust (ones who don't knowingly peddle fakes) of whom there are some and yes, ultimately, for the collector: Caveat Emptor. TrackArt can and does operate within this minefield, with its education seminars being just one 'weapon' in its arsenal against the trade in fakes.
Dennis Baltuskonis, Owner of Art Conservation Services, responded to Dr. Daab's question:
The short answer to your question eliminate the mystery etc? Yes. But replace it with what? I propose a scoring system. E.g. Give "science" a score of 50 points. And Connoisseurs 50 points. On any single object let the experts weigh in and "score" said object. Take the average score from each side ADD them together for the final point score. Then let the buyer beware. Obviously a 100 point score "indicates" a general consensus that experts from both sides "agree/concer" and said object is "AUTHENTIC" (as most people accept that word). Like a bottle of wine rated 94 it doesn't necessarily mean that the end user will agree. Such a scoring system also leaves open the possibility that new evidence might arise which would alter the SCORE. Each "side" can create their own guidelines upon which any SCORE by any "expert" is acceptable. An independent panel might be formed to "consider" each score, etc. etc. It is possible to remove the decision from the realm of politics and special interests. This is one idea. What is yours?