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December 25, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009 - No comments

Merry Christmas from the ARCA Staff

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. We at ARCA thank all of our volunteers, supporters, and friends and wish you all the best during the holidays.

December 24, 2009

Report on the IFCPP Art and Book Theft Conference at Ohio State

by Doug McGrew

Perhaps when you recall incidents of cultural property theft your mind dwells on incidents in Europe or major institutions within the United States. Along this same process you remember priceless works of art created from oil and canvass missing from those institutions. Your thought process would only be partially correct.

On November 10th 2009, the Heartland Chapter of the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection organized a daylong seminar titled: Cultural Heritage at Risk, Art and Book Theft: Past, Present, Future. Nearly 100 attendees from the cultural property community around the state of Ohio and beyond attended this event organized by Douglas McGrew and hosted at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts.

The mission for this seminar was simple and unique. Change the perception on what others view as cultural property and change your personal networks. Invitations were sent to a wide base of professionals in the cultural property community. This was an intentional casting according to Doug McGrew and one he believes made this event a successful venture. “We deliberately invited curators, registrars, librarians, archivist, collectors and law enforcement professionals. We wanted them in the same room, sharing observations, meeting new folks outside of their traditional networks. At the end of the day, hopefully, the attendees gained a new understanding of what cultural property is and how to protect our heritage.”

To accomplish this mission featured speakers Noah Charney and Travis McDade were enlisted to share their research and efforts to protecting cultural assets. Professor Travis McDade with the University of Illinois shared findings with the group focusing on thefts of rare books and manuscripts. Thoughtfully Prof. McDade covered cases with connection to the Ohio area and particularly touching on individuals with ties to Columbus the host city for this seminar. Mr. Charney continued the event covering some well known cases but also provided valuable information on prevention and recommendations for improving current procedures within the attendee’s institutions.

The speaking portion of the day was concluded with a roundtable discussion with McDade and Charney. Joining this discussion were:

· Patrick Maughan – former director of security the Ohio State University

· John Kleberg – former director of the Department of Public Safety, the Ohio State University

· Paul Denton – current chief of police, the Ohio State University

The roundtable provided expertise from all sides of the cultural property community, demonstrating the need to have a diverse professional network. After sharing their professional experiences creating, administering and protecting cultural property the entire panel received questions from the guest. The event concluded with the screening of the documentary The Rape of Europa.

Post mortem discussions have been very fruitful and the positive feedback received from participants has been overwhelming. Planning is currently underway for the next installment of what will become a series of events under the Cultural Heritage at Risk banner.

December 18, 2009

Breaking News on the Stolen Caravaggio Nativity

Caravaggio, Nativity with Saint Lawrence
 and Saint Francis, 268 x 197 cm

by Judith Harris

ROME - No U.S. post office has displayed the Holy Family in its rogues’ gallery of most wanted, but a Nativity scene painted by Caravaggio has had FBI star billing on its list of the “Top Ten Art Crimes” longer than any other work of art in history.

Caravaggio’s large altarpiece, the Nativity with Saint Lawrence and Saint Francis, valued at $20 million, was stolen forty years ago from the unguarded Oratory of San Lorenzo, a confraternity hall in Palermo. Persistent rumors had the paintings in the hands of the Mafia, and not long ago the former chief of the Carabinieri crack art squad hypothesized that it was “still somewhere in an attic.”

In mid-2009, so-called pentiti, or “repentant” mafiosi, began making fresh revelations to Sicilian magistrates who were investigating other crimes, and one convicted mobster admitted physically removing the painting from above the altar. This December a second turncoat named Gaspare Spatuzza told investigators that during meetings of the Cupola the Caravaggio Nativity would be propped up against a wall.

Now Spatuzza has also admitted learning in 1999 that the Caravaggio Nativity had been hidden at some point in the 1980’s in a barn where it was “ruined, eaten by rats and hogs, and therefore burned.” Spatuzza said he learned this in a prison conversation with the boss of his own murderous Palermo Mafia clan, Filippo Graviano. Spatuzza’s testimony is part of an ongoing trial in Florence where a court is trying to unravel the possible connections between government officials and the Mafia in 1993, when a bomb killed six near the Uffizi Gallery. The testimony is technically hearsay. Although Graviano, like Spatuzza in prison, has been ordered to give testimony before the Florentine court December 16, he is unlikely to confirm the story because the Caravaggio theft is not part of that inquiry. However, Palermo chief prosecutor Antonino Gatto has requested the transfer of Spatuzza’s testimony, signifying that a fresh inquiry has opened there. This would put any inquiry there under official state secrecy.

How reliable is Spatuzza? For the moment, no one is talking, in part because of the presumed new inquiry in Palermo, but also because, as the head of the DEA told this reporter many years ago, “We are not dealing with choir boys.” Spatuzza’s motives are obviously being questioned, as are his ongoing relations with the former bosses he still considers dear friends, the Graviano brothers. one hypothesis is that the Mafia bosses (at least some of them) in Sicily consider the Premier Silvio Berlusconi a burned out case—he is not by any means--, and are casting about for political patrons in Sicily. For this reason interest in the destiny of the Caravaggio has taken very much of a back seat.

Now, a backward view. In 1992 the supposedly pentito Mafia killer Giovanni Brusco told a judge that he had personally tried to negotiate with the Italian State over the return of the Caravaggio Nativity in a swap for more lenient conditions for convicted mafiosi. Several years ago yet another pentito, Salvatore Cangemi, alleged that the Mafia still possessed the Caravaggio, which was put on view as a trophy at meetings of the top bosses of Cosa Nostra, the Cupola.

On the basis of other statements by pentiti, at least a partial reconstruction can be made. The first to speak of the stolen painting was Francesco Marino Mannoia, a particularly cruel Mafia boss who confessed in 1996 to having been among those who stole the painting in 1969. Mannoia said that he had used a razor blade to remove it from its frame and had then rolled it up (or perhaps had folded it), and had taken it to the unnamed individual who had ordered the theft. But when consignment was to be made, Mannoia said, the sponsor refused it because the painting had been damaged during transport. At that point, according to Mannoia, he destroyed the painting. Mannoia now lives in the US as a protected witness.

Investigative reporter Peter Watson then said that in late 1980 he received an offer for the painting from an individual at Laviano, near Salerno, but that the earthquake in the Irpinia interrupted the contact and that he presumed the painting was destroyed.

However, in 2001, according to General Roberto Conforti, who at that time still headed the crack Carabinieri art squad he had founded, “We were searching a farm near Palermo after we were given a ‘tip’ that the work was hidden under a cement cover—but then nothing,” he told Paolo Conti of Corriere della Sera in an interview published on August 24 2004.

A Sicilian press report also alleged that Carabinieri there reported at least three attempts made after the Irpinia earthquake to sell the painting. This might explain why the now retired General Conforti told the reporter from Corriere della Sera in 2004 that he believed the Caravaggio still existed in or near Palermo, perhaps “forgotten in the attic of some old lady who doesn’t know its worth.”

In 2005 the Australian reporter Peter Robb alleged that Mannoia had made a mistake, and that the canvas Mannois was referring to was not the Caravaggio at all.

According to Spatuzza, the canvas had been given to the clan of Gianbattista Pullara and his brothers in Palermo, who hid it in the barn where it was damaged and finally burned as a result.

This is unlikely to be the last such theft. Although top-flight works by Old Masters are hard to place on the international market, thefts of both works of art and archaeology (and especially the latter) are on the rise: the crackdown on international financial transactions following the Twin Towers tragedy has made works of art the material for hostage-like barter in cross-border swaps of arms and drugs, in place of cash, according to investigators here.

The brilliant, temperamental artist was born as Michelangelo Merisi in the town of Caravaggio near Milan in 1571 and studied art under Titian. After his vile temper led him into a brawl with a police officer, he fled, penniless, from Milan for Rome. By then in his early twenties, he continued as a maverick in both art and life. On the one hand his theatrical paintings, precursors of the Baroque style that would become the hallmark of the Rome we see today, literally revolutionized the art world, and he was befriended by an aristocratic Venetian cardinal who became his patron, Francesco Del Monte, who also introduced Caravaggio to Galileo.

In 1606 the ever truculent Caravaggio got into yet another tavern brawl and ran his sword through a man. A warrant for his arrest and execution was pending, and so he fled from Rome. While hiding out in Malta in 1608, he painted the grisly Beheading of John the Baptist but then, after another move that same year, this time to Sicily, he softened, painting two large, touching Nativity scenes. These are a far cry from the glorified Nativity scenes of the Venetian artists. The lost Palermo Nativity shows a somewhat forlorn Madonna with Baby Jesus laid upon a kerchief on straw on the rough ground surrounded by barnyard animals and saints in the guise of shepherds. On the lightly sketched ceiling beams of the barn the wing of a floating angel cast in an ominous shadow hints at the future in the form of a cross.

Art and archaeological thefts are on the rise, according to investigators here, who say that the crackdown on international financial transactions following the Twin Towers tragedy has made works of art the material for hostage-like barter in cross-border swaps of arms and drugs, in place of cash.

Most fortunately the second Nativity scene Caravaggio painted in Sicily for a church in Messina is still intact and indeed has just been placed under restoration, visible to the public through a street-front window, inside a building attached to the Italian Parliament in Rome.

December 8, 2009

US Justice Department & Central Bureau of Interpol Rate Art Crime Third Highest-Grossing Criminal Trade and Links It To Organized Crime

Statistics on art crime are unfortunately few and generally inaccurate. The reasons for this are detailed in ARCA's book, Art & Crime, and come down to a variety of factors.
  1. At a local level, most police are told to file stolen art with general stolen goods. This means that art thefts are lost among stolen property files and only those unusual or far-sighted police who set art thefts aside for filing, or choose to send files on to Interpol or national art police will be filed as art thefts, and can therefore be studied and constitute a portion of the national statistics.
  2. The legitimate market dollar value of artworks is a nebulous concept. One day a painting could be worth one million, another day two, another day seven-hundred thousand. It all depends on the stock market, the perceived demand of the art market for the object in question, the whims of a handful of individual collectors and museums. So to say that an artwork is worth X amount of money is untrue--it can only be stated that at one time this artwork, or a similar one, sold for X amount of money, and that this is the current best guess as to its value. Therefore it is useful only in terms of situating art crime at a general hierarchical level, and getting people to take it seriously.
  3. We know that reported art crimes represent only a fraction of the total number, the tip of the iceberg. Antiquities looted from the earth or the sea will only be discovered by happenstance, should an archaeologist or policeman happen upon a looted tomb in the wilderness, for instance. Even then, there is no way of knowing what was in the tomb to begin with, which is now stolen. Much fine art theft goes unreported, by museums which do not want to show their insecurity, by collectors who did not declare all of their collection to avoid luxury tax, by libraries or churches or archives that might not realize what is missing.
While the study of art crime is, necessarily, at this point more anecdotal than scientific, due to the poor, incomplete, and often inaccessible statistics, the major police forces agree on the extent and severity of art crime, and its links to Organized Crime, which make it a crime to take very seriously, indeed.

In ARCA's many projects and conferences, those with whom we have worked have conveyed the fact that art crime is the third-highest-grossing criminal trade, behind only drugs and arms, and have underlined with countless examples the links with Organized Crime since 1960. Organized Crime, which includes but is not limited to major Mafias (it also includes any group of three or more individuals working together in a diverse array of criminal enterprises for long-term collective goals), is responsible for some activity in the life of the crime. This is least often the theft or looting itself, which is done by mercenary burglars or local tomb raiders. But syndicates have the international networks necessary to take stolen objects off the hands of the thieves, smuggle them abroad, launder them, and sell them on. Because of this, art crime funds all of Organized Crime's other activities, from the drug and arms trade to terrorism.

Individuals from the major world art police have quoted these facts repeatedly, as have art criminals, lawyers, security staff, criminologists and more. But it is difficult to find published, publicly available statements to back this up. For anyone looking for a good, reliable source to cite when quoting information about art crime as the third-highest-grossing criminal trade, and the involvement of Organized Crime, need look no further than the US Department of Justice and the US Central Bureau of Interpol:

Cultural Property Crimes Program
The annual dollar value of art and cultural property theft is exceeded only by the trafficking in illicit narcotics and arms. The illegal trade of works of art and cultural property is as dangerous as these crimes. The criminal networks that traffic in the illicit sale of Works of Art and Cultural Property are often times the same circles that deal in illegal drug, arms dealing, and other illegal transactions. It has also been found recently that many insurgent and terrorist groups fund their operations through the sales and trade of stolen Works of Art and Cultural Property.

December 4, 2009

Lecture by Met Chief Security Officer John Barelli at University of Richmond

Interested in hearing more about art theft investigation and security at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Check out "The Myths of Art Thefts & Art Theft Investigations" above delivered by University of Richmond graduate John Barelli '71 at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in the School of Continuing Studies.*

*The ISGM theft occurred March 1990 rather than 1989 for clarification; Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" is located in Amsterdam and was slashed in 1975

December 3, 2009

Thursday, December 03, 2009 - No comments

Rave Review of "Art and Crime"

"Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World" is the first book edited by ARCA. It contains a wide variety of essays by world-renowned scholars, police, security directors, lawyers, art historians, criminologists, and more, detailing the realities of art crime, and showing the unite front, working together to curb it. "Art & Crime" is published by Praeger, and is available through Amazon. All profits go to support ARCA's non-profit activities.

November 17, 2009

Art crime captures audience

Amy Lee of the Yale Daily News has contributed a piece covering ARCA founder Noah Charney's recent lecture at the Yale University Art Gallery:
Measuring 14.5 by 11 feet and weighing in at close to two tons, Jan van Eyck’s “Ghent Altarpiece” is not the likeliest candidate for the most stolen artwork of all time.

And yet this monumental 1432 Flemish panel painting is exactly that. Art historian Noah Charney, who taught a course called “Art Crime” last semester, addressed a nearly full auditorium of professors, students and locals Thursday at the Yale University Art Gallery in a talk titled “Stealing the Mystic Lamb: A true history of the world’s most frequently stolen masterpiece.”

November 4, 2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009 - No comments

Exciting Opportunity for Law Students Interested in Cultural Property Protection

Law students take note: the registration deadline is fast approaching for the Inaugural National Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court Competition, sponsored by the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation. The competition will take place at the Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse in downtown Chicago from March 5-6, 2010. The judges for the final round will include members of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Registration will be capped at the first sixteen (16) teams and is due by November 16, 2009.

For more information on the competition, please click here.

November 3, 2009

ARCA Talks in the US this November

ARCA is pleased to announce the following events taking place in the US during the first two weeks of November.

Nov 5
Marriot Hotel and Conference Center
Philadelphia, PA
ARCA trustees Erik Nemeth and Noah Charney present at the American Society of Criminology conference (open only to conference registrants)

Nov 7
Walters Art Museum
Baltimore, MD
Spotlight: Gary Vikan and Noah Charney
A conversation with the Walters Museum director and ARCA director Noah Charney

Nov 10
Wexler Center for the Arts
Ohio State University
Columbus, OH
Library and Archive Security
Travis McDade and Noah Charney present a workshop on archive theft and security strategies, in collaboration with IFCPP (open to the public)

Nov 11
Henry Lee School of Forensic Science
University of New Haven
New Haven, CT
Noah Charney gives an all-day workshop on how a knowledge of the history of art theft can be used to protect and recover art in the future

Nov 12
Yale Art Gallery
New Haven, CT
"The Most Stolen Painting in History"
Noah Charney speaks about his next non-fiction book, entitled Stealing the Mystic Lamb, a monograph on the art history and criminal history of Jan van Eyck's The Ghent Altarpiece, the most frequently stolen masterpiece of all time.
The talk will be followed by a book release party for ARCA's essay collection, ART & CRIME: EXPLORING THE DARK SIDE OF THE ART WORLD. The party will be held after the talk, across the street from the gallery at Atticus Bookstore Cafe. All are welcome.

October 30, 2009

Gary Vikan & Noah Charney at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Spotlight: Gary Vikan and Noah Charney

November 07, 2009

Walters Art Museum

Baltimore, MD

Time: 04:00 PM - 05:00 PM
Date: Saturday, November 7, 4 p.m.

Pre-registration recommended; books for sale in the Museum Store

Fans of Dr. Vikan's compelling WYPR "Postcards From the Walters"will enjoy this 2009--2010 series of lively on-stage chats, with Dr. Vikan hosting distinguished guests. In this session, he will chat with author Noah Charney, and will discuss Charney’s novel, The Art Thief and issues of art theft. Charney is the director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art. An "after-talk" reception and book signing follow.

October 29, 2009

ARCA Lecture "The Most Stolen Artwork in History: Crimes and Mysteries of the Ghent Altarpiece"

ARCA Lecture
"The Most Stolen Artwork in History: Crimes and Mysteries of the Ghent Altarpiece"

Yale Art Gallery
Thursday, November 12, 5:30 PM

Noah Charney, art historian and founding director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), a nonprofit think tank on the protection of cultural property, presents a lecture on the subject of his next book, Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, the world’s most frequently stolen artwork, involved in thirteen different crimes since its creation in 1432. The lecture takes place at the Yale University Art Gallery’s Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Lecture Hall and is followed by a book signing and reception at Atticus Bookstore/Café, where Mr. Charney will be signing copies of "Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World," a collection of essays on the world of art crime and its consequences.

October 27, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 - No comments

ARCA Featured in "The New Criminologist"

We are pleased to direct your attention to a new article on art crime by Elizabeth Elliot, published in "The New Criminologist."

New Criminologist Special: Art Crime

One of ARCA's primary goals is to encourage the academic study of art crime and create a criminological methodology for the analysis of art crime. Interested academics from any relevant field are welcome to contact us and submit papers for publication in our peer-reviewed academic journal, The Journal of Art Crime. The more scholars and professionals working together to curb art crime, the better off we, and our world's cultural heritage, will be.

October 23, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009 - ,, No comments

Investigating Art and Cultural Objects Theft: How the History of Art Crime Solves Today's Mysteries

ARCA and The Henry Lee Institute Team Up on the Forensics of Art Theft

Investigating Art and Cultural Objects Theft: How the History of Art Crime Solves Today's Mysteries

This special one-day workshop will explore the history of art theft, and the lessons that it can offer to contemporary investigators and security personnel. Over the past forty years, art crime has consistently been the third highest-grossing criminal trade worldwide. Most art crime since the 1960s has involved organized crime, funding other operations, including the drug and arms trades, and even terrorism.

Art crime is little studied, from an academic and an investigative perspective. The combination of scholarly historical analysis with experience in the field can provide the best means to understand and curb this serious threat to not only our cultural heritage, but to impede organized crime overall.

The first half of the program will take you on a tour through the history of art crime with a focus on fine art theft, investigation, and museum security. The second half of the workshop will detail practical methods of using the lessons learned from history's master thieves, and from the successes and failures of investigators and security programs, to suggest better ways to investigate and protect art in the future.

Seminar starts 900am and will be located in Dodds Auditorium on the University of New Haven campus. This seminar is open to law enforcement officers, educators, and the public. Tuition is $100.00 and light refreshments will be served.

The seminar will be run by ARCA Founding Director Noah Charney.
To register please go to .

October 13, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 - No comments

Smithsonian Announces Upcoming Conference on Cultural Property Protection

The Smithsonian has announced that next year's National Conference on Cultural Property Protection will take place from February 21-24 in Washington, DC . This event "offers insight and proven solutions for new and seasoned professionals in the field of cultural property protection." Session proposals are currently begin accepted and registration will begin soon. For more information, visit the conference website.

October 12, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009 - No comments

ARCA Trustee Uncovers New Twist in California Heist

Anthony Amore — chief of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, head of Amore Associates, and a trustee of ARCA — has uncovered a new twist in the increasingly bizarre art thefts in California. Amore's discovery, which contradicts statements in the press by the alleged victims of the heist, was featured in the October 11 edition of the Boston Herald. You can read the full story here.

October 8, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009 - No comments

CNN/KSRO Radio Interviews ARCA About Recent Art Thefts in California

On October 8, KSRO Radio interviewed ARCA's Managing Director Terressa Davis regarding the recent art thefts in Pebble Beach, California. The heist initially made international headlines because of its scale and significance — up to $80,000,000 US worth of art was purported missing, including pieces by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Jackson Pollock. Now, the story is making headlines for a different reason, since the collectors who reported the crime are now the prime suspects.

KSRO is a CNN affiliate in the San Francisco Bay Area and the station sends all interviews to CNN for national broadcast after they are aired locally. KSRO will also replay the interview with Davis tomorrow as its "Live Line of the Week." Until and after then, you can listen to the full interview here.

Thursday, October 08, 2009 - , No comments

Why steal artwork?

In a recent edition of the National — one of the leading English language newspapers in the Arab world — journalist Andy Pemberton investigates why thieves steal artwork that is nearly impossible to sell. To do so, he interviewed ARCA's Managing Director Terressa Davis and the Art Loss Register's William Webber, who both dispute the popular misconception that thieves steal art to order. Instead, stolen art is most commonly held for ransom or used as collateral when trading with other criminals.

You can read the full text of the article, entitled "Painting Into a Corner," here.

October 7, 2009

Wednesday, October 07, 2009 - ,, No comments

ARCA Launches New Monthly Newsletter

To keep our supporters better informed, ARCA has launched a new online bulletin. Citations: Updates from the Association for Research into Crimes against Art has already been e-mailed to our mailing list subscribers. From now on, this newsletter will be sent out on the first Tuesday of every month. It includes information on our work, a calendar of upcoming events, and links to important news stories. For future issues, we welcome your input on what other features you would like to see included.

If you are not already on our mailing list, you can join it at our website. You can also view our past newsletter archive online. Thanks for your interest and support!

Letter from the New Managing Director

Please let me introduce myself. In September 2009, I was named Managing Director of ARCA. As such, I'll be running the organization's daily operations, as well as helping to conceptualize, develop, and implement new projects. I hope to continue the great work founder Noah Charney and so many others have begun, but to do so, I will need your help.

Supporters like you have already allowed us to achieve a great deal in a short amount of time. In just the past year, ARCA launched the world's only Postgraduate program in Art Crime Studies, introduced the Journal of Art Crime, published the book Art and Crime, and consulted governments, law enforcement agencies, museums, places of worship, and other public institutions on art protection and recovery cases. In the next year, we will continue these endeavors and undertake numerous others, about which you'll be able to read in future posts on the ARCAblog.

There are many ways that you can become involved in this important work. Show your support by becoming a member, making a tax-deductible donation, subscribing to the Journal of Art Crime, purchasing Art and Crime, or studying in our Postgraduate program. Just as importantly, we need people to donate their time by volunteering or interning. And we are always looking for contributors to our journal, blog, and podcasts.

Thank you for your interest and support. If you have any questions or comments about our organization, I encourage you to email me. And you'll be hearing again from me soon on the ARCAblog.

I look forward to working with you!

Terressa Davis
director at

September 29, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 - No comments

Saving Venice: a Charity Event in London

This Thursday, October 1, at the Royal Geographic Society in London there will be a charity gala evening sponsored by ARCA and Venice in Peril. The two featured speakers are ARCA Director Noah Charney and former ARCA Trustee and current Head of Scotland Yard's Arts and Antiques Division, Vernon Rapley. Charney will be discussing his next non-fiction book, entitled "Stealing the Mystic Lamb: the True History of the World's Most Frequently Stolen Masterpiece" and Rapley will discuss art policing, fakes, and forgeries in London. Tickets support the charity Venice in Peril, which protects Venetian monuments. For tickets, please write to

September 27, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009 - No comments

2010 Postgraduate Program Application and Prospectus Now Available

The Application (Due 15 Dec. 2009) and Prospectus for the 2010 Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime Studies are now available.

Once again, ARCA presents the first organized postgraduate program in International Art Crime Studies to be held June 1 - August 13. This program will provide in-depth instruction in a wide variety of theoretical and practical elements of art crime: its history, its nature, its impact, and what can be done to curb it. Courses are taught by international experts, in the beautiful setting of Umbria, Italy. Topics include art history and the art trade, museums and conservation, art security and policing, criminology and criminal investigation, law and policy, and the study of art theft, antiquities looting, war looting, forgery and deception, vandalism, and cultural heritage protection throughout history and around the world. It is the idea program for art police and security professionals, art lawyers, insurers, and curators, members of the art trade and post-graduate students of criminology, law, security studies, sociology, art history, archaeology, and history.

September 13, 2009

Warhols Likely Stolen for Reward Money

On the night of September 2 a multi-million dollar collection of prints by Andy Warhol, from his so-called “Athlete’s Series,” were stolen from the LA home of collector Robert L. Weisman. The theft is knowledgeably commented upon by ARCA staff member Mark Durney in his blog, Art Theft Central.

There is almost no market, black or otherwise, for stolen art as recognizable as these Warhols, even though they are prints, and therefore multiple copies exist. So, what is the most likely outcome of the situation? There have been so few thefts commissioned by criminal art collectors that they represent a negligible percentage, and the least likely scenario of all. Most likely in this case is a left for ransom, demanding payment either of the theft victim or their insurer. In a case such as this, in which a generous reward has been offered, then no ransom demand is needed. The most probable outcome of this situation is that a “well-meaning” informant will call in a lead that will bring police to the stolen art. Once the art is recovered, the good samaritan will be paid the reward. Likely in cases such as this, the call that leads to the recovery of the art will come from a colleague of the thieves. The reward will therefore be distributed among the thieves via the informant. For a few hours’ legwork, the thieves will have stolen art, abandoned it, had a colleague call in the location to the police, retrieve the reward, and pocket it. Stealing art simply for the reward money may seem like a bad deal for the thieves—the art is, after all, worth many times more than the reward. But one must think of it not as the difference between the actual value of the art and the $1 million reward, but between what the thieves had before the theft (nothing) and the reward money. Not bad for a day’s work. Of course, offering a reward is the best way to ensure that stolen art will be returned to its owner. But in doing so, there is a significant risk that the reward will make its way into the hands of the thieves. And the owner must be very careful to better secure their collection once it is back in their hands, as historic precedent suggests that stolen and returned art is at a very high risk to be stolen again, now that the thieves have learned that art theft pays handsomely.

ARCA was consulted in a recent article for UK newspaper, The Independent on Sunday, regarding this case. To read the article, please see:

September 11, 2009

Ptolomeo sufre de nuevo

Map of Ptolemy
The following article on Spanish map and manuscript thefts has been contributed to ARCAblog by Juan José Prieto Gutiérrez of Biblioteca de la Facultad de Derecho, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. An English translation will follow shortly.

Ptolomeo sufre de nuevo.
El húngaro Zslot Vamos sustrae documentos históricos de instituciones públicas españolas.

Se dice que la imitación lleva implícito un alto grado de homenaje, admiración y respeto.

¿Es Zslot Vamos un imitador que pretendía emular a Cesar Gómez Rivero, autor del robo de la Biblioteca Nacional Española? No podemos asegurarlo pero lo que si es cierto es que ambos sentían fascinación por el astrónomo griego Claudio Ptolomeo.

El pasado siete de agosto en Pamplona el destino se truncó para Vamos, fue detenido por el presunto delito de haber robado sesenta y siete mapas de gran valor histórico mayoritariamente del siglo XVI.

Su afición por este tipo de material le llevó a robar al menos en siete centros, Biblioteca Pública de Soria, Biblioteca Pública de Castilla y León en Valladolid, Universidad de Salamanca, Biblioteca Pública de Logroño, Universidad de Navarra, Archivo General de Navarra y Biblioteca de Castilla La Mancha, en el Alcázar de Toledo.

En el momento de su detención llevaba un mapa de carreteras donde tenía indicado una ruta de expoliación; “visitaría” veintiocho ciudades españolas, tres portuguesas (Lisboa, Coimbra y Oporto), y otras en Italia y Francia.

Zslot aseguró al Grupo de Patrimonio Histórico de la Unidad Central Operativa (UCO) de la Guardia Civil que las piezas robadas eran para su disfrute personal y no deseaba venderlas en el mercado negro.

Modus Operandi

Para acceder a las bibliotecas utilizaba un pasaporte eslovaco falso a nombre de Anton Ziska, además tenía otro por si le fallaba a nombre de Gabor Josef Cservenka.

Se presentaba como periodista especializado en temas históricos para conseguir un carné de investigador.

Para llevar a cabo sus robos se ayudaba de cuchillas de cúter, si las instituciones carecían de detector de metales y, de cuñas de plástico de los cuellos de sus camisas, previamente afiladas y convertidas en pequeños cuchillos en aquellos centros provistos de sistemas de seguridad.
Pero a pesar de lo cuidadoso que parecía en sus operativas iba dejando pistas, durante el año 2007 había visitado varias bibliotecas accediendo a ellas con sus verdaderos datos personales.

España, atrapa al ladrón

Las bibliotecas y archivos españoles han vuelto a ser atacadas. En marzo de 2008, después de que en agosto de 2007 la BNE denunció la desaparición de diecinueve valiosos grabados. se inició la Operación Biblión por el Grupo de Patrimonio Histórico de la Unidad Central Operativa (UCO) de la Guardia Civil tras la desaparición en la Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial de un mapa desplegable que formaba parte de un tratado sobre cosmografía y expediciones geográficas, editado en 1537 en Basilea; operación que finalizó con éxito tras la detención de Zslot Vamos por el supuesto robo de al menos sesenta y siete documentos históricos.

Los robos en bibliotecas y archivos poseedores de materiales bibliográficos históricos y accesibles al público no son casos aislados.
Sucede con frecuencia que son descubiertos pasados los años, durante rutinarios inventarios o al ser consultados por otro investigador, hecho que dificulta la detención del responsable y el seguimiento de las piezas, generalmente destinadas a coleccionistas privados.

La experiencia de los robos ocurridos en bibliotecas a lo largo de la historia, generan mejoría en las medidas de seguridad, pero todavía se debe aunar esfuerzos con el objetivo de reducir totalmente las acciones de los delincuentes, destacando las siguientes recomendaciones:
  • La digitalización total del patrimonio documental reduciría considerablemente el contacto directo con la obra y por tanto sus robos.
  • Aplicación de normas de la ACRL y RBMS en todos los centros poseedores de materiales históricos.
  • Los investigadores, únicos usuarios a los que se les permite el acceso, deben ser vigilados permanentemente mediante personal formado adecuadamente.
  • A nivel nacional, las bibliotecas poseedoras de material histórico susceptible de robo deben conectarse entre sí, a través de redes y bases de datos compartidas con el fin de facilitar los seguimientos y detecciones de los supuestos ladrones.
  • Nunca debe permitirse la entrada de objetos capaces de facilitar la extracción de documentos.
  • Optimas medidas de seguridad físicas y electrónicas sobre las instalaciones y sobre los mismos soportes documentales.
Es importante destacar que los controles de seguridad resultan considerablemente más económicos y eficaces si se incorporan en la etapa de especificación de requerimientos y diseño de las instalaciones.

Esto no ocurre en muchos casos, ya que en la actualidad, muchos de los edificios destinados a bibliotecas no han sido construidos para desempañar esta función.
Aun así, la seguridad puede lograrse, debiendo ser respaldada por una gestión y procedimientos adecuados. En estos casos la identificación de los controles que deben implementarse requiere una mayor planificación y atención a todos los detalles.
Pero en general la administración de la seguridad, exige, como mínimo, la participación del responsable de la biblioteca, proveedores y empresas de seguridad, gerente y administrador del edificio e incluso si las acciones lo requieren no se debe dudar en contratar el asesoramiento experto de organizaciones externas.

Juan José Prieto Gutiérrez
Universidad Complutense de Madrid

August 11, 2009

Noah Charney on CBC Radio's Q with Jian Ghomeshi

On 10 August 2009, ARCA Director Noah Charney was featured on CBC Radio's Q with Jian Ghomeshi. In the interview guest hosted by Jane Farrow, Charney discusses ARCA's Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime studies and he describes the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to art crime. Additionally, he answers questions related to what opportunities graduates can expect to pursue upon their completion of the program. For anyone interested in learning more about the MA Program this is a great place to start. To access the Q with Jian Ghomeshi podcast click the title of this post or click here.

Further inquiries can be sent to Mark Durney, Business and Admissions Director of the 2010 MA Program, at .

Q is Canada's liveliest arts, culture and entertainment magazine. It's a smart and surprising tour through personalities and cultural issues that matter to Canadians.

ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art) is an interdisciplinary think tank/research group on contemporary issues in art crime. This international non-profit organization studies issues in art crime and cultural property protection, runs educational programs, and consults on art protection and recovery issues brought to them by police, governments, museums, places of worship, and other public institutions.

August 7, 2009

Charity Lecture in Support of Venice in Peril

Exclusive Art Crime Lecture in aid of Venice in Peril
Noah Charney
"Stealing the Mystic Lamb: the true story of the world’s most frequently stolen masterpiece"
Vernon Rapley
"The Art of Deception: the criminal use of fake and forged art, antiques and antiquities"

We are delighted to announce that author and international art crime expert, Noah Charney, will give the Venice in Peril Autumn Lecture to be held at The Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 1 October 2009, at 7pm. Entitled "Stealing the Mystic Lamb: the true story of the world’s most frequently stolen masterpiece", Noah will give an exclusive and original insight into Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, a work that has been involved in 13 crimes over its 600 year existence. An original speaker who returns for Venice in Peril due to a sell-out talk last year, Noah will be joined by Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley. With a police career spanning 23 years, DS Rapley is head of London’s Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit, a unit dedicated to policing the world’s second largest art market and which recovers, on average, £7million of stolen and laundered art each year.

Thursday 1st October 2009 at 7pm
Doors open at 6pm with public bar and garden
The Royal Geographical Society
1 Kensington Gore, London SW7
To book tickets please either:
Call the Venice in Peril office on 020 7736 6891 or
Email us at

August 3, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009 - No comments

Valued After Destruction: Two Cases of Crimes against Korean Cultural Heritage

Valued After Destruction: Two Cases of Crimes against Korean Cultural Heritage
by Yoo Jin Cheong

Over the past century, South Korea was subjected to several art crimes in which its national pride was tested. The first incident happened while Korea was under the oppressive rule of Japan during the early 20th century. The Japanese empire took liberty in destroying Korean cultural possessions to assert its power. Consequently, the crimes against Korean art came to be associated with Japan. However, the most recent tragedy in Korean art, involved the burning of Sungnye Gate by a Korean citizen who did so for media attention. These two cases share some commonalities: the malicious motivations of the perpetrators who hoped for similar outcomes, the Korean public reactions and the rapid surge in the value of the destroyed art. This essay will analyze the two cases for their classifications under art crime (i.e. iconoclasm and war abuses), with the particular focus on the latter one for its shortcomings in security and fire preventions plans.

1900s Defacement of Gyeongbok gung: Korea Products Exposition

During the early 20th century, Japan started the process of colonization in Asia, mimicking the western imperialistic tendencies; in the countries it took over, Japan tried to discard all nationalistic elements in hopes of “Japanizing” the colonies.[1] South Korea inevitably became a victim of “Japanization” in 1910. During the 34 years of annexation, the nation suffered greatly and lost its national, cultural and artistic identities.

In an attempt to demonstrate power over the conquered dynasty, Japan began to systematically demolish, deface and mistreat all cultural properties and objects that represented the “old” Korea.[2] While burning down palaces and other architectural monuments, Japan particularly spent time degrading one place: Gyeongbok gung, the main palace of the Joseon dynasty. The palace had served as a key symbol of law and order (monarchy) in South Korea.[3] As a result, Japanese conquerors viewed destroying of Gyeongbok gung as parallel to abolishing the Korean authority and spirit. Accordingly, in 1909, they tore the palace down for building materials and sale to the public. Then in 1915, they burned the rest of the third of the building to make room for the Korean Products Exposition.[4] The exposition, which was a display of Korean artistic, cultural and industrial works, was meant to represent “colonialism as fundamental to the progress of both the metropole and the colony.”[5] Similar to the idea of exhibition of Entartetekunst (degenerate art) during WWII, its purpose was to show cultural superiority of Japan. Parts of Gyeongbok gung were left untouched for the pure reason of negative comparison. The wooden structure of Gyeongbok gung viewed as the “old” and “stagnant” Korea was overshadowed by the “new” and “modern Renaissance plus Secession style” of Japanese buildings.[6] Furthermore, just the idea of placing a commercial exhibition in a “sacred palace” aided in “dislodging the authority of the five-hundred-year-old Korean Joseon dynasty.[7] At the exhibition itself, the objects displayed were strategically placed next to the Japanese products for a “hierarchical comparison.”[8]

The Japanese policies towards the Korean cultural possessions paralleled other historical moments in wartime art crimes. The most well-known case was during WWII when the Nazis often held exhibitions and sales of “conquered arts” as a way of degrading other cultures and elevating their own. Prior to WWII, the wartime abuses of cultural objects were integrated into foreign policies; many brought back objects from conquered nations as “trophies” for material profits while others destroyed them for demonstration of power. Plunders and pillages often occurred during armed conflicts, in which cultural heritages of weakened nations were inevitably affected. In that sense, the Japanese actions on Gyeongbok gung followed the familiar pattern of the practices during war crimes. Furthermore, because of its symbolic representation, the demolition of Gyeongbok gung was also an act of iconoclasm that undermined the Korean authority and raised Japan’s own superiority; it inevitably led to a built-in inferiority complex for the South Koreans.

The shocking images of defaced national symbol stayed in the minds of the Korean public. Even post-liberation from Japan, the destruction of cultural heritage in South Korea was forever associated with Japan. However, this thought diminished on February 10th, 2008.

2008 Destruction of the Sungnye Gate

On this date, another crime occurred against a Korean cultural possession: the Sungnye Gate. Being the oldest wooden structure of Seoul, the Gate was proudly located at the heart of the city. However, past February, it was burnt down to the ground by a Korean citizen, erasing the assumption that crimes against heritage only occurred during the Japanese occupation and by the foreigners.

The witness to the arson, Sang-gon Lee, a taxi driver, stated that he saw a man with a shopping bag go into the Gate through the side stairs. Lee noticed red sparks inside the building immediately after the man’s entrance. While calling the cops to notify them of the possible danger, Lee saw the man exit “calmly” out the back gate towards the highway.[9] He added that the whole process took about five minutes. When the police did not arrive in the scene in time, Lee tried to pursue the perpetrator, but lost him on the road. Lee’s response illustrates Anthony Amore’s claim (Director of Security of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) that “security is everyone’s business.”[10] Although Amore’s statement was made towards enclosed museums—under the assumption that visitors who are vested with love for art that they paid to look at are “likely to speak up if they think a person means to do harm to the collection”—the same thought is applicable to the openly accessible cultural heritage. Although the Gate was located in public arena and people did not have to pay to view it, the nationalistic sentiments associated with the work of art heightened its value and made it necessary to be protected. Accordingly, the ordinary citizens unwittingly became part of the security measure and a “vital layer of security, lending…sets of eyes.”[11]

However, naturally, solely depending on the ordinary citizens is not sufficient in protecting art. Colonel Giovanni Pastore, the vice-commandant of the Carabinieri division for the protection of Cultural Heritage, advised that the best first step of defending art on a national level is “prevention.”[12] Arguing that it is the “elementary safeguard against” art crimes, Pastore stressed the need to develop security system around the cultural possessions and to inform the potential criminals of strong penal punishments. He especially advocated the significance of educating the public about the consequences of harming cultural objects, as to deter actions. Unfortunately, the Cultural Heritage Maintenance Committee (CHMC), in charge of laying out the groundwork for security, failed to follow these guidelines and thus brought about the destruction of the Sungnye Gate; firstly, the Gate neither had the proper prevention measures in security nor in the fire protection and secondly, the severity of the punishment for corruption of cultural artifacts was not widely realized.

Despite being labeled as Korea’s number one national treasure, the Sungnye Gate maintained a weak security around it. The Gate was open to public visitation from 10am to 8pm daily. During the open hours on weekdays, there were three guards who maintained the area; however, on the weekends, there was only one person on the patrol. Past the visiting hours, a nearby company (KT Telecom) maintained an aloof watch of the Gate with security cameras and minimal sensors/alarm.[13] According to the newspapers, there were four CCTVs around the cultural property, but no evidence could be gathered against the perpetrator at first because of their impractical placements; one was facing the back door, one inside, and the other two towards the opposite directions. The remote placement of the security cameras failed to capture the crime scene and negated their effectiveness.

Other security measures such as sensors and alarm system also proved to be inadequate in safeguarding the cultural symbol. According to the security guards from KT Telecom and the police department, past cases of false alarms have encouraged them to ignore the warnings. The Gate, as a result of its public nature, was a “playground” of the homeless in Seoul; they often cooked, drank alcohol and slept inside the cultural property. Inevitably, in the past, their frequent traffic had triggered the alarm several times during the nights. Although few times in the beginning, the police often checked on the Gate, after a while, they stopped, realizing the frivolity of the incidents. Consequently, on the night of the fire, the security guards once again overlooked the alarms and only arrived on the scene ten minutes after the initial report when witnesses of the fire frantically gave them a call, by which time, the fire was already blazing.[14]

In addition to its defective security measures, the Gate also lacked proper fire prevention plans. Assigned as a four-star building by the Fire Department, the Gate was only required to maintain limited prevention efforts; the fire marshal later stated that its close proximity to the Fire Department was one of the reasons why it was given a low-risk status. Following the guidelines, the Committee only put in place manual fire extinguishers: four on each floor, totaling to eight.[15] The Committee also reasoned that they did not want to install sprinkler or other precautionary systems because they would have interfered with the aesthetics of the cultural property.[16]

Moreover, the organizational system for fire protection also proved to be passive. The firefighters never received any training on how to deal with the burning of a cultural property. While the Gate’s societal significance and its complete wooden structure should have been a reason enough to create a manual in case of fire, the Committee and the Fire Department neglected to prepare a plan. Though the appropriate response to the fire would have been to break the roof tiles (thus destroying part of the cultural heritage) to prevent its spread, later interviews indicated the hesitancy of the firefighters in following that procedure.[17] As a result, the fire continued to spread and burn the structure down. Although the Fire Department did reveal that they tried to partake in the prevention efforts in the past by facilitating dry runs, the passive simulations only included reviewing the space where the fire truck could park and not how to suppress the fire.[18] Furthermore, the Gate’s property insurance for fire was merely 95,000,000 won (about 75,000 dollars) which was no where near the rebuilding costs.[19]

The destruction of the Gate brought attention to the lack of security and safety measures placed on cultural heritage properties in South Korea. The shortcomings of the Korean maintenance system, correspondingly, had been compared and contrasted extensively with other ones abroad, particularly with Japan. Several newspaper articles covering the Gate’s destruction often described the Japanese security measures to stress the Korea inadequacy. For example, Dae-woong Jun or a Japanese Main Palace, considered to be an utmost important cultural property of the nation, similar to the Korean Gate, has immense security and safety structures; containing smoke detectors, heat and other 215 types of sensors, and alarm and sprinkler system, the Palace is built to immediately response to fire and other crimes.[20] Professor Lee Dong-myung stated that most Japanese buildings have structures which allow for the fire to be contained and exterminated immediately while Korea lacks this strategy.[21] Furthermore, the newspapers often included the shocking responses from Japanese tourists on the failure of the Korean system; one tourist was quoted in saying “this would never happen in Japan. Isn’t that Korea’s National Treasure Number One?”[22] This comparison to Japan is perhaps reminiscent of the decade-old link between Japan and Korean cultural heritage. By appraising Japan’s efficient security system, the media once again directs attention to Korea’s inferiority complex brought on by the Japanese annexation. The complete failure of the security and safety structures stirred disappointment among the public against the Korean government. The inability to protect its number one national treasure was subjected to criticism at home and abroad; it was viewed as a national humiliation.

This result was exactly what the arsonist had hoped for. The perpetrator was later exposed through a confession as Jong-gi Chae, a 70-year-old man with a personal issue with the government. The records revealed that Chae had visited the Gate at least twice, in July and December, at which times, the police suspect he realized the weak security at nights and on weekends.[23] The police also discovered that Chae was a repeat offender of the cultural property destruction. He had previously been charged for setting fire on Chaggyeong Palace in 2006 and had been placed on a two-year-probation in addition to absorbing the renovation costs of $4230.[24] Though Chae suffered financially, he was not imprisoned for his actions. Correspondingly, many argued, reflecting Castore’s statement, in favor of the necessity in harsher punishment for art crimes and publicity of it, claiming that the second arson could have been prevented.

Many speculations have been made both by academia and police forces, regarding the reasons behind Chae’s actions. The biggest motivation for his act, however, seemed to have been to bring attention to what he deemed “injustice” done to him by the government. In 2002, his house in Ilsan-dong was demolished by the government for redevelopment efforts, to build highways. Interviews with his family members and neighbors revealed that Chae never fully recovered after the demolition. Claiming that he never received warning or proper compensation, Chae developed hostility towards the government; he argued that if he were a police officer or a Blue House worker (the Office of the President of Republic of Korea), his house would never have been destroyed.[25] Psychological analysis by the Dongkuk University Professor Yoon-ho Lee showed that when Chae could not resolve his anti-government sentiments, that is when he began to act out to receive societal attention through arson attempts.[26] His act broadly fits the definition of iconoclasm; though not a sexual or a religious symbol, it was a national one. Professor Lee argued that Chae was clearly aware of the cultural value of the Gate and wanted to make a statement against the government in destroying it.[27]

Sungnye Gate was an “iconic reminder of old Korea in the modern Asian city.”[28] In the past, Sungnye Gate served as a city entrance to control the flow of foreigner emissaries, and to block enemies. Though no longer used as an entrance, the Gate was well-known as a landmark that survived both Chinese and Japanese invasions that have devastated all other parts and thus, was a symbol of triumphant Korea.[29] In the past, there had been cases in which protection of cultural possessions were viewed to parallel the country’s power and status; for example, Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, was seen as an object worth preserving and safe-guarding and was often protected against foreigners. Similarly, having the Gate be in-tact despite numerous foreign invasions was seen as a Korean victory and power; therefore, the destruction of it was a national failure. Chae, understanding such vital function of the Gate, committed the malicious act against it as a deliberate attempt of undermining Korea’s power and glory. Furthermore, the fact that the Gate was at the heart of Seoul and was the most treasured cultural heritage for the Koreans was used to Chae’s advantage to intensify the shock. In the end, Chae succeeded in eliminating a cultural property that had served as a symbol for Korea, all at the cost of attention.

The two cases of cultural property destructions in South Korea demonstrate several aspects of art crime. First case of Gyeongbok gung, demolished by the Japanese during the war time, illustrated the abuses brought on by the armed conflicts as a way of showing power over the conquered nation. With the intention of “killing” the Korean spirit, the Japanese forces degraded the once powerful palace of the Korean dynasty, knocking it down for a “degenerate” exhibition. By comparing the “old” Korea to the “new” Japan, the conquerors tried to assert superiority over Korea. The first case shocked South Koreans and caused them to associate destruction of Korean cultural heritage to Japan and therefore, to foreign invaders.

However, the second case of the burning of Sungnye Gate caused them to change their thoughts. The destruction of the second cultural heritage was brought on by a local citizen who was unhappy with the government, demonstrating the psychological patterns of art criminals. Because he was personally offended by the Korean government, he decided to burn down the national symbol in order to focus attention on his problem. In the end, he received what he wanted, a national media’s coverage of his background story at the cost of a life-long sentence. In addition to the tragic demolition of the Korean symbol, the nation also suffered, much to the satisfaction of the perpetrator, from humiliation in its failure to guard its National Treasure number one. The media shed light on the government’s insufficient security and fire plans for cultural heritages, making it the target of the criticisms from its own public and from abroad.

In both cases, Koreans responded in anger and shock. The previously ignored cultural arts were grieved for by the public due to the fact that the perceived value of the art was heightened after their destructions. Since there was no demand for the two art objects, the rarity (especially, the Gate which was seen as the oldest surviving wooden structure of the old Korea) and authenticity, added with the nationalistic sentiments increased their value immensely. Though the importance of these cultural properties were largely overlooked and taken for granted prior to the incidents, the destruction of them allowed the citizens to finally realize their symbolic natures. Furthermore, the second case especially enlightened the public of the need to have better security systems and fire prevention plans for the other cultural heritages. In that sense, the demolition was tragic, but perhaps was necessary for the proper appreciation and protection of invaluable Korean art.

Works Cited

Charney, Noah. Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World. Wesport:
Praeger, 2009.

Chin, Hong-sop. Hanguk misulsa. Seoul: Mounyeh Publishers Inc,, 2006.

Choe, Sang-Hun. “South Korean Gate Destroyed in Fire .” New York Times 12 Feb. 2008. New York Times. 27 Apr. 2009 .

The City History Compilation Commitee of Seoul. Seoul Under Japanese Aggression . Seoul: Jingyang Printing Corporation, 2002.

Kal, Hong. “Modeling the West, Returning to Asia: Shifting Politics of Representation in Japanese Colonial Expositions in Korea.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 47.3 (2005): 507-531. JSTOR. 2 May 2009 .

Kim, Jin-myung. “Fire Insurance .” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

- - -. “Neglected by the fire marshal law.” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 1 May 2009 .

The Korean National Comission for UNESCO. Traditional Korean Art. Seoul: The Si-sa-yong-o-sa Publishers, Inc., 1983.

Lee, Jae-joon. “Who is the Arson Suspect Chae? .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .

Lee, Seok-wu. “Crime Process.” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .

Lee, Seok-wu. “Failed Prevention System.” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

O, Kwang-su. Uri misul 100-yŏn. Seoul: Hyun-Ahm Inc., 2001.

Park, Joong-hyun. “Why they couldn’t stop the initial fire .” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 29 Apr. 2009 .

Park, See-young. “How did this happen in the middle of Seoul? .” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo . 30 Apr. 2009 .

Won, Jung-hwan. “The Arsonist’s Psychology .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo . 3 May 2009 .

[1] The Korean National Comission for UNESCO. Traditional Korean Art. Seoul: The Si-sa-yong-o-sa Publishers, Inc., 1983. 21.

[2] The City History Compilation Commitee of Seoul. Seoul Under Japanese Aggression . Seoul: Jingyang Printing Corporation, 2002. 33.

[3] Chin, Hong-sop. Hanguk misulsa. Seoul: Mounyeh Publishers Inc,, 2006. 793.

[4] The City History Compilation Committee of Seoul, 23.

[5] Kal, Hong. “Modeling the West, Returning to Asia: Shifting Politics of Representation in Japanese Colonial Expositions in Korea.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 47.3 (2005): 507-531. JSTOR. 2 May 2009 . 507.

[6] Ibid, 508.

[7] Ibid, 522.

[8] Ibid, 524.

[9] Kim, Jin-myung. “Fire Insurance .” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

[10] Charney, Noah. Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World. Wesport: Praeger, 2009. 102.

[11] Ibid, 102.

[12] Ibid, 91.

[13] Kim, Jin-myung. “Fire Insurance .” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

[14] Lee, Seok-wu. “Crime Process.” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Lee, Seok-wu. “Failed Prevention System.” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

[18] Ibid.

[19] Kim, Jin-myung. “Fire Insurance .” Chosun Ilbo 12 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 2 May 2009 .

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Park, Joong-hyun. “Why they couldn’t stop the initial fire .” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 29 Apr. 2009 .

Park, See-young. “How did this happen in the middle of Seoul? .” Chosun Ilbo 11 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo . 30 Apr. 2009 .

[23] Lee, Seok-wu. “Crime Process.” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .

[24] Lee, Jae-joon. “Who is the Arson Suspect Chae? .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .

Choe, Sang-Hun. “South Korean Gate Destroyed in Fire .” New York Times 12 Feb. 2008. New York Times. 27 Apr. 2009 .

[25] Lee, Jae-joon. “Who is the Arson Suspect Chae? .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo. 3 May 2009 .

[26] Won, Jung-hwan. “The Arsonist’s Psychology .” Chosun Ilbo 13 Feb. 2008. Chosun Ilbo . 3 May 2009 .

[27] Ibid.

[28] Choe, Sang-Hun. “South Korean Gate Destroyed in Fire .” New York Times 12 Feb. 2008. New York Times. 27 Apr. 2009 .

[29] Ibid.

July 28, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - No comments

Lessons in Looting

Lessons in Looting
By Stephanie Goldfarb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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