Blog Subscription via

December 26, 2010

December 24, 2010

Exclusive Update on the Madrid Picasso Theft

On 29 November 2010, thieves stole a truck which was carrying what sources claimed was 28 artworks by the likes of Picasso, Chillida, Tapies, and Botero, worth at least 5 million euros. Three hooded men stole the parked truck from a warehouse in an industrial zone in Getafe, outside Madrid. The works were en route back to six galleries in Madrid and Barcelona, after having been on loan for display in Germany. The truck was not armored. It was recovered, empty, by police on 30 November 2010.

But ARCA can report exclusively thanks to knowledgeable sources in Madrid a series of different details and new facts related to the case.

Police in Madrid confirmed that there were in fact 35 works stolen, not 28. 34 of them have been recovered. The last work was not discovered along with the others, and no information as to its whereabouts has risen. Initial reports from Spain, after the air cleared on over-enthusiastic reports as to the value of the stolen art (originally touted by the media at 5 million euros), claimed that the 28 stolen works were valued at 2.7 million. It turns out that the media reports were accurate, despite though through a lucky estimate. The new tally of 35 stolen works are now valued by Spanish police at 5 million euros.

The police are keeping their investigation to themselves, choosing not to inform the media as they are still hunting for the thieves.

There was some concern that the sculptures stolen, among them a work in iron and bronze by Eduardo Chillida, might have been destined for the scrapyard. A string of theft in 2005 of objects, from artworks to garden ornaments, were disappearing from across England. The theme was that the objects were made of bronze or copper, the prices for which had quadrupled in the preceding months due to a shortage emerging from mines, particularly in China. Henry Moore’s Reclining Nude, a ten-ton abstract bronze sculpture, was stolen by local gypsies from the Henry Moore Estate in Hertfordshire, England in 2005, and has never been recovered—it is feared that it was chopped into pieces, melted, and sold for scrap bronze, perhaps for as little as 2500 pounds, when as an artwork it was insured at 10 million. Thieves would not be distraught by having “lost out” on 10 million—it would of course be all but impossible to shop, transport, and cash in on a ten-ton sculpture. Thieves would rather consider that they had “worked” (as in, stolen) for about a half an hour, and came away with 2500 pounds. This rash of thefts continued, and in locations as remote as Slovenia bronze objects and sculptures were stolen, only to be found sliced into segments, destined for the smelter. This technique, grotesque as it is, benefits the criminals in that it destroys any traceable evidence of the stolen object, while still allowing them to cash in, for however small a fraction of the total value. When gold sculptures by Bill Reid were stolen from the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver in 2008, it was feared that the gold would be sold for scrap value—for this reason a reward was offered for the recovery of the sculptures, set at a higher value than the scrap metal, in an effort to delay the melting of the works. The ploy in that case worked out, as police captured a gang of jewelry thieves linked to international organized crime syndicates, and recovered the works.

Last month, 200 Spanish policemen raided a slum in southern Madrid, and arrested a slew of drug dealers and Romanian gypsies working for various criminal gangs. The target of the raid was several tons of copper, stolen from an AVE high-speed train.

The transport company responsible for the truck from which the art was stolen has never had an incident of this type in the last two decades, further suggesting a one-off inside contact aiding the thieves. Details of the recovery of the 34 stolen artworks have not been released, but the Madrid police said that they recovered the works when the Chillida sculpture was offered to a scrap metal merchant for 30 euros.

December 20, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010 - , No comments

ARCA extends deadline for Postgraduate Program 2011

ARCA is extending the official deadline for applications for the 2011 Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies to January 21, 2011. In certain circumstances ARCA will consider late applications. Please contact Mark Durney at if you wish to apply after January 21, 2011.

December 16, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010 - ,, No comments

Profile: Art historian Thomas Flynn

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

In our continued series on ARCA lecturers, the ARCA blog is profiling returning lecturer Tom Flynn who will teach a course this summer in Amelia titled “Art History and the Art World” from June 6 through June 17, 2011.

Tom Flynn is a London-based writer and art historian with interests in sculpture history, art and business, museology, cultural heritage, the art market, and art crime. Flynn has a Masters in Design History from the Royal College of Art and a doctorate in Art History from the University of Sussex. He teaches courses on the art market and the history of museums at Kingston University, London and is the author of a number of books on sculpture, painting and the decorative arts. As a journalist Tom has written for a broad range of publications, including The Art Newspaper, Art & Auction, ARTnews, Art Review, Art Quarterly, Apollo, The Spectator, Museums Journal, The Sculpture Journal, etc. Tom blogs regularly on art world matters at In 2009, he launched an art consultancy, The Sculpture Agency ( to promote contemporary sculpture. A list of his books can be found here: (

ARCA blog: What will be the scope of your course in Amelia?
Tom Flynn: The course aims to give students a thorough grounding in how the art market works and how its key institutions interact and relate to one another. The art market can often seem a somewhat mysterious and intimidating business environment with its own specific codes of communication and ways of conducting transactions and establishing price. The course sets out to dispel some of the myths and mysteries surrounding the rapidly globalizing market in an enjoyable way that will enrich and empower students in their future careers.
ARCA blog: Does your course focus on particular subjects?
Tom Flynn: Yes, the course works its way through the main public and private institutions that make up the modern art market, offering a historical perspective on the market’s evolution as well as plenty of contemporary analysis. Through a series of intensive but lively and interactive teaching sessions, we explore the history of collecting, the evolution of museums, the emergence of the auction houses and the art trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the development of the contemporary art market. We also investigate the impact of technology on the art trade and art investment, how the art media works, and the importance of art fairs in the global market. Finally, we also touch on topical themes such as deaccessioning by museums, the repatriation of cultural objects, and the impact of the Artist’s Re-Sale Rights Levy.
ARCA blog: How would you advise prospective students to prepare for your course?
Tom Flynn: A preliminary reading list is circulated in the weeks and months prior to the course and anything students can read from that list will be useful preparation for classroom discussion. I also urge students to try and visit at least one fine art auction sale before arriving in Italy and to stroll around the museums and art galleries in their home towns and cities, taking attentive note of how objects are exhibited and thinking critically about how business is conducted in those environments.
ARCA blog: Tom, you’ve taught twice in Amelia with the ARCA program, what kind of a student do you think benefits from this program and what do you think they would get out of your class?
Tom Flynn: Any student with a genuine desire to learn will benefit from this course. I don’t expect students to arrive with specific knowledge of the art world as my course is designed to offer a grounding in the key issues. However, students who already have some experience of art and its markets will benefit from an opportunity to think in fresh ways about familiar ideas and to challenge their own preconceptions. In my first two years of teaching the course I’ve also noticed how students benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience, exchanging ideas in a relaxing, friendly and stimulating environment.

I hope that answers your questions. And you’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned the excellent local wine!

December 15, 2010

Profile: Noah Charney Interviews Icon Conservator Riika Köngäs

ARCA Founder Noah Charney recently interviewed ARCA Alum Riikka Köngäs, one of Europe’s youngest conservators of icons. She also works for the largest art gallery (Retretti) in Finald as a courier and a conservation specialist. She is Secretary of the Icon-Network Association, an organization providing information about icons, icon collections, education and conservation. One of the objectives of the Icon-Network is to prevent trade of stolen icons by creating a database of stolen icons (

Riikka Köngäs graduated in 2003 with a BA (HONS) Conservation and Restoration of Art and Antiquities from Lincoln University, Great Britain. Specific work experience as an art conservator was acquired from Paliambela Archaeological Excavations in Greece and from the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece, as well as other museums in Finald. She completed the MA-program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection in 2009. She published her dissertation, "Copy versus Forgery: The Difficulty in Determining Motive with Regards to Modern Iconography and Icon Collections" in the Spring 2010 Journal of Art Crime.

Noah Charney: What sort of conservation work do you do?
Riikka: I work as a head conservator in the Valamo Art Conservation Institute in Finland. We conserve paintings on wood and on canvas and are specialized on icon conservation. Our specialization is unique in Finland and in Scandinavia. We take commissions not only from the Orthodox church, but also other churches in Finland, from museums, insurance companies and works from private sources form perhaps half of our work load. Besides practical conservation, we do condition reporting to exhibitions and different art collections, give advice of preventing conservation and handling of art, and naturally give lectures about art conservation.
We are a small institute, but play a significant role in different European projects, from which the latest is a project called Icon Network. Within this project we set up an exhibition with theme “icons and war”, published a book supporting the theme and currently work partly with web pages to help people who are interested about icons.
Noah Charney: What is the process, when you receive a commission of an icon to restore?
Riikka: Each icon is unique, and there is no straightforward way to restore an icon. Firstly, when talking about icon, we usually think about painting on flat wooden support. But there are icons painted on canvas, as well as on metal, I have even seen one painted on dried fish skull!

Normally our work starts with documentation. We have full-time research photographer working for us, so he photographs the icon, and if necessary, he can take ultraviolet and infrared photos, even x-rays. Then follows written documentation, which we carry on through whole process, writing down every step we do. So called “normal” process includes cleaning, stabilization of paint layer and restoration (painting) only if necessary. Each case has to be considered separately. For example, if an icon is from the museum, we hardly do any restoration at all. But if an icon goes to a church, or at private home, we usually do restoration. It would be rather difficult to concentrate on praying in front of this icon if half of the face was missing!
Noah: You completed the ARCA postgraduate program in 2009. What did the program offer to you?
Riikka: It was terribly interesting, loaded with huge amount of information in short time, and it gave me a push to find out more about certain matters in illicit trade of art, and of icons. It assured me that the more we know about this dark side of art world and the more we educate ourselves, the more we can do to prevent these things happening. Finland is such a small country, but by no means a safe bird nest. The program gave me several ideas what to do next, and very importantly several good connections to turn to if I need advice.
Noah: Tell me about your work since completing the ARCA program.
Riikka: Full speed rollercoaster! I took over the head conservators role after returning to work immediately after the course, and have been settling into that. Besides managing the institute, marketing, finding new projects, traveling around Finland from church to church, giving lectures etc etc, I do practical conservation as much as I can, since that is the part I enjoy tremendously. In June 2010 an icon was stolen from a cathedral in Helsinki, and one icon was damaged badly. I did conservation on this particular icon, and started discussions about the need to secure churches. This continues and hopefully with good results. We set up an exhibition in our monastery and did the security plan for it (using ArtGuard) and now I am planning next exhibitions. The plan is to have an exhibition with fakes and forgeries, co-operating with some museums and police. The process has been started already, and it looks splendid.
Noah: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the conservation world?
Riikka: Worldwide, there are so many challenges and demands to protect cultural heritage…

If I think only about my area of conservation, I almost see red when I meet today’s artists and see their work. I give many lectures trying to make artists understand the importance of good technique; it’s the matter of quality, not quantity. Just take a painting (or even icon) 100 years old, and it still looks more or less top quality. Whereas we are getting more and more badly prepared canvases or panels only 10-20 years old and already damaged. Education, education, that is the word!
Noah: There has been a recent debate about how much cleaning should be done on Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. Would you like to comment?
Riikka: I am not very familiar with this case, but general rule I try to follow as much as I can is "less is more”, as I guess every conservator thinks. Making sure that piece of art will be there for next generations is the most important, not restoring it so that it looks like new. And this doesn’t mean treating the object only; it includes taking care of the surroundings as well. Cleaning is always a bit risky, especially when using detergents or solvents or new methods that haven’t been in use for long.

December 13, 2010

December 8, 2010

Profile: ARCA Founder Noah Charney

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Noah Charney, Founding Director of ARCA, will be teaching "Art Crime and Its History” in Amelia this summer for ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies.

Mr. Charney is the Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Art Crime. Recently a Visiting Lecturer at Yale University, he is currently Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Rome. He is the editor of ARCA’s first book, Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger 2009). In addition, Mr. Charney published a novel, The Art Thief (Atria, 2007), and a nonfiction book, Stealing The Mystic Lamb: The Incredible True History of the World’s Most Frequently Stolen Masterpiece (PublicAffairs, 2010).

ARCA blog: Welcome to the ARCA blog, Noah. How would you describe your course to the readers who are applying to this program?
Noah: Our program is unique, the first in the world to offer courses of study in the unusual topic of art crime and cultural heritage protection. It has received quite a bit of attention, even though it was only founded in 2009. That same year a New York Times feature article introduced the program to the world, and we’ve grown and solidified since then. What I love about our program is that it embraces the inherent interdisciplinary nature of the study of art crime, which involves art history, archaeology, law, criminology, police and security studies, even conservation. We bring in world-renowned professors in an unusual format—each comes for two weeks over the summer to teach an intensive, 25 hour course in their area of expertise. As a result you get 10 amazing professors, plus numerous guided field trips and guest speakers, plus our international Conference on the Study of Art Crime at the heart of the program. Our unusual format, fitting over 250 lecture hours (the equivalent in hours to a year-long European Masters Program) into the three summer months allows adult professionals to take the program, or students during the summer between full-time programs. As a result we’ve had post-graduate students and professionals, ages 22 to 65, ranging from students to conservators to curators to investigators to lawyers and so on—a diverse and international group. The program does a great job of offering both academic/historical courses, like mine, with practical professional courses, like the course on “Art Policing and Investigation.”
My course is a complete history of art crime, and an introduction to the field of study. It really paves the way for the rest of the program, and provides an anecdotal history—we examine around 60 case studies carefully chosen because they each illustrate a point or phenomenon related to art crime. The stories are great, too, vivid and fun, which makes the lessons easier to remember. My goal is for my students to remember the dynamic stories that I teach, and thereby remember the lessons vicariously—if I’m doing my job well, students should not have to study, but be sufficiently drawn in during class to absorb all of the lessons without feeling like they’re having to “work.”
ARCA blog: You’ve taught this course many times over the past few years, in New Haven and Amelia, how has it changed over the last few years? Do you find yourself having to overcome any common misconceptions students may bring with them to class on the first day?
Noah: I feel like I’m an actor performing a play that I’m really passionate about once a year—I think I always get better at teaching the material, and it comes more easily. A key for me is never reading a lesson from notes. I think that’s about the most boring thing a professor can do. I much prefer teaching with just the barest outlines, which gives classes a sense of energy and freshness. I’ve taught this course at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and I’ve honed my selection of case studies to 60 cases that really tell the entire history, and future, of art crime. I’m working on an academic book covering the subject, as we speak.
One thing I’m pleased with is that since ARCA was founded, students and journalists have been largely educated about art crime in a way that was not the case beforehand. That is not to say that this is ARCA’s doing, but we’ve helped bring issues and facts to the fore, so that journalists and students are versed in the correct facts and phenomena about art crime from the start. This is really a great improvement and shows that hard work and education outreach has paid off.
ARCA blog: You’ve taught this course over a semester and also compressed over two weeks. How would you advise your summer graduate students to prepare for this class?
Noah: The two-week “executive training” version of the course has largely the same presentation of case studies, but with a bit more story-telling and a bit less collective group discussion, simply for time constraints (a semester-long course is normally 40 hours, and a postgraduate level course in our program is 25). We also have less reading during the course. I’m a big fan of relatively little homework, provided my students are focused and participate in class. But we assign some books to be read in advance of the program, so that all of our students arrive with shared material which can be used as a point of departure. We assign ARCA’s first book, Art & Crime (Praeger 2009), The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini (PublicAffairs 2004), a choice between The Lost Masters by Pittaway and Harclerode or The Rape of Europa by Nicholas, and my new book, Stealing the Mystic Lamb (PublicAffairs 2010). That may sound like a lot, but we have almost no assigned reading during the summer, so students can concentrate on enjoying and learning from the great lecturers we bring to them—and can relax with some wine and prosciutto as they spend their summer in Umbria.
ARCA blog: Will you be including the story of “Stealing the Mystic Lamb” in your course this year?
Noah: Well, I’m always shy about assigning my own books to students, but all teachers do it—and it helps to have this central point from which to depart. Since this book will be assigned to students ahead of time, we’ll discuss it and use it as the spine, or through-line of the course. Pretty much anything bad that can happen to a work of art has happened to The Ghent Altarpiece, as my book explores, so it’s an ideal lens through which to study the history of art crime, collecting, and the power of art that reaches far beyond the art world and into international politics, war, and faith.

Photo by Liisa van Vliet of Noah Charney recently speaking at The Courtauld Institute in London.

Budapest Firm Tondo Examines Paintings Scientifically

Zsófia Végvári, Tondo, Inc.'s Chief Executive Officer holding a painting attributed to Picasso

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

On her trip to Budapest earlier this month, ARCA’s Director of Public and Institutional Relations, Colette Loll Marvin, toured the facility of Tondo, Inc., a firm specializing in complex painting analysis that contributes to attributions and forgery research. Tondo’s Chief Executive Officer Zsófia Végvári led Marvin through a series of complex tests used to determine the authenticity of a suspected Picasso painting recently discovered by a buyer in the Middle East. The testing can tell the age of the inorganic components, which will be used, along with the judgements of art historians, to make a determination of the authenticity, Végvári told Marvin.

Végvári founded Tondo in 1998. For the past 10 years, Tondo has provided services to cultural institutions and art collectors with an arsenal of mobile, high-tech equipment for analyzing art works. The Complex Painting Analysis Method (CPAM) combined five techniques to help authenticate paintings.

“So far art historians have used only subjective methods to define oil paintings,” said Végvári in a follow-up email. “By using the CPAM methods we offer objective applications instead of these subjective methods. On the auction market, pictures by famous painters change owners for a high price. These highly valuable paintings have been investigated with objective technologies such as X-ray, XRF, and luminescence examinations in a few cases only. However, most of the results do not increase the credibility of the auction market, but facilitate the restoration phase. After investigating the hidden layer and the metal-content of the painting, we can tell whether or not it was repainted in the past. The CPAM offers so- called 'genetic fingerprint' conditions of paintings based on physical and chemical investigations.”

According to Tondo, the technologies used in the Complex Painting Analysis Method: multispectral photography; X-Ray; microscopy; X-ray Fluorescence - Spectroscopy (XRF) examination; and a 3D white light scanner.

With multispectral photography, Tondo uses a normal light at an angle to the painting to examine brush strokes, crackling, and the artist’s signature, Végvári explained. An infrared light can reveal the underdrawing in a painting, she said. “Some pigments, such as lead white or artificial ultramarine, become transparent on infrared shoot,” Végvári explained. "It is clearly seen where different pigments were used."

Ultraviolet light can detect later restorations that appear darker than the aged original varnish layers. “It’s possible to identify any retouchings on top of an aged varnish, since oil paint and newer varnish do not fluoresce under ultraviolet light,” Végvári explained.

“A low radiation x-ray is one of the most important part of our investigation methods,” Végvári said. “X-ray can give information about an artist’s painting techniques, pigments, and under-paintings. The x-ray technique primarily records the structural elements of a painting as it shows the pigment characterizations. An x-ray can also reveal a painting hidden underneath the visible painting.”

According to Végvári, microscopy can give an amazing amount of information about a painting’s structure, based on cross sectional analysis or pigment sampling. In an invasive technology, a sample is cut from the canvas of 1-2 millimeters to show the layers of paint colors and varnish. The cross sectional analysis presents information about the repainted areas and colors as the chronology of the artist’s working methods, including restoration work. Inside of the layers most of the grains of the pigments can be identified. The pigments sampling helps to identify the age of the paint layer based on the size, characterisation, and the components of the pigment grains.

An X-ray Fluorescence - Spectroscopy (XRF) examination can identify most of the pigments used in paint, Végvári explained, and can be compared to known materials and palettes used during certain historical periods and geographical areas. The XRF spectroscopy can date objects and can reveal forged works when the chemical compounds of the paints do not match the alleged date of the artwork. For example, Végvári said, titanium white would not be in a painting in 1912. Titanium white was not available as an artist's pigment until 1924.

"The combination of XRF and microscopy allows 'diagnosing' an artists’ palette," Végvári said. "It is extremely important to make special database about colors used by each artist."

The three-dimensional surface of the artworks can be recorded with the accuracy of microns with a 3D white light scanner manufactured by Breuckmann GMBH in Germany. With this investigation method, according to Végvári, the condition of the paintings, and the distortion of the support or the brushstrokes can be examined in 3D digital data. "This technology also offers a special 3D fingerprint of the artworks," Végvári said. "It is a special 'mark' for the painting while the status of the surface is captured. The 3D information cannot be forged; so the artwork can be identified over time."

December 7, 2010

Profile: ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins

ARCA is accepting applications for the 2011 Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies until January 3, 2011. ARCA's blog will be interviewing instructors in December and today spotlights a returning lecturer.

New Zealand Judge Arthur Tompkins’ relationship with ARCA began in 2009 when he travelled to Amelia for the first of a two-part presentation at the International Art Crime Conference to discuss the possible pathway to creating an International Art Crime Tribunal. Last summer, in addition to presenting the second part of his proposal for the Tribunal at ARCA’s annual conference, Judge Tompkins taught a course, Art in War, at ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies. He is returning to teach the same course again in Italy in July 2011.

Judge Tompkins has been a District Court Judge in New Zealand for nearly 14 years. His appointment as a Judge, in 1997, followed 10 years in private practice in Auckland as a commercial barrister. He gained his Bachelor’s degree in Law from Canterbury University, in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1983, and subsequently graduated Masters in Law, with First Class Honours, from Cambridge University, England, in 1984. He has taught the Law of Evidence, and presented at numerous conferences and workshops on a variety of topics, including expert evidence, the intersect between law and science in the Courtroom, and most extensively in relation to forensic DNA and forensic DNA Databanks, in New Zealand, China, England, Ireland, France and Mauritius. He is an Honorary Member of Interpol’s DNA Monitoring Expert Group.

ARCA blog: Judge Tompkins, welcome to ARCA’s blog. First, we’d like to start off with an easy question – what brings you away from your court in New Zealand to travel halfway around the world to teach Art in War to graduate students? It can’t all be about the pizza and gelato.
Judge Tompkins: The pizza and the gelato – and especially the latter – is certainly a part of it! How I came to be involved with ARCA is a serendipitous tale of chance meetings, leading to contact with Noah Charney in relation to the chapter that I wrote for the Art and Crime volume he edited. Then, when I visited Amelia in July 2009 for the Conference, Noah offered me the chance to return to Amelia to teach. I made a considered decision (it took me, I seem to recall, less than a second to decide!) to leap at the opportunity both to develop the course, and then to escape the New Zealand winter for the summer in Umbria amid the company of a wonderful group of enthusiastic staff and students.
But perhaps most importantly, the course I teach allows me to combine on a longstanding interest in history (from my distant youth I have three-quarters of a BA majoring in European History, which some day I might just get around to finishing) with the work I have done with Interpol and others concerning the cross-border operation of the criminal law, and my interest in the way, over the years, public international law has developed and matured. I am not an art historian, so I leave that side of things to others!

ARCA blog: Have there been any recent events in the past six months that have refined your concept of an International Art Crime Tribunal?

It is not so much something that has happened, as what has not happened. In my paper to the ARCA Conference in 2009, I talked about, in relation to confronting the many issues raised by art crime, there being islands of excellence amid a sea of indifference. And I think that is still accurate – there are many people in many different places doing great work, including of course ARCA. But realistically they are islands, and there are lots of bridges still to build between them. It is happening, slowly – the availability now on the internet of the Jeu de Paume records left behind by the ERR is one recent example – but I still believe that a single bright focus would bring numerous benefits, not least of which would be the continued development of the durable and lasting culture of interdisciplinary scholarship that ARCA has done so much to reinvigorate and foster.

ARCA blog: In your course, what are some of the areas that you focus on and what do you find the most challenging?

Part of the challenge for both me and the students is that, in the first two days of the course, we cover a little over 3000 years of history – starting with the taking of the Stele of Hammurabi following the sack of Babylon in 1160 BCE, right through to the looting of the Iraqi National Museum and Library in 2003. On the way we stop off at, among many other things, the Thirty Years’ War and, inevitably, both the Napoleonic era and the Second World War. Because I seek to examine, with the students, the various art crimes we look at in their historical context, it is often challenging to summarise major historical events in a very short time – World War I in two paragraphs, anyone? Inevitably, I have many favourite parts of the course, but a couple stand out as particularly interesting. The story of the carrying of a large part of the Palatine Library over the Alps in 1622, on the backs of 200 mules who each wore a silver collar inscribed in Latin is an evocative image. The Vatican Library was closed for renovations this year, but next year I will arrange a reader’s pass to visit and, I hope, inspect some of the volumes, most of which are still in Rome. The astounding heroism of Rose Valland, who worked at the Jeu de Paume on behalf of the French Resistance for four tumultuous years during World War II, recording and identifying the numerous looted art shipments to Germany, to ensure that the Resistance did not inadvertently blow the trains up is a remarkable tale of sustained courage. And, in the second half of the course, presenting the sometimes complex subject of the public international law of treaties and the like presents its own challenges! Using actual examples, like the shelling of Dubrovnik by the Yugoslavian forces and the prosecution and conviction of two senior officers in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, helps bring the international criminal law to life in a real and tangible way – especially as Dubrovnik is not all that far from Italy, just across the Adriatic Sea.

December 3, 2010

Renowned Art Conservator Julia Brennan discusses her adventures in conservation and the ARCA Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime

Julia Brennan is a renowned art conservator specializing in textiles. In an interview with Noah Charney, Julia discusses her international adventures in conservation, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime, and the cleaning of The Ghent Altarpiece.
Read more at Suite101: Renowned Conservator Discusses Art, Art Crime, and Van Eyck

December 2, 2010

Summary of Erik Nemeth's Presentation at the 2010 ASC Conference

ARCA Trustee Erik Nemeth ( and has forwarded on a summary of his thoughtful panel presentation at the American Society of Criminology annual meeting. The presentation, "Cultural Intelligence: data sources on the motivation and means for trafficking" crystallizes I think the systemic nature of the illicit trade in antiquities, and the need for further rigorous examination of the trade across the relevant disciplines. His summary follows:

The annual multibillion-dollar illicit market in movable cultural property motivates looting in developing nations. As demonstrated from Latin America in the midst of the Cold War era to South-central Asia in the post-Cold War period, organized crime may take advantage of limited security in “source nations” by recruiting locals to loot. In African nations, the corruption extends into the public sector with bribes to customs officers and collusion with staff of cultural ministries. On a transnational level, the risk that revenues from trafficking may fund insurgencies and terrorist groups has alerted law enforcement agencies to the implications for international security. The degree of the security threat posed by looting ultimately depends on the market value of the artworks and the intersections with trafficking in weapons and narcotics. Quantitative analysis of the market value and mapping the trafficking networks illustrate the potential of specialized “art intelligence” to enable countermeasures to mitigate, and optimally forestall, threats to cultural identity.

The traditionally clandestine nature of the art market poses challenges to assessing looting and trafficking in developing nations. In the absence of direct information on transactions in ource nations,sales at auction provide a sense of the market value and trade volume of antiquities and primitive art. Auction houses openly publish results of auctions and enable access to sales archives through web sites. On-line access to sales archives creates a substantive pool of data on hammer prices from auctions around the world. Sales archives also contain detailed descriptions of the artworks. The description that accompanies an auction lot can identify the geographic origin of the artwork. Data mining of sales archives for hammer price and origin enables analysis of market value by source nation. The analysis assesses relative market value and, thereby, contributes to an assessment of relative risks of looting across developing nations.

Any threat of looting has serious implications for the cultural identity of local communities, but the market value that motivates looting has implications for the severity and extent of the threat. Large demand in market nations and high market value increases the scale of looting and the range of parties with vested interest. A large market for artworks from a particular source nation increases the likelihood that organized crime will invest in developing trafficking networks and in recruiting locals to loot. As the involvement of organized crime increases, the opportunities for corruption within government also increase. An assessment of the relative risk of looting informs policy on the protection of cultural patrimony. With an understanding of the magnitudes of risk facing different source nations, market nations can strategically focus resources to engage actors in the art market and local governments.

Thieves in Madrid Steal 28 Artworks, including Picassos

See the link above for a new article by ARCA president Noah Charney, on last week's theft of 28 artworks from a truck parked in a warehouse outside of Madrid. Works by Picasso, Chillida, Tapies, and Botero (pictured above) were stolen en route back from loan in Germany to six different galleries in Madrid and Barcelona.