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.