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April 30, 2011

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"Blogging Now and Then (250 Years Ago)": Harvard's Robert Darnton Lectured at The Getty Center on 18th Century Anecdotes and Their Links from the Secret History of Politics to Literature, Blogging and Graffiti

The Talking Statue of Rome
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor-in-Chief

In 18th century Britain, “paragraph men” visited coffee houses in London picking up anecdotes and news behaved like today’s bloggers trolling the Internet who recycle material from other blogs.

“Paragraph men” collected scandalous gossip about public figures on pieces of paper that they would take to the printing shop, either for a fee or to promote themselves, and published scandal sheets about the sex lives of famous people. The only way to defend against these ‘scandal mongers,’ who earned nicknames like “Bruiser” and “Viper”, was to resort to physical fights.

In France, defying the censors, newsmongers (nouvellistes de bouche) sought information from gatherings at special benches in the Tuileries or Luxembourg Gardens or under the tree of Cracow in the Palais-Royal, then transfer these oral “anecdotes” to written snippets of gossip that would later be printed in newspapers published outside of France but circulated within the country. Since the entire process was illegal, those mentioned as the subjects of gossip had no recourse in the courts for ‘libel’ but also engaged in combat with the writers, including, once, France’s greatest poet, Voltaire.

Historian Robert Darnton shared this information Thursday night at The Getty Center in his talk, “Blogging Now and Then (250 Years Ago)”, in a lecture that complimented the new exhibit, “Paris: Life and Luxury in the 18th century” which opened April 26 at The Getty Center in Brentwood.

Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the University Library at Harvard University, examined, according to the J. Paul Getty Museum’s website, “how anecdotes, dispensed by ‘newsmongers’ and ‘paragraph men’, became a staple in the daily diet of news consumed by readers in 18th-century France and England. Anecdotes were also pilfered, reworked, and served up in books. By tracking anecdotes through texts, we can reassess a rich strain of history and literature.”

“We are living through a revolution ever bit as big as the time of Gutenberg,” Dr. Darnton told his audience after an introduction that identified him as the “rock star” of scholars in 18th century literary and cultural history and the author of numerous prize-wining books in European history.

“It’s uncomfortable,” he said. He said that this deluge of information sometimes created a need for readers to make sense of it all, but he said that there is a “fragmentary characteristic of information in general.”

Websites such as The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post collect stories of scandal and gossip mongering that is “not so trivial”, Darnton said. He quoted Stendhal’s opinion about collecting anecdotes and said that the mania for anecdotes was essential in the 18th century.

Dr. Darnton showed a photo of The Talking Statue of Rome, an ancient Roman sculpture nicknamed Pasquino, often covered by poems about the scandalous behavior of cardinals in the 16th century, and used through the ages, including the student uprisings in 1968, and from where “many current graffiti descends.”

“Information comes in fragments and inked in niches in the surrounding environment,” Dr. Darnton said.

Just as modern bloggers recycle material from other blogs, the scandalous gazettes repeated information. Snippets of information about the sexual or private lives of politicians were treated much like the tweets of today.

“However, 21st century blogs are not the same as 18th century anecdotes,” Dr. Darnton said. “I will point out the differences to understand information, how tidbits circulate, and peculiar to time and place.”

Blogs undercut revenue from newspapers, reducing jobs in journalism by 16,000 in 2008, according to Dr. Darnton. Online news is short and you can begin blogging effortlessly. Readers seek out aggregating websites like The Huffington Post that through searches “comb” websites for information. This marginal reporting is comparable to ‘hack writing’ in the 18th century.

“Ancedotes in the 18th century were seen as ‘true’ and ‘secret’, ‘suppressed’ by the king,” Dr. Darnton said. But anecdotes were also gathered by Byzantine historian Procopius whose “Secret History, The Anekdota” detailed the sordid and private lives of the court of Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora.

Other anecdotes were copied into books such as the English translation of “The Private Life of Lewis XV” owned by George Washington who, alas, Dr. Darnton said, did not leave any notes in the margins of his copy.

Dr. Darnton said, “Anecdotes were the secret history, the underground literature, understood to be half truths.”

These “scraps of paper” which were the “echo of public noises” transferred information from the oral system to writing and then to print. They have been found at the Bastille and were collected and pasted into journals, assembled in chronological order, and sold underground as books.

Dr. Darnton suggests rethinking literature based upon the ‘fragmentary nature of information” and “how it is re-worked.”

“Don’t dismiss gossip as trivial,” he said. “Oral transmittal of news was terribly important.” Even the police compiled a gazette by gathering these anecdotes through thousands of spies. Some salons such as Madame Doublet’s met regularly to “cobble together” these anecdotes to make money, and these books by anonymous writers have disappeared from literary history, according to Dr. Darnton.

Someone from the audience asked Dr. Darnton if these anecdotes were used for political change and lead to the French Revolution.

“It’s similar to Egypt or Libya today,” Dr. Darnton responded. “No one foresaw the revolution.” People knew many anecdotes revealing the private lives of the aristocrats, including a coffee spilling incident where the King of France’s mistresses spoke to him as if he were nothing more than a servant, and the accumulated effect of repetition “builds up mythology”.

“Bastille only had seven people imprisoned on the day it was stormed,” Dr. Darnton said. “But in 1778/1789 it was all about the perception of events.”

April 29, 2011

Q&A with Quebec's first art crime enforcement unit

(Left to Right) Quebec's art crime team:
Jean-François Talbot, Alain Gaulin,
 Alan Dumouchel and Sylvie Dubuc
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor-in-Chief

In 2008, the Sureté du Québec, in collaboration with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police created Canada’s first national art crime enforcement unit now consisting of Jean-François Talbot, Sergeant Alain Dumouchel (both of the Sûreté du Québec) and Sylvie Dubuc, RCMP, and Sergent Superviseur Alain Gaulin (Sûreté du Québec).

Beginning in 2003, Jean-François Talbot worked for four years with Alain Lacoursière, an art historian and now-retired Montreal police officer, to develop a new investigative art crime team and Art Alert, an email bulletin sent out to 25,000 members of the art and police communities in 75 countries whenever artworks in Canada are reported stolen. In the four-year partnership between the SQ and Montreal’s city police, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), between 2004 and 2008, the two forces investigated 450 art crime files, made 20 arrests, seized over 150 stolen or forged artworks valued at $2 million, and worked with Interpol on international files.

Canada has been a member of Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization, for more than 60 years and through their database is connected to 187 Interpol member countries.

The art crime team, a group within the investigative department of economic crimes, also examines forged artworks, money laundering, theft, and the sale of stolen goods. The RCMP–Sûreté du Québec team members combine strong backgrounds in art history, law, fraud, and copyright issues. The art squad, with three members from Sureté du Québec and another from the RCMP, in collaboration with the local police in Montreal, recently arrested two suspects using credit cards obtained under false identities to purchase works of art (Robert Bernier, “Art Alert”, iParcours)). They entered into agreements to pay for the art in installments. They paid the first payment by credit card, took the art, and did not pay the balance owed. Between July and November in 2010, the suspects approached seven galleries and from five of those negotiated the sale of 34 works totaling $245,000. The suspects were charged with fraud and fraudulent use of credit cards.

Statistics in art-crime related activities in Canada and Quebec are difficult to quantify as they are listed for each country, and many art thefts are classified as ‘property’ theft by local jurisdictions. The art crime investigative unit estimates that they handle an average of 90 cases annually.

Q: Who are the members of the art crime team and how were they selected?
A: Sergent Enquêteur Jean-François Talbot (Sûreté du Québec) travaillait avec Alain Lacoursière lors de la création de l’équipe d’enquêteur. Il compte 12 ans d’expérience. Il termine une formation universitaire en Histoire de l’art./Sergent Investigator Jean-François Talbot (Sûreté du Québec) worked with Alain Lacoursière in establishing the art crime investigation team. He has twelve years of experience. He is completing his university training art history. 
Sergent Enquêteur Alain Dumouchel (Sûreté du Québec) compte près de 25 ans d’expérience , dont 6 ans en enquête criminelle. Il est inscrit à une formation universitaire en Histoire de l’art./ Sergeant Investigator Alain Dumouchel (SQ) has nearly 25 years experience, including 6 years in criminal investigation. He is studying for a university degree in Art History. 
Gendarme Sylvie Dubuc (Gendarmerie Royale du Canada) compte plus de 25 ans d’expérience, dont 8 ans en droit d’auteur./Constable Sylvie Dubuc (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) has over 25 years experience, including 8 years in copyright investigation. 
Sergent Superviseur Alain Gaulin (Sûreté du Québec) est le responsable de l’équipe. Il compte plus de 20 ans d’expérience policière./ Supervisor Sergeant Alain Gaulin (SQ) is the team leader. He has over 20 years of police experience.
Q: How big of a problem is art crime in Canada?
A: Il est impossible de se prononcer pour le Canada, l’équipe travaille exclusivement au Québec. La quantité de dossier d’enquête est en nombre croissant depuis la creation de l’équipe./It is impossible answer that question with respect to all of Canada, since the team works exclusively in Quebec. The number of investigations has increased since the creation of the team.
Q: Does the Port of Montreal increase the amount of illegal art traffic you police?
A: Le Port de Montréal est un endroit ciblé par plusieurs organizations criminelles pour faire le traffic de marchandise. Les oeuvres d’arts n’y échappent pas./The Port of Montreal is targeted by several criminal organizations for the trafficking of goods. Artworks are no exception.
Q: How would you describe your working relationship with INTERPOL and US Customs? Do you find that stolen art in Canada leaves the country? Is working with other international agencies important to the success of Canada’s art crime unit?
A: Nous avons une excellente collaboration avec les responsables d’Interpol à Ottawa. Nous consultons régulièrement leur banque de données pour completer nos dossiers. Nous avons fais des rencontres avec des enquêteurs des pays suivants: France: Office Centrale de la lutte des biens culturels; Belgique: Police Judiciaire Fédérale (Oeuvre d’art et Antiquité); États-Unis: F.B.I. & Secret Service. La collaboration avec les autres agences internationales est primordiale pour nous et permet d’obtenir des résultats dans nos enquêtes./We have excellent cooperation with Interpol officials in Ottawa. We regularly consult their database to complete our records. We have met with investigators from the following countries: France (Central Office for the Protection of Cultural Property); Belgium (Federal Judicial Police in Artwork and Antiquities); and the U.S. (F.B.I. and the Secret Service). Collaboration with other international agencies is of the utmost importance to us and can produce results in our investigations.
Q: What is the biggest challenge Quebec’s art crime team faces in recovering a stolen work of art?
A: Le plus grand défi réside dans la rapidité de notre intervention permettant la récupération des oeuvres volées./The biggest challenge is how quickly we can act to recover the stolen art.
Q: Describe an average day for Quebec’s art crime team.
A: Il est difficile de décrire une journée type. Les événements imprévus viennent souvent changer notre planification. En plus des tâches usuels de notre travail d’enquêteur, il y a les rencontres des divers propriétaires de galerie et autres personnes relies au milieu de l’art de la province permettant d’établir des contacts./It is difficult to describe a typical day.  Unexpected events often modify our planning. In addition to the usual tasks related to our investigative work, there are various meetings of gallery owners and others connected to the province's art scene in order to establish contacts.
Q: Please tell us about the development of Art Alert and how it works today.
A: Le courriel Art Alert a été crée en 2005. C’est un outil de travail fort utile pour nous. Il rejoint de plus en plus de monde au Canada et ailleurs. On recoit régulièrement des demandes du public demandant à être abonné./The e-mail Alert Art was founded in 2005 and is a very useful tool for us. We are reaching more and more people in Canada and elsewhere. We regularly receive requests from the public asking to be subscribed to Art Alert.
Q: What piece of advice would you offer to individuals interested in pursuing a career in art crime investigation?
A: Pour devenir enquêteur en oeuvre d’art au Québec, il faut être policier d’un service de police. Une formation en histoire de l’art ou autre domaine connexe est un atout./To become an art crime investigator in Quebec, you must employed as a police officer. A background in art history or related field is desirable.
Q: What would you most like to see the Quebec’s art crime team achieve in the next five years?
A: Depuis la formation de l’équipe, la charge de travail ne cesse d’augmenter, l’ajout d’enquêteur confirmerait la réussite de notre équipe. La reconnaissance par le milieu de l’art au Québec de la nécéssité de cette équipe est un autre objectif. /Since the formation of the team, the workload is increasing, and to add investigators would help the success of our team. Recognition by the Quebec art community of the necessity for this team is another goal.
Readers may request a subscription to Quebec's Art Alert by sending an email to:

This article has been posted here with the permission of ARCA's Journal of Art Crime which will publish this article in it's Spring/Summer 2011 issue.  You may subscribe to the Journal of Art Crime through ARCA's website here.

April 28, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011 - No comments

Forging News (Part four): The News Media's Misrepresentation of the Art Criminal

by Katherine Ogden, ARCA Class Alum 2009

Where Do We Go From Here?

All of this discussion brings us back to our original quandary - how does the way in which the news media presents art crime criminals affect art crime as a whole? The main thing we need to begin to focus on is the fact that there is little to no representational of real art crime criminals in the news media. This is a problem because the news media is allowing, and in some cases encouraging, the idea of the sexy/glamorous art thief, the Thomas Crown or Dr. No character, which is not the reality. Art crimes are committed by all sorts of people, and excepting a few examples the majority of known art crime criminals are not the attractive, glamorous types from the movies. These crime criminals are the people that you avoid in bars and teach your kids not to talk to on the streets. More and more the link between art crime and organized crime is being strengthened which only makes the need to understand and accurately report on art crime that much more important.

Joseph Wiseman as "Dr. Julius No"
 in the 1962 James Bond movie "Dr. No"
Additionally, only when the professionals associated with art crime begin to understand that it is a larger problem than a millionaire missing a pretty picture or a museum missing a sculpture will law enforcement accurately file reports on art crime and ultimately realize that art crime has been funding such universally deplorable crimes as arms trade, drug trade and organized crime. One of the best ways to accomplish this would be for news media outlets to begin to report on the actual criminals behind these crimes and the subsequent sentencing of these criminals. Once the faces of these ordinary criminals are put in the public arena, the illusion of the sexy art crime criminal can begin to be destroyed, and then the public can understand that art crime needs to be taken just as seriously as other crimes.

Finally if Connor were to rob a bank tomorrow for 1.1 million dollars, every news media outlet in the United States and quite possibly in the entire world would broadcast his picture. So why is it the case that if he were to steal a Vermeer worth more than 1.1 million dollars no one would see his face? That is where the problem lies, and it is only through efforts by the media and art professions to put a “face” on art crime criminals that we will see a more realistic view of the individuals who take part in such crimes.

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12 September 2009. 20 September 2009.

Bernstein, Richard. “For Stolen Saltcellar, a Cellphone Is Golden.” The New York Times 2006 

Blair, Granger. "Stolen Art Recovered by Scotland Yard." The New York Times 5 January 1967.

Brown, Shelia. Crime and Law in Media Culture. Philadelphia: Open University, 2003.

Cardy, Philip. “Stolen art found in loo-vre.” The Sun 2003 29-April.

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Bilbao: ARCA, 9 May 2008. 9.

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Westview Press, 1995.

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—. "Charles Hill ." Photo. Country Life. 16 March 2009. 10 September 2009.

Connor, Jr., Myles J. The Art of the Heist: Confessions of a Master Art Thief, rock-and-roller, 
and prodigal son. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

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Unwin., 2001.

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Journal of Media Economics (1996): 1-23.

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Gurevitch, Michael. Culture, Society and the Media. London: Routledge, 1990.

Harvey, Oliver. "Tiaras to balaclavas." 10 January 2009. The Sun. 24 November 2009 .

Harvey, Oliver. "Rose Dugdale." Photo. The Sun. 10 January 2009. 24 November 2009.

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York Times 21 August 1999: 10.

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October 2009

Knox, Sanka. "Museum Gets Rembrandt for 2.3 Million." The New York Times 16 November 
1961: 2.

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February 1976: 1.
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Thursday, April 28, 2011 - , No comments

Forging News (Part three of four): The News Media's Misrepresentation of the Art Criminal

by Katherine Ogden, ARCA Alum 2009

A Face That Only a Mother Could Love?

When publishing an article on a stolen painting who is the victim? While understanding that there is always victim when it comes to art crime in the form of a museum, a gallery, or an unnamed collector, not to mention the fact that that priceless piece of culture is forever taken away from the general public; there is usually a lack of a face. Should the news media outlets focus on the artist, who is obviously a victim since their piece has been taken? Should the news media focus on the collector(s)? Or should the news media focus on the fact that the world is the victim for the loss of a cultural artifact?

This perplexing situation shows the problem with reporting art crime; a faceless victim represents its target. Perhaps it is because of this that news media outlets have a problem reporting on these stories, they lack the perspective that the media usually thrive upon. In the case of art crime, they are unable to get a picture of the grieving mother asking for her child back from kidnappers, because in this case the owner of the lost work wishes to not be named or photographed to protect not only their identity, but more importantly the rest of their collection. This highlights the fear that most institutions and private owners have - once stolen from they do not want to publicize the theft in order to protect their reputation and the rest of their collection. If a theft occurs it outlines a weak link in that institution’s security, a fact better kept unpublicized. Furthermore, without a face of a victim there lacks the ability to create a gripping dichotomy between a visual representation of the victim and criminal.

The faceless nature of art crime is what leads to its under-representation as a crime. How can you report on art crime if you cannot picture the face of a victim, a criminal or even an investigator? One of the leading art investigators in the world, the now retired United States FBI agent Robert Wittman, credits much of his success in recovery largely on his ability to blend into any situation and assume different personas (Worrall). It is because of this that it is impossible to find a picture of his face (Worrall). By creating this faceless persona while continuing to broadcast the cases of recovery that he has worked on, Agent Wittman is unwittingly assisting news media outlets in creating a view of art crime as fascinating and mysterious.
Charley Hill

On the other hand, one cannot mention Agent Wittman without mentioning his British counterpart, Charley Hill. Prior to his retirement to the private sector, Detective Hill was one of the most successful detectives in the Art and Antiquities unit of Scotland Yard (Cole, Art Detective Charles Hill). The main quality that differentiates Detective Hill from Agent Wittman is that you can easily find pictures of Detective Hill with a quick internet search.

So how does Detective Hill succeed in catching criminals? Through a seemingly endless supply of disguises and accents. It seems as though the faceless nature of the art investigator has the capacity to be both good and bad, but in the case of Detective Hill, good. When criminals are not able to pinpoint the “look” of an art investigator, the investigators are able to transform themselves just enough to garner minimal suspicion. In one well-known case Detective Hill posed as a curator from the Getty Museum in California and brokered a deal for the purchase of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which had been stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo (Cole, Art Detective Charles Hill). The success of this recovery and countless others leads one to believe that perhaps it is best if the face of the art investigator maintains an air of illusion, as it is quite common in all crime reporting to not see the face of the investigator. This should also serve to strengthen the need for public display of the criminals responsible for these crimes, the more the criminals are put in front of the public, the faster the illusion of the sexy criminal will erode.

Sexy Art Crime: Fact or Fiction?

No discussion of the representation of the art crime criminal is complete without a look at an actual art crime criminal. What do art crime criminals look like if they do not look like the representations seen in print, movies and on television shows? Every season there is a new television show that focuses on heists, if art crime criminals aren’t well-dressed, educated, and cultured people then who are they? In order to answer this we could look at a wide range of convicted art crime criminals, we could start with Rose Dugdale the former debutante turned IRA sympathizer who robbed the Russborough House in Ireland, or we could look at Robert Mang, an alarm specialist turned thief who decided that since he could he should steal the Cellini salt cellar from Vienna’s Art History Museum just because he felt like it (TIME, IRELAND: Renegade Debutante)(Pancevski). For the purpose of our discussions we will focus on Myles J. Connor Jr., a media darling in the regional papers around Boston, and a self professed and convicted art crime criminal (Connor). [Read a 2009 article on Rose Dugdale "Tiaras to balaclavas" in The Sun here]

Myles J. Connor, Jr.
The things we need to know about Connor for this discussion are as follows: while only convicted of a handful of robberies, in his autobiography Connor admits to robbing other institutions, though he will not name the institutions nor the items he stole (Connor). He has admitted to shooting a cop, worked with the mob in the Boston area, frequently brought weapons along on heists, was convicted of robbing banks and used artwork to procure his first shipment of drugs that he intended to sell in order to get the piece of artwork back (Connor). Connor freely admits to all the above in his autobiography, and yet he is still not an instantly recognizable bad guy in the face of art crime. Returning to the group of sixteen peers mentioned earlier, they were all shown a photograph of this man, and not one person could identify him. This is why a faceless criminal is detrimental to art crime. In order for art crime to be taken as seriously as it should, the general public needs to understand that convicted felons like Connor are committing the thefts, not fictional photogenic characters. Until this bias can be corrected art crime will continue to be seen as a frivolous crime in the eyes of the general public, the news media, law enforcement, and other industry experts.

April 27, 2011

Venice in Peril: Fakes and Forgeries Lecture (Part I)

This podcast features Noah Charney's "The World Wishes To Be Deceived: A Brief History of Art Forgery" delivered as a part of Venice in Peril's 2nd Exclusive Art Crime Lecture held on April 5, 2011 at the Royal Geographical Society in London. In the lecture, Charney discusses the differences between fakes, forgeries, and copies as well as highlights a few of the most interesting cases from the past 500 years. Access the podcast at ARCA's iTunes page or by clicking this link. Come back for Part II next week!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - ,, No comments

Forging News (Part two of four): The News Media's Misrepresentation of the Art Criminal

by Katherine Ogden, ARCA Alum 2009

Worldly Perceptions: The Reporting of Art Crime Criminals in the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy

Ironically, while the news media thrives on images, when it comes to art crime, which is situated within an art world comprised of imagery, pictures are hard to come by. When a painting is stolen the public is typically presented with a stock photo of the missing painting, and occasionally a photo taken from a distance of the crime scene. Even more rarely the article may be accompanied by a blurry image of black-clothed thieves running from the scene of the crime. It is puzzling that when dealing with such a visual medium it is rare to find a photo of said criminal. This seems to be the case in each of the countries that were focused on for the purpose of this paper. We will start our study with the United Kingdom.

The two papers with the highest circulation in the United Kingdom are The Sun and The Daily Mail (Wikipedia). Both The Sun and The Daily Mail are considered tabloid papers, which indicates that the papers’ articles focus primarily on local interest stories and entertainment. This classification does not dictate that these papers do not report on international news or contain serious journalism, but it does suggest that they are inclined to offer their readers a larger portion of entertainment than hard news. This indication becomes obvious when analyzing some of the headlines associated with stolen art articles printed in The Sun.

On April 29, 2003, The Sun printed “Stolen Art found in the Loo-vre” which referred to stolen paintings, including a Van Gogh, found in public restroom, or loo (Cardy). The article explains that the paintings were found in the loo after being stolen from the Whitworth Art Gallery at The University of Manchester, but fails to mention key factors of the theft, such as the name of the Van Gogh painting or why they chose to implicate the Louvre even though the Louvre was not involved at any point. Quite amazingly, The Sun was able to provide photographs of before and after shots of the Van Gogh painting. The inclusion of the photographs is helpful because it shows how destructive art crime can be, however the photographs would have had a stronger impact had key information such as size, title, age, etc. been included in the story.
The Fortifications of Paris with Houses
Vincent van Gogh, 1887, water colour
Whitworth Art Gallery

Another headline found in The Sun, “Mob are Sculpture Vultures” refers to an unidentified gang that had allegedly stolen up to twenty metal sculptures from public spaces in the United Kingdom. Additionally this article included a sidebar, which asked, “What’ll crooks steel?” that listed other sculptures the thieves might be interested in procuring (Syson)(Plot). While these attention-grabbing headlines may be entertaining and grab the reader’s attention, they clearly diminish the severity of the crime being committed. Besides comical headlines, The Sun also has a tendency to focus on the sensationalism of the crime as opposed to the callousness of the criminal. There is little to no mention in either article of the criminal(s) associated with the crime. [You can read 'Mystery of the stolen Moore solved' here].

Terry Adams (Daily Mail)
As opposed to the attention grabbing headlines evident in The Sun, the United Kingdom’s other widely read paper The Daily Mail offers readers more developed articles that focus marginally more on the facts and slightly less on comedic value. Additionally, The Daily Mail is one of the few newspapers in our examination that mentions the art crime criminal. Not only does The Daily Mail mention the criminal, Terry Adams, but they also provide readers with a picture and a descriptive article in “Revealed: Godfather Adams’ 500,000 Aladdin’s Cave of stolen art and antiques”. The article explains how authorities found the items, which are also pictured, in the mob leader’s home. This article is revolutionary in the field of art crime reporting, not only because it mentions and provides photographs of an art crime criminal, but also because it highlights an often disputed direct link between organized crime and art crime.

Overall, the news media outlets of the United Kingdom, primarily The Sun and The Daily Mail, focus on the details regarding the crime, sometimes the details regarding the recovery, and rarely the details regarding the art crime criminal. This is not entirely different from the way that news media outlets in the United States portray art crime. The two top circulated news publications in the United States are The Wall Street Journal and USA Today (Wikipedia). However, since there were no examples of articles written on art crime in The Wall Street Journal, this paper will focus instead on USA Today and The New York Times which is the third most widely circulated news publication in the United States (Wikipedia).

The LAPD released images of
the stolen Warhol paintings
An article published in USA Today on September 12, 2009, “Warhol’s sports superstar pieces stolen from L.A. home,” has all the markings of a traditional art crime article published in the United States (Associated Press). Along with copious mention of the monetary value of the paintings and corresponding reward money, a typical call to arms regarding the state of insurance for the art collection in question is also included. American art crime articles typically attempt to place blame with the owner for either having or neglecting to have an insurance policy for their collection. In either instance the news media finds fault. If the owner has insurance and works go missing the owner is often accused of hiring someone to steal the paintings in order to collect the insurance money. This is precisely what occurred with this Warhol case in a follow-up article entitled Insurance Waived in Warhol Theft Case, where the owner is called into question for refusing to accept the insurance premium. Why is the American news media so quick to place blame on the victim and yet so slow to call for the criminals accountability? In this particular case, the reporter has committed a great disservice to the audience by not explaining that in most cases by refusing the insurance payout, the owner is still hoping the artwork(s) will be found and returned. If the artwork is found and the owner has already accepted a payout from the insurance company, the owner forfeits their ownership rights and the insurance company acquires the title to the recovered pieces. From this standpoint, one would presume that refusal to accept an insurance payout would be further proof that the owner did not hire a thief to steal the artwork so that they could profit from the insurance.

Moreover if you were to compare this case to an automobile theft, would the news media be so quick to place blame on the owner for the theft? Granted the notoriety and money would not be proportional, but the percentage of the value of an insurance payout for a car is similar to that for a piece of art. Throughout the course of this study it has become evident that the public’s resentment towards private collectors, fueled by the news media, exists because of a distaste towards the collectors’ ability to own something of such astronomical value. Since the news media continually cultivates this sentiment, the importance of identifying and prosecuting the criminal that steals such objects is lost in the cloud of resentment. It is almost as if a sense of appropriateness has been created in a Robin Hood sense of stealing from the rich to give to the poor, even though art crime criminals are no Robin Hoods.

Moving onto The New York Times and an article that ran on February 28, 2007, titled Purloined Picassos in Paris. This piece reports on the theft of multiple Picassos from the home of Picasso’s daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso. Although the alliterative headline does not mention the monetary value of the stolen paintings, the first sentence displays the 65 million dollar figure quite prominently. Which brings us to a new issue, why is it a problem that the American news media focuses on the values associated with art crime? This has to do with the fact that by advertising reported values; the news media is giving thieves an inflated view of the value of a stolen painting.

On February 1, 1976, 119 paintings by Pablo Picasso were reported stolen from the Papal Palace at Avignon in France (Unknown, Picasso Theft Valued at $4.5 Million). This theft occurred at a time when thefts of master paintings in France had risen from 1,500 in 1970 to 5,000 in 1976 (Unknown, Picasso Theft Valued at $4.5 Million). This rise in thefts of master paintings coincides with an increase of record-breaking publicized sales of masterworks by the news media and began with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s purchase of Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer in 1961 (Knox). The morning after the purchase The New York Times’ front page had the bold headline “Museum Gets Rembrandt for 2.3 Million,” which the article then went on to explain was the highest price paid for a piece of art in history (Knox). After this purchase the values of other master artists rose as well, including Pablo Picasso. It is believed that the Corsican Mafia carried out the theft of the 119 paintings by Picasso, although following the initial theft there has only been one mention of leads and no mention of recovery in the media (Charney).

What the comprehensive review of news media in the United States regarding art crime criminals has shown is a large absence of the art crime criminal. News media outlets in the United States prefer to focus on monetary values associated with thefts, the thematic quality of the thefts, and rarely on the recovery of thefts. Which brings us to our final focus, the news media in Italy. The top two news publications in Italy are La Gazzetta dello Sport and La Repubblica, since the main focus of La Gazzetta dello Sport is sports, we will be focusing on the third top news publication Corriere della Sera (Wikipedia).

The first thing you will notice about the mention of art crimes in Italian news media outlets is that the monetary value of the object is rarely mentioned. This can be attributed to the strong connection that Italians have with their culture, it is a relationship that does not exist to such a degree in the United Kingdom or the United States. In Italian news media the word art is often replaced by treasure or treasures, such as the following headline from the March 12, 2004 edition of La Repubblica, “Recuperati dai carabinieri tesori d' arte rubati 15 anni fa” which translates to “Treasures recovered by art police stolen 15 years ago” (Staff, Recuperati dai carabinieri tesori d' arte rubati 15 anni fa). The article explains that these items were stolen, taken apart, and reassembled in order to be sold to private collectors. The article reads more like a missing persons report than a record of loss of monetary value, and this may be due to the Italian’s deep bond with their culture and their history, Italians as a whole see a lost work of art as a deprivation to society.

In the summer of 2009, while speaking to a group at a conference in Amelia, Italy, Vice Comandante Cortellessa of the Italian Carabinieri’s Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage was asked if the focus of recovering art was on the artwork or the criminal, and if he had to choose one, which would he choose (Cortellessa). Vice Comandante Cortellessa responded that art is irreplaceable and that he and his men always work to secure the art first, the criminal second. He added that criminals will always commit crimes, so he can always catch the criminal another time, he may not have a second chance to recover a piece of stolen art. This connection with art is what separates the Italians from much of the rest of the world. Additionally, this connection with art previously led to the creation of the Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and the elevation of art crime as serious in the national media landscape.

An additional difference between Italian news media and the others we have discussed is their constant praise for the Carabinieri for the recovery of stolen goods. In Corriere della Sera, an article published on July 15, 2009, “Tresori etruschi in vendita ai russi
la finanza sequestra reperti rubati” commended the police for the capture of a car filled with Italian antiquities headed to Russia for sale (Staff, Tesori etruschi in vendita ai russi la finanza sequestra reperti rubati). Again there is no mention of the monetary value of these items. While the Italian news media outlets are more proactive in the fight against art crime, they too tend to ignore the actual art criminals. However, the news media’s focus on the recovery and prevention of art crime is a decidedly different approach to the reporting of art crime and leads to headlines such as this one from the November 16, 2009 edition of Corriere della Sera “Furti d'arte, calo nel 2009
” which translates to “Thefts of art drop in 2009” (Staff, Furti d'arte, calo nel 2009).

April 26, 2011

Forging News (Part one of four): The News Media’s Misrepresentation of the Art Criminal

by Katherine Ogden, ARCA Alum 2009

This article is a study concerning the current lack of representation of art crime criminals in the news media. This study focuses on news media outlets in the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy in order to examine why the news media tends to sensationalize art crimes while downplaying the role of the criminal. This article will work to find a conclusion to the quandary created by the news media as they continue to create a view of art crime criminals as sexy and fascinating as opposed to dangerous and criminal. A quandary that leads to people both within and outside of the art world being unable to distinguish between the real and the fictional art crime criminals, something that must be corrected.

Literature Review:

There is no research published on the representation of art crime criminals in the news media, so for the purposes of this examination the following information was reviewed: newspaper articles, criminology, crime and media, criminals and media, victims in the media and popular culture representations of criminals. Through the literature review it became apparent that the relationship that the media creates between art crime and the criminals committing the crime is dealt with in an entirely different way than the media represents common criminals.

For more than forty years the news media has represented art crime in a fashion eliciting feelings of awe and amazement. As a result, while the general public perceives art crime as insignificant, criminals have developed misguided ideas pertaining to how to profit from and engage in art crime. This study will focus on the traditional methods employed by the news media to represent criminals and will expand to compare those methods to those used to represent perpetrators of art crime found in the print and electronic versions of the top newspapers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Radio, motion picture and television media will be excluded from this analysis. As opposed to using the term “art criminal” which tends to imply acts of criminal mischief such as graffiti, for the purpose of this discussion I will utilize the term “art crime criminal” in order to focus on those criminals responsible for art thefts, forgeries, and other serious art crimes.

The News Media: The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth?

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
In order to understand the portrayal of art crime criminals in the news media, one must understand the origins and uses of the medium. Currently, the general public holds a misguided belief that news media outlets deliver the truth with fact-filled stories meant to inform readers. However, given high incidences of exaggerated reporting of current events it is evident that a main purpose of the news media is the entertainment of the newsreader with fact-based news articles. In this case attention should be placed on the phrase “fact-based.” As with any business, news media outlets require profits in order to survive. Much of this income is derived from advertisers who prefer to work with outlets holding the largest percentage of circulation within a given market (Demers). As a direct result of this relationship news media outlets work to attract the most readers and in order to accomplish this they compete to create the most entertaining and interesting stories each day. Even if those stories stretch the concept of “fact-based.”

When reporting on stories related to crime, news media outlets tend to distort the truth in order to paint the perpetrator in a more negative light. This allows the media to create a more interesting story while simultaneously creating a distorted image of crime for their audience. Conventional criminology states that:
To be realistic about crime is not an easy task…We are caught between two currents, one which would grossly exaggerate the problems of crime, another covering a wide swathe of political opinion that may seriously underestimate the extent of the problem. Crime is a staple of news in the Western mass media and police fiction a major genre of television drama…the media abound with images of the dangerous stranger. On television we see folk monsters who are psychopathic killers or serial murderers yet offenders who even remotely fit these caricatures are extremely rare…the criminologist knows that this is far from the humdrum nature of reality…the nature of crime, of victimization and of policing is thus systematically distorted in the mass media (qtd. in Brown 42).
It is because news media outlets struggle to increase their circulation that the public’s view of crime has become so distorted; a bleak picture of a society emerges filled with robbers, rapists and killers. Much of the general public places its trust in the media to tell them what and who to fear, absorbing any suggestion that a certain individual should be associated with a crime. Since a large proportion of the public informs their understanding of crime from news media outlets, their comprehension of the crime world is far from the reality. In relation to this analysis, news media outlets often portray perpetrators of non-art related crime as more monstrous and offensive than they may be in reality, while at the same time portraying the perpetrators of art-related crime as suave and almost gentlemanly. Which could not be further from the truth in most cases.

The Media’s Portrayal of Art Criminal: As Suave and Sophisticated or Unappealing and Slovenly?

If you were to ask someone walking around the mall this weekend to describe or to name an art crime criminal I would dare say the majority would answer describing the fictitious criminal as suave, sophisticated, handsome, and smart. In other words, Thomas Crown. Most of the general public believes that art crime criminals are either collectors looking for the crowning piece to their collection or common thieves hired by these collectors to enlarge their collections. Sadly, this misconception carries over to many news stories that in turn mention fictional characters such as Dr. No, Thomas Crown, and the Ocean’s 11 crew, in articles furthering the public’s misunderstanding of the danger of art crime. The seriousness of this misconception lies in the fact that it is not only the general public that is fooled by these fictional characters, but people in the art world themselves.

As part of my coursework I presented seventeen peers with photos of real and fictional art thieves. Out of the examples, none of my peers were able to identify the real art thieves while easily identifying the fictional art thieves. Although this small exercise mainly demonstrated that well-known actors are more readily identifiable than anonymous criminals, it also illustrated a significant problem associated with art crime: how can we fight art crime if students of art crime are not able to identify the perpetrators of crimes against it effectively? How has the infiltration of media become so intense that even those who have studied this field can have the wool pulled over their eyes?

This has come to fruition because news media outlets have evidently followed Hollywood’s lead and assisted in the creation of the “sexy” art criminal. News media outlets rarely, if ever, publish photos of art criminals since the focus is placed on the fantastic nature of the crime itself, not of the capture and conviction of the criminal who perpetrated it. These media outlets repeatedly break from their mold of demonizing criminals when it comes to art crime, portraying them as exciting and elevating them to a level of revered indifference when in fact they should be feared and reviled like any other criminal.

A prime example occurred recently. On September 24, 2009, the New York Times reported that two armed men stole Olympia, a painting by Rene Magritte worth $1.1 million dollars. This case exhibited an example of a rising trend in art crime whereby criminals have started using deadly weapons, a far departure from the pacifist art criminal picture that the news media has previously painted (Itzkoff). Such inaction on the media’s part is highly detrimental in relation to the prevention of and enforcement against art crime and presumably may suggest further indifference to such acts in the future.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - No comments

A Literal Portrait of Art Thief Stéphane Breitwieser -- and News of Another Arrest

Portrait of art thief Stéphane Breitwieser with artist Jean-Paul Matifat (Courtesy of the artist's website)

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor-in-Chief

This week we'll be running a series of posts by ARCA Alum 2009 Katherine Ogden about the image of the art crime criminal in the media. This morning ARTINFO published a story about the second arrest of convicted art thief Stéphane Breitwieser who apparently loves art and the money generated by stealing art. ARTINFO included a portrait of Breitwieser by artist Jean_Paul Matifat. The portrait, according to the artist's website here, is 7 feet high and 6 feet wide. Many of us might find Breitwieser a romantic anti-hero except for the collaboration of his mother who destroyed art in an effort to hide evidence against her son. This time Breitwieser's mother was also arrested as she had accompanied her son from France to Germany to sell a stolen vase.

April 25, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011 - No comments

ARCA 2009 Alum: Katherine Ogden on the Images of Art Criminals and Tips for Living in Amelia

Katherine Ogden, ARCA Alum 2009
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor-in-Chief

Born and raised in Tampa, Florida, Katherine ("Katie") Ogden attended the University of South Florida where she received an undergraduate degree in art history and a Master's degree in Business Administration. Katie wrote in an email for this column: "After a foray into the professional world, I was fortunate to be accepted into the first class of postgraduate students for ARCA's History of International Art Crime program where I was introduced to a more immersive view of the world of art crime. Thus far I have worked as a private collections manager, a marketing specialist, an educator and now as a business analyst. While my background is quite varied, the study of art crime has continued to be one constant in my professional and educational life."
ARCA Blog: Katie, you specialized in dispelling the image of the eccentric art crime criminal. What surprised even you when conducting your research? 
Ms. Ogden: I was most surprised by how easy it is to fall victim to the popular images of art crime criminals reinforced by Hollywood and the media. While giving a presentation in one of our classes in Amelia, I put three pictures on the screen and asked if anyone could choose the art criminal out of the three images. Even while everyone in attendance was there because of our shared interest in art crime, not a single student could correctly identify any of the convicted art criminals I put on the screen. I started to wonder how there could ever be an honest portrayal of a realistic art crime criminal if even the students studying the genre had fallen victim to the sexy allure. 
ARCA Blog: How would you, in one or two sentences, describe a realistic image of an art crime criminal? 
Ms. Ogden: That is very difficult to pinpoint. I'll have to be vague and say unexpected and definitely not Pierce Brosnan. 
ARCA: The third incoming ARCA summer class in art crime will be arriving in Amelia in June. What do you recommend they prepare for to adjust to living in a medieval town in Umbria and what do you miss the most about Amelia? 
Ms. Ogden: The best way to learn how to adjust to living in Amelia is to learn to be flexible. There are certain days when things will simply close down, or days when the heat will be unbearable. On days like this you have to be willing to adjust like the Italians. Living in Amelia will be nothing like living in your hometown; that is after all, part of the adventure. A few bits of advice that took us a little while to figure out: laundry detergent in Italy does not come in brick form, you'll see this on the shelf with a picture of a washing machine, that is meant to clean the machine not your clothes. Nights in Amelia get chilly, pack a jacket. On any given day you can get Ricotta from the cheese maker in the afternoon and mozzarella if you rush in the late morning. He only makes a certain amount and if you don't get there you'll miss out. At Porcelli's get the Italian menu and break out your translation book, there are some fantastic items on this menu that don't make it to the English translation.

And finally, what do I miss the most about Amelia? Absolutely everything. 
ARCA Blog: I would like to add that the brick 'laundry detergent' did clean our clothes pretty well, Katie, or at least I hope so since we used it for a month.
The ARCA blog will feature an article Ms. Ogden wrote about the image of art crime criminals and how  new media outlets have covered art crime differently in the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy.

April 22, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011 - 1 comment

Art Humor A Crime? "That is Priceless" by Steve Melcher aims to make 'Art's Greatest Masterpieces... Slightly Funnier'

In Case You Were Wondering
 Where Your Flower Pot Went
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

It's not a crime to make fun of art, but Steve Melcher, the husband of a friend of mine and another talented writer Amanda Biers-Melcher, certainly makes laughing at art a pleasurable misdemeanor. Steve Melcher, a two-time Emmy Award-winning TV writer and producer, has turned his popular blog, That is Priceless, into a very affordable paperback that re-writes the titles of more than 175 images, seeing contemporary actors in the faces of models painted in the 19th century by Courbet and Renoir, and ad libbing with crude humor that any middle-school student would appreciate. I ordered That is Priceless (Andrews McMeel Publishing) from Amazon and for less than $10 had my mother laughing between comments of 'this guy is really funny' and 'who is he?' As a parent and writer, I appreciate all attempts at making art accessible to students and even those people who rarely step into a museum or art gallery.

Please follow this link to Steve Melcher's website to find out the artist to this 1873 image to the right subtitled "In Case You Were Wondering Where Your Flower Post Went".

April 21, 2011

Quebec law enforcement uncover case of art stolen from Quebec art galleries through the purchase of fraudulent credit cards

Tumulte 1974, Jean-Paul Riopelle, 9,5 x 6,5 po.
Collaboration between the art crime investigative unit of the Sûreté du Québec and the Montreal police has just solved a series of frauds against several art galleries.

On the evening of April 6, 2011, investigators went to a storage area at a home in Quebec, where they seized artworks stolen between July and October of 2010. Works valued at more than $220,000 include artists such as Jean-Paul Riopelle, Sebastien Larouchelle Martin Beaupré, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté and Joan Dumouchel.

According to the investigation, the suspects used credit cards obtained under false identitites to purchase the artworks from galleries around Montreal, Quebec City, and Baie St.-Paul. They managed to convince the merchants to enter into payment installments, paid the first payment by credit card, left with the artwork, and did not pay the remaining installments.

A suspect was arrested on shoplifting at a business in Montreal on Feb. 25. The arrest and subsequent search led to the discovery of a bronze sculpture by artist Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté.

Aissam Freidji, 37, and Margaret Christopoulos, 45, appeared April 7, 2011, at the Montreal courthouse facing charges of fraud and fraudulent use of credit cards. They are accused of using several false identities and may be sought in the United States for similar crimes.

Quebec’s art crime investigation team is composed of officers from the Sûreté du Quebec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

This information was translated from a press release published by Quebec law enforcement.

April 20, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - No comments

Graffiti art (Uncommissioned Street Art) Featured on Pink Concrete Block Wall and at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Last week, under view of the famed Hollywood sign (which once itself advertised a housing tract), I photographed old and new 'uncommissioned' street art on a concrete block wall at the northwest corner of Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Boulevard.  A kosher deli and bakery on the other side of this wall has many customers in the attire of people belonging to the Orthodox Jewish community. Somehow the non-commissioned street art here does not seem as offensive or as scary as those photographs I took last month of graffiti outside of the musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris.

'Art in the Streets' opened Sunday in Los Angeles at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo.  The show is curated by MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch, a former New York art consultant and dealer who's former gallery still publicizes an archived website, and "made possible by" The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the art philanthropy organization founded on profits from building suburban tract housing (read about Eli Broad in The New Yorker here).  Outlaw art seems to have been invited through the front door.

Northwest corner of La Brea and  Beverly