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July 26, 2011

South African Lawyer Specializing in art law, shares his experiences with conferences in Milan and Amelia

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

The ARCA blog has been running a series of posts about the speakers who presented at ARCA's third annual Art Crime Conference on July 9th and 10th. Toby Orford, a lawyer specializing in art law in South Africa, attended ARCA's conference in Amelia this year. He also attended a conference in Milan. We decided to share his experiences with readers of our blog. During the conference, Mr. Orford stayed at Palazzo Farrattini, a Renaissance building within the walls of this medieval town.

ARCA Blog: Toby, what conference did you attend in Milan and what was your perception?
Toby: Speakers at Christie's Holocaust Art Looting and Restitution Symposium included eminent international lawyers, academics and activists. The choice of Milan was deliberate. Italy's inconsistent track record of restitution "requires a more extensive explanation" and some of the speakers - notably Charles Goldstein from the Commission for Art Recovery - pointed out inter alia that missing art works taken from Italian Jews is probably still in Italian museums, institutions and private collections. The lack of serious research or restitution in Italy (and indeed instances where restitution has been revoked and export licenses blocked) is in contrast to Italy's recent campaigns for the recovery of its own cultural property. Other countries have made greater efforts. Norman Palmer spoke about the work of the UK's restitution commission - the Spoliation Advisory Panel. He and the other experts highlighted the on-going and unresolved moral and legal aspects of restitution - as well as changes in government policy and (post the Washington Conference) the development of changing legal principles and claims procedures. All in all the Milan conference was a thought-provoking precursor to ARCA's Amelia conference.
ARCA Blog: This is the first time you attended the ARCA art crime conference. What had you expected and did the conference meet your expectations?
Toby: The focus of ARCA goes beyond World War II restitution. The conference dealt with all kinds of present-day threats to cultural property, including looting, theft, fraud and destruction. Not surprisingly, as a lawyer I appreciated the legal discussions. I think that there is scope for some more "law" next time - with reference to the achievements noted during the Milan conference. But the other disciplines created new insights into the practical and theoretical aspects of heritage protection. The more academic topics were usefully balanced at the end of the proceedings by Chris Maranello's matter-of-fact talk on the day to day work of the Art Loss Register. He reminded us that it is vital to translate words into action. So, yes, the conference met all of my expectations and expanded my understanding considerably. I am also finding the ARCA blog's talk summaries very useful.
ARCA Blog: What do you think will most be carried back with you to South Africa as far as knowledge and experience?
Toby: Restitution is much talked about in Africa but in a confused and undisciplined way. This is mostly due to misunderstanding and misinformation. And, thanks to colonial complications, frustration. The hard won and piecemeal progress, and the on-going challenges in other parts of the world, explain the nature and scope of the problem - and identify some of the solutions. And so both of these disciplined and focused conferences - in their different ways - helped me to understand what has happened, and what still must happen. Others should benefit too and, for example, I am recommending the work of ARCA to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). Perhaps ARCA will benefit from closer ties with similar agencies in other countries?