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February 26, 2015

Pompeii frescos found in garage in Southern California to be returned to Italy

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Editor

San Diego, California - The 10News Digital Team for ABC's 10 News reported yesterday "Stolen art recovered in Del Mar among objects being returned to Italian government". Three frescos and an asks from a private collector (the Allen E. Paulson Trust" were discovered by the U.S. Immigration and Custom's Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in 2012: the current owner "forfeited the items" to the US government to be returned to the Italian government, Channel 10 reported. The items were likely illegally dug up in Pompeii and then sold to an American buyer, according to the US government.

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - ,,,, No comments

A Museum in Mosul That Needs a Break, Not Breaking

Today we have discouraging information on the fate of the collection of the Mosul Museum.  The museum which opened in 1951 specializes in antiquities from the Assyrian empire which flourished within the provincial borders of present-day Province of Nineveh.  It also houses a significant collection of sculptures and other stone relics from Hatra – the capital of the first Arab Kingdom.  By most estimates it is the most important museum in Iraq outside of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad.

In June 2014 it was rumored that militants had destroyed parts of the museum collection.  This rumor was then briefly dispelled by journalists speaking with Iraqi's museum authorities saying that miltants had entered to the museum but left its contents untouched, but not before adding that it had been marked for destruction.  Afterwards they set about attacking and destroying one Shia mosque and shrine after another but verifiable news on the fate of museum's collection was not forthcoming despite whispers in late 2014 and early 2015.

February 27, 2015 the Islamic State group released a video showing militants using sledge hammers, pneumatic equipment and their bare hands to topple or smash antiquities and plaster casts of objects housed within the museum as well as outside at the Nirgal Gate of the Assyrian city of Nineveh on the Tigris River opposite the modern city. 

Eleanor Robson, Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History at University College London and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq's voluntary Chair of Council was the first to confirm that the video is authentic. ARCA has elected to remove its original link to the video in an effort not to franchise the caliphate's corporatized terror.

A speaker on the video is seen standing in front a partial relief of a lamassu (a winged bull) saying that "These ruins that are behind me, they are idols and statues that people in the past used to worship instead of Allah." Citing that the Prophet Mohammed took down idols with his bare hands when he conquered Mecca, apparently in reference to the Muslim prophet's destruction of 360 idols in the the Ka'b, the team of insurgents is then filmed destroying numerous objects from within the collection in what looks to be its four ground-floor galleries.

The Mosul Museum sits on the west side of the city not far from the Provincial Governor's Office. Located on grounds that once were the gardens of the former palace of King Faisal, the museum has been shuttered since April 2003 plagued by both looting in 2003 and ongoing security concerns.   

At that time of the museums closing staff removed approximately 1,500 of the more portable objects in the collection transferring them to the Baghdad Museum for safekeeping.   Unfortunately shortly thereafter both the Mosul Museum and the Baghdad Museum were hit with looting and vandalism.  

During the April 2003 looting 30 bronze panels that once decorated the gate leading into the Assyrian city of Balawat were taken.  Other pieces that were left behind were heavily damaged, including a life-size stone lion from the Hellenistic site of Hatra.  It is unclear at this time which part of the Mosul collection inventory was lost from the 2003 looting incidents and which part survived.  It is also not clear if the transferred pieces of the Mosul collection were returned from Baghdad in advance of the museum's anticipated reopening,  which was anticipated to occur in 2014 before insurgents took over the city. An UNESCO report from 2009 seems to show that the museum was in  a state of preparatory transition, but ARCA has identified no imagery from the interim period of 2009 to 2015 which would demonstrate if an opening was in fact in the works.

What is known is that when the museum was shuttered in 2003 heavier objects, including several pieces of cuneiform-inscribed brick; stone reliefs from Hatra kings; and the Mihrab (prayer niche) of the Mosque of Banal al Hasan in Mosul were left behind as they were either too heavy or too delicate to be relocated, as were several of the heavier statues one can see in the propaganda video. Analysis of the video also shows that museum authorities had made preparatory attempts to protect objects from potential damage and dust by wrapping statuary and reliefs in plastic sheeting.

The galleries in the museum are organized into four sections.  One gallery is dedicated to Assyrian antiquities (Nimrud), one to artifacts from the ruins at Hatra, one to Islamic artifacts, and a fourth to prehistoric artifacts excavated by archaeologists at Hassuna and other sites around Mosul. The images to the right of this blog post, taken from a 2009 UNESCO report on the Preliminary Assessment of Mosul Cultural Museum Mosul, match video footage seen at 2.54 and 3.35 minutes into the destruction propaganda video.

For further image stills of the video, please see the excellent report by Dr. Sam Hardy here. 

Not being a stone mason, it looks like the objects at minute marks 1.21, 1.28. 1.51, 2.47, 2.49, 2.54 2,56 and 3.55 are casts or partially consolidated cast and stone artifacts.  Objects at 2.44, 2.53, 3.24, 3.50, 4.26, 4.33, and 4.45 appear to be original. 

Mosul sits in the middle of 1,791 registered archeological sites, including four capitals of the Assyrian empire.

     By Lynda Albertson

Faculty and Course Schedule for the 2015 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

 The Faculty and Course Schedule for the 2015 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection in Amelia, Italy has been confirmed** and  the general application period has been extended through March 30, 2015.

For a copy of this year's prospectus and application materials please write to ARCA at education (at)

For more information on this year's program please see this earlier blog posting.

June 2015

Course I  - “The International Art Market and Associated Risk”
Dr. Tom Flynn, Art Historian and London Art Lecturer,
Adjunct Assistant Professor Richmond The American International University in London
Senior Lecturer and Visiting Lecturer Kingston College and Christie's Education

Course II - “Art Policing, Protection and Investigation”

Richard Ellis, Law Enforcement
Detective and Founder of The Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard Art and Antiquities Squad (retired),
Director, Art Management Group

Course III - “Breitwiesers, Medicis, Beltracchis, Gurlitts and Other Shady Artsy Characters:  How to Analyze their Crimes Empirically”
Marc Balcells, Criminologist; Criminal Defense Attorney
Doctoral Fellow at The City University of New York - John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Professor, Universidad Miguel Hernandez de Elche
Consultant, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Course IV - “Art Forgers and Thieves”
Dr. Noah Charney, Author, Founding Director of ARCA
Adjunct Professor of Art History, American University of Rome 

Course V - “Insurance Claims and the Art Trade”

Dorit Straus, Insurance Industry Expert
Insurance Industry Consultant, Art Recovery Group PLC
Vice President and Worldwide Specialty Fine Art Manager for Chubb & Son, a division of Federal Insurance Company  (retired)

July 2015

Courses VI - “Art Crime in War”
Judge Arthur Tompkins, Forensic Expert
District Court Judge in New Zealand

Courses VII - “Art and Heritage Law”
Dr. Duncan Chappell, Professor
Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney,
Former Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology (1987-1994)

Courses VIII - “Risk Assessment and Museum Security”
Dick Drent, Security and Risk Management
Omnirisk, Director
Corporate Security Manager, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam  (retired)

Course IX - “TBA”

August 2015

Course X - “Looting, Theft, Destruction, and Repatriation of Cultural Property: Community Impacts”
Dr. Laurie Rush, Cultural Property Protection Expert
Board Member, United States Committee of the Blue Shield

Course XI - “Antiquities and Identity”

Dr. Valerie Higgins, Archaeologist
Associate Professor and Chair of Archaeology and Classics at the American University of Rome

**While the 2015 course listing has been confirmed as of January 13, 2015, the 2015 course listing and instructor line-up may change,in the event unforeseen circumstances affect the assigned instructor’s availability. 

February 25, 2015

Provenance Research Training Program To Be Held in New York This Spring

In Washington, DC: Marc Masurovsky, (00) 1 202 255 1602 ,
In New York, NY: Pierre Ciric (00) 1 212 260 6090,

The Holocaust Art Restitution Project, (“HARP”), based in Washington, DC, chaired by Ori Z. Soltes, and the Ciric LawFirm, PLLC, a law firm based in New York City, has announced the first art-related provenance research training program to be held in the New York area between April 16, 2015 and May 01, 2015 at New York Law School.  This unique professional training program, a collaboration effort between HARP and the Center for International Law at New York Law School will be held on:

     April 16-17 2015
     April 23-24, 2015
     April 30-May 1, 2015

The training program, taught by Ori Z. Soltes and Marc Masurovsky, has been designed to assist the legal community and art market professionals who are currently affected by the presence of artistic, cultural, and ritual objects which have been displaced through acts of war and genocide between 1933 and 1945, with an emphasis on those items misappropriated during the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and the Second World War. Led by experts in the fields of historical and provenance research, this training program will assist participants in assessing the lawful or illicit ownership of these objects. 

A detailed program flier of the three, 2-day workshops can be found below. The cost of the program is $3500. 

Applications can be submitted here.

February 22, 2015

Dick Ellis returns to Amelia this summer to teach "Art Policing, Protection and Investigating" at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

Richard Ellis
Richard Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Squad, will be returning to Amelia to teach “Art Policing, Protection and Investigation” at ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

Mr. Ellis ran the Art & Antiquities Squad for New Scotland Yard from 1989 until his retirement from the police in 1999. After working for Christie’s Fine Art Security Services and Trace recovery services, in 2005 he joined with security and conservation specialists to form the Art Management Group. He is also director of Art Resolve and Art Retrieval International Ltd.

As a specialist art crime investigator both in the police and in the private sector, Mr. Ellis has been involved in many notable recoveries such as ‘The Scream’ stolen from the National Gallery of Norway in 1994; Audobon’s ‘Birds of America’ stolen from the State Library in St. Petersburg; antiquities looted from China and Egypt; and the recovery of numerous items of art and antiquities stolen from private residences throughout the United Kingdom and abroad including in 2005 the silver stolen Stanton Harcourt and in 2006 paintings by Bonnard, Vuillard and Duffy stolen in London.

What might students learn on a given day?

Students would learn from case studies how stolen art is recovered today both by law enforcement and in the private sector. They would learn how organised crime utilizes stolen art to fund other areas of crime through a study of the Beit collection robberies in Ireland, and would how covert sting operations can recover such stolen masterpieces as Munch's "The Scream". They would also learn how private sector interventions recovered paintings by Picasso and Delacroix from international criminal organisations and how to detect fakes and forgeries.

Books to read?

The Irish Game by Mathew Hart, which gives a clear insight in to why iconic works of art are stolen by organised crime groups and how criminals convert the art in to a tangible benefit.

Here's a link to Mr. Ellis' profile and interview in 2011 and a link to more information about the Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

February 20, 2015

Where Did Kitty and Mummy Go? - British Collecting Past and Present

Photo Credit: David Lay Auctioneers
Everyone likes a one man's trash is another man's treasure story.  But what can these stories tell us about collectors, collecting habits and the art market in antiquities in the 20th century in  the UK?

In November 2014, the family of a deceased elderly woman, Doreen Liddell, hired the services of an estate sale company, Penzance Auction House to go through the painful disposal of unwanted things us humans tend to accumulate over our lifetimes and that relatives frequently don't have the place for, or the emotional strength to actively sift through.  

Companies like these sort through a deceased person's household belongings, usually after the surviving family members have made a first-pass, marking or removing what they want to keep. The auctioneer's team, familiar with the mechanization of dealing with the property of the deceased,  pack up the momentos the family wants to keep preparing them for delivery to various destinations.  They then set to work valuating the remaining items the heirs aren't interested in retaining, preparing them for auction.  The last two steps usually involve donating the low value items to charities and chucking out the bitts and bobbs that remain.  In quick work company's like this one in Cornwall can clear the house of all evidence that was once a person's life. 

Photo Credit: David Lay Auctioneers
One item in this clean-out, a 7-inch tall bronze statuette of a cat, seemed destined for the trash dumpster parked on the driveway of Mrs. Liddell's cottage in Penzance, until auctioneer David Lay intervened.  Lay had a hunch that the regal looking cat with golden earrings set up near the fireplace was not a simple tourist trinket, but might be something special.  Following his instincts, he took the statue to specialists in Egyptian art at the British Museum. They identified the feline as a 26th Dynasty (672-525 BCE) Egyptian bronze.  

Statuettes symbolizing cats often served as votive offerings in Egyptian temples, and were frequently placed in tombs.  Almost all Egyptian gods were associated with some animal and assumed the form of a particular beast in Egyptian sculpture.  In this case the goddess, Bast, written as 'Bastet' by scribes to emphasis that the 't' was to be pronounced, is symbolized in the form of a feline.  In writing, her name has the hieroglyph of a 'bas'-jar with the feminine ending of 't' and during the Old Kingdom she was considered to be the daughter of Atum in Heliopolis.  She first appeared in animal form bearing the head of a lion.  Later,  in the New Kingdom, she took on the form of a domestic house cat like the animal bust found in the cottage.

Up for auction yesterday, the Bast statuette expected to sell for a conservative £5,000 to £10,000 GBP but instead sold for £52,000.  

But how did this ancient object find its way from an Egyptian tomb to a house in Western Cornwall?

It seems Doreen Liddell was the widow of Douglas Liddell, who, before his death was one of the biggest influences in British Numismatics. Liddell worked for Spink and Son Ltd, the prestigious auction house founded in London in 1666.   Starting out in their coin department just after the Second World War he would remain with the collecting firm through his retirement in December 1987.  He worked first in Spink's coin department, moving on to director of the company on the 1st June 1965, followed by a promotion to Managing Director in 1977, a post he retained until he retirement to Cornwall. 
Spink's has long been famous not only for its for its sales of Ancient Egyptian artefacts and in 1939 was tasked with selling the estate of archaeologist Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamen's tomb, three months after Carter's death. 

Photo Credit: Harry Burton/Rue des Archives/ Getty
It is likely that Douglas Liddell purchased the 2,500-year-old Egyptian bronze at one of Spink's many antiquities sales, but unfortunately like is true in many, many cases during the 1900s, collection histories weren't prized, even as is the case with this collector, by those in the biz.  The family has no recollection of, or record for the purchase of the Bast statue so the context of this piece; where it came from and who it belongs to before it was purchased by Liddell has sadly been lost.

In fairness to Mr. Liddell and collectors in general, even Howard Carter, methodical man though he was, kept no systematic record of the antiquities in his personal collection.   The closest thing researchers have to a record of his significant collection is the valuation of Carter's property for probate prepared by Spink and Son on 1 June 1939.

It is not publicly known yet, if this feline statue has a similar record of valuation by Spink, but it is possible that it has.

Can we estimate the purchase price?

Not exactly, but an early Spink and Son catalog from 1924 has been digitized so we have an idea of how antiquities increase their value over time. 

This catalog features objects from the MacGregor, Hilton Price, Amherst, Meux & Carnarvon collections and on page twelve pictures a larger Egyptian bronze cat, almost twice as tall as the one in Mrs. Liddell's cottage.  This one was estimated at auction at £400, a healthy sum relative the other items in the catalog and one that included delivery anywhere in the world.
Photo Credit: Spink and Son Auction Catalog, 1924

Reproduced using an online inflation calculator that compares collector's prices in 1924 with the value of the British Pound in 2011, the scanned catalog illustrates the comparative values that continue to drive individuals to collect antiquities as financial investments.   Not only do these figures show that antiquities were worthwhile investments but their pricing gives ARCA's blog readers insight into how relatively easy it was for collectors to assemble large and diverse collections in the early years of the 20th Century with cheaply priced antiquities.

Back then you could even bring your mummy home for a simple £16  (See page 8).

While collectors are finding bargains today, which will appreciate in value just like this cat and this mummy did, we hope that today's contemporary collectors will begin to place greater importance on where an object comes from as well as better care of maintaining a collection history outlining their purchases.  That way the next generation of heirs don't toss grandpa's beloved kitty in the trash heap.

By Lynda Albertson

References Used in This Article

February 19, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015 - , No comments

ART meets SECURITY conference 19 March 2015 in Bruges, Belgium

Visit the ART meets SECURITY website
  • 08:30 Registration and breakfast
  • 09:15 Opening the conference - Francis Van der Staey, Optimit
  • 09:30 Drawing the canvas - Hubert De Witte, Musea Brugge
  • 10:00 Could the biggest art crimes have been prevented? - Inge Vandijck, Optimit
  • 10:30 Art crime in war and armed conflict - Lynda Albertson, ARCA
  • 11:00 Morning break
  • 11:30 The art of museum security: what everyone needs to understand to do art security right - Jens Bechmann, Pinkerton
  • 12:00 Art crime, policing and investigation - TBA
  • 12:30 Government indemnity vs. private insurance: the BOZAR case - TBA
  • 13:00 Lunch
  • 14:00 Predictive profiling of the art's adversary - Leen van der Plas, ArtSecure & Dick Drent, OMNIRISK
  • 14:30 It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see: the art in video analytics - TBA
  • 15:00 Trends and technologies in security: the voice of the customer - Megan Miller, Siemens
  • 15:30 Afternoon break
  • 16:00 Your chances to interrupt the adversary: a delicate balance in deterrence, delay, detection and response - Paul van Lerberghe, Optimit
  • 16:30 Climate change: a global threat to art and cultural heritage - Guy De Witte, De Zilveren Passer

Plus, explore and enjoy Bruges with your complementary 3-days Museum Pass.

Security Demand Ticket
Register for FREE!
Government agencies, Cultural & Academic institutions

Security Supply Ticket
Save up to 20% off!
Commercial organizations, Suppliers & Vendors

February 18, 2015

Sir, how much is that (2nd Century B.C.E.) Vase in the Window? Part II

Antiquities traffickers continue to make headlines in multiple countries in 2015.  In this three part series, ARCA explores current art trafficking cases to underscore that the ownership and commodification of the past continues. 

Part II - The Dodgy Dealer and Conflict Antiquities - Buyer Beware

Tuesday, investigative reporter Simon Cox's "File on Four" program on BBC Radio 4 featured a radio segment titled "Islamic State: Looting for Terror".  A synopsis of the episode on antiquities looting in its written form, and with accompanying video excerpts, is available on the BBC News Magazine website here. The full audio of the radio program is available in MP3 format here.

The program illustrated, with present-day examples, how illicit antiquities trafficking  sells cultural heritage objects that are often poorly protected, difficult to identify, and easy to transport across international boundaries, especially during conflicts due to the flow of refugees.  The radio broadcast featured interviews with both London and Middle East experts, one of whom, Dr. David Gill of Looting Matters, validated that conflict antiquities do make their way into the UK art market and from there on to collectors.

But rather than recount the program's content, which on its own deftly underscores that the illicit market in conflict antiquities is alive and producing devastating results for source countries like Syria and Iraq, this article focuses on the buyer's side of the market and explores the attitudes of complacent dealers who too often treat the furor over smuggled antiquities as a bothersome nuisance that interferes with their ability to make  living.

In the world of crime, morals follow money.

Not wanting to enter into the ongoing oppositional debate with antiquities dealers or collectors, I decided to spend some time listening to the folks involved in the trade as they talked with one another about collecting and the collecting market. Too often heritage protection advocates get pigeon-holed as the noisy minority of academic archaeologists who oppose acquisition of unprovenanced ancient art.  My goal was to be anything but noisy, and to merely observe.

Publicly, pro-collector blogs frequently argue that nationalistic retention laws for antiquities neither preserve sites nor objects, nor do they benefit the larger interests of civilization and mankind.  But what do collectors and dealers have to say to one another about their own responsibility to preserve site?  And how do they truly feel when it comes to merchandise that enters the art market as a result of the illicit antiquities trade?

To get a better understanding I started by reading through the websites of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) and the Association of Dealers & Collectors of Ancient & Ethnographic Arts.  Both the IADAA and the ADCAEA's mission statements advocate for the responsible and legal trading and collecting of antiquities. 

  • promote awareness and understanding of ancient and ethnographic art collecting through open communication with members and the public.
  • support the preservation and protection of cultural objects around the globe through responsible and legal trading and collecting.
  • educate and inform members on policies and laws that affects the international movement of cultural property.
  • advocate and support the establishment of clear, transparent and fair laws governing acquisition, ownership and commercial disposal of artifacts.
  • promote a Code of Conduct that underscores the professionalism of our members through responsible and ethical practice.
  • advocate the establishment of a comprehensive digital database register within the USA to secure appropriate title to art and artifacts for museums, dealers and collectors and restore legitimacy and value to objects registered.
Good objectives to strive for even if I found their December 29, 2014 blog post a lot more threatened and defensive as this opening paragraph shows.
As a result, several American museums have been coerced into giving objects to foreign governments that have claimed them as their rightful property purely for political purposes.  American collectors and art dealers as well have been forced to repeatedly defend themselves against all manner of claims by foreign governments for countless pieces of art work that have been dispersed around the globe.  Increasingly, Americans have had to defend themselves in costly litigation against foreign governments who use American lawyers, US Customs, and Homeland Security, and the Press to pursue spurious claims against US citizens.  At the same time these foreign nations do very little to protect their archaeological resources or stem the tide of illicit excavation on their own soil.  The old paradigm of “antiquities collecting equals destruction of cultural heritage and therefore must be abolished” is naive at best and slanderous at worst.
To understand the reason for this defensiveness among dealers and collectors I thought it worthwhile to listen to them chat amongst themselves in non-official capacities, perhaps learning about what drew them individually to the field rather than assume I understood how dealers and collectors truly feel by looking at their safety-in-numbers mission statements.  Wording for large public statements often makes for adversarial lines in the heritage protection sand.   

I joined several collecting groups in hopes of better understanding "their side of the story".  Clearly heritage protection professionals and dealers and collectors should be able to solve their differences if if there is goodwill on all sides.

But is there?

One of the first comments I came across discussed Muslim militants threatening ancient sites in Iraq and Syria.  One dealer staunchly stated over email...
The lesson is clear here. The best overall strategy to preserve mankind's shared global heritage is NOT to keep it all concentrated in the original source countries, but rather to widely distribute it around the world.
"Widely distributed" having the added benefit of also generating revenue for dealers and a source of joy for the buyer.  Each doing their part to salvage history away from the ongoing conflict. But was their viewpoint a noble one?   The rest of the email is listed below for the reader to decide...

Hopefully they will loot and sell them first rather than destroying them! But then we dealers would probably be charged with funding terrorism by our wonderful politically correct governments.
Further in the same conversational thread another mid-level dealer replied...
I have bought many ! objects of ' fetishes and gods' from Moslem Runners who have no problems selling these pieces; nor do I have in buying then.
apparently referring to the secular nature of some Muslim looters and smugglers who don't necessarily subscribe to the religious ideology of Isis, Isil or Da'ish when selecting antiquities for trafficking.

Perhaps in jest, or perhaps by way of introduction, another dealer wrote a How-to email on how to smuggle antiquities from Egypt saying...
 Hello to you all.

I would like to share with you my thought regarding how a piece you end up buying in auction like Bonhams or Christie's is actually looted.

- A poor farmer in Egypt finds it while plowing his land.

- He is scared to report it considering the hell he will go through, confiscating his land , ending up in jail , family dying from hunger etc... so he sells it to the local dealer in the village

- Local dealer sells it to the middle man in Cairo

- Middle man sells it to the big boss in Cairo.

- Big boss smuggles it to an Arabian gulf country, e.g. Qatar, Dubai (UAE), Bahrain

- Piece then shipped to a stupid European country , e.g. Portugal.  sorry, stupid meaning = level of customs awareness

- Then an invoice is made from a dealer in another European country e.g. Belgium, to this Portuguese dealer for the piece, of course nobody checks, it's an EU transaction, no tax , no customs.

- Based on the Belgian invoice, the Portuguese dealer make an export license to U.S.A from ministry of culture, piece origin from Belgium, this totally cancels the fact that the piece came from the Arabian gulf.

- Item received in the U.S, no trouble, legal ,

- Item sold in auction  + old European collection, legally entered to U.S , customs paid.
Do ethics even enter into collector-dealer purchase discussions?  For some yes, but too frequently no.

In listening to collectors' observations I found that not all were black sheep.  While some over-sharing group members aired their profession's dirty laundry, others called for restraint in purchasing and recommended that dealers and collectors stick to objects with verifiable collecting histories.  Some dealers and collectors reached out to one another to help determine if a piece had value, was original or knew someone in the business who might have information on the object's past in the antiquities marketplace.   At face value their motive appears to be less driven by ethics and more by the desire to preserve value for money on object purchases and investments. Objects with sketchy pasts are still money spent in purchase but make for risky investments.

Some dealers and collectors outed dealers known to have sold fakes or to have had problems with previous law violations like Mousa Khouli who also goes by the name Morris.  Dealers reminded new members of the group that Khouli had sold through  Windsor Antiquities as well as Palmyra Heritage, and through eBay as palmyraheritagemorriskhouligallery.

Several group members pointed out pieces that they found problematic on Khouli current auction events such as this listing for an Ancient Roman Egyptian Painted stucco Mummy Mask c.1st century AD and this Palmyran Limestone Head Ca. 3rd-5th century A.D.  I myself notice he trades in Syrian coins, ancient glass and mummy cartonnage.

Khouli is not new to the art and antiquities profession.  He moved to New York City with his family from Syria in 1992 and opened a gallery specializing in the ancient world in New York City in 1995. His father had a gallery in Damascus for 35 Years, and he learned the business from his grandfather who also worked in the art and antiquities collecting field.  When prosecuted in 2012 he was already a seasoned and substantial seller in the New York market.

But Khouli eventually pled guilty to smuggling ancient Egyptian treasure and to making a false statement to law enforcement authorities.  He was sentenced to six months home confinement, one year probation, and 200 hours of community service, along with a criminal monetary assessment of $200.  Today he continues in the business he knows, the buying and selling of history. 

The response by his peers for his misdeeds?....   
Everyone's at it, he just happened to get caught.
Interestingly, like with the How To Smuggle recipe the earlier dealer described, Khouli's smuggled objects were imported via Dubai.

Maybe the one thing heritage workers and the collection community should agree on is that the "white" (clean) art collecting trade is dirtied when black market antiquities are circulated via suspect dealers and purchasers. Singular source countries, acting alone, cannot tackle all of the triangulations between looter, smuggler, dealer and buyer without the active support of neighboring countries, law enforcement and the art collecting community themselves.

Yesterday's Cambodia, is today's Syria and tomorrow's Ukraine, as the grey market of antiquities shifts from one vulnerable nation or one conflict zone to another.

by Lynda Albertson

February 17, 2015

The Stakes are in the Stroke: "Made in China: A Doug Fishbone Project"

Photograph: Robert Sanderson for the BBC
By Liza Weber, ARCA '14 Alumna

In 1811 Sir John Soane drew up the blueprint for Dulwich Picture Gallery, Britain’s first public art gallery. That is, Sir Radical Soane drew up a template for how to house Francis Bourgeois’ first-class private collection: open its Bourgeois doors to the public. Two centuries on and the template—save for the ticket price—has not been tampered with. For where the conceptual artist, Doug Fishbone, today asks the public to discern the dud in the gallery’s Permanent Collection of Claude’s to Canaletto’s, its welcome mat is down.

But a dud, mind you, that is meant to spark—spark intrigue, in anyone who has ever suspected that a Christmas gift was too-leather-good-to be-true. Intrigue in you, the sceptic. Spotting the fake from the fortune is not reserved for the BBC-coiffed-likes of Fiona Bruce as she uncovers, in the attic, ancestors with considerable assets. Spotting the fake from the fortune is as good a guess yours as it is (t)heirs.

Made in China, somewhere South. Mailed to Dulwich, South London. Mailed with a questionable £120 invoice (supposedly Meishing Oil Painting Manufacture Company kept the carbon copy). And at last hung in the frame belonging to the fortune. All within the dead of night.

Photograph: Robert Sanderson for the BBC
When the 10th morning of February was broken, I donned my detective hat to try my eye at the collection’s 270 paintings for the counterfeit thing. Ok, I lie. I tried my eye at about a dozen. My reasoning? 
1. The painting had to be at eye-level. To hang it in the upper echelons of the burgundy galleries would be a gesture, paradoxically, below the belt. 
2.  It was French. 
The French bit was an itch. A hunch. Over something, something perhaps remembered…

French Art was particularly popular post-WWII, which meant that a great number of fakes surfaced to supply the demand. They have been washing-up like driftwood ever since. French Law—as if to build a dam—allowed the confiscation and burning of counterfeit works at the behest of the artist’s estate. (I think it still does.) A French fake then is about high stakes. If Fishbone genuinely had a bone to pick with authenticity, or lack thereof, he surely would have pitched his conceptual stakes high? Call my reasoning what you will, the fact is, I’m an art critic in the making and freelance, so with nothing much to lose. Here goes my guess.

It was a toss-up between Nicolas Poussin’s
1.  'Landscape with Travellers Resting (or A Roman Road)', 1648
2.  'The Triumph of David', c.1628-31
It was the frame around the frame of the former that found me suspicious:
1.  The wall panel text read This canvas seems to have been painted as a pair to the ‘Landscape with a Man washing his Feet at a Fountain (or A Greek Road)’ now in the National Gallery London. I am always wary of a wall text that finds space, in less than 100 words, to use up one with ‘seems’. I am looking at some sort of semblance—a likeness, image, or copy of. Seeing double. X-ray examinations show that the canvas was first used for a partial copy of Poussin’s ‘Moses trampling Pharaoh’s Crown’, now in the Louvre. Now I am seeing triple. Why ever not a fourth?
2.  The gallery walls, an unforgiving Payne’s grey, were scuffed here, there, in fact, everywhere. Fresh tracks of movement. But tracks that you would be, if anything, lazy not to cover up with a lick of paint. No, it was all too obvious…
Plus Poussin’s travellers are behind a pane of glass. It is simply impractical to get up close and personal. And yet ‘close and personal’ is exactly what Dulwich Picture Gallery is asking of its visitors. No, this Poussin is too obscured from fine observation.

‘The Triumph of David’ is comparatively clear. One of Poussin’s most studied and cerebral compositions, it is the focal point of the French room, bordered by a burgundy archway and a beckoning chaise longue. Come sit it says. So I stand, an inch-close to the canvas. Load a Google image on my iPhone. Compare physical with pixelated paint. There is something altogether off here:
1. Look at the cracked foundation in the lower left corner; its fallen stone fragments. Count the sandal straps. Follow the extraordinary length of the ladies fingers, pointing here, there, no there. This is geometry. That art historical school that gallery director Ian Dejardin distrusts for trying too hard to tie down the imprecise phenomenon of artistic composition. A school that is perhaps here apt. Getting close and personal means to study not merely the flatness of the piece (for every Fake is, according to the guess-pert, Flat), but the properties and relations of points, lines, surfaces, and solids. It is perhaps then time to take a solid seat. And stare a while longer. 
2. For this Poussin is the Director’s Choice. Which is to say, ‘The Triumph of David’ made it into Dejardin’s selected 37 paintings for book publication. It made the cut. Why not a copy? Remember, Doug Fishbone is in collaboration with Dejardin. His choice matters.
Plus this is a painting of a procession, a procession—Dejardin reminds us—that passes through a representative section of humanity where every gesture and action is significant. If Fishbone and Dejardin wanted to stress the whole(sale) sordid affair of Chinese Studios, and their replicas as downright disruptive to the Market, they would have surely stressed it in a painting where every stroke counts?

To conclude let me approach the one big question—the one big question Fishbone and Dejardin set to Xylophone tones in their video trailer for the project—
Does it have an aura?
I won’t bore you with Walter Benjamin. For now, let us just agree that the aura is in the waiting. The reveal: 28th April 2015. I, for one, am counting.
And as I count I discover that I was not the only one staring at the Poussin on the 10th morning of February. The Daily Mail caught a lady on the chaise longue. She was donning a red beret. How Very French.  

Ms. Weber is a freelance journalist.

For additional reading on this subject, please follow this link to Angelina Giovani's piece on the blog "plundered art", a perspective from the Holocaust Art Restitution Project. Angie is also an ARCA alumna.

February 14, 2015

Raul Espinoza sentenced to more than four years in state prison for receiving art stolen from Encino home in 2008

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

Brian Melley reported in the Associated Press Feb. 13 ("Man who tried to sell stolen Encino art gets 4 years in state prison") that Raul Espinoza was 'sentenced Friday to more than four years in state prison' when he 'pleaded no contest to one count of receiving property stolen in 2008 from the Encino home of Susan and Anton Roland:
He [Espinoza] was asking $700,000 for works he said were worth $5 million, though the paintings have since been valued for as much as $23 million, said Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the Los Angeles district attorney.
Melley/AP wrote that Espinoza's restitution hearing is scheduled for March 25.

(CNN also identified the owners of the art collection here).

Veronica Rocha for The Los Angeles Times reported that Espinoza's sentence was "four years and four months".

In May 2012, Mash Leo for The Jewish Daily reported that Susan and Anton Roland donated 15 works of art (including a Francis Bacon triptych worth $75 million) to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art:
This collection was accumulated over a lifetime by Susan Roland and her husband, the late Anton Roland. A teary-eyed George Roland paid tribute to his parents’ passion for art collecting: “Father was born in Carpathia [Czechoslovakia]. Mother was born in Hungary. They married in Budapest. In 1946 they moved to Paris and dreamt of owning paintings…. In 1949 they bought a Chagall in Israel [and] kept on buying paintings all over Europe. When [Dad] bought the Francis Bacon painting, his wife remarked that it was immoral to pay so much money [for it]. He pacified her by saying that it would eventually go to the Tel Aviv Museum…. It was their greatest wish to have a collection and to donate it after our passing, to share it with the Israeli people.’”

A catalogue on the donation from the Rolands to the Israeli art gallery can be purchased on Amazon.

An online article in "15 Minutes Magazine" quoted George Roland on his parents:
"My parents were opposites," George said. His mother came from Hungary and father from the Carpathians. Dad studied in a yeshiva in Prague when the war broke out.
He found his future wife on the street wearing a Jewish star. "Why are you wearing that?"
"They told me to."
"Just because they told you to do it doesn’t mean you do it."

He ripped the star off her coat and took her to the underground where he was working as a forger for the resistance against the Nazis. They stayed together ever since.
Related ARCA blog posts:

February 10, 2015

"Portrait of Isabella d'Este" attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci siezed in Lugano, Switzerland.

By Lynda Albertson and Stefano Alessandrini

A painting, the ”Portrait of Isabella d'Este, attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, has been recovered in Lugano, Switzerland as the result of a complex joint-operation involving the Italian Public Prosecutors in Pesaro, the Guardia di Finanza of Pesaro and the Ancona squad of the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale in cooperation with Swiss law enforcement authorities who executed a seizure request for International Judicial assistance (Letters rogatory).

The lengthy case investigation began in August 2013 when investigators in Italy identified that an attorney in Pesaro had been contracted to quietly sell the painting, purportedly held in a Swiss bank vault,  on behalf of an Italian family for no less than 95 million euro.

The portrait had created an international stir earlier when Professor Carlo Pedretti, Armand Hammer chair of Leonardo Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) attributed the artwork to Leonardo Da Vinci.  Dr. Pedretti had matched the painting to an acknowledged sketch drawn by Da Vinci in 1499 or 1450 which depicts Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of Mantua.  This chalk on paper portrait hangs on view at the Louvre Museum in Paris and was likely sketched by Da Vinci when he was on his way to Venice from Mantova.  There is also a similar one in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which are the only two confirmed likenesses of her by the artist.

A second world acknowledged expert on Renaissance man and Leonardo, Dr. Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of the history of art at Trinity College, Oxford, doubted the likelihood that this painting was an actual work of art by da Vinci stating that “canvas was not used by Leonardo or anyone in his production line."

If the authentication of the painting is correct, it will be a historic discovery.  Of the generally-accepted twenty-three major extant artworks attributed to Da Vinci the medium of choice has always been wooden boards, frequently of poplar or paper.  But regardless of the disputed attribution, it  appears that the painting was illegally exported from Italy without benefit of a  proper export license and while it is not clear yet if the family moved the painting to Switzerland for fear of theft or for fear of taxes, its removal severely violates Italian law.
Italy's strict rules requires that any work of art that is more than 50 years old and made by an artist who has died requires a license if it is to be exported.  This holds true for temporary moves as well as permanent sales which makes the lack of paperwork on this artwork noteworthy and highly suspect.  Italy's law art the movement of artworks was passed in 1939 specifically to prevent the country's masterpieces of ancient and Renaissance art from leaving its borders.

Back in Italy, it is expected that the oil of canvas painting will undergo further evaluation to determine if the work should be confirmed conclusively as being attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci or "in the style of".  The painting, measuring 61x46.5 cm assuredly matches the chalk on paper sketch of the Marchioness of Mantua in the Louvre and she is known to have written two letters to Da Vinci, though both were requesting artworks depicting a young Christ.

Isabella d'Este, was a collector of antiquities, a patron of art, and one of the most fashionable and powerful women of the Italian Renaissance.  A patron to other important painters including Giovanni Bellini, Raphael, and Titian, so it would not be unlikely that a request for a portrait might also have made during their acquaintance.  One potential clue in the paintings favor occurred in 1517.  While in France, Da Vinci showed a series of paintings to Cardinal Luigi d'Aragona. On October 11th, at Blois Castle, de Beatis commented on two portraits, one referencing “a certain lady of Lombardy” which could be d'Este along with a passing reference to a certain Signora Gualanda.

The spell of Leonardo and his mysterious women continues.

February 8, 2015

Dr. Kathleen Whitaker, Former Chief Curator of Los Angeles' Southwest Museum of the American Indian, on the site's designation as "National Treasure"

The saga continues for the venerable, 115 year-old Southwest Museum of the American Indian (SWM), and it’s Casa de Adobe, (founded in 1914) a reconstruction of a Spanish colonial home - both designated herein as The Southwest Museum Site.

A public announcement made on January 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, CA revealed the site has been designated a National Treasure  by The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP),  a privately funded, non-profit Washington, D.C.-based organization.  With this declaration it is hoped by many that there will be a brighter future for the oldest, but neglected museum.

The Treasure designation is part of a NTHP program that identifies historically significant American landmarks facing actual or imminent threat of deterioration and loss of use.  Such sites are selected based on: integrity, contribution to Americas diverse history, and preservation strategies that can be applied to other sites.  It is hoped by the NTHP and its partners - the Autry National Center (that retains stewardship of the museum), and Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillos office - this recognition will bring national attention to the financially depleted Southwest Museum and create new interest in funding from sources within and beyond the local community.  A remapping of the site is their goal.

The Southwest Museum was founded in 1907 by Charles Fletcher Lummis, an American ethnologist and later the city editor for The Los Angeles Times.  It grew from the vastness of Los Angeles cultural diversity, educational and environmental ideologies.  For many, the museums buildings with their revival mission and Californiano hacienda style architecture carry an identity rooted in California history.  And the renowned collection it once housed gives focus to a Native American and Hispanic aesthetic bringing forth the themes and intentions of culture that the public has come to expect.  Moreover, is generally acknowledged that the sites first acts of occupation as a museum have left a core of connection in the memory of, and identity with the people of Southern California.

Barbara Pahl, who heads the regional district for National Trust for Historic Preservation acknowledged: The amount of passion that has surrounded this museum makes it clear how significant and special it is.  This is a very important place and deserves a future. (NTHP meeting held at SWM. 1/22/15)

At the January 22 meeting, Pahl highlighted four recurring themes and opportunities the partnership will seek, including: 1) Establish a framework and parameters, 2) Identify community priorities and market analysis, 3) Build a consensus around a shared vision, and 4) Develop a business plan for the shared vision.  Toward these goals, and over the next 18 months the NTHP, The Autry National Center, and Councilman Gil Cedillos office in concert with the community, will gather ideas, and build a general agreement regarding a future use for the Southwest Museum Site. 

There was no clarity as to who would fund this new partnership study; and the organizers did not open the meeting to discussion, nor solicit questions from the audience.  Autry president W. Richard West, Jr. did note, however, that funding and other resources is something well find out as we go along (NTHP meeting held at SWM, 1/22/15). In addition, a broad-ranging compendium of discussants and organizers will be formed in association with this partnership, and the discussion will be open to all ideas with brainstorming and analysis of The Southwest Museum Sites many possible uses.  If individuals would like to contribute to the discussion, the following website address was provided for ones thoughts:

West also declared in a Los Angeles Times article (1/22/15) and again at the public meeting I see this [partnership] as an uplifting turning point in this saga that gets us out of the mired past and toward a collective and collaborative future.  It lifts us beyond where we have been, to get our sights on where we should end up.  He added that the Autry conglomerate has respect for the sites history and commitment to the Southwest Museums buildings and is looking forward to a sustainable future for this facility.  Mrs. Jackie Autry was not present at the meeting.  However in support of Wests remarks, two Autry board members Michael Heumann and Tom Lee were in attendance.

In addition there was a large turnout of supporters, critics, and skeptics that included members of the local community,  Occidental College president, Jonathan Veitch, Native American organization representatives and leaders, former Southwest Museum staff members, and the Highland Park Heritage Trust.  Carol Teutsch, a member of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition and Roundtable that has represented past community opposition to the closing of the Southwest Museum stated to the LA Times (1/22/15): Looking for solutions that are sustainable is something we welcome.  Our suggestion to the National Trust has been that [reviving a museum at the site] be the priority until its proved nonviable.  

Clearly, on the surface, the gesture to remap the Southwest Museum Site is well-meaning, offering new possible continuation and purpose for an aged site.  Yet in quiet, sidebar conversations by doubters at the January 22 meeting, it was suggested the action might be yet another smoke screen by the Autry National Center intended to discourage further opposition and litigation between them and the local residents of the Mount Washington/Highland Park environs, and Southwest Museum supporters.  A second concern, which was more to the point, was that the partners - based on history and past experience - are thought to not have the financial or other resources to address the current sites crisis and that additional meetings, studies and brainstorming may be further exercises in futility.  Beginning in the mid-1980s there were discussions between the Southwest Museum and the County of Los Angeles regarding a  recast of the museum.  Such discussions occurred again in 1992 when the Southwest Museum was contemplating a move from its present site, and this was later followed by several Blue Ribbon mayoral committees in the 1990s and early 2000.  All previous discussions, studies and brainstorming failed.

Underpinning this new announcement is the idea that any future use of the building site remains open to discussion, and the outcome might not include its original use as a museum.  It is this latter thought that led to an early contentious relationship between the local Mount Washington/Highland Park community Coalition, Southwest Museum supporters and the Autry National Center.  In 2003, shortly after the merger of the Southwest and Autry museums, the newly formed Autry National Center began shutting down the historic Los Angeles site, leaving the Braun Research Library open by appointment only.  To further fuel the growing dissension, there was a complete absorption of the Southwest Museums ethnographically and historically important Native American and Hispanic collections, the library, and ethnobotanical garden with little of it being exhibited, and all of it remaining underutilized.  Southwest Museum supporters cried foul.  

The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition viewed the commitment made by the Autry to operate the Southwest Museum. as a deliberate failure and a violation of the merger agreement.  The Autry, however, has completed one comprehensive conservation project on a portion of the museums collection, but says it lacks the resources to run the Mount Washington site as a full-time museum in tandem with the main Autry museum in Griffith Park (Los Angeles Times; 1/22/15). 

Moreover, exhibitions, operating hours, extensive staff reduction, cutbacks and shutdowns in programming at both facilities have curtailed any further efforts to operate the Southwest Museum Site.  Yet despite the depleted economic concerns cited by the Autry administration, they submitted plans to the City of Los Angeles to create a $175 million expansion plan for the Griffith Park Museum.  By 2009, the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition rallied significant City Council and other support. They filed a lawsuit that resulted in the City of Los Angeles rejecting the expansion unless the Autry reopened the Southwest Museum to full operation.  A stalemate resulted.  This created further vitriol where critics and some city overseers saw this as confirmation that the Autry would eventually abandon The Southwest Museum and The Casa de Adobe. 

In a reactive, almost half-hearted effort to create compromise, one gallery in the Southwest Museum was reopened in early 2013 offering a revamped Pueblo pottery exhibition that was originally curated in 1989.  This has now been on exhibit for a year and a half, and expects to remain on display through at least 2016-2017.  It is open to the public on Saturdays only.  The Casa de Adobe has been completely closed and its collection removed. The museums renowned Native American collection has also been moved to a newly purchased Autry National Center facility in Burbank, CA  - now currently under renovation.  

Despite these past frictions, the meeting postured a positive outlook.  It will be interesting to follow the transactions and negotiations in the next 18 months and it is always a positive sign when all the players are sincere and proactive - not merely symbolic.   It is hoped there will be a common attitude toward bringing together different sensibilities and knowledge, thereby enriching the Southwest Museum Site, not sending it into further disharmony and deterioration.  The Site must be given a new license to exist in reconciliation with the social and cultural needs of its surrounding community.  Over the years it has been no secret many would like it to see it carry forward cultural themes and concerns, and remain a domain of social interaction and community engagement.  

Kathleen Whitaker, PhD
Research Associate, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Former Director, Indian Arts Research Center School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, NM

Former Chief Curator, Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, CA

The Los Angeles Time's article by Mike Boehm, "National preservation trust tabs Southwest Museum a national treasure", was published on January 22, 2015.