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September 28, 2015

New Zealand Hosts its First Art Crime Symposium

The inaugural Art Crime Symposium, held at City Gallery in Wellington on 19 September 2015, brought together leading academics and researchers for an innovative and ground-breaking one-day symposium, covering many aspects of art crime, both in New Zealand and beyond.  Organised by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, this one-day event was the first of its kind in New Zealand. The founding trustees of the newly formed trust are Judge Arthur Tompkins, Penelope Jackson, Ngarino Ellis and Louisa Gommans. 

The organisers of the event were inspired after attending the annual conference held by the Association for Research into Crime against Art (ARCA) in Amelia, Italy, to recreate something similar much closer to home.  The Trust’s secretary, Louisa Gommans, says “We thought it likely that people in New Zealand would be interested in the topic of art crime, but we have been absolutely blown away by the number of people who attended and their enthusiasm for the subject!”  The auditorium at City Gallery was nearly at full capacity, with over 70 people in attendance, and the range of backgrounds and professions of those who attended captures the multi-disciplinary background of those interested in art crime.  

The Symposium began with a cocktail function in the foyer of City Gallery on Friday 18 September, which was a great opportunity for attendees and speakers to mix and mingle.  The Symposium commenced at 10 am on Saturday 19 September with a welcome from the Hon. Chris Finlayson Q.C., Attorney General.  This welcome focussed particularly on the Motunui Panels, recently returned home to New Zealand and soon to be unveiled at Puke Ariki Museum and Library in New Plymouth.   

Then followed a fascinating line up of lectures throughout the day.  Many who had registered for the Symposium thought New Zealand probably did not have an art crime problem, but were soon put straight on that score:

Penelope Jackson, an Art Historian with a special interest in NZ art crime, gave an overview of the art crime scene in New Zealand;
Garth Galloway, Partner at Chapman Tripp, discussed immunity from seizure legislation and the fact that New Zealand has not implemented any such legislation to date;
Catherine Gardner, Manager of Case Management for New Zealand Police, talked about the difficulties of recording crimes relating to art and some of the interesting cases the Police have dealt with;
Ngarino Ellis, Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Auckland, illustrated art crime in a Maori context, particularly in post-colonial times;
Roger Blackley, Associate Professor in the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University, gave a captivating example of connoisseurship in action while discussing two apparently similar paintings, only one of which is thought to be an authentic work by Gottfried Lindauer;
Judge Arthur Tompkins, a Judge in the District Court, delved into the saga surrounding Cornelius Gurlitt and the challenges of dealing with Nazi-looted art works;
Louisa Gommans, a Lawyer with a special interest in art law, discussed the repatriation of Maori and Moriori ancestral remains home to New Zealand.

The Symposium concluded with a highly topical panel discussion, chaired by Kim Hill, featuring Geoffrey Batchen (a teacher, writer and curator, focusing on the history of photography), Jim Barr (art commentator) and Sarah Farrar (Senior Curator of Art at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand).  The panel considered the issue of selfies in galleries, including the merits – or not – of allowing visitors to take photographs for personal use while viewing art works.  While the panel did not reach a consensus about whether or not selfie-taking was good or bad thing, it did conclude that people are unlikely to stop taking selfies anytime soon. 

The organisers hope to make the Symposium an annual event, and have already confirmed Saturday 15 October 2016 at City Gallery, Wellington for next year’s event.  

For more information please contact the secretary of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, Louisa Gommans, at or follow “New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust: The Symposium” on Facebook.