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July 6, 2017

ARCA's 8th Annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Art Crime has been a great success

By: Edgar Tijhuis

ICOM Red Lists Highlighted at the 2017 Amelia Conference
Last weekend ARCA held its yearly conference in the beautiful town of Amelia, seat of its Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. With a record number of attendees from  international organizations, law enforcement agencies, academics, cultural institutions, and private sector professionals in the art and antiquities fields – the conference, in its 8th year offered a unique meeting point for those interested in art related crimes. 

Feint of Art

Judith Harris, Image Credit: Nour Abdel Ghafour
The first panel brought a number of new perspectives on fakes and forgeries. Mustafa Ergül, a librarian and archivist at SALT in Istanbul, Turkey, offered an overview of painting forgery in Turkish art scene since the 1990s, and the cultural, economic and legal aspects around it. Judith Harris, an American freelance journalist working in Italy, continued and initiated the audience into the con acts of of Christian Parisot, convicted in Italy as well as in France of fraudulent authentications of Modigliani works. Liliana Wuffli, from the University of Lausanne, pointed at the lack of resources aimed at fakes and forgeries and discussed her research project that seeks to build a tool to prevent fakes and forgeries from entering the market. Finally, Andrea Borroni, a professor at the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, discussed the seemingly legal quagmire that comes from mistakes in attributions, like for example, this event which occurred this year when specialists at the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum discovered that the painting, The Braunschweig Terrier, attributed for more  than 250  years to  a  little  known  German painter, had actually been authored by Rembrandt.

The Gift of Our Fathers: Cultural Heritage Crime and its Regional and Transborder Consequences in Current and Former Conflict Zones

Maamoun Abdulkarim, Image Credit: Nour Abdel Ghafour
While the destruction and smuggling of cultural heritage from war zones usually only comes to us through the general media, this year’s conference included a unique panel with experts from Syria and Iraq and Bosnia & Herzogovina. Maamoun Abdulkarim, of the Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), provided his first-hand look at the fight against trafficking in antiquities in Syria.  Samer Abdel Ghafour, founder of ArchaeologyIN, continued this discourse on looted Syrian antiquities with a further analysis of a specific case of trafficking in the country before the start of the present conflict and his organization's role in identifying the object and notifying the authorities as to its trafficking. 

Layla Salih, from the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage at the Ministry of Culture in Iraq (SBAH), followed with an overview of the realities on the ground in Northern Iraq, especially in territories once occupied by Da'esh. Finally, Dženan Jusufović and Senad Begović from the Centar Protiv Krijumčarenja Umjetninama (CPKU) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, discussed their country's impediments in fighting trafficking in art.

ARCA 2017 Minerva Scholars, Image Credit: Nour Abdel Ghafour
This panel also highlighted ARCA's Minerva Scholarship, which allows scholars from conflict countries to study with the Association's postgraduate program each year.

$acred $ites and Buried Trea$ure: Alternative Approaches to Mitigating Trafficking
Vijay Kumar, Image Credit: Nour Abdel Ghafour
In this panel, some innovative new approaches were presented to counter illicit trafficking. Vijay Kumar, founder of the India Pride Project, explained how the project aims to bring India’s cultural treasures home by leveraging the power of social media  – a grassroots movement that pushes for restitution with impressive results so far. Sam Hardy, Honorary Research Associate with the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, followed with a presentation on metal detecting and its impact on portable antiquities find sites. Finally, Jessica Kamphuis, graduate of ARCA’s 2015 program, drew an interesting comparison between the trafficking cultural heritage and endangered species from the perspective of border security.

The Thin Blue Line: Art Crimes from the Perspectives of Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Private Investigators

Captain Rapicavoli from the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, Italy's Art and Antiquities Squad elaborated on the online market in illicit art and the way the Italian Art Squad deals with this new challenge. Next was Martin Finkelnberg, head of the Art and Antique Crime Unit, National Criminal Intelligence Division at the National Police of the Netherlands spoke on the one day law enforcement plenary, which stressed the the need for dedicated public prosecutors for art-related criminal investigations and prosecutions and emphasized that under present constraints, often the focus in law enforcement is on the recovery of stolen and plundered works of art, and after that on trying to catch and or convict the related perpetrators.

Finkelnberg also pointed out the complications of the enormous diversity of legislation in Europe in combatting art crimes. Lastly he reminded attendees that analytical estimates on how much money ISIS is making on plundered antiquities as a means of financing terrorism is based on very limited evidence and base assumptions, though there is evidence that ISIS does tax antiquities and excavating.

Saturdays session concluded with Steve Cook, co-founder of Tagsmart, explaining how advances in nano-technology, applied to artworks as an identifier, along with a unique code which links directly to the artwork’s online record has proven successful and effective in authenticating artworks and deterring art crime.  

Art Proves a Refuge

In this panel Katharina Stoll, a Senior Consultant with Protiviti GmbH, explained how specific anti-money laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures,  the process of a business identifying and verifying the identity of its clients as a preventative measure necessary to monitor for money laundering, could also be applied when vetting art market actors. She applied her experience in AML cases and practices to bridge the academic and art market dialogue on this topic. The author of this blogpost, an independent writer and consultant from Amsterdam, continued with a presentation on the MOSE Project in Venice, a multi-billion euro project, which has been plagued by corruption, that may not be able to protect Venice from flooding and could potentially be an art crime in the making. 

Ownership History - Asset or Liability for the Art Market? 

Through a selection of case studies of organisations participating at TEFAF Maastricht 2017, Gareth Fletcher, from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, presented a comparative analysis of provenance information provided for objects for sale and the relationships between its dissemination, complexity and the market performance of the objects. Yagna Yass-Alston, an independent researcher on the plunder and destruction of Jewish Collections in Poland during the WWII followed with the remarkable history of paintings from the collection of Leon Holzer, Kraków,  lost in wartime between 1939 and 1945.   Finally, Marc Masurovsky, acting director of the ERR project, spoke to the audience about one of the most unusual art thefts of World War II from the Führerbau - translated as "the Führer's building", Adolf Hitler's administrative building on Arcisstraße in Munich.

It was in the Führerbau that the Nazis amassed more than 700 confiscated or stolen paintings, mostly Old Masters, taken throughout Europe during World War II by the Sonderauftrag Linz, to fill the Third Reich's planned Führermuseum in Hitler's hometown of Linz, Austria. While the US 3rd Army met light to moderate resistance as it overran Munich, unknown individuals made off with
some 650 paintings on April 29, 1945, of which, 70 years later, only a few have been located. 

Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Goods

Lucia Patrizio Gunning, a teaching fellow at the Department of History at the University College London, started this panel with a discussion of past perspectives on collecting in the Near East, examining the circumstances that allowed western museums and collectors to amass Assyrian, Greek and Egyptian antiquities, the motives that brought the nations, museums and individuals to the area, the means by which they were able to excavate and remove archaeological finds, and the outcomes of their activities on the personal and institutional level.  Giovanna Carugno, Ph.D., Candidate at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, and tutor at the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II elaborated on the evolution of EU legislation, beginning from the Treaty of Rome through the new Directive 2014/60/EU relating to the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State. Finally, Marco Seghesio, from the University of Milan, discussed the destruction of cultural property as a war crime, using the Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi case as example. 

Whose Property? Whose Culture? The Role of Institutions 

Jamie Perry from the US Department of Justice, outlined the investigatory, prosecutive and police work of the Human Rights Special Prosecutions Section. After that, Dorit Straus, of Art and Insurance Advisory Services, spoke about the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) of the US Department of State,  Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) which was established by Section 306 of the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act to advise the president (or his designee) on appropriate U.S. action in response to requests from State Parties for assistance in protecting their cultural heritage, pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Aperna Tandon
Image Credit: Nour Abdel Ghafour
Lastly, the day was concluded with a presentation by Aparna Tandon, risk management and emergency recovery expert at ICCROM, who focused her talk on the organization's international capacity development programme on disaster risk management and its evacuation of heritage collections in case of emergencies.

Conference Venue,
Image Credit: Nour Abdel Ghafour
The conference weekend concluded Sunday afternoon and over the next few days attendees made their way homeward.  Those already looking forward to next years conference can mark their calendars for the weekend of June 22-24, 2018.  

We thank the organization for this unique gathering of experts from all over the world in the tranquil and inspiring environment of Amelia.