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January 7, 2018

More on the Manhattan billionaire Michael Steinhardt's whose private collection now faces further seizures

As mentioned previously in ARCA blog posts, Michael Steinhardt has a longstanding record of making astute financial decisions, many of which have led to stellar investment performance earnings totalling in the millions on Wall Street.  Unfortunately his culture capital record for making prudent, informed decisions when purchasing antiquities for his $200 million private art collection continues to raise eyebrows, and in Friday's case secure New York seizure warrants. 

As once-master of the hedge fund universe, Steinhardt has the liquidity to be choosy about his art purchases. With a current net worth estimated at $1.05 billion, according to a 2017 article in Forbes Magazine, as well as almost thirty years of collecting experience, he should be aware of the ethics of acquisition and the problems of acquiring objects through questionable dealers or with insufficient or dubious provenance.

Steinhardt is a member of Christie’s advisory board.  He also has a Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. gallery named after him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. All this to say that he should be sufficiently well informed about the ethical obligations of responsibly acquiring, managing and disposing of items in his burgeoning art collection.   When not sufficiently informed, his position of affluence and philanthropic influence affords him the ability to reach out to knowledgable art world connections, who could advise him of the regulatory structures in place and the moral economy of purchasing and collecting illicit antiquities should he have any doubts.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos again initiated custody of ten antiquities, prosecutors state were looted from the countries of Greece and Italy.

Purchased in the last twelve years, the ten objects seized in last week's raid are listed as:

A) Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies.  Vessel attributed to the Triglyph Painter and depicts funerary related iconography featuring a woman and a youth.
Period: approximately 420 BCE.
Measurement: 18 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.
Purchased for $380,000 in 2006.

B) Apulian Rhyton for libations (the “Apulian African Head Flask”) in the shape of the head of an African.
Period: dating to the 4th century BCE
Measurement: 7.5 inches tall by 3 inches at base.
Purchased for $130,000 in 2009.

C) Italo - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned upwards (the “Italo-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 5.5 inches long by 2.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 in 2011.

D) Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head (the “Ionian Ram’s Head”).
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 2.5 inches tall by 4.7 wide.
Purchased for $70,000 in 2009.

E) Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African (the “Attic African Head Aryballos”).
Period: dating to the 5th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall.
Purchased for $150,000 on or about December 17, 2009.

F) Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion (the “Corinthian Lion Vessel”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 600-550 BCE
Measurement: 3.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 on or about November 9, 2011.

G) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl (the “Proto-Corinthian Owl”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.2 wide.
Purchased for $120,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

H) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned backwards (the “Proto-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.7 wide.
Purchased for $130,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

I) Corinthian BUll’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”).
Period: dating to 580 BCE
Measurement: 2.2 inches tall by 2.8 wide.
Purchased for $60,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

j) Bronze Handles (the “Bronze Handles”).
Period: unknown
Measurement: 3.6 inches tall by 9.4 wide.
Purchased for $40,000 in 1996.

Some of Steinhardt's previous risky antiquities gambles:  

Sidon Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) 
a 6th century marble torso of a calf bearer

Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) and
a 6th century BCE marble torso of a calf bearer.

Just last month the US repatriated two Eshamun Sculptures seized from Steinhardt's private collection.  Both pieces found their way onto the international antiquities black market after being stolen during Lebanon's tumultuous civil war.  Before their theft, both antiquities had been excavated at the Temple of Eshmun in 1967 near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon.

In the summer of 2017 Manhattan prosecutors seized the 2,300-year-old marble bull's head while it was on loan from Steinhardt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Prosecutors and forensic art crime analysts also tied the bull's head to a second Steinhardt purchase, also through Lynda and William Beierwaltes.

The Beierwaltes sold the Sidon Bull's head and the Lamb Carrier torso to Michael Steinhardt in 2010 who later of whom loaned the bull's head antiquity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After learning that the marble head was subject to seizure, Steinhardt asked the Beierwaltes to retake possession of the object and compensate him for his purchase.

The Beierwaltes in turn relinquished all ownership claims when the illicit provenance of the objects was solidly made clear.

NOTE: The Beierwaltes were long-term clients of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides at the time of these purchases.

An Anatolian marble female idol of Kiliya type, AKA The Guennol Stargazer

Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York

On April 29, 2017 at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, Christie's applied precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely looted from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press at that time that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted.

During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD was confirmed but not collected.  As a result of the object being contested, the would-be buyer bowed out from the purchase, shortly after the case began being discussed in the international press. 

According to documents, Michael Steinhardt had purchased the Stargazer from Merrin Gallery in August 1993 for under $2 million.  Had the sale not been halted, Steinhardt would have pocketed $12.7 million for the 5,000 year-old Guennol Stargazer, twice the object's pre-sale estimate.

Christie's and Steinhardt issued a motion to quash Turkey's lawsuit.  While the case has not been resolved,  ultimately Turkey's fight for repatriation may hinge on two critical points: whether the country can conclusively show that the piece in question was discovered in Turkey, and whether the nation laid claim to the artifact in a timely fashion, given the length of time Steinhardt had the object in his collection.

A Sardinian Marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture

November 21, 2014 Christos Tsirogiannis identified a $1 million Sardinian marble female idol dating from 2500-2000 B.C.E. scheduled for auction as Lot 85 at Christie's on December 11, 2014 as having been matched with an image he found in the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt, the Turriga Mother Goddess figure had previously made its way through Harmon Fine Arts and The Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of pet food giant Leonard Norman Stern, the object was once displayed, but not photographed, in a "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event in 1990 where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction.  Its current status has not be made public.

United States v. One Triangular Fresco Fragment

April 20, 2011 an incoming parcel was detained in Newark, New Jersey by US Customs and Border Protection authorities.  Inside the package, shipped via the Swiss firm Via Mat Artcare AG, was a fresco fragment which appeared to be a cusp or pediment of an ancient painted tomb from the Necropolis of Andriuolo at Paestum. The shipper was listed as Andrew Baker of Vadus, Lichtenstein.   The consignee was Michael Steinhardt.

Despite the object's obvious Italian origin, the shipment had a customs declaration form which falsified the object's country of origin as Macedonia. The fragment was forfeited to the U.S. government and repatriated to Italy on February 24, 2015.

(Il)licit Excavations of Maresha Subterranean Complex 57: 
The ‘Heliodorus’ Cave

In early 2007 Michael Steinhardt acquired the so-called Heliodorus Stele from Gil Chaya, an antiquities dealers in Jerusalem, who reportedly is a nephew of the late Shlomo Moussaieff.  Moussaieff once owned one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities in the world, many of which have no verifiable provenance.  After the purchase, Steinhardt and his wife presented the stele to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem as an extended loan. 

The stele contains a magnificent 2nd century BCE Greek inscription which documents a correspondence between the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (brother of Antiochus IV) to an aide named Heliodorus. Unsurprisingly though, the bottom portion of the stele was missing, leaving a gap in scholarship as well as a tell-tale clue that the stele had likely been looted shortly after its extraction, since its base was missing.  Earlier, during 2005 and 2006 excavations at the Maresha Subterranean Complex 57 at Beit Guvrin National Park three fragments were uncovered that were subsequently identified as matching the bottom edge of Steinhardt's stele.  

These fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute "Dig for a Day" program.  The correlation of the fragments' epigraphy and testing of their stone and soil samples from the find site proved conclusively that the fragments were a match completing missing pieces of the stele. 

It was later determined that the stele had been stolen during a robbery at the Beit Guvrin National Park in 2005.  Tel Maresha's head archaeologist, Dr. Ian Stern verified that he remembered arriving on the site on a Sunday morning in 2005 only to find that the cave where the fragments were found, had been “turned upside down,” apparently by looters searching for ancient objects to be sold on the black market.

A fourth century BCE gold phiale

November 9, 1995, U.S. Customs agents seized a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations from Steinhardt's Fifth Avenue residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  The financier appealed the lower court's ruling, only to have the decision of forfeiture affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Despite clear proof that the object was smuggled out of southern Italy, Steinhardt petitioned the lower court's ruling all the way to the United States Supreme Court, in the hopes of retaining the object for his collection. 

The high court found no compelling reason to rehear Steinhardt's case, basing their decision on the basis that the importer had intentionally undervalued the object's worth, transited the object illegally from Sicily to Switzerland, and provided false statements misrepresenting the phiale's country of origin on the object's import documentation. 

The two antiquities dealers involved in the purchase, Robert Haber and William Veres, were each given suspended sentences of one year and ten months imprisonment.  The extent of Steinhardt's culpability though was left vague in the final court filings.  Yet Steinhardt's experience as an art collector and specifically his experience with Haber, with whom he had already purchased some $4-6 million in art objects, raises considerable doubts that his error in purchase could be chalked up to naïveté.  

The fact that the bill of sale from Haber to Steinhardt even stipulated that"if the object is confiscated or impounded by customs agents or a claim is made by any country or governmental agency whatsoever, full compensation will be made immediately to the purchaser" gives the impression that both the collector and his dealer were each fully aware of the potentiality for illegality in the market, possibly with this object specifically.

Each of the aforementioned examples outlined above highlight questionable pedigrees in relation to previous high risk acquisitions made by Steinhardt in relation to his antiquities collection.  Several purchases in fact, overlap with antiquities dealers and middlemen with well known histories of dealing in illicit antiquities.  Each of these purchases demonstrate how little, if any, due diligence was conducted in providing a reasonable assurance that the objects being acquired were not, within the legal statutes of the time, illegally exported from their country of origin.