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May 26, 2021

Theft to Restitution: a timeline of two 9th and 10th century architectural lintels returning to the Thai people after 50 long years

Tatum King, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations with Mungkorn Pratoomkaew, Consul-General of Thailand

While everyone is celebrating the long-overdue restitution to Thailand of the two stolen Khmer lintels, ARCA thought a bit of context might add some additional points to ponder when taking in the carefully-worded, announcements of cultural diplomacy and restitution.

Starting with this work in progress chronology:

25 October 1926
During the reign of King Rama VII, the first law on the export of antiques and objects of art in the country of Siam comes into force. 

The preamble to this law states that in advanced countries the government has the responsibility to conserve antiques and objects of art for the benefit and education of the people. 

This law defined terms for antiques and objects of art, as follows:

Antique, referred to any ancient moveable article, whether originating in Siam or elsewhere, which has value for knowledge or for studying the chronicles and archaeology.

Object of Art referred to a rare article created by craftsmen of special skill.

The Siam Act banned the export of antiques and objects of art without permission from the Royal Institute, and imposed penalties of imprisonment of up to three months, or a fine up to 3,000 baht, or both to violaters.  The Act also set out procedures for applying for permission to export, including presenting the article for inspection, and authorising the search of vehicles, and empowering the court to seize suspect objects without compensation.

23-24 June 1932
A bloodless coup d'état takes place in Siam in a rebellion led by Pridi Phanomyong and Colonel Plaek Phibunsongkhram (Pibul Sonngram) against King Prajadhipok's government.  This event transforms the country's absolute monarchy into a new constitutional monarchy.

30 June 1932 - 20 June 1933 
Phraya Manopakorn serves briefly as prime minister until he is deposed in a subsequent military coup. 

3 April 1933
King Rama VII suspends the constitution and establishes a Council of State.

20-21 June 1933
Three months later, Colonel Phraya Phahon Phonphayuhasena leads a successful rebellion against the Council of State and is appointed as Prime Minister.

1934 written, 1935 comes into force
The country of Siam enacts its first somewhat comprehensive Act on Ancient Monuments, Objects of Art, Antiques and National Museums, which will come into force in 1935.

This act introduces new definitions of antique, ancient monument, object of art, and museum and commands the director-general of the FAD to draw up a registry of ancient monuments, including Buddhist wat (temples) and other religious buildings, both those that have existing owners and those that are ownerless. The heritage act further requires that the director-general has to inform owners in writing of the requirements for registration and if the owner objects to said registration, the matter is to be taken up and adjudicated by a minister. 

Once a monument was entered on the register, it could not be transferred, repaired, modified, altered, or destroyed without written permission from the director-general, and then within conditions imposed by the director-general.  The Act further prohibited the removal of property from Siam that is culturally and/or historically significant except under limited circumstances. 

2 March 1935
King Rama VII abdicates in favour of his nephew, Prince Ananda Mahidol.

24 June 1939
The country of Siam, called Mueang Thai by its citizens, is officially renamed Thailand according to the decision of Field Marshal PlaekPhibunsongkhram, the Prime Minister of Thailand during the Pacific War.

An amending heritage Act is passed by Thailand which removes the requirement for the director-general to gain approval from the minister for the movement of objects between national museums, for disbursements from the central fund, and for the payment of rewards. 

1946 to 1948
Thailand is renamed Siam again for a brief period of two years, after which it again reverted to "Thailand".

The Society for Asian Art is incorporated as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by a group of individuals dedicated to winning Chicago industrialist, Avery Brundage's art collection for the city of San Francisco.

Among the early organizers active in courting Brundage in hopes that he will donate his extensive art collection to San Francisco are Elizabeth Hay Bechtel, Jane Smyth Brown, Katharine Caldwell, Dorothy Erskine, Gwin Follis, Martha Gerbode, Edwin Grabhorn, Alice Kent, Kitty and Charles Page, Marjorie Bissinger Seller, Mrs. Ferdinand Smith, Wallace B. Smith, Marjorie Stern, and Joe Yuey.  

After considering a number of other major cities, including Chicago, the donor's hometown,  Avery Brundage agrees to donate 7,700 Asian artworks to the city of San Francisco on the condition that the California city builds a museum to house the artefacts and agrees to details outlined in the draft contractual agreement.   Once executed, Brundage's donation ultimately forms the primary core of the collection eventually held by the proposed San Francisco museum.

Black and white photo documentation from a site survey by Manit Wallipodom conducted sometime between 1960 and 1961 shows that a lintel, dating from 1000-1080 CE depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld, remains in situ at Prasat Nong Hong, a Khmer sanctuary in Buriram Province, Thailand which dates to the 16th Buddhist century, and is comprised of three brick pagodas built on the same laterite base and surrounded by a laterite wall with a moat.

The 1961 Act on Ancient Monuments, Antiques, Objects of Art and National Museums, B.E. 2504 comes into force in Thailand deeming cultural objects such as temple lintels, state property.  This law specifically forbids the unlicensed export of archaeological artefacts from registered archaeological sites.

An amendment of Clause 24 extends coverage to, “Antiques or objects of art buried in, concealed or abandoned within the Kingdom or the Exclusive Economic Zone,” where the Exclusive Economic Zone includes the territorial waters of Thailand.

Date Unknown, possibly on/around 2508 Thai (1965) 
The architectural lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld, spanning a doorway at Prasat Nong Hong in Buriram Province is looted.

Date Unknown
The architectural lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld, which once spanned a doorway at Prasat Nong Hong in Buriram Province is illegally exported out of Thailand without the benefit of an export license.

The lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld, from Prasat Nong Hong in Buriram Province is purchased by Avery Brundage in London, UK.  In the Verified Complaint for Civil Forfeiture In Rem, filed in the US Courts in the Northern District of California - San Francisco Division, the name of this auction house/gallery is not revealed and is cited simply as "Gallery 1."

Subsequent to its purchase in the UK, the architectural lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld from Prasat Nong Hong in Buriram Province is imported into the United States in violation of Thai law, and as such constitutes stolen, smuggled, and/or clandestinely imported or introduced merchandise pursuant to Title 19, United States Code, Section 1595a(c)(1)(A).

August 1966
Scholar Michael Sullivan estimates that the Avery Brundage's private collection includes at least 5,000 objects, of which three-fifths are Chinese, 500 are Japanese, 300 are Korean, and the remaining being from the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia.  

Later in 1966
After its import, the lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld from Prasat Nong Hong also joins the promised collection to be gifted by Avery Brundage to the future Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

"With respect to the lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld from Prasat Nong Hong, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco had several letters documenting exchanges between Brundage and representatives of "Gallery 1" concerning the purchase of art.  Among other things, one of the representatives of "Gallery 1" and Brundage exchanged letters concerning the potential that at least one lintel that Brundage had purchased had been stolen from Thailand and that another artefact had been taken out of Thailand illegally. 

These records also included archaeological surveys from Thailand, indicating that the lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld had been removed from Prasat Nong Hong temple. These communications concretise that the museum's donor was at least peripherally aware that at least a portion of his collection had been illegally exported from Thailand and that the museum itself had records that concretised the suspect nature of the artefact. 

Photo documentation from a survey done by M. C. Subhadradis Diskul shows that a lintel, depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland, dating from 975-1025 CE, remains in situ at Prasat Khao Lon, a brick temple in Khmer architectural style, built approximately in the early 11th century, located in Charoensuk Village, Taprach sub-district, Tapraya district, Sakaeo province.

Date Unknown
The architectural lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland spanning a doorway at Prasat Khao Lon in Sakaeo province is looted.

Date Unknown
The architectural lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland, which once spanned a doorway at Prasat Khao Lon in Sakaeo province, is illegally exported out of Thailand without the benefit of an export license.

Between 1968 and 1969
Negotiations are underway with Avery Brundage regarding the city of San Francisco receiving the second part of his collection.   Talks are started at the end of John Francis "Jack" Shelley's tenure as the city's mayor and continue through Mayor-elect Joseph L. Alioto who began the first of his two terms of office in 1968. 

In furtherance of this goal, Mayor Alioto and the Board of Supervisors draft a municipal ordinance that will formally establish the museum, then called the Center for Asian Art and Culture.  This independent municipal entity is to be governed by the Asian Art Commission. In addition, the Asian Art Museum Foundation is created to function as the institution's principal fundraiser. 

Once registered, the new museum is initially opened as a wing of the  M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park.

The lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland is purchased by the Asian Art Museum from a Paris gallery with the advice of Avery Brundage.

Subsequent to its purchase the architectural lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland is imported into the United States in violation of Thai Law, and constitutes stolen, smuggled, and/or clandestinely imported or introduced merchandise pursuant to Title 19, United States Code, Section 1595a(c)(1)(A).

The lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland is accessioned into the collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. 

According to the Verified Complaint for Civil Forfeiture In Rem, filed in the Northern District of California - San Francisco Division, letters between Avery Brundage and representatives of an again unnamed gallery, cited simply as "Gallery 2" concerning the lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland indicate that a Thai lintel in Brundage's possession has been reported as stolen by the Thai government and the Thai government had asked Avery Brundage to return said lintel. Avery Brundage subsequently seeks the advice of a representative of "Gallery 2" regarding the situation. 

The records included a copy of an article published in the Bangkok Post which describes the lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland as being present in the United States and indicated that, according to the leader of a Thai archaeological conservation group, Thai officials want to recover the lintel as it had been improperly looted from Thailand. 

The Center for Asian Art and Culture is rebranded as the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

June 1973
Avery Brundage marries Princess Mariann Charlotte Katharina Stefanie von Reuss, daughter of Heinrich XXXVII, Prince of Reuss-Köstritz.  She is 37 years old.  He is 85. 

8 May 1975
Avery Brundage dies. 

3 March 1977
According to the Royal Gazette no 52, The Fine Art Department announces that Prasat Nong Hong has been listed as a national historic site.

San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein proposes a plan to revitalize Civic Center which includes relocating the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, which has outgrown its Golden Gate Park location, to the stately beaux-arts library building designed in 1917 by architect George Kelham.

San Francisco’s Main Library is slated to move to a new facility and the city begins to redesign the 1917 library facilities into its new state-of-the-art home for the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco collection. 

16 July 1989
According to the Royal Gazette no 106, chapter 112, The Fine Art Department announced that Prasat Khao Lon has also been listed as a national historic site.

Renovations orchestrated by Italian architect Gae Aulenti are complete on the former San Francisco library and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco moves into its newly designed 163,000 square-foot museum space located at Civic Center Plaza.  It is now the largest institution of exclusively Asian arts in the United States.

By 2010
Of the approximate18,000 objects held by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, approximately 40% are derived from donations made by the museum's founding collector Avery Brundage.

Late July 2012
Activists with the Asians Art Museum's Samurai Blog create edible tortilla art which features a graphic representation of Avery Brundage as a severed Buddha head.  They distribute these food treats to museum-goers at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco along with a highly critical flyer about the founding donor's collecting ethics surrounding his acquisitions and his subsequent donations to the museum. 

At this point, the San Francisco museum's administration should have no doubt, that not just art historians, but members of the local Asian community in San Francisco have begun to have concerns regarding the acquisition practices of the museum's founding donor as well as the ethical responsibility of the museum to address the city taxpayers' concerns. 

2 August 2016
The Facebook Group สำนึก ๓๐๐ องค์ publishes its own concerns regarding Avery Brundage's acquisitions.  Activists post photos of the architectural lintel depicting  Yama, the deity of the underworld from Prasat Nong Hong on their group's Facebook page which is dedicated to identifying looted Thai heritage. The series of photos depict the temple, with the lintel in situ prior to its theft.  The social media post further records that the artefact is on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  

NB, This Civil Society Organization will go on to raise awareness and identify a series of suspect Thai sculptures and architectural artefacts in various museums around the globe.

August 2016
A Peace Corps member based in Thailand emails the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco imploring the museum to return the lintel depicting  Yama, the deity of the underworld from Prasat Nong Hong to the local community. 

on/around 24 September 2016
The Consul General of the Royal Thai Consulate General in Los Angeles, California visits the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and observes both looted lintels on prominent display in the museum. 

Subsequently, the Royal Thai Consulate General speaks with the lead curator of the museum and expresses his desire for these two artefacts to be returned to their country of origin. 

The museum, however, made no further communication with the consul general or any Thai official until nudged into action by the formal US federal investigation. 

31 May 2017
The Thai Minister of Culture meets with the Chargé d'affaires at the United States Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand along with a Special Agent from Homeland Security Investigations.  During this meeting, the Thai Minister informs the Chargé that Thai officials had reviewed the evidence regarding the architectural lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld illegally removed from Prasat Nong Hong and the lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland, illegally removed from Prasat Khao Lon, both of which are held at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.  After their review, the Thai authorities conclude that the artefacts have been illegally exported from the country while both architectural elements were protected under the laws in place in Siam/Thailand since 1935. 

In making their case for the objects' return, the Fine Arts Department of Thailand had commissioned two archaeological surveys outlining the provenance of the lintels. One survey placed the lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld at the Prasat Nong Hong Temple in Non Din Daeng District, Buriram Province, Thailand in place at least until, at least up until 1959. 

Subsequent archaeological photos record the lintel in situ until the survey season of 1960/61. 

The second archaeological survey placed the lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland at the Prasat Khao Lon Temple, Ta Phraya District, Sa Kaeo Province where the object was photographed in situ as late as 1967.

13 June 2017
Thailand forms a restitution committee with the established mission of reclaiming Thailand’s plundered historical artefacts from foreign nations. 

The US Government informally brings the issue of the plundered architectural lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld illegally removed from Prasat Nong Hong and the plundered lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland to the attention of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco informing them of the rights of the Thai government as a potential claimant to the artefacts.  Subsequent to this meeting, both artefacts are removed from public view but no statements are forthcoming from the museum's management regarding any decision to voluntary restitute the stolen artefacts.

November 2017
The US Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) sends Thailand photos of 69 ancient artefacts for examination and verification as possibly suspect as having been illegally brought into the US.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand,  HSI sent the photos to the Thai Consulate in Los Angeles and requested the Thai authorities to examine and verify if they were from Thailand.

October/November 2018 
Following a one-year investigation by a ministerial committee, assisted by experts from the National Museum in Bangkok, the Kingdom of Thailand’s culture minister announces the Thai government’s demand for the return of 23 antiquities, including the two lintels at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, as well as other objects in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art all parts of collections since the late 1960s.

January 2020
Another two years go by and the US. attorney's office in the Northern District of California sends the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco a list of national archaeology sites that were appended to Thailand’s 1935 law.   Listed among the sites are the two temples where the two contested lintels in the museum's collection come from.

June 2020
Facing increasing criticism surrounding Avery Brundage's well-documented antisemitic, racist, and sexist views, pervasive throughout his career, as well as questions around restitution, Dr. Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, advises the press that the museum plans to eventually move Avery Brundage's commemorative bronze bust, created by artist Jean Sprenger and on display in the museum's lobby, to “a discreet space” where the public can learn about museum's donor and “where the core of our collection came from.” 

Xu also indicates that the museum will hold public programs to critically examine Brundage and his legacy, “as well as questions around provenance and restitution.”

July 2020
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is formally notified that the U.S. attorney’s office is planning civil litigation to ensure the return of the plundered architectural lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld illegally removed from Prasat Nong Hong and the plundered lintel depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland from Prasat Khao Lon.

6 July 2020
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco places a white box over Avery Brundage's commemorative bronze bust.

on/around 13 July 2020

August 2020
The Bangkok Post reports that according to the Thai Department of Fine Arts (DFA), the lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld from Prasat Nong Hong and the lintel, depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland from Prasat Khao Lon in the collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco are predicted to be returned to Thailand in March 2021.

24 August 2020
The Thai Public Broadcasting Service  (องค์การกระจายเสียงและแพร่ภาพสาธารณะแห่งประเทศไทย produces a documentary (in Thai) outlining the facts surrounding the stories of the contested lintels removed from Thailand.

22 September 2020
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco releases a statement saying that the museum's board is noted to have begun the deaccession process for the lintel depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld from Prasat Nong Hong and the lintel, depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland from Prasat Khao Lon.  Note that this decision only seems to have moved forward four years after attention was drawn to their suspect status.

In its press release, the museum further stated:
"The museum’s study found no evidence that these lintels were removed from their sites contrary to the laws of Thailand, but the museum was also unable to locate copies of the export documents that the laws of that time required. With this information in hand, the museum felt it was appropriate to begin the process of deaccessioning the artworks from the collection and to move forward with returning them to the Thai authorities."

8 October 2020
Ahead of the upcoming civil filing, lawyers from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco sends a letter to the U.S. attorney’s office, indicating the museum's surprise over the government's plan for legal action and that the museum had previously stated that it “would prefer to return the lintels without litigation.”  

In filing the complaint with the court, under Title 19, United States Code, Section 1595a(c)(1)(A) and Title 28, United States Code, Sections 1345 and 1355 it is believed that the lintels constitute merchandise that has been introduced into the United States contrary to law, as the property was stolen, smuggled, and/or clandestinely imported or introduced into the United States. 

30 October 2020 
Speaking with regards to the formal complaint in an Art Newspaper article, Robert Mintz, deputy director for art and programs at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum,  contends that the process for repatriating both lintels was already underway prior to the civil complaint.  Mintz tells the newspaper that “Deaccessioning requires two votes, separated by six months’ time,” indicating that this was the reason for the museum's apparently sluggish March 2021 date for potential restitution.   

Mintz doesn't seem to recollect that the museum was first informally notified by the US authorities of the problems with these Thai artefacts in 2017, and after having been queried by the Royal Thai Consulate General in 2016. Time enough to have allowed the board to meet a minimum of six times to address the deaccession of these problematic pieces prior to the filing of the US Federal Complaint.

10 February 2021
The United States and the City and County of San Francisco enter into a settlement agreement signed by U.S. District Court Magistrate Donna M. Ryu, in which San Francisco consents to the forfeiture to the United States of the Lintel with Yama, the deity of the underworld, 1000-1080 (Lintel 1) and the Lintel, 975-1025. Northeastern Thailand, Khao Lon Temple, Sa Kaeo province (Lintel 2).

Upon the completion of the San Francisco Asian Art Museum’s deaccessioning process for the Thai lentils in March 2021, their repatriation to Thailand should move forward.

The Thai lintels, according to the agreement, will be returned to Thailand through the U.S. Department of Justice’s victim remission program. Upon their return, the lintels will be placed on exhibition for the religious and cultural appreciation of the people of Thailand.   

25 May 2021
The Thai lintels depicting Yama, the deity of the underworld from Prasat Nong Hong and the lintel, depicting a deity or devata sitting over a Kala face that is disgorging garland from Prasat Khao Lon are handed over to Thai authorities in Los Angeles during a formal handover ceremony attend by Mungkorn Pratoomkaew,  Consul-General of Thailand and carried out by Tatum King, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Francisco.

In an interview with the Star Tribune David Keller, the Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent who oversaw this case over the last four years said that officials believe that European dealers illegally exported the lintels out of Thailand.

28 May 2021 (Thai 2564)
The two Thai lintels are expected to fly back home via Korean Air and to arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand on Friday evening local time.  Once back on Thai soil, they will be received by officials from the Fine Arts Department and then put on public display at the National Museum until July.

May 25, 2021

Arundel Castle Theft: Among the losses, Mary, Queen of Scots rosary beads, once carried at her execution

Execution Of Mary Queen Of Scots, 8 February 1587 by William Aubrey
On May 21, at approximately 10:30 pm, an alarm sounded at the medieval castle in Arundel, West Sussex, England.  Despite responding within minutes of the alarm going off, Sussex police arrived to find a burnt-out car, thought to be connected to the heist, and a display cabinet in the dining room
at Arundel Castle stripped of £1 million worth of historic gold and silver artefacts, many of great historical significance.

The objects stolen from the ancestral home of the Dukes of Norfolk include:

A 16th Century set of gold and enamel rosary beads made up of a crucifix and a string of five decades made up of small beads, with five larger beads.   The fleur-de-lis in the design serve to create the circle of the Celtic cross, and the vine shapes on the shaft end in three small pearl drops

This rosary was carried by Mary Queen of Scots to her execution at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587 and was bequeathed by her to Anne, Countess of Arundel, wife of St. Philip Howard.  

Several coronation cups given by Mary to the Earl Marshal of the day, and other gold and silver treasures not itemized by the Sussex police in their public report.

Confined for most of the time between 1568 and her death, Mary's rosary was complete and undamaged prior to the theft.   The total value of the stolen items from the Duke of Norfolk’s collection is listed as £1 million, however they have immeasurably greater historic importance. 

Anyone with information about the theft or these pieces can contact Detective Constable Molly O'Malley of Chichester CID either online or by calling 101, quoting Operation Deuce.

quoting Operation Deuce or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously in the UK at 0800 555 111.

May 13, 2021

6th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium

  the 6th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium
Location: City Gallery Wellington (Māori: Te Whare Toi)
Te Ngākau Civic Square, Wellington, New Zealand
Date: Saturday, 29 May 2021

Hosted by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, in conjunction with City Gallery Wellington and other sponsors.  On hand for the Symposium are a number of speakers encompassing a wide range of presentations on issues and aspects of art crime in New Zealand and elsewhere, under the umbrella of the overall theme of "Preventing Art Crime." 

Speakers Include:

Jenny Harper – who will talk about her time as former Director of Christchurch Art Gallery (2006–2018) during and after the earthquakes, as well as the risks involved with major outdoor public art projects, as well as being the Commissioner for the New Zealand’s representation at the Venice Biennale on several occasions.

David Alsop – owner and director of Suite Gallery (Wellington and Auckland) and former solicitor. Suite Gallery represents major New Zealand artists including Ans Westra, Wayne Youle and Fiona Pardington. David will speak about preventing art crime from a dealer’s perspective.

Professor Robyn Sloggett  – who is the Cripps Foundation Chair of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Robyn’s work and research is about the science behind detecting art forgeries. She is renowned for her work in building knowledge of what characteristics constitute authentic works, providing effective protocols and rigorous procedures and bringing together multi-disciplinary knowledge to bear on questions of art forgery. Science has become an essential part of good curatorial practice, effective conservation procedure and art market diligence.
Associate Professor Rod Thomas - who teaches law at the Auckland University of Technology at undergraduate and postgraduate level, including an undergraduate paper called “Art Law”. Rod will provide a New Zealand perspective on art auction legal liability and risk.

Professor Simon Makenzie - who teaches Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington.  Simon's work has included the Trafficking Culture research programme and the Trafficking Transformations project (2020-2025) which follows global illegal markets in collectable goods like antiquities, fossils and wildlife. Simon's most recent book is Transnational Criminology (2020), which develops a practical and theoretical understanding of global criminal trade, including trafficking in drugs, humans, arms, wildlife, diamonds and antiquities.

Dr Jonathan Barrett - who is an Associate Professor at the Wellington School of Business and Government. His research interests include art and law, and he has widely published on the subject in peer-reviewed journals and edited books.  Among other projects, Jonathan has advised the Ministry of Culture and Heritage on the adoption of an artists’ resale royalty rights.  Jonathan will speak about Brunelleschi’s Mirror, Perspectival Drawing and the Artful Prevention of Crime.

Those interested in registering should register via the Trust's website event's page. 

For further information please contact the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust. 

May 12, 2021

Pocket-Sized Due Diligence: Interpol’s ID-Art App

By: Aubrey Catrone, Proper Provenance, LLC

Countless art transactions occur each week around the globe. Whether looking to acquire or sell an artwork, art market actors should always take the time to conduct due diligence. Verifying an art object’s ownership history contributes to an up-to-date understanding of clean title and authenticity. This knowledge remains vital to determining an object’s rightful owner as well as maintaining the integrity of its maker’s oeuvre. 

While “due diligence” seems to be a loosely defined buzzword, this research should be conducted through an analysis of various sources, including, but not limited to, libraries, archives, sales records, collector records, and digital resources. Keep in mind: there is no consolidated source in which one can consistently review and verify the legitimacy of a secondary market art object. For this reason, undertaking provenance research projects can seem quite daunting and often require the assistance of an expert to help navigate the confounding realm of historical and art historical records. 

A review of Interpol's new App

With the advent of the digital era, new resources to aid in the pursuit of provenance research are constantly coming to light. One of them, created by Interpol is a new smart phone/tablet app called ID-Art, which enables users to complete preliminary due diligence checks on their own time before seeking further expert assistance. This free and easily downloadable app grants access to a database of approximately 50,000 stolen art objects, and it fits in your pocket! 

So, how does it fit into your everyday life?

ID-Art facilitates a due diligence on-the-go lifestyle, enabling users to explore the status of art objects they may encounter on the art market from the comfort of their own phones. After examining an art work in person, buyers, sellers, or researchers can conduct a search of Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art Database in real-time (e.x., on the floor of an art fair or from your home office).

Upon opening the app, users are presented with a scrolling feed through which they can peruse stolen items at will (quite an interesting rabbit hole to get lost down!). Individual entries are contextualized using ObjectID, as they seek to simplify the identification process. If you stumble across something nefarious, ID-Art even proffers a “Report to Interpol” button with each stolen item. The entry for Paul Cezanne’s Auvers-sur-Oise (1879-80) typifies the app’s user-friendly formatting.

If you’re looking to check on a specific piece or artist, the search function offers a variety of user-friendly filters to help narrow your query:

Manual Search: offers the ability to filter searches using an item’s specifications, ranging from artist and medium to placement of signature.

Visual Search: allows users to conduct a reverse image search of an item against Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art Database.

The app also provides the option to generate a personalized inventory for individual art objects or cultural heritage sites. Users can create an ObjectID entry for each work or site, saving them to the “My Inventory” tab. In the case of theft, natural disaster, or conflict, this feature enables users to export a saved inventory entry to share with law enforcement officials. These entry formats also serve as a template for collections management requirements.

If you’re a buyer, seller, or researcher, Interpol has created a due diligence tool that should be referenced in any and all art market transactions. There’s no excuse not to download it. It’s free, easy to use, and fits in your pocket!

*Interpol’s ID-Art App is currently available for download in the Apple Store and for Android phones via Google Play.

April 23, 2021

Stealing venerated relics: An ancient pastime that lives on today

The Cistercian abbey of San Galgano

The Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale - TPC) have recovered the Reliquary of San Galgano, a work possibly attributed to the 14th-century goldsmith Ugolino di Vieri.  The Medieval Christian object of faith was stolen from the Seminario Arcivescovile Siena more than 30 years ago, in 1989.

Over time, by accident and changes, little remains of San Galgano except for some of the church's relics and a fantastic sword which is a story unto itself.  Most of the accessory structures of the Cistercian abbey are gone, leaving us with only the roofless building's stone skeleton with its grouped piers and ribbed vaults.  Despite its ruin, it is an impressive Gothic architectural masterpiece and one of the most exquisite religious structures in Tuscany. 

Recovered along with ten other stolen works of art, the Reliquary of San Galgano's is believed to have been stolen as a theft to order.   And as sacrilegious as that may sound, given what reliquaries are used for, stealing venerated religious objects is not as uncommon as one would like to think.  

Nor should the theft of these types of liturgical items be underestimated, as their intrinsic worth is more than the sum of their antiquarian value.  Their uniqueness being more that just the costly materials they are made from, or the fame of the artist who crafted them.

Creepy though it may be, their true value lies in the “valueless.” For its the bits and pieces, things like the skull, jaw, left ilium, or even the foreskin of the departed that catch the eye of Church devotees as well as thieves.  In 1087, shortly before the First Crusade, sixty-two sailors from Bari stole the actual bones of St. Nicholas, interred at a church in Myra, a city in modern-day Turkey.  Back then, in the beginning of the High Middle Ages, religious relics were big business. Having a relic brought pilgrims, and with pilgrims came money. So it's no small wonder that a new church, the Pontifical Basilica di San Nicola, was built afer his bones were taken, as Nicholas' disinterred remains drew quite an audience.

St. Catherine of Siena, who died in Rome in 1839 lies buried inside the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Her dismembered holy head however, was parted from her body and secreted back to her home town where her patrons in Siena inserted it into a gilt bust of bronze. Other parts of her body are scattered inside and outside of Italy.

But not all thefts where committed by the religiously well intentioned, intent on veneration.  Flash forward to the modern era and the reliquary of San Franco, known as the Hermit of Gran Sasso, was stolen in Assorgi in 1974 only to be found later with an antique dealer in Milan.  Likewise, the remains of the immensely influential philosopher  St. Thomas Aquinas were stolen in Naples in 1978 with some saying all that was left was an odor of sanctity.  His silver case ended up as a religious novelty on a collector's shelf.

Having said that, not all church thieves steal for a quick and easy payout. Some commit acts which are even more blasphemous, ghoulishly holding the very bones of the venerated hostage.   On November 7, 1981 two men armed with guns struck the Chiesa di San Geremia in the Cannaregio area of Venice. Breaking into a glass coffin on the main altar, the hooligans snatched the wrapped remains of Saint Lucia, one of the early church's most famous martyrs, leaving the scene so quickly they left her head and mask behind.  

Six and a half years later, on April 18, 1988, the remains of Pope Celestino V were swiped from the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L'Aquila.  Thankfully, his bones were recovered two days later in a niche of the cemetery of Cornelle and Roccapassa where the crooks had parked the Pope temporarily, hoping to lay low until the investigation died down.  

A year later thieves also took the bones of the peasant who became a friar, St. Joseph of Copertino (the patron saint of flyers).  And, as recently as 2020, a gold and crystal casing holding droplets of blood from Pope John Paul II was nicked from the  Cathedral in Spoleto.

Despite breaking one of the Church's Ten Commandments, no one but the thief and his maker may understand what provoked each of these individuals to steal a particular relic, or in the case of the Reliquary of San Galgano, why the thief's sponsor coveted this particular item. But it is up against this backdrop that we can understand a little bit why some see the return as a small miracle.

The restitution ceremony for this and the other recovered artworks will be held at 3:00 pm on Monday, April 26th at the Sala del Palazzo Arcivescovile di Siena.  Presided over by Italy's Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, as well as the cardinal, his most reverend eminence, Augusto Paolo Lojudice, Roberto Ricciardi, Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage; Barabra Jatta, Director of the Vatican Museums and Gianluigi Marmora, Commander of the Carabinieri Unit for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Palermo there is sure to be an interesting story to tell. 

The event will also be "live" streamed on the Archidiocesi di Siena YouTube channel should you like to listen in. 

April 21, 2021

Restitution announcements sometimes don't (or can't) tell the whole story

Yesterday ARTnews broke a restitution story that a looted sculpture was in the process of being sent back home to Nepal, thanks to the help of the Art Institute of Chicago. The artefact, en route to Kathmandu, was referred to as a caturmukha linga, also sometimes called a Shivalinga or a Mukhalingam.  Yet despite its differing names, these votary linga represent the Hindu god Shiva.  In this instance, the object in question has four faces, each pointing toward a cardinal direction, evoking different aspects of the sacred deity.

According to the article's author, Alex Greenberger, Senior Editor at ARTnews, the museum declined to name the collector identified as the holder of the artwork. One of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States, the Art Institute of Chicago said only that the antiquity in question "had never been accessioned" into their collection.

The Illinois museum also did not provide clarification on the artefact's collection history or elaborate further on how they knew the idol was stolen, or when, or from where, the Shivalinga had been removed.  All this empty space surrounding a restitution is indicative of formal or informal confidentiality agreements and sometimes these are the only means of ensuring a collector, or his or her heir(s), agree to relinquish an artefact voluntarily.

Underscoring this, an email, from the embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal had only limited details and cited that an “agreement” had been reached between the object's holder and the embassy for the caturmukha linga's voluntarily surrender.

But to answer the question on every provenance researcher's mind, I've outlined what we have been able to determine, prefacing it that all this information is available in open-source records available to the public if you are willing to dig a bit deeper.

Last December Nepal's news service Kantipur Daily issued an article discussing an artefact from Nepal in the custody of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. That artefact was described as a four-faced Shivalinga of the Lichchhavi era (approximately 400 to 750 CE).  The sculpture was said to have previously been in the Christie's Collection in London until 1997 when it was purchased at some point by a private individual and ultimately taken to the United States.   Sometime after that, the Shivalinga was presented to the Art Institute of Chicago, apparently as part of the Alsdorf Collection.

Image Credit: POLYMath Design
Businessman and investor James W. Alsdorf, who died in 1990 at 76 years of age, was one of Chicago's top art collectors, as well as chairman of the board of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1975 to 1978. His wife, Marilynn Bruder Alsdorf, an art collector in her own right, died in 2019. The couple is survived by a daughter and two sons as well as numerous grandchildren.  

Over the years the Alsdorf donations significantly enriched the collections of North American Museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago.  Their collection, before it was broken up, donated, or sold, was an example of cross-category collecting and encompassed antiquities, works on paper, European and Latin American art, and Indian and Southeast Asian and Asian art as well as paintings by Frida Kahlo, René Magritte, Joan Miró among others.  Yet some of the objects the ancient art they collected have raised some questions as to whether or not the Alsdorfs conducted sufficient due diligence before purchasing pieces for their collection.

As a testament to their relationship with The Art Institute of Chicago, the Alsdorf's generosity made possible a Renzo Piano-designed renovation to the institution's Alsdorf Galleries for Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art.  It is here where a considerable portion (approximately 400 objects) of the Alsdorf Collection is now viewable.

Outside Illinois,  the couple's sway in the art and political world was no less influential.  Mr. Aldsorf was appointed to the U.S. Information Agency's Cultural Affairs Committee, first by President Ronald Reagan and later by President George H. W. Bush.  But back to our stolen artefact.

In July 1984, the mūrti in question disappeared from the southeast corner outside the Panch Deval, part of the sacred Hindu Pashupatinath Temple Complex on the western bank of Bagmati River which runs through the Kathmandu Valley.  A photograph of the caturmukha linga, noting the period of its theft, is depicted intact on page 117 of Lain Singh Bangdel's book, Stolen Images of Nepal, published in 1989.   The previous height of the four-faced artefact was 28 inches, unfortunately, those who stole it saw fit to hacked it in two, leaving only the upper 16 inches preserved. 

The Pashupatinath Temple Complex

How this sacred mūrti was smuggled out of the country and into London remains an unanswered (or unpublicised) question. As does what import documentation accompanied the mūrti after its purchase in the United Kingdom and upon entering the United States. 

What is clear, is that Nepal's gods, often leave the country by brutal means, ripped away or sawed into transportable sized hunks, only to be orinamentalised in the homes of private collectors.  This time it took almost 27 years to right a past wrong.  But at least this one 1271+-year-old beloved object is, at last, going home. 

If you would like to follow the identifications of Nepal sacred objects in circulation, please follow the Nepal Pride Project on Twitter or Lost Arts of Nepal on Facebook

April 20, 2021

Restitution: Manhattan and US authorities hand over 33 artefacts stolen from the the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Image Credit - HSI ICE

Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been plagued by war and corruption.  That vulnerability has long made it a target for looters, many of whom have stripped thousands of Buddhist and Hindu antiquities, some dating back more than 1,800 years, from their find spots.  But while decades of conflict have devastated the Afghanistan countryside and left its populations impoverished, its dealers like Subhash Kapoor with his tony Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue in New York who turned other peoples' misery and misfortune into personal profit.  

Kapoor's clients turned a blind eye to the provenance of the artworks he procured, as did important museum institutions who readily purchased work through the dealer or accepted tainted donations from his well-heeled clients with regularly.  As seen in the restitutions over the last month, this network involved with this single New York ancient art dealer was able to source, procure, and sell illicit material from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Southeast Asia, and southern India, often in quantities of a staggering scale.                                                                            But this week, thirty-three of those plundered artworks were handed over to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, via its first female Ambassador to the United States, Roya Rahmani.  In accepting these artefacts Ambassador Rahami knowledgeably stated: 

“The environment that allows for the plundering of Afghanistan’s treasured antiquities is the same environment that allows for the perpetuation of conflict...traffickers are not just robbing Afghanistan of its history, they are perpetuating a situation where peace does not manifest and the region does not stabilize. Looting Afghanistan’s past is looting Afghanistan’s future.

Image Credit: The office of Afghan ambassador, Roya Rahmani

Image Credit: The office of Afghan ambassador, Roya Rahmani

The 33 artefacts restituted this week were part of a hoard of 2,500 objects valued at $143 million which were seized between 2012 and 2014 as a result of the Subhash Kapoor investigation and the ongoing case being built against the dealer in the United States.  Since August 2020, the Manhattan DA's office, their Antiquities Trafficking Unit and their partners at Homeland Security Investigations have successfully restituted 338 stolen objects to seven countries.

Image Credit - HSI ICE

As we can see from the substantial number of restitutions over the last four weeks, including two artefacts to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and three 13 - 16th century CE artefacts stolen from the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, the breadth of the problem of illicit material in liberal circulation on the legitimate ancient art market is not a minor problem, but rather something more pernicious.  

Despite this, the New York success stories over the last month demonstrate what public prosecutors can do, when art crimes are given a higher priority.  Allocating sufficient resources and allowing collaborative access to experts can serve to facilitate successful law enforcement investigations into criminal activity within the ancient art market which stretches over years and between jurisdictions.  The result being the plundered heritage can be confiscated and returned back home in accordance with the laws of particular jurisdictions involved.

Restitution: Manhattan and US authorities hand over three 13 - 16th century CE artefacts stolen from the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

One week after its last restitution, on the first of April, the Consulate General of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in New York received three more Kapoor-handled artefacts at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Those artefacts were: 

  • a 13th century CE wooden beam depicting a colored Apsara
  • a 14th-15th century CE gold seated Buddha in Bhumisparsa Mudra, 
  • a 15th-16th century CE seated Ganesha 
All three of these ancient objects were seized pursuant to the Manhattan DA's investigation of antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor.  In furtherance of the occasion, Consulate General Mr. Bishnu Prasad Gautam, and District Attorney of New York County Mr. Cyrus Vance Jr. signed an agreement establishing the recovery, hand over, and repatriation of the antiquities to the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.  

Mr. Gautam expressed his thanks to the United States Department of Homeland Security and Acting Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Eric Silverman, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., and Assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, who handled the recovery of the Nepali artefacts along with Special Agents Brenton Easter and John Paul Labbat and Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer of the Manhattan DA's office. 

The Nepal officials honoured those responsible for the artefacts' restitution,  bestowing them with a traditional Tibetan Khata, a scarf offered as a symbol of respect and gratitude.  

To date, several investigations have tracked many false provenances provided by Subhash Kapoor. This methodology of back-tracking an artefact to its theft site and searching out the smuggling methods from the source country to Kapoor's U.S. gallery and the collectors who purchased from him has led to several recoveries.  One of those, a 10th- or 11th-century mūrti of Lakshmi-Narayana (Sanskrit: लक्ष्मी-नारायण, IAST: Lakṣmīnārāyaṇa), a manifestation of Vishnu in the Hindu religion disappeared from the Narayan Temple in the Patko Tol neighbourhood in Patan, in 1984.  That sacred object was eventually purchased six years later in March 1990 by David T. Owsley, (a client of Kapoor's) who in turn lent the object to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA).  On 2 March 2021 officials from the Dallas FBI Field Office and the Dallas Museum of Art announced the voluntary restitution and formal transfer of that mūrti back to the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

Restitution: Manhattan and US authorities hand over two Kandyan Period artefacts depicting the Lord Buddha in Abhaya Mudra stolen from the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

As can be seen, by the restitutions accomplished via Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's team over the last month, New York continues to lead the way in the United States in making a significant impact in the identification and restitution of unprovenanced artefacts; objects which fuel a transnational trade in stolen objects and the depredation of both sacred and archaeological sites.

Image Credit: Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations New York

Looking back over the last month, on Thursday, March 25th the DA's office in Manhattan handed over a pair of Kandyan Period (18th Century) Sri Lankan artefacts depicting the Lord Buddha in Abhaya Mudra, which were seized pursuant to ongoing investigations into the dealings of ancient art dealer Subhash Kapoor.  These historic objects represent the first two sacred artefacts to be returned to Sri Lanka from the United States.

Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness, and the abhayamudrā symbolizes protection both aptly fitting to the commitment of the New York DA's Antiquities Trafficking Unit, led by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, who, along with his team of analysts, collaborates with officers of the Homeland Security Investigations, all of whom strive to identify and pursue those who seek to profit from the trade in illegally exported cultural property. 

Assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit handled the Sri Lankan recovery along with Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer and Special Agents Brenton Easter and John Paul Labbat from Homeland Security Investigations. 

Ambassador Pieris and Asst. District Attorney Col. Matthew Bogdanos exchange agreements establishing the recovery, hand over and repatriation of the antiquities.

Arrested on 30 October 2011 in Frankfurt, Germany and extradited to India in July of 2012, Subhash Kapoor is presently jailed at the Tiruchirapalli Central Prison.  In India he is on trial for smuggling 28 idols from the Sundareswarar temple, the Varadaraja Perumal temple, and from the Arulmigu Pragatheeswarar temple in Tamil Nadu.  The 71-year-old former Manhattan-based dealer will then have to answer to additional charges in the US, for his role in what prosecutors believe was a $145 million smuggling ring which prosecutors charged laundered stolen artefacts from many countries through his gallery Art of the Past.  

Law enforcement authorities in several countries believe that over a period spanning some thirty years, the disreputable dealer handled thousands of looted antiquities incentivising plunder from those within his network.  Pursuant to the USA/New York investigation, the D.A.’s Office and HSI have recovered more than 2,500 artworks, all believed to have been handled by Kapoor's web of middle-tier dealers, thieves, and smugglers between 2011 to 2020.  The bulk of these historic artefacts were pillaged from heritage sites in Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. 

The restitution ceremony for the Sri Lankan pieces in New York was attended by H.E. Ambassador Mohan Pieris, Permanent Representative of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Satya Rodrigo, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, Asst. District Attorney Col. Matthew Bogdanos, members of the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, as well as HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh, HSI Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Erik Rosenblatt, HSI Group Supervisor Stephen Lee, and HSI Special Agents John Paul Labbat, Robert Fromkin and Igor Gamza of Homeland Security Investigations.  District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr joined the official ceremony virtually. 

Ambassador Pieris, Satya Rodrigo, DPR, Special Agent John Paul Labbat & Apsara Iyer, Antiquities Trafficking Analyst
Image Credit: Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York

For Sri Lankan's thoughts, H.E. Mohan Pieris, reminded listeners that:

Cultural property is intrinsically related to the evolution of a nation’s identity. It forms a vital link to the past, wherefrom the present and future may be nurtured and enriched. It is therefore a moment of joy and cultural renewal when artefacts are recovered and returned to their rightful owners. Regrettably, however, we are dismayed to know that for every return there are thousands that are stolen, looted and trafficked through underground and illicit channels.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., for his part, stated that his office issued an arrest warrant for Subhash Kapoor in 2012, followed by a criminal complaint in 2019 that estimated that the “total value of stolen antiquities known to have been trafficked by Kapoor exceeds USD 145.71 million”.  Extradition paperwork has been formally filed in Manhattan in July 2020 which will ensure that Kapoor will face justice in New York as well as in India for the crimes he has been charged within New York's jurisdiction. 

On Monday, the first of April the Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. announced a further return of artefacts, related to this ring of traffickers, this time to the people of Nepal.