Dec 22, 2006

The "Gross Clinic" Will Stay in Philadelphia


Philadelphia Mayor John Street announced yesterday that the $68 million needed to keep the Gross Clinic in the city has been raised. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts will share ownership of Thomas Eakins' 1875 depiction of a surgical procedure. Exactly how much money was raised, and how much the 2 art institutions have had to borrow to match the purchase price remains to be seen. It's been estimated that about $30 million has been donated in the six weeks since Thomas Jefferson University announced it would sell the work to the new Crystal Bridges Museum, and the National Gallery if the purchase price was not matched locally.

The decision to sell the painting was met by a great deal of local protest, but it seems all the parties involved, with the exception the original purchasers, have come out looking good. The University gets its funds, the work has received a great deal of publicity and should be visited a great deal in the coming months, and Philadelphia has kept one of its prized local works. However, some have pointed out that the fund-raising push may limit the amount donors are willing to give to other good, non-charitable, causes.

At the heart of the decision to sell the work, lies a question which often plagues cultural property. Do very beautiful works have a single home, or can they be enjoyed and appreciated anywhere? That's a question without an easy answer. Those who donated to this effort felt strongly that this work belongs in Philadelphia. Though it would have been enjoyed and appreciated in Arkansas, Philadelphia would have lost a measure of civic pride. In any event, for the foreseeable future, the Gross Clinic will remain in Philadelphia.

Dec 21, 2006

New Legal Issues in Museum Administration Course

Rachelle Browne, Associate General Counsel for the Smithsonian Institution, has asked if I would post information on the following course, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution with the
American Law Institute-American Bar Association and the American Association of Museums.

It sounds like an interesting and timely event, and I'm happy to oblige:


The 2007 "Legal Issues in Museum Administration" Course will be held
from March 14, 2007, through March 16, 2007, in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel. This
annual course is sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution with the
American Law Institute-American Bar Association and the American
Association of Museums. In addition to receiving two and one-half days
of instruction on the legal and ethical issues arising from museum
management from a broad array of legal scholars and private
practitioners, museum counsel, and administrators from the museum and
academic communities, registrants will have an opportunity to visit the
Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
and, as optional trips, the Barnes Foundation and the "King Tutankhamun
and the Golden Age of Pharaohs" exhibit at the Franklin Institute.

A full program description and information on registration and hotels may
be obtained from the online brochure at:
http://www.aliaba.org/aliaba/cm016.htm

"The game is over..."


Those are the comments of Italian Culture minister Francesco Rutelli in an interview with NPR's Sylvia Poggioli yesterday. You can hear the story here. Yesterday, Rutelli conducted a press conference threatening serious consequences for the Getty if they do not return 26 disputed antiquities.

The press conference compared images from the trial of convicted dealer Giacomo Medici with images from the Getty's own website. Rutelli said, "Either there's an agreement, with the return of all of the works requested by Italy, or the negotiations will be broken off...We have documented the fact that these works were stolen, clandestinely exported and then acquired by the Getty...We have negotiated with great patience for months. The time has now come. The works that were stolen from Italy must be returned."

Rutelli certainly seems to be ratcheting up the rhetoric to attempt to force the Getty's hand. It's not clear that all the 26 objects Rutelli wants repatriated were actually stolen. Take this 4th century B.C. bronze statue, which is Greek by the way, which was found in international waters in 1966, and acquired by the Getty in 1977. The work is undoubtedly Greek, thus if any source nation should be claiming it, it should be Greece. However, the bronze was allegedly brought onto Italian soil, and then clandestinely taken across the border. Under Italian law, the export of these kinds of antiquities is prohibited. However, the mere fact that an object was illegally exported does not necessarily have any implications under US law. As Justice Story expressed in the admiralty prize case The Apollon, "The laws of no nation can justly extend beyond its own territories, except so far as regards its own citizens." Justice Story was referring mainly to public laws of other nations. I'm not an expert on Italian law, but neither English nor American courts will enforce another nations's export restrictions. Thus, though Rutelli may argue that the Bronze should be returned, if the Italians choose to seek a remedy in the American courts, the Italians will be quite unlikely to prevail. The best that Rutelli can hope for, is an increase in public pressure which might somehow force the Getty into returning the bronze.

In terms of the other works, we should not be too quick to connect the fact that these objects may have been stolen or looted with any guilty knowledge on the part of the Getty. There may be suspicious circumstances, and the trial of Marion True, the former curator certainly adds to the possibility, but much of the litigation involving illicit cultural property involves two relative innocents. The original owner or possessor of the object, and the current possessor. Often, there are a number of intervening dealers and middlemen through which an object becomes "laundered" in a way, so that in the end it comes out with a relatively clean title. The ultimate solution, I think, is a serious reform of the way the market conducts itself. I do not know the underlying motivations of True or any of the other curators at the Getty, but the Getty is the wealthiest art institution on the planet. If I'm not mistaken, the trust dictates that it has to spend a certain portion of its millions every year. In my view, the market is so flawed, no matter how good your intentions, if you buy objects you are bound to be acquiring some pieces that were gained illicitly. Perhaps that's a reason not to purchase any items at all until the market sorts itself out. However, that's a very difficult step to take when you are acquiring world-class objects from some of the greatest artists of the classical world.

Burns Mummies For Sale


Yesterday, the Concord Monitor picked up a story from a couple weeks ago by Michael Stroh, of the Baltimore Sun, involving the so-called Burns mummies, and their sale on eBay. The mummies were preserved with salt, mercury lead, sugar and arsenic by Allen Burns, a Scottish anatomist. The cadavers are estimated to be 200 years old.

The study of anatomy was once quite a difficult pursuit, as students were forced to steal bodies, or wait for a prisoner to be executed before they could dissect a cadaver.

In this case, Michigan authorities confiscated a cadaver in October, which had been put on sale on eBay. Ronn Wade, director of the University of Maryland anatomical-sciences division suspects the body may have been part of the Burns collection. The University of Maryland acquired the Burns collection from Granville Patterson, a protege of Burns, in 1820 for $7,800. The collection once amounted to 500 specimens, but today there are closer to 150.

I'm not sure how close a collection of cadavers comes to our paradigmatic conception of cultural property, but they are the subject of serious study, and illustrate the evolution of the scientific study of the human body. One wonders how many other cadavers are offered for sale on eBay.

(Image: Sun photo by Andre F. Chung)

Work Returned to the Hermitage


The AP is reporting that Jean-Leon Gerome's Pool in a Harem (1876) has been returned to the Hermitage by the Communist party. Gennady Zyuganov, a Communist party official said a man brought the work into the party headquarters.

The painting was stolen from the Hermitage in 2001, and has been valued at $1 million. It seems the painting may have been severely damaged, and cut into 4 different pieces. It is not clear why exactly the work was handed over to the Communist party. It's another in a long string of mysterious art thefts. This work has been returned, but catching the thieves seems highly unlikely at this point.

(Image: Jean-Léon Gérôme, "Pool in a Harem," ca. 1876 ©2003 State Hermitage Museum)

Dec 20, 2006

Mayor Street Drops Historic Status


Philadelphia Mayor John Street has withdrawn the nomination of The Gross Clinic for designation as a historic object. It seems the only way the work can remain in Philadelphia is for the matching process to take over. It's not clear where the fund raising efforts are at now, but Lee Rosenbaum reports that they are more than halfway there based on her interview with the major gifts officer of the Philadelphia Museum.

The work, recognized as one of the greatest American paintings, has been sold for $68 million to the new Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville Arkansas (a scale model is pictured here), which will share the work with the National Gallery. Trustees of Thomas Jefferson University voluntarily agreed to delay the sale so Philadelphians could come up with funds to keep the work in Philadelphia.

I am not terribly surprised that Mayor Street has declined to continue the Historic Designation procedure, as it amounts to a municipal export restriction. Many nations have export restrictions which prevent the export of works, but the US is the main exception. With the lone exception of some Native American artifacts covered under NAGPRA, generally, any work of art can be freely exported from the US. This is not the first time Philadelphia has acted to prevent the removal of a work of art. Donn Zaretsky pointed out to me that Philadelphia used the historic designation process to keep The Dream Garden in the city in 1998.

Efforts to prevent or delay the sale provide an interesting new way to think about export restrictions. Export restrictions are a reality for the art and antiquities market, but they are quite controversial. They generally involve underdeveloped source nations (such as Peru, Guatemala, or Nigeria) and wealthy market nations (like Japan, the US, or the UK). At issue in the source nation debate are inherent concerns about the less developed world, cultural appropriation, and the continued exploitation of the underdeveloped world. If Philadelphia had continued to prevent the sale, it would have sharply cut against the prevailing position of the US, which generally frowns on export restrictions.

From an intellectual standpoint, I'm disappointed the historic designation process has been abruptly halted. The Eakins debate strips away those concerns, as Philadelphia is on roughly the same footing as Bentonville. This allows us to focus in on the core issue, which asks, do certain works belong in a certain context? Might context be secondary to the interests of the University, which plans to use the funds to expand its campus. Also, might there be a greater value in allowing more of the public to view the work?

It's not clear why exactly the mayor chose this moment to halt the process. Perhaps he did not want the process to get dragged through a lengthy court battle, or perhaps he wants the civic fund raising efforts to receive priority. One potential solution which has not been explored is for Philadelphia to buy a share of the work, which would let it display the work periodically. This would allow people to see the work in Philadelphia from time to time, while allowing a greater audience for the work. Some have estimated that as few as 500 people saw the work last year. The main disadvantage would be the risks inherent in transporting valuable works of art, however, the work will already be traveling anyway, between Arkansas and the National Gallery.

Dec 19, 2006

The Monument Men

Today's New York Times has a piece on a new book financed by retired Texas oilman Robert M. Edsel. The highlight for me are the pictures, published in the new book, which show American GI's holding up Renaissance masterpieces.
This image shows to soldiers removing a Rembrandt self-portrait from its crate in a salt mine.

The book, called "Rescuing Da Vinci", tells the story of American and other soldiers, known as the monument men, who recovered works of art looted by the Nazi's during World War II. Many of these soldiers went on to shape cultural policy in the US after the war. One soldier, Captain James J. Rorimer, went on to become a director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At the end of the war, a staggering number of works were missing. They had been destined for Hitler's Fuhrer Museum in Linz, Austria, or on their way to Hermann Goering's private collection. A number of the works are some I've seen on my travels in Europe, including the stained glass from the Strasbourg Cathedral, and Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna. I had no idea at the time that they had been taken away by invading German forces. The work sounds fascinating, and will surely increase the growing acclaim for what has become known as the greatest generation.

However, not all allied soldiers were quite so altruistic. Soviet forces hauled off a great deal of looted treasures after the war. Also, one American soldier, Joe Meador, took the Quedlinburg Cathedral treasures from a cave they had been hidden in during the war. The Quedlinburg treasures were a collection of gold, silver and bejeweled reliquaries. Meador had been ordered to guard them, but brought them home to Texas instead. His heirs attempted to sell the works around 1990, and federal prosecutors considered bringing a criminal seizure action, but the Meador family agreed to a settlement with the church, and the objects have now been safely returned.

The work sounds very interesting, but we should remember that not all soldiers were quite so charitable as the so-called monument men. Regardless, if the photos in the NYT are any indication, it should be quite an entertaining read.

Greek Archbishop asks Pope Benedict for a piece of the Acropolis

I missed this last week, but Greek Archbishop Christodoulos, in his first official visit to the Vatican, asked Pope Benedict XVI to return a piece of the Parthenon currently housed in the Vatican Museums. Benedict was initially confused by the request, perhaps because he was not aware of the piece. The Pope said he would consider the request. The push is part of an ongoing Greek effort to seek the return of the various pieces of the Parthenon. A comment on this blog last week suggested that Greece is trying to work slowly, and regain the smaller pieces first, from sources which might be more inclined to Greece's requests. The idea makes sense, and is probably the best strategy for Greece to pursue. If they can gather momentum from all of these smaller bits and pieces, perhaps pressure will mount on the British Museum to return their Parthenon sculptures. It's an interesting strategy, but I'm not sure anything can be done to persuade the British Museum to relinquish the marbles.

Dec 18, 2006

Who is Noah Charney?


Yesterday's New York Times Magazine discusses Cambridge PhD candidate Noah Charney, who is using art history, psychology, and criminal investigation scholarship to form a composite picture of who art thieves are and why they steal. The article gives a good overview of some of the biggest art thefts in recent history, including the theft in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, in which $300 million worth of art was stolen.

Apparently, Charney wants to use criminal profiling and forensic psychology to solve art thefts, or even predict which objects are likely to be stolen in the future. He's also hired a professional fund-raiser to begin a stolen art consultancy in Rome which will use this inter-disciplinary approach to solving art crimes.

It's certainly an interesting idea, and one that I'm sure will likely take off for him. Stolen art is a topic everyone is interested in. However, one question I have, apart from how exactly a PhD student gets a write-up in the NYT, is whether this even can work. The article is pretty slim on the details for how exactly his research tackles the problem. It certainly sounds interesting, and I'd love to read more about his work. At the end of the day, the driving force behind art theft is the high value of these objects, and the expense of providing adequate security, especially in museums and houses which receive fewer visitors, and cannot afford adequate security. His new consultancy is headquartered in Rome, which currently seems a great place to see how increased enforcement resources can impact the illicit trade. I will be particularly interested to learn more about who buys stolen art.

This increase will certainly impact the illicit trade in cultural property, but to what extent? The illicit trade in cultural property shares many characteristics with the illegal narcotics trade. In fact, many of the same "source" nations for art and antiquities are also narcotics cultivation areas, including both Afghanistan and a number of areas in South America. An increase in police resources in that illicit trade seems to have brought about the opposite of the intended effect.

William Burroughs wrote a particularly poignant work on this subject, Naked Lunch, which satirizes modern society and its many addictions. Burroughs speaks explicitly about drugs, but he is using that trade as a starting point for any kind of addiction. He talks about a pyramid of junk, which can be analogized to any illegal trade I think. As Burroughs says, "The pyramid of junk, one level eating the level below right up to the top or tops as there are many junk pyramids feeding on peoples of the world and all built on the basic principles of monopoly". In Burrough's view, the only way to stop a pyramid like this is at the consumer end. For the drug trade, that's the user, but for the illicit trade in art, it's the purchaser of a work.

The likely result of these increased interdiction efforts in the cultural property market will be to lead to a greater number of arrests, but will only force the illicit trade further underground. As long as there are individuals who want to buy and possess these objects, the trade will remain robust. Perhaps Charney's work will reveal more about who the purchasers of stolen art are.

Dec 15, 2006

Italy's Carabinieri Strike Again


News of yet another Italian victory in the struggle to combat the illicit art and antiquities market. Yesterday, Italian authorities announced that a cultural property trafficking ring has been uncovered. The two-year investigation centered on 35 individuals, and potential charges are likely to include both illegal possession as well as trafficking of archaeological artifacts. The recoveries include a renaissance still-life and marble altar pieces. The announcement evidences the continuing Italian efforts to combat the illicit trade in cultural property. The Italian efforts are garnering some impressive results, but one wonders if these efforts are just the tip of the iceberg, or represent a substantive blow to the illicit trade. Increasing the interdiction resources may be working, but I wonder if there are similarities between the cultural property black market and the illegal drug trade. Will other enterprising traffickers step in? I fear that they will, and the only real substantive change must be effected at the other end of the market, where the purchases take place.

German Police Recover a Carl Spitzweg



German police have recovered a work by Carl Spitzweg worth half a million euros, or $650,000. The painting, "Friedenzseit" ("Peacetime") was taken last March from the Kunsthalle in Mannheim during a weekend in which the museum had been opened later to allow more visitors to view the work. Security may have been less than one would expect during the theft. It highlights a continuing problem for museums though. They want to attract more visitors, but as they do, security issues become more acute.

Dec 14, 2006

Display of Afghan Antiquities in Paris



Today's New York Times has a nice piece on the display of Afghan treasures at the Musee Guimet in Paris. A press release about the exhibition is available here. The last three decades have seen a great deal of conflict and destruction in Afghanistan, and the most remarkable thing about many of these objects is that they have survived at all. Unfortunately, these beautiful objects can not yet be safely displayed in Afghanistan. Some of these treasures, in a collection known as the Bactrian gold, were kept hidden in a bank vault under the royal palace just outside Kabul. The nation sits as a crossroads between many of the world's great ancient cultures, the Greeks, Chinese, and Indians, and these objects display these influences.

French archaeologists have long-standing ties with Afghanistan. In the 1920's, the French were granted an archaeological monopoly, to counteract growing British influence there. At the time, it was commonplace for middle-eastern nations to allow foreign archaeologists to keep half of the objects they discovered. The French were later booted from the country after the communist takeover in 1982, however they returned in 2003 after the Taliban was removed from power. These ties are probably what helped secure the exhibition in Paris.

On one level, these continuing colonial ties make me a bit uncomfortable, as it is regrettable that other nations have to save these objects from theft, destruction, or sale, when Afghanistan cannot. It is indeed unfortunate that these objects cannot be enjoyed by Afghans in their own nation. However, it is certainly a great opportunity for visitors to Paris to see them, and at the end of the day, these objects are very valuable and rare, and their display should be encouraged, even if it is not possible in their nation of origin. A major, perhaps inevitable, flaw of allowing a source nation to decide the fate of the cultural objects and sites within thair borders is the possibility that the ruling power may not want the preservation of a certain cultural history. Nation's use cultural history as a political tool, and Afghanistan is a potent example of this. The Buddha's at Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban because the image of Buddha is un-islamic. One Islamic school of thought believes the destruction justified, as individual's were practicing Buddhism, which was certainly frowned upon by the Taliban.

In the absence of a peaceful Afghanistan, visitors can enjoy and appreciate these objects in Paris, and appreciate the thriving society that existed in Afghanistan, perhaps with an eye towards bringing about positive change there now.

The "Gross Clinic" featured on NPR

Morning edition today features a story on Thomas Eakins' "The Gross Clinic" and attempts by Philadelphia to prevent it from leaving the city. Trustees of Thomas Jefferson University have given the city and benefactors until December 26th to raise enough funds to keep the work in the city. The City has also chosen to invoke its Historic Preservation law to prevent the work from leaving the City. This is a fascinating example of a city choosing to exercise an export restriction, which normally only takes place at the national level.

Iraq Challenges a German Auction


Iraqi authorities have challenged an auction of two Sumerian artifacts which took place on Tuesday. One item was a limestone statue of a Sumerian (similar to the one pictured here), which dates to 2500 BC. The other was a nail made of clay bearing an inscription which puts its age between 2097 - 2095 BC. Iraq's culture ministry appealed to UNESCO to intervene, but there is not much the organization can do in this case, other than publicize the problem and force German authorities to take action. There isn't much information available on Iraq's claim, so it's very difficult to gauge the strength of their claim. Perhaps more information will come to light, but at this point, the German authorities are claiming that domestic law does not allow them to take any action. If this had occurred in the US, federal prosecutors may have been able to bring a forfeiture claim, if they were convinced the object was indeed stolen or illicitly excavated. I am not sure if Germany has a similar legal mechanism.

Dec 13, 2006

Italy Reclaims Two Antiquities



ANSA is reporting that two Second Century AD Roman antiquities have been recovered by Italian authorities. One is this marble head of Dionysus, and the other is a headless statue. The head was stolen from the Villa Torlonia gallery in the 1980's, and was recovered after it was discovered in a Christie's in New York auction catalogue. This is yet another example of the aggressive diplomatic and legal strategy being employed by the Italians. It seems a high-profile recovery or repatriation comes every couple of days. Italy certainly stands as the model for source nations who want to combat illicit excavation or seek the return of objects taken in the past.

Dec 12, 2006

Hermitage Theft Thwarted

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, which announced a massive theft earlier this summer, was the victim of an attempted robbery last Friday. A man smashed a glass display and attempted to steal a silver cup before he was arrested. The director of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky said that the widespread coverage of the thefts this summer may have prompted the thief to try and steal the object. A great deal was written on the missing objects this summer, and the death of a former curator who died last October further increased speculation. However, this theft appears ill-planned. The man smashed the glass with his elbow or knee and was soon apprehended.

Dec 11, 2006

Rowan the black Labrador finds 6,000 year-old Axe head



Rowan, an intrepid black lab unearthed a neolithic axe head near Drum Castle, just outside Aberdeen, Scotland. She dropped it on her owner's foot as they were walking around the wooded estate. The dog's owner took it back to the Castle, and handed it over to a National Trust for Scotland archaeologist.

I must admit that I've taken my own dog, a french spaniel named Morteau, out to walk on this estate many times, but he did not come up with any antiquities for me. He was too concerned with the pheasants apparently.

Getty Set to Return Gold Funerary Wreath? (UPDATED)

The New York Times today cites an anonymous source who claims that the Getty Museum has agreed to return this 4th-century B.C. gold funerary wreath to Greece. A press conference has been scheduled at noon in Athens to announce the agreement. The Getty first acquired the wreath in 1993, but there has been a growing body of evidence presented to the institution that the wreath was unearthed by a farmer in 1990 near Serres, in Northern Greece, and entered the market through Switzerland and Germany. The agreement may also involve a 6th-century B.C. marble statue, which has also been claimed by Italy. As I've written earlier, the Getty has agreed to return 26 objects out of 52 claimed by Italy, after negotiations between the two broke down. The fact that both Italy and Greece are claiming the object cuts against both nation's arguments, though it seems Italy has since abandoned its claim to the statue.

Perhaps the Greek Culture Minister Georgios Voulgarakis' address to the UN General Assembly, might have been planned to set the stage for today's announcement. It might also indicate increasingly close ties between Greece and Italy. The Greeks seem to be adopting some of the more aggressive repatriation strategies employed by their neighbors. In the NYT, Voulgarakis has outlined an accord between Italy and Greece which would form a united cultural policy, and could even help the countries pursue claims jointly. The new Italian strategy employs prosecutions, public pressure, and bilateral agreements with transit states like Switzerland as well as market states like the US or UK. Interestingly, the headlines have been made, and repatriation has occurred not by using International Treaties, such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention, but by working with individual nations and employing existing domestic law. It's not clear either how much today's announcement will impact a potential prosecution of former Getty curator Marion True in Greece. She is currently on trial in Rome.

It will be interesting to watch how successful this Greek/Italian cultural alliance will actually be. Public opinion seems to be favoring their position at this point, but Voulgarakis may want to be a bit more diplomatic about his public comments if he wants that to continue. In the NYT, he says that "...the Parthenon frieze has to be reunified, otherwise it has no historical value." I can certainly appreciate the Greek desire to have the Parthenon sculptures returned, and they have a number of good claims, but the idea that they have no historical value hanging in the British Museum is simply preposterous, and does not strike me as a particularly useful way to conduct negotiations.

I would like to know more about how this object was found. If it was a chance find, that might make for a slightly different situation than occurs when individuals simply dig into tombs or other cultural sites. Chance finds are a point of contention, as internationalists point out that restraints on alienation of cultural property do not satisfactorily deal with them.

UPDATE:

The AP is now reporting that the Getty Museum has indeed announced it will return the funerary wreath, along with the marble statue. An agreement has been reached in principle, but details have yet to be released. It's still not clear whether the agreement will impact any potential criminal charges.

Dec 8, 2006

UN General Assembly Adopts a Greek Cultural Property Resolution


Earlier this week, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution tabled by Greece on "The Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to their Countries of Origin". The resolution lacks any real bite, as most resolutions of the General Assembly are symbolic in nature. However, it does indicate continued pressure by the Greeks on foreign nations to seek the return of Greece's cultural property. Most notably, the Parthenon sculptures, or Elgin marbles as they are often referred to in the UK.

The Greek culture minister, George Voulgarakis hailed the initiative as "an exceptionally important event". Discussing the Parthenon Marbles, he said "The adoption of this resolution in itself signals and guides the countries to help so that the antiquities from all over the world will return to their homes. Greece will always seek and strive, in that direction, for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to their rightful place".

A great deal has been written about the Parthenon Marbles, and whether they should remain in the UK, or return to Greece. One noted scholar in this field, John Merryman, has argued that the sculptures should stay in the British Museum, because they have been resting there peacefully for nearly 200 years. The debate is an emblematic one in many ways for the two primary schools of thought on cultural policy, the cultural nationalists and internationalists. This discussion by the Greek minister of culture seems an effort to try to continue to pressure the UK into returning the sculptures. Perhaps he is learning some lessons from the Italians and their aggressive recent efforts at repatriation, though I think forcing the British Museum to share some or all of the sculptures will truly be a herculean task.

Dec 7, 2006

Donny George hired at Stony Brook University


Donny George, the former director of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad has been hired as a visiting professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island. George left Iraq recently, after he feared for his safety. For many, he was the public face of the much-publicized (and sometimes over-exaggerated) theft and looting of Iraqi antiquities in 2003. George featured prominently in Matthew Bogdanos' work, Thieves of Baghdad, which I discussed earlier here. It is indeed unfortunate that George cannot continue his work in Iraq, but the situation there seems to be growing increasingly unstable. Unfortunately, protecting the nation's antiquities, and ancient sites, is not a priority for the Iraqi government, nor the foreign forces stationed there.

The picture is of the ancient city of Babylon, taken by an American soldier from a blackhawk helicopter with his digital camera.

English Shipyard added to American Civil War Discovery trail


Shipyards along the River Mersey near Liverpool have been added to the Civil War Preservation Trust's Civil War Discovery Trail. Weekend Edition Sunday had an interesting piece on the designation last weekend, and it provides an opportunity to hear the Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, Edwin Bearss, wax poetic about the exploits of the CSS Alabama (pictured here).

How does a shipyard in England have any relevance to America's Civil War? Well, the Laird Brothers Shipyard at Birkenhead on the Wirral peninsula built the famed confederate raider for the Confederate Navy, which lacked the capability to outfit a navy. The distinction is a good one, but highlights I think one of the ongoing difficulties which confronts cultural policy makers, which is that our shared history and cultural heritage almost always transcends national boundaries, and is truly a global undertaking.

Dec 4, 2006

Venture Capitalists fuelling Nazi restitution claims?


Georgina Adam of the Art Newspaper had an article last week about some of the potential driving forces behind recent repatriation litigation. Pictured here is Gustav Klimt's "Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer I" (1907), recently repatriated after binding arbitration found Maria Altmann the rightful of this and four other works.

The increasing number of Nazi repatriation claims, and the booming art market lead to the possibility that not all the parties involved are motivated by high-minded ideals. As Federal District Court Judge Jed Rakoff noted during his ruling dismissing a claim over a Picasso, "[art auctions are] all guided by their belief in and beauty...though one might suspect that this is just a fight about money". In her piece Adam labels some of these opportunistic lawyers "Nazi bounty hunters,"as they are actively seeking war loot. She references Washington lawyer Willi Korte who has been approached by venture capitalists prepared invest $1 million in the hopes that it would lead to a successful restitution claim.

It seems some lawyers are working backwards. They consult art historians about what works might have been looted, and then search for heirs who may want to bring claims. Jost von Trott, a Berlin lawyer, who specializes in this type of research says to the
Art Newspaper

It might be that while doing research in these matters, one of the historians [I work with] comes across a further name of another Jewish family who lost property during the Nazi period. If the researchers find another name in the archives, then they or we could contact them as well and see if we can help in recovering lost objects.


Initially, I don't see anything wrong with the work von Trott describes here. It seems quite a valuable service. Consider though that these firms charge as much as 40
% to 50% of the sale price of a work for a successful recovery, while there is no charge if the claim is unsuccessful. Other claims beside the recent Picasso dismissal have been criticized as opportunistic and quickly dismissed as well. A $1.8 billion class action suit was brought by the Association of Holocaust Victims for Restitution of Artwork and Masterpieces against Sotheby's.

Though there are certainly clear cases where restitution is called for, some of these cases stretch the limits of the law, and are causing unnecessary and costly litigation for owners of these works. The idea of venture capitalists seeking out an attorney and urging him to pursue research on potential claimants strikes me a particularly unpleasant though, and strongly cuts against the whole nature of restitution claims.

Dec 2, 2006

More Thoughts on the Sale of the Gross Clinic


I have written a number of posts on the proposed sale of Thomas Eakins' "The Gross Clinic" in recent weeks, but the dispute is a fascinating one, because it cuts to the heart of the importance of the connection between art and its location. Do works of art or antiquities inherently belong in a given location?

Eakins, pictured here, is recognized as one of America's greatest artists. He was known for bringing a stark realism to his work, which could often be unflattering to his subjects. The work has been sold for $68 million to heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune for the new Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. Trustees of Thomas Jefferson University voluntarily agreed to delay the sale so community leaders in Philadelphia could come up with the funds to keep the work in the city. This is a voluntary version of the UK's export restriction, which allow the UK government time to raise funds to keep a work at home before it is exported. Some have argued that as few as 500 visitors saw the work in Philadelphia last year. I wonder if debate surrounding the sale would be quite so adamant if the work was being sold to the Met, or the MFA in Boston, rather than what some may see as a new "Wal-Mart Museum".

Efforts to prevent or delay the sale provides an interesting new way to think about export restrictions. Many nations use export restrictions to prevent the loss of important cultural works. The US is one of the few nations without such restrictions. Philadelphia's mayor has nominated the work for historic status, which would effectively act as an export restriction at the municipal level. Export restrictions are a reality for the art and antiquities market, but they are quite controversial. They generally involve underdeveloped source nations (such as Peru, Guatemala, or Nigeria) and wealthy market nations (like Japan, the US, or the UK). At issue in the source nation debate are inherent concerns about the less developed world, cultural appropriation, and the continued exploitation of the underdeveloped world. If Philadelphia continues to prevent the sale, it would countervene the prevailing position of the US, which generally frowns on export restrictions.

The Eakins debate strips away those concerns, as Philadelphia is on roughly the same footing as Bentonville. This allows us to focus in on the core issue, which asks, do certain works belong in a certain context? Might context be secondary to the interests of the University, which plans to use the funds to expand its campus. Also, might there be a greater value in allowing more of the public to view the work? I think so, but one thing remains clear, I'm sure the painting has earned far more visitors in recent weeks because of the controversy.

Dec 1, 2006

Builder Arrested in Spain


A builder from l'Alcora was arrested on Monday for trafficking in stolen art after Spanish authorities discovered 18th century hand-painted wall tiles which had decorated the Palacio de Vallvert in Valencia. The tiles had been stolen individually over a period of months. The 1,932 recovered tiles have been estimated at almost 2 million €. Authorities have not yet arrested the thieves.

Theodore Roosevelt's Gun

Anthony Joseph Tulino, a postal worker from Florida, pleaded guilty to violating the Antiquities Act of 1906 yesterday. The gun has been missing since it was stolen from a display case in 1990. Roosevelt carried the 1892 revolver during the charge up Cuba's San Juan Hill in 1898. Roosevelt signed the 1906 Act into law, as a very early effort to protect the theft of relics from Federal property.

The FBI's Art Theft Unit recovered the gun earlier this year, and it was returned to Roosevelt's former home in Sagamaore Hill near Oyster Bay, New York. Tulino faces up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. The revolver has been valued at up to $500,000.

Nov 30, 2006

Philadelphia's Export Restrictions (UPDATED)



Thomas Eakins' "The Gross Clinic" has been nominated for protected status by Philadelphia's mayor. This may effectively mean the work will not be sold later this month as proposed. I've written about the proposed sale before here. Donn Zaretsky has posted a number of interesting developments as well.

Stephan Salisbury of the Philadelphia Enquirer reported yesterday that Philadelphia's mayor has designated the work as a historic object, which would prevent the work from being sold, as proposed by the trustees of Thomas Jefferson University. The University had agreed to sell the work for $68 million to a new museum in Arkansas funded by heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. The University voluntarily gave local institutions until December 26th to match the price and keep the work in Philadelphia. However, the city has stepped in to prevent removal.

This is an interesting turn of events, and is the only example I'm aware of a city preventing the export of a work of art. Many nations attempt to prevent the export of works of art, but I am aware of no individual cities preventing the removal of an important work. The US is among the few nations in the world which has no export restrictions on works, due in part to its status as the largest art importer in the World. It's quite interesting to see an individual city make make similar claims to that of source nations such as Peru, Mexico or Egypt. The potential litigation in this case should be very interesting to watch unfold, if the trustees are unable to reach a satisfactory resolution with the city.

UPDATE:

Donn Zaretsky points out that this is not the first time Philadelphia has used historic designation to keep a work in the city: In 1998, "[in] the case of Dream Garden, a collaboration of Maxfield Parrish and Louis C. Tiffany whose sale ignited considerable public controversy, the Historical Commission acted after receiving a nomination request from then-Mayor Ed Rendell." The Commonwealth Court's decision on the case is available here.

$15.4 Million for a Hidden Rockwell

Norman Rockwell's "Breaking Home Ties" sold at a Sotheby's auction yesterday for $15.4 million. The work was rediscovered last March behind a false panel in a home in Sandgate Vermont. Art historians have long noticed discrepancies between the image which appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, and what was believed to have been the original, on temporary exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It appears that cartoonist Don Trachte Jr. bought the work for $900 in 1960.

It seems that the cartoonist may have forged the work, and hidden the original in his Vermont home to prevent his ex-wife from gaining the work in a messy divorce in 1973. His sons discovered the work last Spring after their father's death.

Ramses II for sale

French police arrested a man attempting to sell pieces of hair from Pharoah Ramses the II on the internet. He was asking for 2,000 Euros for hair samples. The main claimed his father worked on restoring the body between 1976-77. Ramses II was born around 1304 BC. The unfortunate story highlights the fact that human remains are being bought and sold, and are an unfortunate component of the illicit market in cultural property. It will be interesting to see exactly how French authorities prosecute this man. The mummy most likely belongs to Egypt. Even if the man had nothing to do with the actual removal, it is likely he will be charged with receiving stolen property.

Nov 29, 2006

More on Italy's Aggressive Repatriation Campaign

Two articles from today's New York Times further highlight Italy's aggressive repatriation policies of late.

First, a new sculpture, the statute of Eirene, pictured here, is on extended temporary display until 2009 in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Italy agreed to loan the sculpture after the Museum agreed to return antiquities to Italy. The Museum of Fine Arts held a news conference yesterday with Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli to announce the display. The Met will also receive a temporary exhibition of a 4th century B.C. drinking cup, called a kylix. However it has chosen to downplay the agreement. The granting of these two temporary exhibitions by Italy, further underscores its dispute with the Getty over antiquities. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Met have chosen to cooperate with Italy, and have been granted these works. It gives added emphasis to Italy's threatened cultural embargo against the Getty, after negotiations broke off between the two parties.

Second, a private collector has been asked by Italy to return 20 artifacts it claims were illicitly excavated. The collector, Shelby White and her late husband, Leon Levy, acquired a significant collection of antiquities over the last 30 years. Maurizio Fiorilli, a lawyer with Italy's Culture Ministry, has asked Ms. White to return the objects. The Italians have acknowledged that they do not have much legal pressure to force the restitution of these objects. However exerting public pressure may be their best chance at repatriating these objects. Highlighting Italy's claims is a study conducted by two British archaeologists, Christopher Chippindale and David Gill. It suggested that 84% of objects owned by Ms. White and her husband which were exhibited at the Met in a special 1990 exhibition were illicitly excavated. Whether this Italian campaign will prove successful and will have an impact on the demand for illicit antiquities remains to be seen. It is an interesting move by Italy to attempt to convince private collectors that purchasing these objects without a solid provenance may indeed be unethical, and may be damaging the very tradition and heritage which they wish to preserve and own. Some commentator have argued for stiffer criminal penalties for collectors of these objects. That seems like a difficult thing to enact though, as these individuals are generally the pillars of their community. After all, Ms. White donated $200 million to NYU for a new antiquities department. A more effective approach may be a campaign to associate collecting of unprovenanced antiquities with the destruction of a nation's heritage and archaeological record.

UK Museums falling behind?

Research conducted by the a nonprofit group called the Art Fund indicates that UK museums spent far less in acquiring works in 2006 than other museums in the world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York spent £53.5 million pounds; The Museum of Modern Art spent £20 million; The Louvre spent £16.8 million. UK institutions spent far less. London's National gallery spent £6.8 million, the Tate Galleries spent £4.8 million, and the British museum spent £761,000. The UK institutions also have much more difficulty in deaccessioning works, than these other institutions. This ties in with the discussion yesterday involving the proposed anti-seizure legislation. UK art institutions risk falling behind the rest of the world if their collections are not able to adapt, and they have difficulty bringing in traveling exhibitions.

Nov 28, 2006

Anti-Seizure Legislation

The Times today published a letter to the editor written by a handful of members of the House of Lords who have serious concerns over the Government's proposal to provide immunity to stolen and looted works of art which are on display in the UK. The letter is reproduced below.

Anti-Seizure Legislation of this sort is quite common. The Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) held a consultation on the issue last spring, a summary of which is available here. The legislative proposal is an attempt to bring the UK in line with a great number of other nations, which do routinely provide anti-seizure protection for works of art which are exhibited on loan. I'm not sure what the proposal this letter refers to is based on, however this letter reveals a lack of understanding of how many of these anti-seizure provisions work, they do not always apply to stolen works, and anti-seizure provisions certainly do not mean UK institutions will be implicit in theft or nefarious activity.

For example, in the US, anti-seizure provisions do not always apply to stolen works. In New York, the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law 12.03, was changed in 2000 to limit its scope to civil proceedings only. Similarly, the Texas anti-seizure legislation adopted in 1999 under the Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code dictates that works of art on loan may not be seized, except for stolen artworks. In addition, the Federal Immunity from Seizure Act, 22 U.S.C. Section 2459 requires applicants seeking protection to certify that it has no reason to know of any circumstances with respect to the potential for competing ownership claims.

Again, I'm not aware of the specific provisions of this proposal, but if other recent cultural property legislation in the UK is any indicator, there might be serious unintended problems with it. The Recent Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 had a number of loopholes rendering it essentially useless. The essential issue here is whether UK museums will be able to compete with other museums in the world for traveling exhibitions. On balance, I think it does make sense to allow museums to display works, as it allows a greater number of visitors to view and appreciate works from other nations and artists.


Stolen art works

Sir, We are deeply concerned at the Government’s proposal to give complete immunity to those who wish to display stolen and looted art works by making them available for exhibition in this country. The proposed legislation, buried in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill, would provide automatic protection from seizure to lenders outside Britain, making them safe from the legitimate claims of the rightful owners.

The justification is that the UK’s position as a leading centre for world-class exhibitions will be jeopardised unless all loans are protected from seizure. This reasoning results from pressure exerted by museums and those overseas whose concern for the provenance of art works owned by them is at best cavalier. In fact, the result will be that Britain will become one of the few countries in the West where such ill-gotten gains can be displayed with impunity and where the rights of the true owners will be so easily frustrated.



The public interest must surely be in upholding the rule of law, rather than promoting an international free-for-all through the unrestricted circulation of tainted works of art. Do we really wish to educate our children to have no respect for history, legality and ethical values by providing museums with the opportunity freely to exhibit stolen property?

The morally correct and legally responsible approach, adopted by many countries, is for objects proposed for loan to galleries and museums to be subject to rigorous inquiries to determine their provenance and that rightful owners have the opportunity to recover works surfacing in this way. The current proposals, giving automatic and indiscriminate protection against seizure mean that otherwise respectable institutions in this country will have no reason to make such inquiries. This legislation shames us and should be opposed rigorously.

LORD CARLILE OF BERRIEW
Liberal Democrat

LORD FELDMAN
Conservative

BARONESS GOLDING
Labour

LORD HOGG OF CUMBERNAULD
Labour

LORD JACOBS
Liberal Democrat

LORD JANNER OF BRAUNSTONE
Labour

LORD KALMS
Conservative

BARONESS LUDFORD, MEP
Liberal Democrat

BARONESS NEUBERGER
Liberal Democrat

BARONESS O’CATHAIN
Conservative

LORD CAREY OF CLIFTON

Nov 27, 2006

The National Gallery says a work may have been stolen by Nazis

Richard Brooks of the Sunday Times, has a piece yesterday which indicates the National Gallery has a work by Lucas Cranach, "Cupid Complaining to Venus", which may have been looted by the Nazis. The National Gallery has an entry on its website about the painting here. Elsewhere on the National Gallery website, the work's provenance is listed as being questionable.

The National Gallery revealed the dubious history of the work after they learned it had been taken from a German Warehouse in 1945 by Patricia Lochridge Hartwell, an American Reporter. Hartwell's son met with the museum last year. It seems she may have been invited into a German warehouse by American Soldiers in 1945 and allowed to take her pick. It's yet another example of how spoliation from World War II is still being discovered. The piece does not state why the Gallery has taken so long to come forward with this news. Perhaps it was investigating the claims, or it may have been concerned that the news was about to be broken. The Gallery coming forward in this way of its own volition looks much better than if the questionable provenance was revealed by a claimant.

If a claimant comes forward, the case will be considered by England's Spoliation Advisory Panel, which was set up in 2000 to evaluate claims for spoliation issues. Often, the panel orders compensation for the claimant, as a measure of compromise, and not the whole work. I would look for Germany to initiate a similar panel in the wake of all the restitution which has caused the loss of art from its museums in recent years.

Nov 22, 2006

More Problems for Marion True and the Getty


The New York Times reports this morning that the Getty Museum has unilaterally decided to break off talks with the Italian Culture Ministry, and return 26 artifacts to Italy. Italy still wants the return of 27 other objects. One of the works is this piece, "Table Support in the Shape of Griffins Attacking a Doe", dating from the 4th Century BC. The background for these negotiations is the trial of former Getty Curator Marion True and art dealer Robert Hecht in Rome. If Italy is still unsatisfied with the Getty's decision to repatriate only some of the antiquities, they may try to put pressure on Federal Prosecutors to bring charges against True in the US under the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA).

Greek authorities have decided to follow their Italian counterparts, and have decided to bring charges against True as well, as reported by Reuters. This might be related to the Greek seizures on the Greek Islands known as the Small Cyclades, which took place in April of this year. I discussed them earlier here.

Despite True's resignation, her aggressive acquisition policy still seems to be causing problems for the Getty, the richest art institution in the world. Italy and Greece are attempting to send a powerful message with these trials: dealing in unprovenanced antiquities will not be tolerated. It remains to be seen though if a conviction will take place in either trial.

Nov 21, 2006

Goya Recovered

The New York Times reports this morning that Goya's "Children With a Cart" was recovered in good condition on Saturday in New Jersey. The F.B.I. investigators are not releasing many details, possibly because the investigation is ongoing. Apparently, an attorney notified the bureau of the work's location. No details are being released about her identity, or if she is representing one the thieves as a client. There is no word yet on whether the attorney will receive the $50,000 reward offered by the insurer. If the attorney does get the reward money, I'm not sure if she will be required to give any of that money to her clients. That seems like quite an interesting ethical question, and I'm not sure what the outcome might be.

The thieves would be shielded by confidentiality though, so there is no way investigators would be able to track down the thieves without conducting their own investigation. At this point, it seems the FBI is attributing the theft to blind luck on the part of the thieves, and not any inside information as was speculated. The FBI's Newark spokesman, Steve Siegal, says in the NYT,

This time of year, close to Christmas, they probably thought they’d found a truck filled with PlayStations and broke in and started looking for the biggest-looking box. Basically, it’s a target-of-opportunity typical New Jersey cargo theft. There are literally predators — for lack of a better word — who when they see a tractor-trailer or a cargo vehicle parked for any length of time start snooping around.


If anything, that makes the delivery company in charge of transporting the work look even sillier. It's a sad state of affairs when ps2's are harder to steal then a work of art.

I do not anticipate any charges being filed in this case, and the resolution of this mirrors the recovery of a Peruvian gold headdress authorities recovered in London in August. Investigators want to reward thieves who quickly return objects in this way. One of the best shots investigators may have at recovery is if thieves anonymously return stolen objects. Because the objects are so valuable, their safe return is the highest priority. This Goya, like the Peruvian treasure, has a very small potential market. The risk of an arrest pales in comparison with the proceeds of a potential sale, because no reputable buyer would be willing to take on stolen property like this.

Antiquities Seized in Pakistan


625 Antiquities, worth millions of dollars were seized in Karachi last week, Pakistan's Daily Times reported on Sunday. The objects were hidden in a large freight container, under a shipment of furniture bound for the UAE. The UAE has a reputation for being a transit state, where antiquities can be purchased relatively easily.

Nov 20, 2006

Export Restrictions, The Waverley Criteria and Eakins' "The Gross Clinic"


A recently attributed work by English landscape painter John Constable has been temporarily denied export under the UK's Waverley Criteria. The work, "Flatford Lock from the Mill House" (~1814) which was only attributed to Constable in 2004, has been sold to a foreign buyer, whose identity is unknown. The UK has a limited export restriction scheme, which temporarily halts the export of a work if it falls under one of the three Waverley Criteria:
  1. Is it so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune?
  2. Is it of outstanding aesthetic importance?
  3. Is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?
If a work can fall under any one of these three categories, export will be temporarily restricted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) so a UK buyer can raise enough money to keep the work in the UK. The export license for this work may be delayed until 11, May 2007. I am not sure who owns the work, or if it is even publicly displayed. It was part of an exhibition at the Tate Gallery from June - August of this year. The restriction begs the question though, if the work is not generally on display to the public, do UK residents get some kind of inherent benefit out of having the work in private hands?

Such is not the argument over the recent decision by Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia to sell Thomas Eakins' "The Gross Clinic" (1875) for $68 million, pictured below. Of its own volition, the University has decided to delay the sale so that Philadelphia can attempt to raise enough money to keep the work in the area. For information on the fund-raising attempts, see Stephan Salisbury's piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Donn Zaretsky's Art Law Blog has a good analysis of the decision to sell here.

At the heart of both of these decisions, lies a question which often plagues cultural property. Do very beautiful and valuable works have a single true home, or should they be displayed anywhere? These works engender civic and national pride, and a city or nation is loathe to give them up without a fight. However, at least with respect to the Waverly Criteria, the UK's position seems quite contradictory. How much of the British museum would have been left in its source nation if Waverley Criteria had been applied? The answer is not much. However, there is a good argument to be made that the Museum is taking good care of these objects, and millions of visitors get to view and experience them. There are not any easy answers to this question. Ultimately, though we may criticize the decision of Thomas Jefferson University to sell the work, it went about the sale in a responsible manner, in such a way that allows concerned parties to raise funds for the work to stay in Philadelphia.

Thomas Eakins "The Gross Clinic" (1875)

Nov 19, 2006

Goya Theft Update

Saturday's New York Times has an update on the theft of Goya's "Children With a Cart". As I said earlier this week, the market for this work is extremely small. Purchasers of the work will not be able to claim they acquired the work in good faith, and thus the Toledo Museum of Art will defeat the possessor's claims. Of course, the thieves may not be concerned with selling the work, they may be trying to ransom the work back to the museum.

The FBI is investigating the theft, and has not released any information to the public. It seems though, that as more time passes, the likelihood of a quick resolutions grows more remote. The Times piece has quite a few details of the theft, which it seems to have gathered from the insurance investigation and interviews with the proprietors of the Pennsylvania Howard Johnson. The painting was taken from the delivery truck overnight, after being parked in the motel's parking lot. At this point, criticism has centered on the driver's decision to stop overnight when they could have completed the drive in a day. Also, these works are not supposed to be left unattended.

Whether this theft was an inside job as a number of commentators have speculated remains to be seen. It might just be an example of a couple of lucky thieves coming across this delivery truck at this Howard Johnson. Look for museums to increase the security procedures involving the transportation of valuable works of art in the future. Many museums depend on the income and prestige which comes with hosting large exhibitions like these. For the general public, it would be a great shame if this theft causes institutions to think twice before loaning their works to other museums.

Traprain Law Silver


Last Tuesday evening, I enjoyed a presentation by British Museum archaeologist Dr. Kenneth Painter at Marischal Museum, here in Aberdeen. He provided an interesting and insightful theory on the origins of this Roman silver hoard, which dates from the 5th century AD. His theory was that this silver may have been used as currency to pay Roman mercenaries. Many of these pieces had been cut up, into what is referred to as hacksilver, in specific sizes and amounts. It was a very interesting and insightful presentation, though it was presented in a typical British way, in which the presenter basically reads their paper. I found the discussion much better when he departed from his paper, and engaged the audience during a question and answer session.

There are many Roman hoards of silver which have been discovered all over the UK, and indeed Europe in general. This particular hoard was discovered by excavations in 1919. The state of archeology was much different then than it is today, and not much of the context surrounding the silver was preserved and studied. However, one of Dr. Painter's comments struck me as quite interesting. Many of these hoards are found in remote areas. This makes sense. The possessor's of these objects wanted them to remain hidden, and so they buried their silver in the countryside. As a result, the archaeological context surrounding these hoards generally reveals relatively little.

The question then becomes, would much have been discovered if a scientific dig had been conducted wherever the controversial Sevso hoard had been discovered? We'll never know the answer to that question in all likelihood. In fact, even though Dr. Painter does not have contextual information for the Traprain silver, he at least knows the find-spot, which allows for a surprising amount of speculation, especially when this hoard is compared with others in the UK and Northern Europe. The idea occurs to me though is should there be a sliding scale for antiquities? I'm not up to date on what exactly an archaeological dig can yield, but there must be shades. If a dig is conducted in a city, surely it will reveal more information than if it took place in the countryside? Perhaps then, a case cold be made that the trade in these kinds of antiquities should be liberalized. It seems like a plausible argument, though I'm not sure archaeologists would support it. In any event, the pictures of the Traprain Silver and the other hoards Dr. Painter displayed were fantastic, and the stories and theories about how the silver found its way to Traprain law were really great.

Traprain Law, East of Edinburgh

Nov 17, 2006

Negotiations Stall between Italy and the Getty

Francesco Rutelli, Italy's minister for Cultural Heritage, is apparently not pleased with the way negotiations have been going with the Getty museum regarding the return of a number of Italian antiquities, the LA Times reported last week. Giuseppe Proietti, a senior cultural official has said in a recent interview that "The negotiations haven't made a single step forward...We will not accept partial solutions. I will suggest the Italian government take cultural sanctions against the Getty, suspending all cultural cooperation." Apparently, such an embargo would have a limited effect, because Italy does not generally loan many objects anyway. A number of papers around the world have picked up this embargo story, including the Australian, and The Times. Its yet more evidence of Italy's aggressive new strategy to repatriate its antiquities, and prevent their illicit excavation.

Much of the tension here involves a debate between what John Henry Merryman has called cultural nationalists and cultural internationalists. Cultural nationalists generally believe that an object belongs in its context. So in this case, they would argue the Italian antiquities are best enjoyed and appreciated in Italy. On the other hand, Cultural Internationalists generally believe in an open and honorable antiquities market, which allows objects to be bought and sold. In that way, the market moves them to the location where they can best be preserved and studied. Both positions seem reasonable to me, however they are mutually exclusive, and lead to a great deal of contention, mainly between dealers and archaeologists.

The image here is of the new $275 million restoration of the Getty Villa in Malibu, which houses Etruscan, Greek, and Roman antiquities (including many of the objects Italy wants returned). It was patterned after the first-century Roman Villa dei Papiri, which was covered after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, and recently redesigned by Jorge Silvetti. I don't think anyone can argue that this new renovated Villa is not a fantastic venue to exhibit these works. However, does Italy have a stronger claim to them, especially when some of the most valuable antiquities seem very likely to have been looted? The archaeological context surrounding these objects may have told us a great deal. However that contextual information is now lost forever.

Dr. Lorenzo Zucca highlights an interesting piece in yesterday's New York Review of Books, which helps shed some light on the dispute. The Getty, established in 1953 by J. Paul Getty is one the wealthiest art institution on the planet, boasting assets of $9 billion. In the 1980's, the Getty pursued a very aggressive antiquities acquisition policy. This has led to the indictment and trial of Marion True, a respected curator of Greek and Roman Art. Italy certainly aims to make an example out of true, and the dealer who is also on trial, Robert Hecht. The California attorney general has also recently concluded an investigation.

It is hard to predict the possible outcome of the negotiations between Italy and the Getty. Italian authorities are certainly elevating the rhetoric in an attempt to shame the Getty into repatriating many of its works. We can debate whether these objects belong in Italy or in Malibu until we are blue in the face. The fact remains, though, that wherever these pieces are, people will come to visit them.

Nov 16, 2006

Met Declines to Exhibit a Grosz


The NY Times' Robin Pogrebin reported yesterday that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has declined to borrow a work by German Expressionist George Grosz. The work, "The Poet Max Hermann-Neisse" (1927) is the subject of yet another Nazi repatriation dispute. The Met has declined to exhibit the work, and substituted another, because the Grosz estate is contemplating a claim for restitution. The work belongs to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the Grosz estate has been in negotiations with them for three years.

MoMA is one of the many museums which lists provenance information for its works on its website. The provenance for this work is here. The estate claims that the works had to be sold very quickly, and at a very low price because Grosz and his art dealer, Alfred Flechtheim, had to flee Germany because of Nazi persecution. Interestingly, only Flechtheim was Jewish. It was the nature of Grosz's opinions and art which caused his flight.

Initially, one might wonder how the Grosz estate could have a tenable claim all these years later. The work has been in MoMA's possession since 1952. Apparently, Grosz saw the work exhibited there in 1958, shortly before his death. Statutes of limitations generally prevent claims from being brought after a period of time. They are based on the policy that as time passes, a fair adjudication of the issues becomes more difficult. New York courts have adopted the demand and refusal rule in interpreting statutes of limitations in the context of illicit art. The rule measures the accrual of a cause of action based on a plaintiff's actions. To commence an action to recover property from a good faith purchaser, an original owner must prove that the current possessor refused to return the property after a demand by the claimant. See Menzel v. List 22 A.D.2d 647, 253 N.Y.S.2d 43 (1963). Thus it seems that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until 2003, when the Grosz estate first approached MoMA about the return of the work. Thus, in theory at least, they could still bring a restitution claim in time.

However, the substance of that claim seems a bit difficult for the Grosz estate. The works were sold legally (Nicholas Katzenbach, a former attorney general, and an undersecretary of State for the LBJ administration investigated the claim for MoMA and recommended it be rejected), and MoMA would likely have a very good laches defense, which basically serves to protect defendants where a potential plaintiff has unnecessarily delayed bringing a legal action. Also, the value of these works may not be high enough to warrant a protracted legal dispute. A rough estimate I've seen thrown around is $3 million. If a work falls short of that standard, bringing a legal claim may not be financially feasible. This work has been estimated at $2 million in today's market, but there is another work under dispute in MoMA's collection as well. Of course, the Grosz estate may not be simply concerned with the financial implications of the suit.

Why then did the Met refuse to exhibit the work? It may simply be a matter of not wanting to be associated with the bad publicity. The headline that they are exhibiting a work with a Nazi repatriation issue may have raised an issue that was more controversial than they were willing to take on. However, it seems like the dispute is getting more coverage because of the refusal. In any event, I do not know all of the facts , but the Grosz estate may have a very difficult time prevailing, considering the artist himself saw the work exhibited in 1958 and did not have any misgivings at that point.

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