Jun 24, 2013

Jun 14, 2013

Yes, antiquities with good history are worth more

More anecdotal evidence this week that the prices paid for antiquities continues to reflect not only the intrinsic value of the object, but the quality of its history as well. Unprovenanced objects are not selling. Souren Melikian reports on the importance of a pre-1970 history for antiquities at recent auctions in Paris:

At Pierre Bergé on May 29, an Egyptian portrait painted in encaustic on panel of the type conventionally associated with the Fayum area rose to €1.46 million, or nearly $2 million, paid by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The portrait, datable to the years 54 to 68 A.D. on the basis of the hairdo, was owned by a European collector as early as 1968. A week later, it was the turn of Boisgirard-Antonini to score with Egyptian art. The wooden mask of a woman, with its ancient polychromy unfortunately altered by heavy waxing, realized 10 times the estimate, at more than €75,000. It had surfaced in the Paris trade in June 1912. Two lots down, the star piece in the sale, an Egyptian torso of the fourth century B.C. more than tripled its high estimate as it went over €2.26 million. Hieroglyphs carved on the back name a prince who was the governor of Upper Egypt. The inscription was debated at length in three separate German publications before World War II. At the end of a sustained bidding match, the room broke out in applause. The contrast with the dead silence that greeted scores of bronzes, some very fine, from ancient Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and other areas was striking. None were documented and the majority remained unwanted at low prices ranging from €1,000 to €5,000 euros. In five to 10 years, these hot potatoes may not even make it to the auction rooms.
  1. Souren Melikian, Antiquities, With a Proven Record, Drive Auction Market, N.Y. Times, June 14, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/arts/15iht-melikian15.html.

Jun 12, 2013

Will the Statute of Frauds Crack the Art Market’s Shield of Anonymity in New York?

The Jenack Auction house, outside Chester, NY
In his seminal 1982 article, Harvard Law Professor Paul Bator noted that the art trade is shrouded in mystery. In the thirty years since Bator examined the international art market, little has changed with respect to the basic information which is made available when works of art are bought and sold at auction. Auction house catalogues typically include little more than a cursory “this work is from a private collection”. That may change, at least in New York when the State’s highest court will take up a recent auction dispute.

In September of 2008, a 19th century “fine Russian silver/enamel covered box with gilt interior” was slated to be auctioned by the William J. Jenack Auctioneers. Prior to the auction, the auction house received an absentee bid from Albert Rabizadeh. This absentee bidder’s form included Mr. Rabizadeh’s name, phone number, address, email address and credit card number. The defendant was assigned bidder number 305 as indicated on his form, and his bid for a price of $400,000 was the winning bid for the antique box. This dispute arose, as so many of them do, when the winning bidder refused to pay for the antique. Auction houses rely on the binding nature of these bids in conducting their business, so it should come as no surprise that the Jenack auction house brought a suit against the allegedly derelict bidder. The low of contract might ordinarily be sufficient to require Mr. Rabizadeh to pay the asking price. At the initial trial Mr. Jenack successfully sued and the trial court held Rabizadeh was required to make good on his winning bid. However a well-established principle of English and American law, the statute of frauds requires that certain agreements be reduced to writing. And the district court ruling was overturned on appeal.

The Earl of Nottingham authored the Statute of Frauds in 1677
The statute of frauds was called an anachronism as far back as 1928 in an influential article appearing in the Indiana Law Journal. The Statute itself was passed by Parliament in 1677 and has been adopted by statute or common law by most American states. The statute of frauds has a simple purpose: to prevent any fraud caused by perjury. In essence ensuring that the legal system would wrongfully not enforce certain important legal agreements. These included: conveyances of land (what lawyers call real property); trusts; wills; and certain contracts which were made in consideration of marriage, contracts which couldn’t be performed within one year, or contracts for the sale of goods which exceed a certain value.

Under New York’s version of the Statute, if the disputed goods are sold at a public auction, an auctioneer can satisfy the statute of frauds if the auctioneer at the time of the sale enters into the sale book the nature of the object sold, the sale price, the name of the purchaser, and the name of the person on whose account the sale was made. In the Russian box auction, Mr. Rabizadeh’s name was not reduced to writing.

Mr. Rabizadeh successfully convinced a four judge panel of the New York appellate court that the law requires the name of the purchaser be in writing, and the incomplete paperwork by the Jenack auction house did not comply with the New York Statute of frauds. At present the case is pending before New York’s highest appellate court, and the court has two likely options to choose from. First, the court could hold that the auction house could have complied with the Statute by merely requiring a signature on the bidders form, which would have collectively created a sufficient body of written evidence that could have successfully prevented a perjury in this case. The court could look to the origins of the Statute and hold that this extra information would be sufficient to prevent perjury.

But the second, less likely option could have far-reaching consequences for the art market. The court may decide that buyers could back out of any purchase where the name of the buyer or seller is not provided. That would quickly remedy the anonymous buyer and seller problem in the art market. And with one simple decision—that this auction house initiated to punish a reluctant buyer—the art market in New York could be dramatically changed. 

(this editorial appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of the Journal of Art Crime).

Jun 11, 2013

Federal agents have seized $100m from Subhash Kapoor

Jason Felch reports that Federal agents have seized a whopping $100 million in art in the past couple years from Subhash Kapoor. Kapoor, an American citizen, is subject to potential criminal charges for dealing in looted and stolen art: a pending criminal trial in India; and he may be prosecuted in the United States as well.

Felch reports on the staggering number of esteemed Museums which have purchased material from Kapoor since:

Since 1974, Kapoor and his Madison Avenue gallery Art of the Past have sold or donated ancient art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Toledo Museum in Ohio and others. Abroad, his clients included the Musée des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, Paris; the Museum f¿r Indische Kunst in Berlin; the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore; and the National Gallery of Australia. To date none of the museums has been accused of possessing stolen art or conspiring with Kapoor. Several have acknowledged having objects from Kapoor but declined to comment on the ongoing investigations.
 This is a staggering array of objects and some very fine Museums.

The piece demonstrates how integral federal forfeitures are in policing the art and antiquities trade in the United States. Whether all that art will be repatriated to Southeast Asia remains to be seen, but the institutions which have material which passed through Kapoor would be wise to start preparing a strategy for the inevitable questions which will arise. Right now he looks to be as big an alleged antiquities smuggler as any of the names we've seen deal in art from Europe or even some of the notorious dealers in looted Mediterranean antiquities.

  1. Jason Felch, Feds pursue Manhattan art dealer suspected of smuggling, L.A. Times, June 11, 2013, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-asian-artifact-smuggling-20130611,0,3469733.story.

May 28, 2013

ARCA's Fifth Annual Conference, June 21-23, Amelia



Toby bull, Senior Inspector, Hong Kong Police Force, "Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong - Buyer Beware";

Ruth Godthelp, PhD Candidate Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam, Senior Police officer art related crime, Amsterdam Police, "The nature of crimes against Arts, Antiques and Cultural Heritage: A description of art-related crime in the Netherlands";

Saskia Hufnagel, Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, "Shifting Responsibilities: The Intersection of Public and Private Policing in the Area of Art Crime";

James Moore, retired trial lawyer and student of Caravaggio, "The Outrageous Theft of Caravaggio's Masterpiece The Nativity with Saint Francis and Saint Lawrence";

James Bond, ARCA Alumnus, Certificate 2011, "The Theft of Rare Books from the largest Home in the United States";

Chris Dobson, Former Master Armourer to the Royal Armouries at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, "Claiming Fake 'Fakes' in the Trade in Arms and Armour";

Stefano Alessandrini and Derek Fincham will lead a discussion on the Fano Athlete/Getty Bronze;

Joris Kila, Senior Researcher at the University of Amsterdam, ARCA award winner 2012, "An update on Armed Conflict and Heritage";

Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Partner with Sullivan & Worcester LLP, "American Wartime Art Restitution Litigation in the 1990s and Beyond-- Has it All Been Worth it?"

Jerker Rydén, Senior Legal Advisor Royal Library of Sweden, "Skullduggering in the Stacks: Recovering stolen books for the Royal Library of Sweden";

Judith Harris, author and free-lance journalist, regular contributor to the New York monthly ARTnews, "The Role of Collectors";

Felicity Strong, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne, "The mythology of the art forger";

Joshua Nelson, MA Candidate in Art & Visual Culture, University of Guelph, "Framing the Picture: The Canadian Print Media's Construction of an Atypical Crime and its Victims";

Theodosia latsi, MA in Global Criminology, Utrecht University, "The Art of Stealing: The Case of Museum Thefts in the Netherlands";

Verity Algar, Art History Student, University College London, "Cultural memory and the restitution of cultural property: Comparing Nazi-looted art and Melanesian malanggan";

Giulia Mezzi, PhD Candidate University of Reading, "The origins of Cultural Heritage Protection in Italy, a historical survey"

Carrie Johnson, JD Candidate South Texas College of Law, "Cultural Property in Crisis: Whose Burden is it?"

Alesia Koush, Foundation Romualdo Del Bianco-Life Beyond Tourism in Florence, MA Candidate at the University of Cologna under Prof. Luciano Carrino, "The Right to Culture"; and

Cynthia Roholt, JD Candidate South Texas College of Law, "Human Remains: Permission and Plastination".

The conference will open with cocktails at Palazzo Farrattini on Friday evening, June 21. The speakers will present at Chiosto Boccarini on Saturday and Sunday. Imbedded in the conference will be tthe ARCA Award Presentations: Art Policing and Recovery Award to Sharon Cohen Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York; Art Protection and Security Award to Christos Tsirogiannis, Archaeologist, Illicit antiquities researcher, University of Cambridge, former member of the Hellenic Ministry of Justice; Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship to Duncan Chappell, Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney, Australia; and the Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art to Bianco Nino Norton, Consultant Petén Development Project for the conservation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Ministry of Environment of Natural Resources/BID, Delegation of World Heritage Guatemala, Treasurer ICOMOS Guatemala, Presently serving as a Council Member for ICCROM.

To attend, please just RSVP to me at derek.fincham@gmail.com


May 24, 2013

That Picasso Vandal was Sentenced to two years in prison


In the informal straw poll I've taken with Houston artists, art student and all-around jerk Uriel Landeros is universally reviled.

In June last year he spray painted a work by Picasso, woman in a Red Armchair, at the Menil here in Montrose. His lawyer attempted to partially defend the crime by arguing he was making an artistic statement. I find that a particularly unconvincing defense, as it seems the sentencing judge did as well.

A video of the damage was posted on youtube and Landeros fled to Mexico. But he turned himself in at the border in January, and agreed to plead guilty to a graffiti charge. He was sentenced to two years, but with his 5 months already served he may be eligible for parole soon. Glasstire reports that he may be planning to return to the University of Houston for his final semester.

Here's hoping he's denied admittance to Houston's museums. And he can't use this notoriety to further his art career.


  1. Paula Newton, Picasso Vandal Sentenced to Two Years, Glasstire (May 21, 2013).



May 20, 2013

Jason Felch Updates the Southland Antiquities Investigation

In Sunday's LA Times, Jason Felch reports on a languishing federal antiquities investigation. In 2008 there was a loud showy raid on five museums in Southern California, including: the Bowers Museum, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the Mingei Museum, and the LA County Museum of Art. We are now five years since those raids, which resulted in the seizure of 10,000 objects, but has not resulted in any objects being returned, or even in any prosecutions. At least not yet. Which is strange, because if agents display such force in searching and seizing material in a simultaneous early morning raid, surely that investigation should bear fruit.

One reason for that is the death of those under investigation. Some of those are the result of natural causes. But not the sad death of Roxanna Brown—a witness for investigators and later a target—who died while in federal custody, in a shameful display of federal mismanagement. Here is a full history of Brown:

Roxanna Brown’s story: Part IPart IIPart III and settlement.

Many who follow this investigation probably echo Prof. Stephen Urice, professor at the University of Miami Law School, who is quoted:

I'm baffled . . . Given the amount of illicit antiquities moving through the U.S. borders, these guys are really hacks. Surely there must be more significant people out there.
 Felch reports that a criminal case against two men will begin in June: Robert Olson, aged 84; and Marc Pettibone, 62. Prosecutors allege that both men conspired to bribe officials in Thailand to secure export, and that the objects were then sold in the United States. And they would then use inflated appraisals for the objects and would secure excessive tax deductions for their donation.

All in all a troubling story on many levels. Few would dispute the staggering amount of objects which are being removed from Southeast Asia. But the prosecution and this investigation may be even more troubling. Its been a long investigation, with some very bad outcomes. The tragic death of targets of federal investigation is a growing trend in antiquities prosecutions. Think also of the three suicides which took place after the display of federal force in the four-corners antiquities investigation.

We can't of course blame federal investigators and prosecutors entirely, but they do share blame here, and if as many argue we are using these prosecutions to deter future smuggling, looting, and tax fraud, well the deterrent impact is very much in doubt. Criminologists can articulate this better than I, but a well-established truth that irregular regulation, even one which results in custodial sentences, cannot effectively deter. And when there is such a pall of controversy over these federal investigations, it may actually ossify the attitudes of individuals in the trade that they are being unfairly and unjustly targeted.


  1. Jason Felch, Stolen-artifacts case has cost much, yielded little, critics say, Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2013.

May 17, 2013

Cambodia Presses Other Museums

Tom Mashberg reports that Cambodia now has requested objects from others, including:
  • Denver Art Museum
  • Cleveland Museum of Art
  • The Norton Simon,
  • And of course Sotheby's which is challenging a federal forfeiture
New York's Metropolitan Museum announced it would return two other statues. It seems to have encouraged the Cambodians and their advocates to look for other similar material. And that precedent set by the Met may compel these other institutions to return objects. From the NYT piece:


The Met’s two statues represent brothers of Bhima who knelt in attendance during the fight. The Met’s statues were acquired in four pieces from donors 1987 to 1992. Those statues, plus the one from Sotheby’s, are known to have gone through a London art dealer, Spink & Son, in the early 1970s. Cambodian officials say the broken pedestals of all those sculptures were left in the ground by the looters. Norton Simon, who died in 1993, bought the Bhima in 1976 from a Madison Avenue Asian art dealer and gave it to the museum in 1980. “In more than three decades, the foundation’s ownership of the sculpture has never been questioned,” the museum said in a statement. The Sotheby’s statue was shipped to New York in 2010 to be sold at auction by its Belgian owner, Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa. Her husband, who has since died, acquired it in 1975 and Sotheby’s estimated its value to be $2 million to $3 million. Experts on antiquities trafficking say teams of bandits used ox carts to trundle their trophies along jungle trails and into Thailand, 15 miles north, during Cambodia’s war years. In their case against Sotheby’s, lawyers for the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York say the statue was one of many shipped illicitly from Bangkok to the United States and Europe after 1970. Sotheby’s says the statue was legally purchased in good faith from a reputable London auction house in 1975 and it “denies knowledge that the Duryodhana statue was stolen.” Cambodia’s secretary of state, Chan Tani, said the looting of Koh Ker is especially crushing because its style of statuary exists nowhere else. “They are part of our soul as a nation,” he said, “and they were brutally stolen.”

 One aspect I find really intriguing is how Cambodia has seemingly eschewed the Italian approach of offering long term loans and continuing to have a relationship with these institutions. Not sure why that may be, I'd be interested in hearing some ideas below in the comments.

Mashberg, Tom. “Cambodia Presses U.S. Museums to Return Antiquities.” The New York Times, May 15, 2013, sec. Arts / Art & Design. 

May 3, 2013

The Met Announces the Return of two statues to Cambodia

Today, Ralph Blumenthal reports that the Met has agreed to return two 10th century statues to Cambodia. The Met's director Thomas Campbell is quoted as saying:

This is a case in which additional information regarding the 'Kneeling Attendants' has led the museum to consider facts that were not known at the time of the acquisition and to take the action we are announcing today.

 The piece reports the statues may have been removed from Cambodia at around the same time the Koh Ker statue was removed, which is the subject of an ongoing forfeiture action by a federal prosecutor. Little information has been reported that I can find on the precise circumstances surrounding the removal of these statues from Cambodia. We know the instabality and conflict taking place in southeast Asia at the time of course. The statues were donated by Douglas Latchford in a series beginning in 1987. The parts of the statues were broken into pieces at some point, and the individual pieces of the figures were donated between 1987-1992. Conservators at the Met reattached the heads and bodies in 1993.

The Met should be congratulated for doing the right thing here with these objects which have such an important connection to Cambodia. This return may also give pause to Sotheby's, the Norton Simon museum, and others who have objects which were removed from Cambodia during this period.



Blumenthal, Ralph. “The Met to Return Statues to Cambodia.” The New York Times, May 3, 2013, sec. Arts / Art & Design. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/arts/design/the-met-to-return-statues-to-cambodia.html.

Apr 29, 2013

Conference Schedule, Vulnerability & Cultural Heritage, Leicester 9-10 of May

Next week I'll be attending and presenting at a conference at the University of Leicester titled "Vulnerability and Cultural Heritage". It looks to be a great group of speakers, and I'm looking forward to catching up with and meeting many of these folks. I hope to have a few reactions here when I'm back near a computer:


And here are details on the Programme:


Thursday 9 May

9.30–9.35  Welcome

Panel 1

9.35–10.00  Neil Brodie 
Provenance and price: The invisible hand of the antiquities market?

10.00-10.25 Simon Mackenzie
Conditions for guilt-free consumption in a transnational criminal market

10.25–10.50  Kathy Tubb
Trade Fairs: A Marketing Tool for the Sale of Antiquities

Refreshments 10.50–11.10

Panel 2

11.10–11.35  Rowan Brown
Loved, listed, looted: crime at the Lady Victoria Colliery.

11.35–12.00  Nick Poole
Combating Heritage Crime: Key Findings from the ACE Museum Security Programme

12.00–12.25  Mike Harlow 
Heritage Crime – 'What's the Problem?

12.25–12.50  Mark Harrison 
Heritage Crime – What’s the Solution? The development of multi–disciplinary approaches

Lunch 12.50–1.45

Panel 3

1.45–2.10  Julian Radcliffe
Protection of Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis

2.10–2.35  Patty Gerstenblith
When Is “1970” Not Enough and When Is it Too Much? Evolving U.S. Museum Policies and Practices for the Acquisition of Archaeological Objects

2.35–3.00  Michelle Gallant
The Impact of Money Laundering Measures

3.00–3.25  Janet Ulph
Money Laundering Measures and Ethical Dealing: the Demands Placed upon High Value Dealers and Museums in the UK

Panel 4

3.50–4.15  Tatiana Flessas
Museums and Antiquities after Marion True

4.15–4.40  Andrzej Jakubowski 
Black Sea Tomb Raiders and the Practice of International Cultural Exchange: Revisiting the Ethics and Responsibility of Museums

4.40–5.05  Derek Fincham
The Italian efforts to initiate forfeiture proceedings of the Fano Athelete/Getty Bronze in Italy

5.05–5.30  Antonio Roma Valdes
Illicit trafficking of cultural heritage as a crime. The role of the judiciary.

Friday 10 May

Panel 5

9.30–9.55  Jessica Dietzler
On antiquities and wildlife trafficking: similarities and peculiarities of regulation and control in two transnational criminal markets

9.55–10.20  Lorna Gillies
Help or Hindrance? The Utility of the Conflict of Laws Process in Claims for the Return of Cultural Objects Wrongfully Removed

10.20–10.45  Carolyn Shelbourn
Prosecuting heritage offences – a cautionary tale

10.45–11.10  David Gill
Title to be announced

11.10 – 11.30  Refreshments

Panel 6

11.30–11.55  Roger Atwood
Heritage and Development: A View from Central America

11.55–12.20 Kristin Hausler
Indigenous Sacred Objects: Trade and Stewardship Issues

12.20–12.45  Andreas Pantazatos
The Normative Framework of Stewardship: Care and Respect

12.45–1.10pm  Charlotte Woodhead
Stewardship and moral title: viable legal concepts?

Apr 26, 2013

Auctions and Civil Disobedience (UPDATE)

The Christie's Auction catalog with a bronze rabbit head
Earlier this week I was able to watch a screening on Earth Day of 'Bidder 70' a new documentary which examines the story of Tim DeChristopher. He was sentenced to two years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. His crime? He attended an oil and gas lease auction and bid on Utah land which was being leased for oil and gas exploration with no intent to buy the land (he didn't have the money) or to drill on it. I'm not as interested in going through a review of the documentary itself. I thought overall its well worth taking a look at, but my biggest frustration with the story was it left out a lot of the details of the auction process, how he was able to bid and refuse to pay, and how his act of civil disobedience ended up being successful.

From what I gathered the Bush administration in their last weeks in office put opened up lots of land for oil and gas leases, and that DeChristopher successfully ruined these auctions. And then when the Obama administration took office the Department of the Interior later decided not to auction these parcels of land after all. The film does a great job of presenting DeChristopher's story, and conveying his indignation at the ruination of what appears to be some pristine Utah wilderness.

 But watching the documentary I was most struck by the connections between a couple of events that I've traced here before: the Bronze zodiac auctions in France from the Yves Saint-Laurent sale, and the sentencing of antiquities looters in Utah. Environmental and cultural heritage issues are inextricably linked, and the different priorities of prosecution and sentencing on display here were really striking.

 If you aren't familiar with the sad saga of the Chinese Zodiac heads, here's a quick overview. Over 150 years ago the Summer Palace near Beijing was looted by British troops. Lots of art was burned, looted, destroyed, or lost. Some objects which had been taken were parts of a beautiful ornate fountain/clock mechanism which had the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. A handful of these still existing heads have been purchased by Chinese repatriation advocates on the open market. And two of these bronze figurines, the rabbit and the rat were acquired by Yves Saint Laurent. Well on his death many objects from his estate were set to go up for auction at Christie's in Paris. But the looting of the Chinese Summer Palace is a notorious event in Chinese history, and the Chinese government lodged a number of protests at the sale. When the two heads were up for auction, the successful bid was nearly 32 million Euro. The winning bidder was Cao Mingchao, owner of a small auction house in China. After the auction he refused to pay the bid, exacting the same kind of civil disobedience that DeChristopher went to prison for. After the auction Mingchao stated "What I want to stress is that this money cannot be paid (…) I think any Chinese person would have stood up at that moment. It was just that the opportunity came to me. I was merely fulfilling my responsibilities." Despite some hints at a French prosecution of the bidder, those never materialized and the heads as I understand it were never actually auctioned.

There have been a number of controversial sales of Precolumbian and native american sacred items in France in recent months. And it seems that despite some legal attempts to block sales, this kind of technically legal, but morally objectionable auction; which the current heritage law framework deems ok; will only be blocked if an auction house bends to public pressure or if there's a bidder exercising civil disobedience.

  Remember that in this part of the country the Four-Corners investigation uncovered a large network of illicit native american objects. That investigation led to 3 suicides and a number of citizens being indicted and later pleading guilty to heritage crimes. But no custodial sentences have been imposed. The sad takeaway is I think that you can loot native american sites, and the Federal government will have irregular investigations, but mess with the leasing of oil and gas, and you'll feel the weight of the federal government.


 Here's the trailer for Bidder 70:
Bidder 70 - Trailer from Gage & Gage Productions on Vimeo.

UPDATE:

And now it looks like the rat and rabbit will be returned to China: http://bit.ly/ZpP67I

Apr 9, 2013

Student note on restituting Nazi-Looted art

Katherine N. Skinner has a student note titled "Restituting Nazi-Looted Art: Domestic, Legislative, and Binding Intervention to Balance the Interests of Victims and Museums", 15 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 673. From the abstract:
The Nazis engaged in widespread art looting from Holocaust victims, either taking the artwork outright or using legal formalities to effect a transfer of title under duress. Years later, US museums acquired some of these pieces on a good-faith basis. Now, however, they face lawsuits by the heirs of Holocaust victims, who seek to have the museums return the artwork. Though good title cannot pass to the owner of stolen property under US law, unfavorable statutes of limitations, high financial hurdles, or discovery problems, among other obstacles, bar many of these claimants from seeking recovery. Though some museums have amicably settled with claimants, museums’ otherwise resistant responses are not surprising, considering the “cultural internationalist” attitude they adopt toward restitution in general. US federal action to resolve the issue of Nazi-art restitution has been aspirational rather than practical, and courts are not ideally suited to handle the difficult policy implications present on a one-off basis. Additionally, museums have not been faithful to their self-imposed ethical guidelines, which promote full out-of-court cooperation with claimants seeking restitution for Nazi-looted art. Therefore, this Note proposes that Congress step in to create a binding, uniform, domestic body to hear and resolve Nazi-art restitution claims brought against museums. Such a forum would eliminate many of the initial obstacles claimants face, and with its narrowly tailored application it would prevent museums from becoming more vulnerable to restitution claims in other contexts. Finally, with a sunset provision followed by a presumption against restitution, such legislation would provide museums a respite from facing these claims eternally.

If you are writing in the field and would like me to post your abstract, just drop me a comment below, or email me at derek.fincham 'at' gmail.com.

Apr 8, 2013

Looting at Ebla in Syria

On Saturday CJ Chivers reported on looting in Syria, in particular at the ancient site of Ebla:

For decades Ebla has been celebrated for the insights it offers into early Syrian civilization. The scenes here today offer something else: a prime example of a peculiar phenomenon of Syria’s civil war — scores, if not hundreds, of archaeological sites, often built and inhabited millenniums ago because of their military value, now at risk as they are put to military use once more. Seen from afar, Ebla is a mound rising above the Idlib plain. It was first settled more than 5,000 years ago. It eventually became a fortified walled city whose residents worshiped multiple gods, and traded olive oil and beer across Mesopotamia. The city was destroyed around 2200 B.C., flourished anew several centuries later and then was destroyed again. The latest disruption came after war began in 2011. Once rebels pushed the army back and into nearby garrisons, the outcropping upon which Ebla rests presented a modern martial utility: it was ideal for spotting passing government military planes.
The piece also has a very good video report, showing the site: http://nyti.ms/XkR4EY

  1. C. J. Chivers, Syrian War Devastates Ancient Sites, The New York Times, April 6, 2013.

Apr 5, 2013

Can the Hopi Thwart the Sale of Sacred Objects in Paris Next Week?

A Hopi helmet representing the Crow Mother (more slides via NYT)
Next week the Néret-Minet auction house in Paris will auction a number of Hopi objects, many of which are more than 100 years old, and many of which are considered sacred. Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office in Kykotsmovi, Arizona says of the objects: "Sacred items like this should not have a commercial value. . . . The bottom line is we believe they were taken illegally.”

The auction house claims that the objects were purchased as early as the 1930's, and that all the objects were sold as long ago as the 1960's.

Tom Mashberg reports for the New York Times that:

Historians say many Hopi artifacts were taken long ago by people who found them unattended in shrines and on altars along the mesas of the Southwest. Others were confiscated by missionaries who came to convert the tribe in the late 19th century. Some were sold by tribe members. But even those sales were not legitimate, Hopi leaders say, because they may have been made under duress, and because the tribe holds that an individual cannot hold title to its religious artifacts — they are owned communally.
This of course is why many of these objects were acquired in the last century. The Hopi have a fundamentally different view of property and sacred objects. They have a communal relationship to these objects. When that view of objects is linked with western legal systems, the results can be messy. But I think there are a number of legal challenges that can be made to the auction of these objects.

Possible action could include an action for the recovery of stolen property. The Hopi would have to establish that they have a relationship to these objects that is sufficient to allow a French court to deny the sale. Or the United States government could intervene and protest the sale on the grounds some of the objects were removed from Federal or tribal lands and are considered stolen under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. But the difficulty with both of those legal options is the problem of proof.

The best chance for a quick resolution to the sale may be to generate enough headaches for the auction house, the consignor, and any potential buyers. The New York Times piece will help raise the profile for the auction, but it will also require some vocal and I'm sorry to say expensive, actions on the part of the Hopi or their advocates.

In a case like this, it is true that seldom have we seen works of art from the United States exported and sold in a way which upsets the creator culture. If the market for Native American art continues to be this robust, it may take more concerted action on the part of the Federal government to intervene. I don't think this is an issue of uneven application of international cultural heritage law, much of which is soft. The reporting and some reaction seems to suggest the U.S. does a better job of helping foreign nations in their efforts to repatriate. I don't get the sense that that is right. Rather I'm not sure we have a good robust set of tools to seek repatriation from abroad when it is warranted. And there are a number of reasons for that. For one, I don't think Native American tribes have been confronted with this problem very often either because it didn't happen or they weren't aware. But also we don't have a good organized cultural apparatus in the United States. We rely on lots of very capable Museums and other organizations. But in the case of international repatriation. It really helps to have an active and organized set of voices acting in concert. We just don't have that in the United States. So there are challenges for the Hopi here, but other similar groups have shown that patient and persistent appeal to reason can impact the disposition of these objects.

Mashberg, Tom. “Hopi Tribe Wants to Stop Paris Auction of Artifacts.The New York Times, April 3, 2013, sec. Arts / Art & Design.

Apr 1, 2013

Theft at the Villa Giulia


A view of the Villa Giulia, Italy's Etruscan Museum
Over the Easter holiday weekend, thieves have broken into the Villa Giulia Museum in Rome, home to thousands of Etruscan artifacts, including the Euphronios/Sarpedon Krater. La Reppubblica reports today that the thieves broke into the museum on Saturday night through the back, locked the guards on duty in the gatehouse, and stole some jewelry from the 19th century Castellani collection. They appear to have avoided entirely the antiquities from Cerveteri, and elsewhere, many of which had been repatriated back to Italy in recent years. Holiday weekends are notorious for being risky times for museums.

Some of the recently repatriated antiquities that
have hopefully been left unscathed after the theft
The thieves reportedly used smoke bombs to distract the guards and to obscure the view of the security cameras. But they appear to have taken little. Most of the antiquities were unscathed, at least according to initial reports.

The Villa Giulia was founded in 1889 to house pre-Roman antiquities from the Etruscan civilization. The building had been a Renaissance villa built by Pope Julius III beginning in 1550. It has a lovely garden designed by Giorgio Vasari, and a very early 19th century recreation of an ancient Greek temple.

There does not appear to be any reporting of the theft in English, here is the text of a Repubblica account in Italian:

Sono entrati dal retro e, dopo aver rinchiuso i custodi di turno nella guardiola, sono saliti nella Sala degli ori dove hanno fracassato tre vetrine e rubato alcuni gioielli ottocenteschi della collezione Castellani, usando dei fumogeni per non rendere visibili le immagini riprese dalle telecamere. Quello avvenuto la scorsa notte al Museo nazionale etrusco di Villa Giulia, a Roma, è un "furto singolare", di cui "non si capisce la finalità" perché gli oggetti rubati non sono quelli di maggior valore nel museo, spiega la direttrice regionale per i Beni culturali e paesaggistici del Lazio, Federica Galloni. "I ladri - racconta la dirigente del Ministero dei Beni culturali - sono entrati dal retro del museo ieri sera, verso le 23.30. Hanno rinchiuso i custodi nella guardiola e sono saliti al secondo livello, nella sala degli Ori, dove hanno frantumato con un'ascia tre vetrine blindate molto spesse all'interno delle quali erano esposti dei gioielli della collezione Castellani. Ne hanno presi solo alcuni, forse perché disturbati dall'arrivo dei carabinieri, chiamati immediatamente dai custodi. Non capisco - ragiona Galloni -, è veramente un furto strano, singolare, perché nel museo ci sono dei reperti archeologici di gran lunga più importanti, che hanno maggior valore se immessi sul mercato". Sul posto si trovano sia la scientifica che il Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale dei carabinieri. "Verranno esaminati i filmati delle telecamere a circuito chiuso", aggiunge Galloni, anche se "i ladri hanno utilizzato dei fumogeni durante il furto". 

Roma, Rapina Con Fumogeni  Rubati Gioielli Dell’800 a Villa Giulia - Roma - Repubblica.it.” Roma - La Repubblica. Mar. 31, 2013.

Mar 25, 2013

A Hollow Victory for Mexico in the Barbier-Mueller Sale

Lot 137, which did sell,
for 2,001,500 Euro
On Friday and Saturday in Paris Sotheby's auctioned a number of allegedly Pre-Columbian objects from the Barbier-Mueller collection.

Nord Wennerstrom reports that many of the lots sold for less than the low estimate, and 79 of 151 lots failed to sell. His take: the auction ended as "inauspiciously as it began". Sotheby's lists its sale results here.

The auction generated considerable interest last week. In anticipation of the sale Mexican officials protested and noted: "Of the 130 objects advertised as being from Mexico, 51 are archaeological artifacts that are (Mexican) national property, and the rest are handicrafts". In this case "handicrafts" is a very polite way of pointing out that some of the objects are fakes or forgeries. In this case the sale continued, but the considerable notoriety surrounding the sale certainly diminished the market value of these objects, and in many cases made these objects too toxic perhaps for some buyers.

French diplomats last week did not intervene in the sale noting that none of the objects had appeared on the Interpol database, or the "red list" published by the International Council of Museums.

Sotheby's Paris on its website stated the collect was started in 1920 by Jose Mueller. His son-in-law Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller broadened the collection. Sotheby's described Barbier-Mueller as "a great aesthete and man of culture".

Here's an extended quote from the overview given by Sotheby's:

In 1908 and 1909 Josef Mueller acquired major works by Hodler and Cézanne in Paris. While initially focusing on Western masterpieces of universal appeal, he soon became attracted by important works of Pre-Columbian art, his first purchase being an Aztec ‘water goddess’ in Paris in 1920. His son-in-law Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, a great aesthete and man of culture, brought this high standard of collecting to other fields, such as African Art, Oceanic Art and Cycladic Art. His dedicated focus has resulted in the well-deserved reputation for excellence that the collections have today. Mr. Barbier-Mueller and his wife Monique Barbier-Mueller (Josef Mueller’s daughter), who has pursued modern and contemporary art, have achieved one of the foremost collections of art in private hands, one defined by their sophisticated knowledge and refined eye.
Some of this collection had been in existence since the early part of the 20th century. But not all of it. In a case like this, Mexico and other nations of origin have a limited range of options here. Their best way to attack the sale of these objects is exactly what it did. Make a public protest over the sale, and enlist the power of the press to reduce the market value of these under-provenanced objects. We are unsure now what will happen to the objects which did not sell. Contrast this situation with what might have happened had this auction occurred in the United States.

Increasingly unprovenanced objects are being regulated by Federal prosecutors, at least in New York and St. Louis. We certainly don't know if a forfeiture would have happened in this case, or indeed if that was even a consideration in the decision to sell these objects in Paris rather than New York. But it is yet another example of the complex web of legal rules and norms which apply to the antiquities trade.

  1. Mark Stevenson, Mexico demands Sotheby’s halt auction of artifacts, The Washington Post, March 23, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/mexico-demands-sothebys-halt-auction-of-artifacts/2013/03/21/e5d18316-9274-11e2-bdea-e32ad90da239_story.html (last visited Mar 25, 2013).
  2. Mike Boehm, Mexico trying to stop antiquities sale at Sotheby’s in Paris, Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2013, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-mexico-wants-to-stop-sothebys-precolumbian-art-auction-20130321,0,5085665.story?track=rss (last visited Mar 25, 2013).



My Piece on the Cultural Heritage Movement and Environmental Justice

A typical row house in Houston's 4th Ward, from 1984. Via FPH.
I've just received the final proof of an article I've written where I try to trace the connections between material culture and the environment: Justice and the Cultural Heritage Movement: Using Environmental Justice to Appraise Art and Antiquities Disputes, 20 Va. J. Soc. Pol’y & L. 43 (2012).

In the piece I look to some of the writing being done on environmental justice and I think about what lessons we can take as cultural heritage advocates. I examine disputes ranging from looting of antiquities sites to the lack of preservation of certain areas here in Houston like Freedmen's town.

Here's a short video segment interviewing an advocate for Houston's Fourth Ward:




It's a theoretical piece. One which I'll freely admit is partly aspirational. But one that I'm proud of. As always I'd welcome any feedback. Here's the abstract:

What does justice require? This paper aims to spark a conversation about the role of justice in art and antiquities disputes by introducing the concept of cultural justice. Borrowing from a principle known as environmental justice, cultural justice allows the application of critical scrutiny to the law and norms that govern cultural heritage. The history of environmental justice—including both its successes and failures—offers important lessons for the cultural heritage movement. Environmental and cultural injustice plagues the same nations and groups: Africa, Central and South America, and indigenous groups are denied the same environmental and cultural benefits. The cultural heritage movement has been subject to the same criticisms as the environmental justice movement, but has not had the benefit of an animating theoretical framework. The law strains to resolve art and antiquities disputes. Examining disputes through the lens of cultural justice allows us to move beyond thinking about art in terms of keeping it in museums (or the art trade) or returning it to its nation of origin. This paper applies Rawls’s theory of justice to cultural heritage and presents a taxonomy of cultural justice, examining in detail its distributive, procedural, corrective, and social aspects. Thinking about cultural justice allows a deeper understanding of the reasons why cultural heritage disputes are so difficult to resolve. By considering cultural justice, we can also begin to define the limits of what law and policy can do to remedy historical and contemporary art taking. These limits have eluded cultural heritage advocates, subjecting the cultural heritage movement to broad criticisms.

As always, I am very happy to post any link or abstract to anyone's writing in the cultural heritage field, whether it's a work in progress or has been published. Just drop me a comment below, or email me at derek.fincham 'at' gmail.com.

Justice and the Cultural Heritage Movement: Using Environmental Justice to Appraise Art and Antiquities Disputes, 20 Va. J. Soc. Pol’y & L. 43 (2012).

Mar 19, 2013

Trafficking Culture are Guest-Editing the EJCPR

The folks at Trafficking Culture are guest-Editing an upcoming edition of the EJCPR. Here are the details:


The European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research is a peer-reviewed international criminology journal with a special interest in transnational organized crime. It is run by Editor-in-Chief Ernesto U. Savona (Professor of Criminology, Università Cattolica del S. Cuore- Milan Director of TRANSCRIME (Joint Research Centre on Transnational Crime) and Managing Editor Dr. Stefano Caneppele (stefano.caneppele@unicatt.it).
Each year thematic special issues of the EJCPR are published. These special issues are devoted to innovative topics in the field of criminology and criminal justice, and in 2014 theTrafficking Culture team at the University of Glasgow will be guest editing one with a focus on ‘trafficking cultural objects’. For criminologists, this is something of a niche area of study, and more attention has tended to be paid to other types of transnational criminal trade. The Trafficking Culture research programme has been established to advance the evidence base in this area, as well as to undertake theoretical work and comparative study of the trafficking of cultural objects as contrasted with other types of transnational illicit commodity trade. The guest editors’ aim for this special issue is to gather together a collection of papers which inform this topic. The field of ‘illicit antiquities’ studies has been built around contributions which cross disciplines. Lawyers, archaeologists, art world professionals, anthropologists and criminologists have all played a part in explicating the issues and debating the solutions. We therefore welcome contributions to this special issue from writers in any discipline, although papers should consider the parameters of EJCPR as a criminal policy and research publication.
Original evidence-based research and/or analytical manuscripts are invited on any aspect of crime in relation to the problem of trafficking in cultural objects, and the topic is widely framed for the purposes of this publication to include all aspects of the trade in illicit antiquities, including socio- economic, cultural and criminological contexts, and beyond these core topics, comparable crime policy problems which may offer transferable solutions to these fields of illicit entrepreneurial activity.We would also be pleased to hear from those with expertise in this field who would be prepared to act as peer reviewers for the special issue.
The deadline for first draft submissions is Friday 28 June 2013.
Decisions about the outcome of the submission accompanied with detailed reviews will be sent out to authors by Friday 4 October 2013.
Should the submissions require revisions these should be completed and submitted by Friday 31 January 2014.
It would be helpful if the manuscripts do not exceed 7,000 words including Figures, Tables and References. For information on other aspects of the EJCPR manuscript format please see the Instructions for Authors on the journal’s website above.
Manuscripts should be submitted through an electronic system. In order to complete the review process, authors are asked to submit their articles online at http://www.editorialmanager.com/crim, following the Instructions for Authors.
Please circulate this call to anyone who might be interested. For formal or informal inquiries about any aspect of the process please contact the guest editor Prof Simon Mackenzie.

Mar 18, 2013

Video of the FBI Gardner Press Conference

The FBI Says it Has Identified Gardner Thieves

Have you seen these works? If so you might be entitled to a $5 million reward...
But the headline makes it seem a recovery is closer at hand than it may be. Every day after St. Patrick's Day, I've come to expect pieces discussing the theft of $500 million worth of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

But today's stories are a little different. The FBI has used today's anniversary to "widen the aperature of awareness" of the crime through a press release, webpage, and billboards. They say they know that the art was transported to Connecticut and Philadelphia after the theft. And the FBI even says it knew who the thieves are, though they aren't releasing that information. What they hope to accomplish is a recovery, and to do that they need a member of the public to come forward with some information. It's a worthy goal, hopefully the attention will finally secure the return.

Here's the FBI's  press release, and here is the special webpage the FBI has created to announce its $5 million reward.

Mar 6, 2013

Art & Law Symposium in Basel, June 14

I've been forwarded on some details of an Art & Law Symposium scheduled on June 14 in Basel. From the website, in German:

Freitag, 14. Juni 2013, 09.15-17.15 Uhr
Juristische Fakultät, Universität Basel, Peter Merian-Weg 8, Basel, Pro Iure Auditorium
In diesem Jahr dürfen Dr. Peter Mosimann und PD Dr. Beat Schönenberger bereits zum vierten Mal ein an kunstrechtlichen Fragen interessiertes Publikum zur Tagung „Kunst & Recht/Art & Law“ einladen. Wie gewohnt findet dieses Seminar am Freitag der Art Basel-Woche in den Räumlichkeiten der Juristischen Fakultät Basel statt.
Die Organisatoren konnten wiederum hochkarätige Experten aus dem In- und Ausland gewinnen, die in ihren Referaten das weit gefächerte Fachgebiet des Kunstrechts widerspiegeln. Nach dem Grusswort des Rektors der Universität Basel (Prof. Antonio Loprieno) wird ein zentrales Anliegen der Kunstsammlung an sich, nämlich das Bewahren, aus einer erbrechtlichen Perspektive beleuchtet werden (Prof. Xavier Oberson). Dabei ist insbe-sondere auch die Kunststiftung als Mittel der Erhaltung einer Sammlung von zentralem Interesse. Zeitgenössische Kunstformen, wie multimediale Werke, stellen heute nicht nur Sammler und Kuratoren, sondern auch Juristen vor neue Herausforderungen. Auch anhand der Beuys-Aktion von 1964 werden urheberrechtliche Fragen im Zusammenhang mit solchen Werken dargestellt (Dr. Gernot Schulze). Anschliessend soll aber auch ein Galerist zur Problematik im Umgang mit aktuellen Kunstformen zu Wort kommen (Stefan von Bartha). Der zweite Teil des Seminars ist zuerst dem Thema der Bewertung und Risikokalkulation bei Hingabe von Kunstwerken als Sicherheit gewidmet, wozu ein renommierter Experte aus New York referieren wird (Stephen D. Brodie). Den Abschluss der diesjährigen Tagung „Kunst & Recht“ wird ein Ausblick auf das Thema „Bildende Kunst & Politik“ machen (Yves Fischer). Die Veranstaltung wird unterstützt durch:
Stämpfli Verlag AG Bern CHRISTIES'S VON BARTHA

Mar 4, 2013

Increasing the Use of Forfeiture in Policing Heritage

The NYT's Tom Mashberg reports that Sharon Cohen Levin and Alexander Wilson (two Assistant U.S. Attorney's) have traveled to Cambodia to examine the site where the 10th Century Koh Ker statue was likely looted in Cambodia. I have no way of knowing whether a trip like this is unusual or not. It seems to me to be a good idea to get some context for the original looting. For those who don't know, Assistant U.S. attorneys are the Federal government's prosecutors. And when these folks take on a case, they do so selectively, and generally only if they are confident in a win. These offices across the country have a very high winning percentage in the cases they take on. So it is not much of a surprise that these AUSA's have decided to make a trip to Cambodia to examine the site itself:

The NYT image of the feet at the temple
where the Koh Ker statue was likely looted
A Cambodian government spokesman, Ek Tha, said the delegation that visited the temple included Cambodian and foreign archaeologists. A federal judge is scheduled to rule in weeks on whether the government’s case to seize the statue can proceed to trial. In earlier arguments District Judge George B. Daniels has pressed prosecutors on what proof they had that the statue, called the Duryodhana, was taken in the 1970s. Sotheby’s has been trying to sell the statue, valued at as much as $3 million, on behalf of its Belgian owner since 2011. The United States government says the auction house had reason to suspect that the statue had been stolen, and that it is the rightful property of Cambodia, citing laws governing antiquities adopted when the country was a colony of France. Sotheby’s has said the statue was legally purchased in good faith from a reputable London auction house in 1975 by the owner’s husband, now deceased, who had no reason to suspect that such a sale could be bound by laws set by a government that had long passed from power. In a statement the auction house said the trip by the lawyers “will not change critical weaknesses in the government’s case — most importantly, its reliance on hopelessly ambiguous French colonial decrees.”

Those French decrees aren't all that ambiguous when considered in light of these two feet without the rest of the statue.

I thought the comments of Rick St. Hilaire were interesting, he argued that this trip was a kind of show of force by the AUSA's. Not sure if that is true or not, or even if these folks even need to be concerned with a  show of force, but it does highlight I think how even remote areas like this temple complex are more closely connected than before, and that makes a forfeiture proceeding like this more likely to proceed.




  1. Tom Mashberg, United States Officials Travel to Cambodia in Statue Case, The New York Times, March 1, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/02/arts/design/united-states-officials-travel-to-cambodia-in-statue-case.html (last visited Mar 4, 2013).


Art Forger Ken Perenyi gets the CBS Sunday Morning Treatment

Feb 22, 2013

Good luck!



To all the teams and judges at this weekend's Cultural heritage moot court competition in Chicago, sponsored by De Paul and the LCCHP.

Feb 14, 2013

One report links drugs and antiquities smuggling in Texas

This report from a local Dallas news station details yet another example of how illicit networks piggyback off each other. We know that in Italy antiquities smugglers used other illegal and grey networks to smuggle antiquities up into the freeports of Switzerland.

It comes as no surprise then that the illegal narcotics trade, a big problem on the border towns of the US and Mexico, has also opened up pathways for looted and stolen antiquities.

According to Homeland Security Investigations, thieves removed thousands of items from archaeological sites in the area of Northern Mexico near Big Bend National Park. Other artifacts were stolen during a museum heist in Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila, and smuggled across the border. “From here, they’d be just like drugs or any other stolen property," Stone said. "They’d be moved and transshipped to other locations." Undercover agents intercepted some of the items by infiltrating the smuggling ring. “We were able to set up some meetings and view these artifacts posing as buyers,” said Bill Fort, a Homeland Security Investigations agents who helped crack the case.

Here's the video report:


Feb 9, 2013

The Race to Reform in the American Museum Community

The DMA returned ownership of this red-figure krater (4th century BC)—
Italian officials allowed the piece to remain at the museum on loan
Max Anderson is leading the way towards reform in the American Museum Community. The Director of the Dallas Museum of Art has an OpEd in yesterday's Dallas Morning News responding to recent criticism in the New York Times of the decision by museums to return looted works of art. Here's the introduction to the piece:

Protecting the world’s cultural heritage is essential to all of us. Like the natural environment, the material record of the past is irreplaceable and easily damaged. Whether you live in a country rich in archaeological finds, or a country with curiosity to learn about the past, every citizen wants to protect archaeological sites from intentional or accidental destruction. And every scholar and museum professional wants to share our most complete understanding of the objects and beliefs that people treasured in the past. The illicit trade of these objects is responsible for one of the largest international black markets, and the destruction of archaeological sites is often the result. It is not museum purchases that have been fueling the damage in recent years: As a result of strict, self-imposed guidelines, those acquisitions have slowed to a trickle over the last decade. However, private purchases are not subject to such guidelines and take place invisibly. Additionally, the construction of public works, from roads to buildings, causes undocumented harm to historic sites every day around the globe, not to mention accidental discoveries on private property, quickly hidden or destroyed. Natural disasters and armed conflict also take their toll on the world’s cultural heritage.

With this and other statements, Anderson is distinguishing himself and his institution from the old days of optical due diligence and the acquire-at-all-costs attitude of so many other American museums. Those policies have slowly been reformed, bu many still cling to that old idea, that these museums should acquire beautiful objects, despite the looting and theft which brought them to a shady international market. I hope that more and more museums look for more creative and sustainable means of acquisitions in the way Anderson has done. Nations of origin and foreign museums really do need each other. Now the mark of a great museum is not how many ancient objects it can acquire— in the past Anderson has called this lust for acquisition the desire to make museums 'treasure houses'. Instead cooperators with nations like Italy will find collaborative relationships and long-term loans in exchange for cooperation in returning looted objects. Rather than hoard the ill-gotten acquisitions of the past, I think museums will find themselves working quickly to get at the head of the collaborative line with these nations. Anderson's opinion piece, and the recent nudge towards reform in the AAMD guidelines are the most recent indication of what one hopes will be a positive shift.


  1. Maxwell Anderson, Giving back art — how museums see it, Dallas News, Feb. 8, 2013.

Feb 7, 2013

Call for Presenters, ARCA's 5th Annual Conference, June 21-23, Amelia Italy

Association for Research into Crimes against Art 
5th Annual Conference, June 22-23, 2013, Amelia Italy
Call for Presenters

Aims of the Conference

The conference brings together experts and practitioners to examine crimes against art in all its forms—theft, looting, destruction, and fraud. Presenters are welcome from any allied fields which touch on art crime, including: law, criminology, law enforcement, security, art history, archaeology, conservation, journalism, and any other relevant field. Presenters are grouped into thematic panels of 3-4 speakers. Each speaker will be strictly limited to a 20 minute period, with ample time for questions at the conclusion of each panel, to allow for a lively and engaging conference.

The conference is held in the beautiful town of Amelia, in the heart of Umbria, Italy. The conference will include a cocktail reception on Friday, June 21 at an elegant palazzo, as well as an awards dinner on Saturday evening, to honor recipients of ARCA’s annual awards for scholarship, lifetime service, art security and recovery, and policing.

To submit a proposal or to attend:

Please contact me at Derek.fincham@artcrimeresearch.org

Presentation submissions should include a short title which summarizes the main idea of your presentation, and a longer but still concise summary of your proposed presentation topic.

There is a small fee to offset the cost of the cocktail and conference dinner, but there is no registration fee for the conference. Please contact Dr. Fincham if you plan on attending, as we can put you in touch with Monica Di Stefano, ARCA’s accommodations director in Amelia who can direct you to suitable accommodation and assist with travel arrangements. We regret that, as a small non-profit, we have very limited travel funds available to assist presenters or attendees.

Jan 28, 2013

Reactions to Hugh Eakin's Anti-repatriation NYT Op-Ed

A recent looter's pit in Cerveteri
I'm not sure who is editing the New York Times Sunday Review, but this Sunday's piece by Hugh Eakin contained a stunning array of factual inaccuracies. To pick a passage:

Since 2006, more than 100 statues, bronzes, vases, mosaics and other works have left public collections in the United States. Among them was the Euphronios krater, depicting a scene from the “Iliad,” which awed visitors to the Met for decades, and a rare limestone and marble statue of a Greek goddess, which the Getty purchased for $18 million in 1988. In nearly every case, the museums have not been compelled by any legal ruling to give up the art, nor are they receiving compensation for doing so. And while a few of the returned works have been traced to particular sites or matched with other fragments residing in the claimant country, many of them have no known place of origin.

Eakin may not know, but these returns, particularly from the Getty, were accompanied by corresponding loans heading in the other direction. The bronze "Chimera of Arrezzo" is hardly nothing.

No mention is made of breaking up the once-called "Getty Goddess" to transport in the trunk of a car; nor the destruction of context. Having seen a looters pit and visiting these sites must I think cause any thinking person to change his or her views of the proper place for looted objects. Moreover, museums are repositories of works of art and cultural objects, but not at the expense of the rule of law. Eakin's false claim that these objects were not returned with the benefit of a legal ruling breezes over the unassailable fact that many of these institutions have been challenged in court, and in many cases museums return objects well in advance of a legal ruling or claim lest their own curatorial staff be subject to criminal prosecution in the United States or abroad. Not every return can be so casually dismissed as museums making up evidence of theft and looting. It would be a bizarre legal system that said that so long as a murder occurs and the perpetrator can hop off to another country, the defendant should get off free and clear. But that's the casual indifference displayed by Eakin. Here are a few other reactions.

Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO notes that Eakin hasn't been speaking with anyone in Rome:

Having just spent last Thursday, January 24th at the round table symposium at the Villa Giulia hosted by Alfonsina Russo, Superintendent Archaeologist for Southern Etruria, in reviewing the work conducted in these contentious cases over the last 15+ years I can assure you that extortion is not, nor has it ever been, a nefarious motive in seeking the return of Italy’s looted antiquities. Italy’s motive, if it can be summed-up in a simple statement, is to preserve and protect the country’s antiquities for all its generations and in doing so, by recording objects in their discovered contexts, expanding upon our knowledge of the ancient world.
David Gill also notes that just because we don't see a lawsuit filed doesn't mean the possibility wasn't mentioned to recalcitrant museums:

He suggests that foreign governments have been threatening legal action over the return of antiquities. But I suspect that major museums have been secretly relieved to avoid that course of action. I do not know if Eakin has seen the photographic and documentary archives, but the thought of this material being unpacked in a courtroom where every image would be analysed in the media is one that would probably make the blood of most museum directors run cold. It is sufficient to say that Italy has probably claimed less than 1% of the objects in the photographic archives. This suggests great restraint, understanding and flexibility from the Italian authorities. But it also calls for flexibility from the North American museum community.
Rick St. Hilaire notes that stolen property cannot be lawfully retained:

Waiting for a court order to demand the repatriation of stolen or smuggled artifacts when potential settlement options are available disrespects the rule of law and undercuts a museum’s reputation. Attorneys, museum directors and trustees, museum donors, the general public, and the courts likely would not support the courtroom clashes resulting from "The Great Giveback's" call to legal arms. Museums are highly respected, and there is an expectation that they will "do the right thing" by finding acceptable legal solutions before initiating or inviting litigation that might result in the forced return of stolen or smuggled property.
Lee Rosenbaum also notes the problems with reality in Eakin's argument and rightfully argues it should have been ignored had it not graced the pages of the Grey Lady on Sunday:

Since Eakin has extensively covered the Cultural Property Wars in pieces for many publications, his misstatements and distortions regarding repatriations are likely to have been either deliberate or indicative of how much he has forgotten about what he once knew. A third possibility is that he is prone to blanket statements that he believes to be true but hasn’t adequately researched.

  1. Hugh Eakin, The Great Giveback, The New York Times, January 26, 2013, at 12.
A sample of some other essays from my own files demonstrate Eakin's view has changed very little:

  1. Hugh Eakin, What Went Wrong at the Getty, New York Review of Books, June 23, 2011, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/what-went-wrong-getty/?pagination=false (last visited Jun 6, 2011).
  2. Hugh Eakin, Italy Focuses on a Princeton Curator in an Antiquities Investigation, The New York Times, June 2, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/03/arts/design/03curator.html?pagewanted=all (last visited Jun 3, 2010).
  3. Hugh Eakin, Who Should Own the World’s Antiquities?, The New York Review of Books, May 14, 2009, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/may/14/who-should-own-the-worlds-antiquities/ (last visited Aug 27, 2011).
  4. Randy Kennedy & Hugh Eakin, Met Chief, Unbowed, Defends Museum’s Role, The New York Times, February 28, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/28/arts/28mont.html (last visited Aug 26, 2011).
  5. Randy Kennedy & Hugh Eakin, The Met, Ending 30-Year Stance, Is Set to Yield Prized Vase to Italy, The New York Times, February 3, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/03/arts/03muse.html&ref=euphronioskrater (last visited May 4, 2011).


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