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.

Nov 14, 2006

Goya Stolen


The New York Sun reported last night that a 1778 work by Francisco de Goya, Children With Cart, pictured here, was stolen near Scranton, Penn. It was being transported to The Guggenheim for an exhibit on Spanish Painting. The FBI is investigating, and has offered a reward of $50,000. The painting is valued at about $1.1 million. The work had been housed at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. It looks to be from his earlier career, before the lead in his paint may have caused his deafness, which resulted in some fantastically-bizarre works.

Why was this work stolen? Surely, the market for the work is quite small, as nobody will be able to claim good faith in buying or selling the work. The thieves may be attempting to ransom the work back to the museum. Criminal penalties are far lower for kidnapping a work of art than they would be for, say, kidnapping a person. The other possibility is that a wealthy collector may have requested it stolen for her own private collection. Some have termed this hypothetical theft-on-demand the Dr. No possibility. If the work is returned, look for it to gain in notoriety.

Nov 13, 2006

Germany Unhappy with the State of Restitution



Apparently, the German Government is considering its options about how best to deal with art sold by or confiscated from Jews under the Nazis the Sydney Morning Herald reports today. This comes in the wake of the record sale at Christie's last week, in which a number of returned works
helped fuel the market. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has summoned culture ministers and museum directors to discuss overhauling the restitution law. This was a predictable development, especially considering the fabulous sums of money these works are getting on the market.

I postulated last week, that something does not quite seem right about the heirs of these works profitting so handsomely off works which had been hanging in German and Austrian museums. Another factor which may be fueling these discussions, is the news that the City of Berlin is in dire financial straits, and may have to sell some of its cultural buildings or works. When Berlin was essentially two cities, it maintained separate concert halls and museums, but since reunification, the city has too many cultural institutions for its budget. This museum is the Sammlung Berggruen, which houses many impressionist and post-impressionist works.

Nov 12, 2006

Greek Investigation


I'm a bit late on this story, but on Tuesday, the Greek Culture Minister, George Voulgarakis issued a statement calling an antiquities ring investigation one of the most "complex in recent memory". The bust came on the small island of Schinoussa, pictured here. It's one of many islands in the Aegean, which has historically had some notoriety for being a haven for pirates and other criminals.

The original discovery came in April of this year. There are indications that this investigation may have some links to the trial of Marion True, who is on trial in Rome on charges of conspiring to traffic in stolen antiquities. The raid turned up a wealth of objects, including the ancient, early Christian, and byzantine eras. The owner of the villa is Despina Papadimitriou, a member of a prominent Greek shipping family whose late brother, Christos Michailidis, was an antiquities dealer. Another house was searched, on a neighboring island,which was owned by Marion True.

The outcome of this investigation remains to be seen. However, it does reiterate, at least anecdotally, the size of the illicit market in antiquities.

Nov 10, 2006

Italy in Negotiations with the Getty Museum


Yesterday's New York Times has an interesting article regarding Italy's negotiations with the Getty museum for the return of Italian antiquities. One of the objects at issue is this 5th Century B.C. limestone statue of Aphrodite which the Getty acquired in 1988.

The negotiations are part of an aggressive strategy Italy seems to be implementing with respect to policing and repatriating its antiquities. The so-called Getty trial is currently underway in Rome, and Italy also recently signed an agreement with Switzerland, one of the traditional transit states for Italian antiquities.

Italy wants the return of 52 objects currently in the Getty collection, which Italy alleges were illicitly excavated. I think a sign of the testiness of the negotiations is the way the Times prefaced a quote from an inside source familiar with the negotiations:

People close to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern that their remarks could arouse personal antagonism and jeopardize the talks, say the Getty has made it clear that it is prepared to return about two dozen objects on the list.
If the items were in fact illicitly excavated, Italy may be able to get the Getty to return at least some of the objects, as it's really bad publicity for the Getty overall. I'm just speculating here, but they may want to wait until the conclusion of the trial before they return the objects, and that's when I would expect a deal to emerge (much in the same way a President may boot an unpopular Secretary of Defense). We should remember, though, that much of the damage has already been done. When this statue was excavated, it was embedded in a wealth of archaeological information, what is often referred to as context. When this object was dug up, that context was almost certainly destroyed. Also, the Getty didn't excavate these objects, though they did pay a substantial sum for them. Italy's argument is that these funds support the illicit excavators and unscrupulous dealers, so this kind of transaction should be reversed, to prevent future destruction. This is a tenuous disincentive though, and one of the reasons why tackling the illicit trade in cultural property is so difficult.

At this point, the Italy-Getty negotiations seem very similar to the Greece-British Museum arguments regarding the Parthenon Marbles. However there is one marked difference: this sale only occurred within the last 20 years, while the Parthenon Marbles have been in Britain for closer to 200 years.

10 arrested in Agrigento, Italy

Agenzia Giornalistica Italia reported on Nov. 6 that 12 arrest warrants were issued, and 10 arrests were carried out for art theft and kidnapping.

The arrests occurred in Agrigento, on the island of Sicily. The island, of course, is notorious for its beautiful Greek and Roman heritage, and also for its ties to organized crime.

The image is of the temple of Dioscurio, located near Agrigento. The city is one of the poorest in Italy, despite its incredibly rich archaeological heritage. This may be an example of the Italian authorities cracking down on illicit excavation. I haven't been able to find any more information on the arrests, but when I do, I'll post it here.

Nov 9, 2006

$491 million


Christie's yesterday shattered the previous auction record with its sale of post-impressionist works the New York Times reports today. The previous record was $269 million. Of the sale, about $125 million involved the sale of recently repatriated works which were looted by the Nazies during World War II. Before the sale, five of them were hanging in museums.

Christie's does a good job of making these auctions a spectacle. I've never seen one firsthand, but they must be quite a show. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the way many of the buyers are secret. We may never know who purchased some of these works. Certainly, we cannot argue that the heirs of holocaust victims are entitled to the return of works that was taken from them during the war. However, looking at the end result, are we all better off having these Klimt's in a wialthy benefactor's living room? I don't think so. In my view courts should do a better job of fashioning compromise between nations and claimants.

The image is by Hiroko Masuike, for the New York Times. Other images are available here.

Picasso Pulled

The Picasso I discussed yesterday was removed from auction today, even after a Federal District Court Judge dismissed the claimant's suit. Apparently he brought suit in NY State Court today. At first blush, I don't think he has much of a case. We will see how accommodating the NY courts will be though, I suppose.

Nov 8, 2006

Sale of Picasso's "The Absinthe Drinker" may be halted

Christie's may have a difficult time breaking the single-auction record today. The Art Newspaper reports the auction house is considering removing the work from the sale. Andrew Lloyd Webber was attempting to sell the work, estimated at $60 million, with the proceeds going to charity. The work, from Picasso's blue period, was also the subject of a Federal District Court Case, dismissed yesterday.

The dismissal has not been published yet on Lexis, but the New York Times has an overview of the claimant's case. Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed the claims because the federal law dealing with Holocaust restitution was inapplicable in this case. I'm not an expert on holocaust litigation, so I'm not sure which law the NYT is talking about. Apparently, the claimant has a case in New York state court however.

The claims seem tenuous to me at first blush. The plaintiff, Mr. Schoeps, is the heir of Paul von Mendelssohn-Barthold, a wealthy Berlin banker and art collector. He was forced to sell all his paintings as a result of Nazi persecution. The Nazi's didn't actually take the painting, but they seized his assets so that he had no choice but to sell the work. The ruling was just issued yesterday. I'll try to get my hands on the dismissal and look at the substance of the claims. To me, though, it seems like the claimant will have a very difficult time winning the case. We shouldn't underestimate the underlying equities of a case either, Lloyd Webber was selling the work in order to donate the proceeds to charity. Though Mr. Schoeps story is indeed a tragic one, I'm not sure he will be using the work, or its proceeds, in as charitable a manner.

Nov 7, 2006

Will Billboards help Return $300 Million in Stolen Art?


Over the weekend, the Boston Globe picks up a piece by London's Financial Times, that Eric Ives, head of the FBI's major theft unit, is considering using billboards to aid its investigation of the works stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. One of the works stolen includes this work, which is Rembrandt's only seascape. The total value of all of the works has been estimated at $300 million. I've written about this theft before, in terms of a new documentary here. The best account of the theft I've found is Court TV's here.

Will Billboard's work? I'm not sure. They certainly can't hurt. The idea, I suppose, is for someone to catch a glimpse of these works and after seeing the billboard, alert the authorities. I'm not sure there would be much of a market for these works, as they are so widely known in the art world, that there would certainly be an impossibility of a good faith purchase. The law would not honor the sale because the buyers should know that these works have been stolen.

Fascinating theories abound, involving Boston Mafia and IRA members. Certainly, no one will be able to sell these works on any licit market, and if the thieves are caught, there may be a prosecution under the National Stolen Property Act if the transaction has a federal character (like crossing state lines for example). At this point, nearly 16 years after the theft, there does not seem to be any leads for the FBI Investigation, and a billboard campaign may serve to renew interest in the theft.

Nov 4, 2006

Repatriation Fuelling the Art Market

In today's New York Times, another article on how the art market is booming. One of the reasons has been the recent repatriation of art looted by the Nazis in World War II. I discussed the Klimt's earlier this week, but there are also works by Kirchner, Vuillard and Picasso.

This remains an interesting issue. When courts and commentators speak of repatriation, it is often done so in terms of how these pieces of art have been taken during the war, and how they should be returned to the heirs of the original owners. An unacknowledged issue though, is how valuable these works are. There value can be so high, that its simply not economically feasible for the current claimants to hold on to them, and they end up auctioning them. Perhaps instead of simply awarding title to the paintings, courts may want to fashion compromises. They could agree to a fractional ownership scheme, allowing a claimant to hold on to the work for a certain part of the year for example. Or they could agree to a one-time payoff. In the United States, replevin actions are the primary mechanism which claimants use to seek the return of works of art. However, ownership disputes spanning 60 years are not always easily solved by awarding title to one party or another. A better solution may be a compromise between the parties.

Nov 2, 2006

Record price for Pollock's No. 5, 1948?


The New York Times reports today that David Geffen may have sold a drip painting by Jackson Pollock for $140 million dollars yesterday. The price has yet to be officially confirmed, but may indicate that the art market is currently booming, which seems in line with the potential for Christie's to set a record auction next week.

It seems Geffen may be unloading his art collection in a bid to purchase the LA Times. The price would exceed the $135 million Ronald S. Lauder paid for a Klimt last year.

Nov 1, 2006

An Exhibit of Stolen Art in Rome


A new art exhibit in Rome will display 100 works of art that the Italian Art Squad, the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protect Unit, have recovered in recent years. The exhibition will take place at the Palazzo Incontro, (Meeting Palace).

It is often said that if we could gather all of the stolen works of art into one museum, it would be the world's finest collection of art. That claim is of course quite far-fetched and nearly impossible to quantify, but perhaps this exhibition will illustrate how much art is being lost.

The exhibition, titled "Stolen art, the return" includes Young girl with red stockings by Amedeo Modigliane (pictured here) which was stolen from its private owner in the 1990's, and has never been publicly displayed. Other works include two paintings by Francesco Barbieri, known as il Guercino. Also, an artifact called the "Ivory Face" uses a technique called chryselephantine which combines Ivory and Gold. Its age and provenance are unknown however, illustrating how much context can be lost when illicit excavation takes place.

The exhibition is quite remarkable, and a very shrewd move by the art squad. It is a very tangible expression of how many works are being lost, and how a well-funded and committed police force can limit the illicit trade in these works.

Kingsland Update

Antiques and The Arts Online has a piece about the Kingsland auction. It seems Kingsland may have been a student at Harvard. Also, there were some 400 paintings in his 1-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Sounds suspicious to me. The City of New York and the Stair Gallery should have perhaps known that something was not quite right about the situation.

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