Dec 22, 2006

The "Gross Clinic" Will Stay in Philadelphia


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

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

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

Dec 21, 2006

New Legal Issues in Museum Administration Course

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

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


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

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

"The game is over..."


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

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

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

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

Burns Mummies For Sale


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

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

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

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

(Image: Sun photo by Andre F. Chung)

Work Returned to the Hermitage


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

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

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

Dec 20, 2006

Mayor Street Drops Historic Status


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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 19, 2006

The Monument Men

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

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

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

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

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

Greek Archbishop asks Pope Benedict for a piece of the Acropolis

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

Dec 18, 2006

Who is Noah Charney?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 15, 2006

Italy's Carabinieri Strike Again


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

German Police Recover a Carl Spitzweg



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

Dec 14, 2006

Display of Afghan Antiquities in Paris



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

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

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

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

The "Gross Clinic" featured on NPR

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

Iraq Challenges a German Auction


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

Dec 13, 2006

Italy Reclaims Two Antiquities



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

Dec 12, 2006

Hermitage Theft Thwarted

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

Dec 11, 2006

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



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

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

Getty Set to Return Gold Funerary Wreath? (UPDATED)

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

Dec 8, 2006

UN General Assembly Adopts a Greek Cultural Property Resolution


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

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

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

Dec 7, 2006

Donny George hired at Stony Brook University


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

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

English Shipyard added to American Civil War Discovery trail


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

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

Dec 4, 2006

Venture Capitalists fuelling Nazi restitution claims?


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

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

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

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


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

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

Dec 2, 2006

More Thoughts on the Sale of the Gross Clinic


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

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

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

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

Dec 1, 2006

Builder Arrested in Spain


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

Theodore Roosevelt's Gun

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

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

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