Sep 29, 2007

Export Problems


Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper has an excellent story on the apparent export-bungling by Christie's and UK authorities of this
£3m Rubens masterpiece. The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta was granted a temporary export permit for 5 days to allow it to be displayed in New York. The work sold in London on December 2005 for £3,144,000 to an anonymous New York buyer. It was then re-exported after the sale.

In a statement to the Art Newspaper Christie's said:

Our policy is to adhere strictly to all applicable laws and standard processes for the international transport of works of art. In the exceptional case of The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta, a human error led to the accidental shipping of the picture to a client without completion of the appropriate export licensing process. Christie’s regrets the error and are co-operating fully on this matter with all relevant authorities to rectify this situation.
Some error. One would think a work of this magnitude would be double checked. Christie's is subject to criminal penalties, and the New York buyer must be upset as well. Incredibly the Export Reviewing Committee flew to New York to examine the work and has deemed it of Waverley quality. A fundraising effort may now begin.

It's uncertain whether the funds can be raised (as there are other works which need to be matched) or even if the New York buyer would consider selling the work. If she does not, the work will have certainly lost value, and I'd anticipate Christie's would be subject to a civil suit brought by the buyer. Though the work cannot be recovered because the US does not enforce the UK export restrictions, it will not be able to be sold or even travel to Europe in all likelihood. Both Christie's and HMS Customs have come out looking

The GAO takes the Smithsonian to Task


Many have argued that a compelling case can be made that art and antiquities should be displayed in market nations in the developed world because they are better preserved there than they might be if returned to source nations which are often underdeveloped. The GAO report which James Grimaldi highlights in today's Washington Post seriously undermines such arguments. It reveals a troubling picture of what should be America's proudest cultural institution. Instead a picture of staggering institutional incompetence is revealed:

  • Alarms ring and guards are unable to respond;
  • A water leak in the Sackler Gallery could have destroyed artwork worth half a billion;
  • Fossils were stolen from display cases at the Natural History Museum;
  • Plastic sheets are required to protect Native American artifacts from damage;

Sep 26, 2007

Klimt Dispute


In another spoliation story in today's NY Times, A grandson of a woman who died in the Holocaust may be considering legal or other claims for this work, Blooming Meadow (1906) by Gustav Klimt. Georges Jorish is considering legal claims or seeking a settlement. It seems the impetus for the new claims is the publication of another catalogue raisonné, this one by Alfred Weidinger which states the painting belonged to Jorisch's grandmother.

The work now belongs to Leonard Lauder, who purchased the work in 1983. Wouldn't a legal claim have expired under the statute of limitations? Probably not. New York is one of the most generous jurisdictions in the world for original owners. A limitations period won't begin to run in New York until a demand and refusal has been made. Other legal defenses may be available to Lauder if the claimant delayed, but here it seems Jorisch is considering a claim after new information.

Another Dutch Holocaust Claim


Four heirs of art dealer Nathan Katz have brought a claim for 227 works recovered in German at the end of World War II reports Marlise Simons in todays NY Times. Among the contested works is this painting by Salomon van Ruysdael, Horsefair at Valkenburg. The claim was made public Friday, just as the Dutch were moving to discourage new restitution claims.

These restitution disputes are ill-suited to an adversarial litigation process with one winner and one loser as is the current situation in the United States. Professor Norman Palmer has persuasively made this case in the UK, while Jennifer Anglim Kreder has proposed an interesting idea. She makes a great case for an International Tribunal for dealing with Nazi-Looted Art. It's forthcoming in the Brooklyn Law Review, an early version is up on SSRN. In the Netherlands the claims are studied by the Restitution Commission which advises the government on the return of objects lost or stolen when the Germans invaded in WWII.

Here's an excerpt of the NYT story:

Although the Dutch government in exile had decreed that citizens could not trade with the enemy, many Dutch art dealers, both Jews and non-Jews, sold works to eager German collectors, who circulated wish lists in the first few years of the war. Dutch traditional painting was sought after, because the Nazis did not consider it “degenerate” art.

After the war the Dutch government returned 28 paintings that the Katz brothers had claimed. Among them was Rembrandt’s “Portrait of a Man,” believed to have been used to buy their mother’s freedom.

Evelien Campfens, a member of the Restitution Commission in The Hague, said the claim of the Katz heirs would “be a complex case, with many different aspects to it: it will take time.” She said that the Katz brothers were important dealers involved in many transactions, and that many important paintings had passed through their hands.

Sep 24, 2007

Know What you Want Before you Lawyer Up


I'm just catching up with this story, but I think its a fascinating dispute. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) has won its suit against artist Christoph Buchel, and is free to display a massive unfinished work "Training Ground for Democracy". Federal District court judge Ponser ruled Friday the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) does not prevent the display of the unfinished work. The Boston Globe has a good overview of the case.

VARA gives artists the right, in some circumstances, to prevent unauthorized distortion or mutilation of the work. The judge ruled the work hasn't been distorted, because it's not finished. It seems there was some kind of falling out between Mass MoCA and Buchel. The museum then brought suit to gain the right to display the unfinished work.

What strikes me about this case, is the tendency to see litigation as a cure-all. You can win a lawsuit and still come out a loser. A good lawyer encourages a client to think about what the end result will be, even if they earn a court victory. I don't know what the museum sought to gain by initiating a suit against Buchel, but they have certainly damaged their reputation among artists. What are they gaining by displaying a work the artist himself wants nothing to do with?

There is a lot of great commentary which tries to answer that question.

  • Donn Zaretsky, Buchel's counsel, has been posting his thoughts at the excellent Art Law blog. He expresses disappointment at the result, as "if you can't read VARA to prevent [what NY Times reporter Roberta Smith calls an opening which has 'broken faith with the artist, the public and art itself'], you're not trying hard enough. So needless to say, we were very disappointed by the result of Friday's hearing in Springfield."
  • Mike Madison argues the judge probably made the right decision, as a "work of visual art" only exists when a work is fully realized and finished. In essence it can't be distorted because it's not a work yet. He also points out the claim may have more to do with trademark, and that's essentially the remedy the judge provided: the work can be displayed but only with a disclaimer.
  • Lee Rosenbaum notes Judge Ponser was "extremely moved" by the installation, and found it "very powerful". She argues MASS MoCA should show the installation for a week, recoup the $300,000 it invested and move on.
  • Ed Winkelman argues the result was the product of two unfortunate decisions. First was the decision by the museum to take the issue to court, "what's the core message here? Money invested trumps artistic vision?" And second, the legal decision was "a hair-splitting technocratic decision that ignores the spirit of the law".

Upcoming Conferences

Next week in London the American Bar Association will be holding its fall international meeting. On Thursday, from 4-5.30 there will be a panel discussion on the International Movement of Art & Cultural Property:

Customs/Trade
Public International Law

Museums around the globe confront numerous obstacles in dealing with claims made on the art works and cultural objects in their collections. In some cases, works may have been placed on loan years ago and a museum may not know the current owner or may be presented with a claim to restore the works to the lender. Museums must also safeguard the ownership rights of victims of theft, including nations whose antiquities have been illegally excavated and removed and Holocaust victims and their heirs whose art properties were stolen during World War II. Finally, works on loan may be claimed to satisfy judgments received against the owner. In the United States, the ability of museums to remove art works from their collections through deaccessioning depends on laws that vary from state to state. The problem is more complicated in countries where museums are prohibited by law to remove any works from their collections. This panel will address issues of deaccessioning, long-term loans, and return guarantees for works on international loan and consider policies that may lead to greater cooperation in this complicated area of international law.

Co-Sponsoring Committees:

Europe Committee International Commercial Transactions, Franchising, and Distribution Committee, International Intellectual Property Committee , Information Services, Technology, and Data Protection Committee, Immigration and Naturalization Law Committee, and Financial Products and Services Committee

Program Chair:
Cristian DeFrancia, Legal Adviser, Iran - United States Claims Tribunal, The Hague, Netherlands

Moderator:
Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Chief Prosecutor, Grafton County, Concord, New Hampshire

Speakers:

Lawrence M. Shindell, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ARIS Corporation, Milwaukee, WI
Norman Palmer, Rowe & Maw Professor of Commercial Law, Faculty of Laws, University College, London, England
Patty Gerstenblith, Professor, DePaul University College of Law, Chicago, IL
Bonnie Czegledi, Founder, Czegledi Art Law, Toronto, Canada


A likely topic for discussion may be the new consultation paper on Draft Regulations for the Museums and Galleries of Information for the Purposes of Immunity from Seizure Under Part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.

Another conference will be taking place at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign April 24-25, 2008. It looks beyond the law at how heritage is constructed, and sounds fascinating. Here are the details:

CONTESTED CULTURAL HERITAGE IN A GLOBAL WORLD

Thursday and Friday, April 24-25, 2008
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Program

Spurlock Museum and the Collaborative for Cultural Heritage and Museum Practices (CHAMP) have organized a major conference on "Contested Cultural Heritage" to be held at the Museum on Friday, April 25, 2008. Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, former Director of the Iraq National Museum and now Visiting Professor at the State University of New York-Stony Brook, will deliver the keynote address of the conference ("Mayhem in Mesopotamia" on April 24).

The conference brings together an international group of scholars to discuss how forces of religion and nationalism may act to heighten inter-group tension around heritage claims, even to the point of causing the destruction of ancient and historic sites. Among the cases to be considered are the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan; Christian and Muslim conflict resolution at a major mosque in Cordoba, Spain; different views and practices toward the indigenous past among Native Americans and the archaeologists who study their ancestors; the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles debate; Egypt's demand for the return of the Bust of Nefertiti; heritage frictions implicated in the recent Balkans War; Peru's attempt to repatriate the Machu Picchu collections from Yale University; and the aggressive marking of Protestant and Catholic identities in Belfast, Northern Ireland through wall art. A roundtable discussion at the end of the conference seeks to chart new directions for implementing policies that lessen the negative dimensions of cultural heritage and further awareness of its value for a larger public, thereby promoting site preservation as well as social/political harmony.

Sep 22, 2007

Endangered Species and Antiquities

Ben Macintyre has an excellent article in today's TimesOnline, Elephants: the way to beat looters. He begins by describing looting taking place in Iraq:

Iraq has become a looter’s paradise, and history’s worst nightmare. The ancient sites of Mesopotamia, the very cradle of civilisation, are subjected to daily plunder. Friezes from the walls of the Assyrian city of Hatra are sawn off using stonecutters. Entire Sumerian cities have been erased from history by organised looters armed with guns and diggers, hacking down to bedrock and extracting everything of value: pottery, sculptures, bottles, anything that can make a buck on the international market. From the air, the ancient sites look like the surface of the moon, pitted and cratered.
The destruction has been well-documented, but Macintyre ties the trend to looting which takes place elsewhere, in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He sees promise in comparing the looting of sites with smuggled antiquities:

[A]rchaeologists are turning to the lessons of wildlife conservation in their efforts to protect the world’s most threatened sites. The answer to the plague of looting may lie with the endangered elephant.

Looters of ancient sites are operating in precisely the same way as poachers hunting elephant, rhino or apes: ivory, rhino horn and bush meat attain their value by a combination of illegality and rarity. One solution may be to treat ancient sites as, in effect, protected wildlife preserves, which visitors pay to visit just as they pay to see rare animals in their natural surroundings.

Our attitudes towards rare animals have altered radically. Rather than capture them for zoos, or kill and mount them on our walls, we prefer to see them in game reserves, preserved as nearly as possible in a state of nature. The same should apply to the relics of history. Where once ancient relics were the preserve of museums, today we also want to see them, with others of their kind, in context.

I think that's exactly right, and there are at least three very interesting ideas playing out here.

First, as I see it, to prevent looting in source nations requires three components: a respect for cultural heritage among the locals, an effective legal framework which encourages compliance, and sufficient enforcement resources. The absence of any one of these allows an illicit trade; and all three are lacking in Iraq.

Second, the comparison between endangered species and antiquities is interesting. The two trades are a study in contrast though. The multilateral framework regulating wild animals works on a tiered system of protection under CITES. The multilateral protection of antiquities under the relevant UNESCO and UNIDROIT Conventions does not work nearly as well. Part of the reason may be the way the public views both problems. Broadly speaking if you see an endangered animal in a zoo, I think you get a visceral reaction at seeing a wild animal penned up. I don't think you get the same kind of reaction when you see an antiquity in a museum, because you cannot tell by looking at a vase or sculpture if it was properly excavated or looted in most cases.

Third, and most interesting is the idea of heritage tourism. This has been successful in many countries, and is a great way to encourage locals to respect and preserve their heritage. It's benefits are potentially long-range, but there are risks and drawbacks. As Macintyre points out, this may not be an option for Iraqis if the current theft and destruction continues.

Sep 21, 2007

Arrests in Italy

From UPI, Italian authorities have arrested a group of antiquities smugglers. Based on the description of the goods, I wonder if a portion of these objects were destined for a domestic sale in Italy to Italians. Not all of the antiquities trade is international, and adequate regulation begins with the source nations themselves. Italy is the model, as its cultural policy is perhaps the most comprehensive and, more importantly, successful. Here's an excerpt:

ROME, Sept. 20 Police have foiled a scheme to sell millions of dollars worth of artifacts plundered from historic sites throughout Italy.
Investigators prevented a group of art traffickers from selling the stolen property, which included thousands of priceless objects bought from tomb raiders, the Italian news agency ANSA reported Thursday.
The coins, lamps, funerary objects and other ancient artifacts were believed to have been transported through the Republic of San Marino, where they were assigned fake provenance documents.
Among the 26 people charged in the operation was a 60-year-old Italian dealer from England who was caught just as he was about to cross the Italian border into Austria. "This is an amazing haul and proof that we are intensifying our efforts to stamp out illicit trading in antiquities," said General Ugo Zottin, head of the Carabinieri's special unit for protecting Italy's cultural heritage. "We got to the traffickers as they were about to move the objects through various outlets in Verona, Bolzano and Rimini -- some of them quite respectable establishments."



Sep 20, 2007

HM Customs Arrest

"Certain export controls are put in place to protect our country's cultural heritage"

-Customs Director of Operations Euan Stewart

I saw via the Museum Security Network that a British art dealer has been arrested in connection with the illegal export of paintings valued at $34 million. One of the works is this 17th century painting Portrait of an Artist by Michiel van Musscher.

My question is why? The government put a temporary export ban on the work in 2006 because it was of "outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance for the study of Dutch art and painting techniques." But no funds were raised and an export license was granted. The work was then sold to the Prince of Liechtenstein Hans-Adam II. What's the problem? The wire story doesn't give any details, and it seems the customs spokesperson refused to comment further.

I think the arrest may reveal troubling shortcomings with UK export restrictions. The art dealer must have been attempting to defraud either the ultimate buyer or the Waverley system in one of two ways.

He may have lied about the size of the offer on the table, making it harder for domestic fund-raising of matching funds.

Or he could have stated there was a buyer when there really was none.

This is possible because there is no requirement that the buyers of Waverley-quality objects disclose their identity. The lack of provenance and the secrecy surrounding art transactions continues to cause problems. It's a pity he tried to game the system, as the Waverley Criteria really are a model system. This kind of fraud must be thwarted for the system to work properly; and I would anticipate a new requirement into full disclosure to customs authorities will be the end result.

Sep 18, 2007

A Sad Day for Danes (UPDATE)


In a puzzling theft, Denmark's national treasure, copies of the already stolen and destroyed Golden horns of Gallehus were stolen early Monday morning. From AFP:

COPENHAGEN (AFP) — One of Denmark's national treasures, a set of two horns made in the 1800s, was stolen in the early hours of Monday, Danish police said. Called "Guldhornene" in Danish, or the Golden Horns, the pieces are silver replicas of two original gold horns made in 400 A.D. which were stolen in 1802 and destroyed. The replicas, with a thin gold coating, were on loan from the National Museum of Denmark for an exhibit in Jelling, near the central Danish town of Vejle, when they were stolen by thieves who smashed a display case.

Even though the works are replicas they are part of the country's cultural heritage, National Museum curator Carsten Larsen said.

The originals were discovered in the town of Gallehus in southern Denmark in 1639 before they went missing and were found again in 1734.

They were stolen in 1802 from the Royal Chamber of Art by an indebted jeweller, Niels Heidenreich, who melted the gold to make jewellery and counterfeit coins.

The horns are a national symbol known to all and have even inspired a famous poem penned by Danish writer Adam Oehenschlaeger. Experts said the thieves would not be able to sell the treasures. "The thieves cannot put them to any use whatsoever," said Michael Fornitz from Copenhagen's Bruun Rasmussen auction house. "Maybe they thought the horns were made of solid gold and thought they would melt them down. But they are gilded and do not have any intrinsic worth." He also shot down the idea that a collector could have ordered the theft. "Our experience shows that this hypothesis only exists in detective novels," he said. "Collectors are proud of showing off their acquisitions, not hiding them."

Danish police have meanwhile stepped up a search for the thieves who fled from the precincts in a Volvo V40, according to witnesses.

The thieves appear to have been ignorant of the true nature of the horns, or they were trying to make a political statement. The horns probably looked more valuable than they really are; or perhaps that's what the police are saying to try and convince the thieves to make a quick return. Wikipedia indicates the copies were made some time in the 1980's. It seems difficult to guess what the motive for the theft might have been.

UPDATE:

The horns have been recovered, and a press conference has been scheduled for this morning to give more details. From AFP:

COPENHAGEN (AFP) — One of Denmark's national treasures, a set of two horns made in the 1800s, was recovered by police Tuesday after being stolen in the early hours of Monday, local television station TV2Syd reported.

Police inspector Steen Edeling told the station in the central town of Vejle that the horns had been found. He did not give any details, but a press conference was to be held in Vejle at 0800 GMT Wednesday.

Sep 17, 2007

Yale and Peru Reach a "New Model" Agreement (UPDATE)


Randy Kennedy reports in today's NY Times that Yale University has agreed to return artifacts excavated by Hiram Bingham from Machu Picchu in 1912 and 1914. The parties called it a "new model of international cooperation providing for the collaborative stewardship of cultural and natural treasures." I think that's exactly right, and appears to be an exciting and beneficial compromise for all sides. See my earlier post on this dispute here.

Negotiations have been ongoing, but pressures in Peru and Peru's extremely rigid cultural patrimony laws made it difficult to work out a compromise. Talks broke down in 2006, and it was rumored Peru was considering legal action, though I didn't see any kind of tenable claim. It would have made headlines though.

What is the nature of the agreement? It looks to be a kind of lease which creates "an extensive collaborative relationship between Yale and Peru". Peru will receive title to all the objects, but many will remain in Connecticut. There will be an international traveling exhibition, and proceeds will help build a much-needed new museum and research center in Cuzco. Yale will also provide funds to establish a scholarly exchange program. As Yale president Richard C. Levin said, "We aim to create a new model for resolving competing interests in cultural property,... This can best be achieved by building a collaborative relationship — one which involves scholars and researchers from Yale and Peru — that serves science and human understanding." Compromise is often an easy policy solution to advocate, but with respect to cultural policy it's often the best solution.

UPDATE:

NPR's Morning Edition has a good story this morning where you can hear the comments of some of the parties.

Iraqi Cultural Heritage

In today's Independent Robert Fisk has a special investigation on Iraqi cultural heritage. It's an interesting account, though it gives only one side of the argument. I'm not sure what the special investigation was, he seems to be relying in large measure on one Lebanese archaeologist. Here's an excerpt:

In a long and devastating appraisal to be published in December, Lebanese archaeologist Joanne Farchakh says that armies of looters have not spared "one metre of these Sumerian capitals that have been buried under the sand for thousands of years.

"They systematically destroyed the remains of this civilisation in their tireless search for sellable artefacts: ancient cities, covering an estimated surface area of 20 square kilometres, which – if properly excavated – could have provided extensive new information concerning the development of the human race.

"Humankind is losing its past for a cuneiform tablet or a sculpture or piece of jewellery that the dealer buys and pays for in cash in a country devastated by war. Humankind is losing its history for the pleasure of private collectors living safely in their luxurious houses and ordering specific objects for their collection."

Ms Farchakh, who helped with the original investigation into stolen treasures from the Baghdad Archaeological Museum in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, says Iraq may soon end up with no history.

"There are 10,000 archaeological sites in the country. In the Nassariyah area alone, there are about 840 Sumerian sites; they have all been systematically looted. Even when Alexander the Great destroyed a city, he would always build another. But now the robbers are destroying everything because they are going down to bedrock. What's new is that the looters are becoming more and more organised with, apparently, lots of money.

"Quite apart from this, military operations are damaging these sites forever. There's been a US base in Ur for five years and the walls are cracking because of the weight of military vehicles. It's like putting an archaeological site under a continuous earthquake."

I'm afraid I have a pessimistic view of conflict and cultural property. Conflict always leads to theft and destruction. The activities of the US military in and around some of these archaeological sites is indeed troubling as I've written about before. But I have a bit of skepticism about the looting of sites. Is this something that only began after the Invasion in 2003? I'm not sure about the answer to that question. But though the 1954 Hague Convention is mentioned briefly, no mention is made of the efforts of Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, the import restrictions in the US and the UK on Iraqi objects, or any other efforts.

Moving Cultural Property


Alasdair Palmer has half a good article titled The greatest art should not be moving in yesterday's Telegraph. Why half? He only gives one view of the argument against transporting cultural property (though Italian Senator Paulo Amato surely agrees).

The background for the article is the exhibition at the British Museum of 20 terracotta figures from the grave of Chinese emperor Qin Shihuangdi. It is the largest number of these figures to ever leave China. Palmer does a good job of giving the argument against transporting works. But only by summarizing the work of Michael Daley and Michael Savage in the ArtWatch UK Journal, which I have been unable to track down.

Palmer cites the following:

In 1994 the Tate lent two Turners to a Frankfurt museum, but they were stolen and were not returned until a £2 million ransom was paid.

  • Canova's Three Graces developed a crack when it was transported to Madrid in 1998.
  • A Swiss Air jet carrying Picasso's Le Peintre was lost when a Swiss Air flight crashed off Nova Scotia.
  • Speculation exists that some of the 251 Assyrian objects the British Museum shipped to Shangai in 2006 were partially damaged.
  • The Goya which went missing last year is cited as well. Though it was incorrectly assumed it came from Spain. It was actually on its way from Cleveland. It was also recovered.

Those are some good examples of the drawbacks; but these traveling exhibitions do a great deal of good as well. It promotes cultural internationalism, improves access, allows institutions and source nations to raise funds. Most importantly traveling exhibitions allow for compromise between ardent cultural nationalists, and those who think art should be accessible internationally. There are right and wrong ways to go about it to be sure, and there are risks. But Palmer gives only half the picture, and even that is inaccurate. Perhaps the biggest inaccuracy: there are 1,000 of these figures excavated, and perhaps as many as 6,000 more which have yet to be unearthed. Are the risks of damage to a select few enough to outweigh the benefits? I think not.

Bucky Katt on Culture

Via Get Fuzzy

Sep 15, 2007

More on Antiquities Leasing




Can antiquities leasing form a good compromise between strict regulation, which can be counterproductive, and the cultural property trade? Tim Harford has an interesting article in Slate today, Rent-A-Treasure: How to Eliminate the Black Market in Stolen Antiquities. He talks more about the working paper Antiquities: Long-Term Leases as an Alternative to Export Bans, co-authored by Michael Kremer and Tom Wilkening. Kremer and Wilkening take an economic perspective and argue antiquities leasing is a better alternative to the current rigid regulation which ends up fostering a black market.

Leasing is an exciting idea as I've argued before; but not in every case. The Slate article does a good job of painting the problem in broad strokes, and traces the idea to the antiquities controversy which is probably the most widely known, the Parthenon Marbles. Some kind of sharing agreement between the British Museum and Greece might work in theory, but neither side would be willing to undergo such a compromise in my view. A better use of leasing would be in developing source nations in response to the illicit trade of today, not long-standing repatriation disputes. Source nation antiquities leasing could produce revenue, foster international appreciation, all while objects are still under the control of the source nation

The first mention of the idea, that I am aware, came in 1993 by Nusin Asgari. The former head of the Antiquities Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, argued that ten-year loan agreements between major museums might reduce the temptation to acquire antiquities illicitly. (Suna Erdem, New Trojan War Highlights Pillage of Turkey's Past, Reuters, Oct. 13, 1993, available in LEXIS, News Library, Curnws File).

There are a few versions of this idea in practice, including the blockbuster King Tut exhibition, which I would venture to say was more about showing off the gold than anything else, and that seemed to be Tyler Cowen's take as well.

But a far better example is the Menil Collection Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum in Houston, pictured here. The frescoes were stolen during the Turkish occupation of Cyprus in the 1980's. With the permission of the Church of Cyprus, the Menil Foundation agreed to a long-term lease and restoration. This is a far better example than the King Tut exhibition, which seemed far more concerned with earning revenue than education or conisseurship. I haven't seen the chapel in Houston, but the final product looks stunning. It's an example of what the antiquities market can and should produce, and everyone wins.

There was also a great deal of uproar over Lynne Munson's criticism over the National Geographic Society's deal with Afghanistan to display the Bactrian gold, which I talked about here. Are folks aware of other good, or bad antiquities leasing schemes? I'd be very interested to know, if you would care to share them in the comments section.

Sep 14, 2007

The Rape of Europa

This new film, "The Rape of Europa" is just being released in New York this week, and should start to make the art house circuit soon. Metacritic seems to be giving the film good marks so far.

It details the spoliation by the Nazis, and the efforts of allied soldiers known as the monument men to track down the works. The theft was on such a grand scale that the issues are still fresh today. Poland and Germany have engaged in a very bitter dispute in recent weeks. The death of Bruno Lohse revealed he had been storing a looted Pissarro in a Swiss bank vault since the end of the war. The Altmann case and the Klimts are given a prominent role as well.

I am eager to see the film, but just watching this trailer I'm struck by how much more powerful images and music are than the articles I write. I can give an academic view, but seeing the works and the black and white pictures bring the story much more depth and emotion. Whether that produces better cultural policy solutions is questionable I think. Perhaps we are allowing emotion to cloud our judgment in some of these cases?

I haven't seen the film of course, but we shouldn't put the blame on Germany alone, though they do rightfully deserve the most criticism. The loss of art and antiquities is an inevitable part of conflict. Russian forces plundered countless works from East Germany, and allied bombs destroyed medieval buildings in Dresden and at Montecassino. An American GI also stole the Quedlinberg treasures, and his family was able to sell them back to the church in the 90's. In the end, the movie should speak to a fundamental question which still plagues us: what is the value of cultural property? Is it essential to a people's heritage? Is it worth sacrificing lives or other economic development?

The NY Times has a short overview, as does Lee Rosenbaum.

Sep 13, 2007

More Thefts in France


The French Culture Ministry has promised tighter security after another serious theft, this one from the Perpignan Cathedral (pictured here). The thieves took twenty objects, some dating to the 17th Century. Here is the AP wire story:

Thieves stole more than 20 religious objects dating back to the 17th century from a cathedral in the southwestern French city of Perpignan, the Culture Ministry said.

Culture Minister Christine Albanel was visiting the Saint Jean the Baptist cathedral in Perpignan, as well as meeting police and regional cultural officials, on Thursday to express her outrage at the theft, the ministry said.

More than 20 pieces dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, including plates and chalices for Communion, were taken overnight Tuesday, the ministry said.

Stephane Brunelle, a spokesman for Roman Catholic authorities in Perpignan, said the thieves took the most valuable items. Though beer cans were strewn on the floor, investigators suspect that may have been an attempt to confuse police and make the crime look like vandalism rather than a well-organized plot, he said.

Albanel, during her visit to the cathedral, said she would push for tougher sentencing for those who burglarize historic buildings.

Churches are vulnerable. I'm not sure increased criminal penalties will prevent this problem, but it can't hurt I suppose. Increased security and stricter provenance checks are the answer. I am often amazed at the valuable works hanging in Europe's out-of-the way churches.

The Taliban Attacks Another Buddha


A very troubling story from Pakistan. On Monday, armed men attempted to damage this giant Buddha in the Swat valley in Pakistan. The BBC has a good report. The men arrived in the night, drilled holes in the rock, and filled them with dynamite. There was damage to the rock above the carving, but the actual carving was unharmed. The carving is considered the second-largest in Asia behind only the now-destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas.

I'm not sure how much can be done to protect sites in this part of the world. I know there is a UNESCO Convention on the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage, but that kind of multilateral treaty seems ill-equipped to prevent this kind of willful and senseless destruction.

(hat tip to David Nishimura at Cronaca)

Sep 12, 2007

Trouble Ahead for UK Museum Funding


Back in July, Martin Bailey wrote in the Art Newspaper that the National Gallery is "facing its most serious acquisition crisis for over 100 years, with the threat of losing pictures on loan worth around £200m." Why the cause for alarm? A number of works currently on loan at the National Gallery will be going up for sale, and public funds are scarce. The works on the market include:
  • Rubens' Apotheosis of King James I, a sketch for the Banqueting House in Whitehall just down the street from Trafalgar Square. It was created by Rubens around 1629-30 in preparation for Indigo Jones' new building. It has been on display since 1981, and is owned by Viscount Hampden's family trust.
  • Five works by Poussin, known as The Sacraments; pictured here is one of the five, The Eucharist. Originally there were seven paintings. One was lost to fire in the 19th century, while the other is on display in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. The remaining five belong to the Duke of Rutland.
  • Also, Titian's Portrait of a Young Man is up for sale as well. The National Gellery offered "the after-tax equivalent of £55m" for the work two years ago, but Lord Halifax rejected the offer.

The sale of these important works is going to put pressure on the funding arrangement, which has been substantially cut in recent months to prepare for the London Olympics. The Heritage Lottery Fund set has previously set aside £80m for arts projects. This year that number was reduced to £40m, but in the next two years the number will be decreased to £20m. As Giles Waterfield's editorial in the Art Newspaper makes clear,

When the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was set up in 1994, the trustees’ prime priority was to update Britain’s museums. This certainly needed doing: since repairs made after World War II, remarkably little had been spent on the fabric of museums, or on new construction. Compared to France, Germany or the United States, the number and quality of new museum buildings were laughable.


This will all change to free up funds for the London Olympic bid. As Charlotte Higgins wrote in the Guardian recently "
The lottery fund was due to lose an initial £143m to the Olympics, but in March a further £90m was taken".

I'm not an art historian, and I don't feel qualified to comment on whether these works warrant these sums, or if all of them are integral to the cultural heritage of the UK. It is a pity that arts funding has been sacrificed for the Olympic bid to this extent. The decision to sell these works will also continue to put pressure on the funding system, especially given the tremendous upswing in the art market. The UK export restrictions are a model, and one which cuts a great compromise between retention of art and an open market. Those works which rise to the Waverley Criteria are delayed export until domestic funding can be secured. That system though depends on the availability of funds. If arts funding is decreased in this manner, such efforts will become more difficult.


Sep 11, 2007

Persepolis Fragment on Sale


This Persepolis relief fragment owned by Denyse Berend will be up for sale at a Christie's auction on October 25th. Iran temporarily blocked the last auction in an unsuccessful bid to reclaim the fragment. You can read about the case and my reaction to the High court decision by clicking on the label below.

All indications are that Iran will not bid on the fragment. I wonder if there was any attempt by Iran to work out a compromise with Mme. Berend?

I'm reminded of a 2004 article by Professor James Nafziger (A Blueprint for Avoiding and Resolving Cultural Heritage Disputes, 9 Art, Antiquity and Law 3 (2004)). In it he points out that cultural heritage disputes are adversarial. In this case, both parties have solid, and perhaps legitimate arguments but only one side will retain the tablet. He discusses the parable of the two sisters, each of whom wants one orange:

How should it be allocated? One solution would be to award the orange to the sister with the greater 'rights' to the orange. That is the strictly adversarial approach that often characterizes the formal resolution of cultural property disputes today. A second solution would be to award half of the orange to each of the sisters, an appealing compromise until it becomes apparent that one sister wants the orange only to eat its pulp whereas the other wants only the orange peel for cooking. Thus, although compromises may often be preferable to either/or solutions, they typically fail to take contending interests, as opposed to stated positions, into account. A third, better informed allocation of the disputed orange would be to encourage the sisters to express their respective interests in the orange and then to work out a mutually productive, more-than-zero-sum solution to a dispute.


Professor Nafziger and the International Law Association have proposed a more collaborative process which has a great deal of merit I think. In this case, Mme. Berend wants to sell the tablet without admitting any wrongdoing, and Iran wants the tablet returned, and perhaps a vindication that its cultural heritage has been taken. Surely there is a middle ground here? In any event the auction will be quite interesting, and I wonder if Iran's legal challenge will have an impact on the purchase price. It could open any cultural institutions to an ethical claim for repatriation or it more likely cemented the purchaser's title which is now beyond legal challenge.
(Hat tip to Chuck Jones for alerting me to the auction).

Why Distort the Facts when they support you?

The Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded to the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad by saying, "Stuff happens... the images you are seeing over and over and over. It's the same pictures of some person walking out of some building with a vase and you see it twenty times. And you think, my goodness, were there that many vases?" Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?" Those are callous and ridiculous comments to be sure, and there were a myriad of failings in protecting the museum when hostilities began.

However Naomi Klein in her new book The Shock Doctrine is just plain wrong when she attempts to criticize the coalition forces after the Iraq invasion. An excerpt of her new book is published in today's Guardian. After reading the piece I wondered, why distort the facts so badly when the solid facts actually could support your position. Here is the relevant excerpt:

The bombing badly injured Iraq, but it was the looting, unchecked by occupying troops, that did the most to erase the heart of the country that was.

"The hundreds of looters who smashed ancient ceramics, stripped display cases and pocketed gold and other antiquities from the National Museum of Iraq pillaged nothing less than records of the first human society," reported the Los Angeles Times. "Gone are 80% of the museum's 170,000 priceless objects." The national library, which contained copies of every book and doctoral thesis ever published in Iraq, was a blackened ruin. Thousand-year-old illuminated Qur'ans had disappeared from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which was left a burned-out shell. "Our national heritage is lost," pronounced a Baghdad high-school teacher. A local merchant said of the museum, "It was the soul of Iraq. If the museum doesn't recover the looted treasures, I will feel like a part of my own soul has been stolen." McGuire Gibson, an archaeologist at the University of Chicago, called it "a lot like a lobotomy. The deep memory of an entire culture, a culture that has continued for thousands of years, has been removed".

Thanks mostly to the efforts of clerics who organised salvage missions in the midst of the looting, a portion of the artefacts has been recovered. But many Iraqis were, and still are, convinced that the memory lobotomy was intentional - part of Washington's plans to excise the strong, rooted nation that was and replace it with their own model. "Baghdad is the mother of Arab culture," 70-year-old Ahmed Abdullah told the Washington Post, "and they want to wipe out our culture."

As the war planners were quick to point out, the looting was done by Iraqis, not foreign troops. And it is true that Rumsfeld did not plan for Iraq to be sacked - but he did not take measures to prevent it from happening either, or to stop it once it had begun. These were failures that cannot be dismissed as mere oversights.

During the 1991 Gulf war, 13 Iraqi museums were attacked by looters, so there was every reason to believe that poverty, anger at the old regime and the general atmosphere of chaos would prompt some Iraqis to respond in the same way (especially given that Saddam had emptied the prisons several months earlier). The Pentagon had been warned by leading archaeologists that it needed to have an airtight strategy to protect museums and libraries before any attack, and a March 26 Pentagon memo to coalition command listed "in order of importance, 16 sites that were crucial to protect in Baghdad". Second on the list was the museum. Other warnings had urged Rumsfeld to send an international police contingent in with the troops to maintain public order -another suggestion that was ignored.

Even without the police, however, there were enough US soldiers in Baghdad for a few to be dispatched to the key cultural sites, but they weren't sent. There are numerous reports of US soldiers hanging out by their armoured vehicles and watching as trucks loaded with loot drove by - a reflection of the "stuff happens" indifference coming straight from Rumsfeld. Some units took it upon themselves to stop the looting, but in other instances, soldiers joined in. The Baghdad International Airport was completely trashed by soldiers who, according to Time, smashed furniture and then moved on to the commercial jets on the runway: "US soldiers looking for comfortable seats and souvenirs ripped out many of the planes' fittings, slashed seats, damaged cockpit equipment and popped out every windshield." The result was an estimated $100m worth of damage to Iraq's national airline - which was one of the first assets to be put on the auction block in an early and contentious partial privatisation.

From what I understand, Klein argues in her book that crisis has been manipulated by leaders to bring about sweeping social change. That seems like an interesting hypothesis, and its the kind of controversial and engaging argument that I usually find interesting. But in discussing the looting of the Iraq museum, she gets a myriad of facts wrong, distorts the truth, and wholly fails to account for the good work American soldiers, led by former prosecutor, and then Colonel Matthew Bogdanos did in tracking down objects. I talked about this last year.


Most notably, the 170,000 figure has been discredited, and the number of objects still missing is probably around 3,000. That's still an alarming number to be sure, but why quote old and inaccurate estimates? Also, the Iraqi military occupied the site, and fired on coalition troops from the museum. To be sure, the invading forces dropped the ball when they neglected to secure the museum after the museum was abandoned, but that paints a very different picture from what Klein describes here. When you have plenty of good accurate evidence to support your position, why would you resort to this kind of lazy inaccuracy? I presume that in her zeal to lay out here position she neglected to account for other points of view. This is the same kind of myopic view which has plagued the current administration. It becomes all the more puzzling though when you consider Rumsfeld did most of Klein's work for her.

Sep 10, 2007

Native American Art Returned

Scott Sonner has an interesting AP story on the decision by the US Forest Service to return boulders bearing petroglyphs to the site they were removed from four years ago. Here's an excerpt:

U.S. Forest Service officials never believed John Ligon's claim that he dug up two boulders etched with American Indian petroglyphs four years ago to put them in his front yard for safekeeping.

But they did share a concern he voiced that someone would steal the centuries-old rock art on national forest land a few football fields away from a growing housing development. After they recovered the stolen property, federal land managers struggled for years with the question of what to do with the rock etchings of a bighorn sheep, an archer, a lizard and a wheel.

Now, after initially thinking it was best to place them in a state museum, the agency -- in consultation with local tribal leaders -- has decided to return them to the mountainside where they were for perhaps as long as 1,000 years before they were disturbed.

"It belongs out there," said Linda Shoshone, cultural resources director for the Washoe Tribe in Nevada and California. She and others said removing the petroglyphs from the site takes them out of their spiritual context.

"I realize it is a tough decision on our part because we don't want it to be damaged any more than it has been," Shoshone said. "But I've come to the conclusion that maybe the more we educate John Q. Public at the sites, the more they will help us preserve stuff like this."

The theft of the petroglyphs on the northwest edge of suburban Reno garnered national attention at the time and still reverberates through the community.

"The significant assault on Native American memories and cultural items is as bad as walking into a Catholic church and taking a cross off the wall," said Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

Archaeologists believe the rock pile where the drawings were located was a hunting blind where 800 to 1,000 years ago tribesmen lay in wait for deer and elk migrating from Peavine Peak toward the Truckee River valley below.

The site is visible three miles away from the upper floors of the federal courthouse in downtown Reno where the accused looters stood trial in 2003.

That's an interesting problem with no easy solution. If they return the petroglyphs, they risk another theft. But the art loses something if its housed in a museum I think. The only real solution is to educate the public about the benefits of archaeology, why it is important, and how easy it can be to lose information from important sites forever. I think that is one of the biggest reasons why more nations should adopt the approach most of the UK has taken with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which David Gill talks about today as well. As Professor Patty Gerstenblith has argued, a nation protects those elements of its past which it values. As Linda Shoshone, cultural resources director for the Washoe Tribe in Nevada and Colorado, said in the article "It is really hard to educate a society that has no culture here in the United States -- our land. They left it in Europe... But when we teach fourth graders about things like this, they are going to teach their parents."

Sep 4, 2007

Hire This JD/PhD!

Please forgive the self-promotion, but I am approaching the end of my time as a PhD candidate here at the University of Aberdeen, and my wife is quite understandably tired of supporting my education habit. Two 3-year postgraduate programs really are about the limit, so I've reluctantly concluded that I should get myself employed.

I will be submitting my thesis tentatively titled "The US and UK Response to the Illicit Trade in Cultural Property" in November of this year. If you think I would be a good addition to your law faculty, arts institution, law firm (or anything really) please visit my web page where I've listed my qualifications, publications, teaching experience, and research interests. Location is no obstacle, we would be excited to move anywhere in North America or Europe especially.

I have submitted my information to the AALS, so any law professors who may enjoy my writing, I would appreciate a kind word to your hiring chairs. I'm cautiously optimistic about the process, but I would also be interested in some teaching fellowships as well.

If you have further questions you can email me at derek.fincham "at" gmail.com.

Fourth-Largest Criminal Enterprise?

Cameron Skene of CanWest News Service had an overview of art theft over the weekend. He talked to the usual folks who speculate about the size of the art theft problem, and gave the normal ranking of art theft as the fourth-largest criminal activity.

Estimating the size of the illicit market is a difficult undertaking. Skene writes "Interpol ranks art theft as the fourth largest criminal enterprise after drugs, money laundering and weapons." This appears incorrect, but its a common mistake. A number of media reports and even scholarly articles use this ranking, but I'm not sure its accurate. Interpol certainly does not endorse it:

We do not possess any figures which would enable us to claim that trafficking in cultural property is the third or fourth most common form of trafficking, although this is frequently mentioned at international conferences and in the media. In fact, it is very difficult to gain an exact idea of how many items of cultural property are stolen throughout the world and it is unlikely that there will ever be any accurate statistics. National statistics are often based on the circumstances of the theft (petty theft, theft by breaking and entering or armed robbery), rather than the type of object stolen.

The best estimates I have found are the FBI's rough account of $6 Billion annually, and the various reports given to the UK's Department of Culture Media and Sport Illicit Trade Advisory Panel which was given a number of very different estimates. I wonder, do any readers have any better or more concrete estimates? Empirical research is very popular in legal scholarships these days, does anyone have any ideas about how we could calculate the size?


More on the Acroliths at UVA

The University of Virginia's student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily has an editorial today on the two acroliths in the University Museum. Contrary to some speculation, there has been no confirmation the objects will return to Italy, and neither the University nor the Italian Culture Ministry have made any announcements yet. The Cavalier has another story by Laura Hoffman and Thomas Madrecki, which reveals some interesting details:

University Associate General Counsel Richard Kast said the artifacts were also given to the University by an anonymous donor.
Kast added that the University entered into an agreement with the donor to neither publicize the acroliths nor reveal the identity of the donor.
"Under the agreement that is in place, the University is not supposed to openly publicize the fact that they have the acroliths," Kast said.
Kast also said, however, that the University is "obviously" in the possession of the marbles.
"There is an agreement, and the agreement has been in place for a while," Kast said.
Several Italian news outlets have reported that the acroliths will be returned to the Aidone region in 2008. The New York Times article quoted Beatrice Basile, the art superintendent for the Italian province of Enna, as saying "We're happy they're coming back."
According to Malcolm Bell, III, University professor of art history and director of ongoing University excavations in Morgantina, the museum will display the artifacts until the end of this calendar year.
Bell added that he is "eager to see them returned" and "optimistic" about the possibility of their return to Italy. Bell also said the Times article was accurate.
Kast declined to comment on the possibility of ongoing inquiries from the Italian government to the University in reference to the acroliths.



That seems odd. They have these objects but are not allowed to publish the fact. It seems there is an agreement, but no announcement has been made. As the editorial asks:

Too many questions remain unanswered. Even more, it seems, haven't been asked. Who owns the masks? To whom do they rightly belong? Does the University Art Museum plan to return the masks? And if not, why? Until the public learns the truth, the circumstances surrounding the masks will continue to arouse suspicion.

I think that is exactly right. It seems like the University of Virginia has a good relationship with Italian authorities certainly, and perhaps is acting as a go-between for the anonymous donor, most likely Tempelman, and Italy.

On an unrelated note, unlike student papers here in the UK, (especially the atrocious one run by the students here at the University of Aberdeen) student papers back in the States take their jobs seriously and do some real reporting.

Sep 2, 2007

"Loot" Reviewed


This weekend I've had a chance to finally finish Loot: Inside the World of Stolen Art, by Thomas McShane with Dary Matera. McShane worked as an undercover agent for the FBI for 36 years, and recovered a number of works of art. In order to win the confidence of the handlers of the stolen works, McShane had to adopt aliases, most notably Thomas Bishop, the elegantly dressed art buyer.

The book starts strong, revealing the recovery of Rembrandt's the Rabbi. The theft from the Bonnat Museum was "[a]s is so often the case with art thefts...a crime of opportunity rather than precision planning. On 1 March 1971, a young French art student named Robert LeBec visited the Bonnat Museum as he often did to study the brushtrokes of the ancient masters." The travels of the work reveal a great deal about art theft. The work was very easy to steal, but the handlers were unable to unload it, and it seemed to cause them nothing but trouble. I enjoyed the description of smaller art museums as "reminiscent of the 'easy jug' banks American bandit John Dillinger robbed with impunity 40 years earlier. Security was lax or non-existent. Alarm systems, if present, were rudimentary and easily overcome. The atmosphere was friendly and hands-on."

Most of the book accounts how McShane transformed himself into his art buying alter-ego. He would invariably set up a "buy", then authenticate the work, checking the brush strokes, paint composition, nails on the canvas; and then would signal the other agents listening in to make the bust. Interestingly McShane was always arrested with the thieves, to preserve his cover.

The stories are interesting, and fun to read. The book was great summer reading, but unfortunately it never seems to go below the surface. Part of that may be that McShane is unable or unwilling to reveal what goes on behind the scenes. For example, he would always get "tipped" that someone was looking to unload a Picasso or major work. It would be interesting to know how difficult it really is to fence stolen artwork. McShane gives a baseline. A thief can usually expect to get 10% of a stolen painting's value. But how often to museums cave in and pay a ransom. What about insurance companies? Is it more important to recover the work or catch the thief?

One of the most interesting chapters involved Picasso's still-missing Man with the Purple Hat. It was a 6 foot bright-purple canvas which was stolen on the way from Houston's Jasper Museum to Manhattan. The work was sealed in a truck in Houston, but when it arrived in New York the painting was missing. The authors argue this is a likely "Dr. No" theft, where someone commissions a theft: "He, and she, exist all right. From Riyadh to Beverly Hills, they're out there gazing up at their special prizes each and every day, proving once again that 'stolen apples taste the sweetest.' They're just extremely difficult to catch." There is no hard evidence that these evil geniuses are out there, but McShane should command some deference for his long service and many recoveries.

In the book's second half, some momentum is lost, as the prose gets a bit muddled; and for some reason the author's start describing each new character based on their likeness to Hollywood and tv Celebrities like Kojak and the like. Some of this is regained at the end with McShane's take on the largest unsolved art theft: the theft of 13 works from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. I enjoyed the speculation on that theft a great deal. But shockingly, if the thieves have sold the works on, the statute of limitations for the theft has expired, so the actual thieves may be able to collect on part of the $5 million reward. One wonders how often that goes on, but seldom is a full and open account given.

It's a fun read, but ultimately it left me wanting more substance. In the epilogue a call is made for increased security and criminal penalties. But how? That does not seem to provide a complete picture, as museums are often strapped for funds, and they have to walk a balance between access to the public and security. No discussion of provenance was given, or how effective stolen art databases have become. I was also disappointed more was not said about current efforts at the FBI, including the Art Crime Team which seems to have had some notable successes. The authors seem to think this is still not enough, claiming that only one agent works full time on the problem. I had believed it was closer to half a dozen, but perhaps many of these agents have other duties. In any event it is a fun read, has some exciting stories to tell, but ultimately does not help us arrive at a better way of actually thwarting art theft.

Sep 1, 2007

Another Repatriation to Italy



Elisabetta Povoledo reports in today's New York Times that the University of Virginia Art Museum will likely be returning these two acroliths to Sicily in 2008. An acrolith is a statue in which the body and torso are made of wood while the extremities are carved in marble.

The reports are coming from Italian news outlets, but neither the University of Virginia nor the Italian Culture Ministry are commenting. Of course the University of Virginia has been conducting work at Morgantina for decades, and Malcolm Bell III has written on the antiquities problem in Italy.

Povoledo's speculation of the chain of title of these acroliths is quite interesting:

Silvio Raffiotta, the Italian prosecutor who for more than a decade investigated the two acroliths, has said they were illegally excavated by tomb robbers in Morgantina in the late 1970s. They are believed to represent the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, whose cult was deeply rooted in Morgantina, which fell to the Romans in 211 B.C.

In all, two heads, three feet and three hands were found; the body, most likely made of wood, might not have survived the centuries underground.

In a 1988 deposition, Giuseppe Mascara, a former tomb robber and antiquities dealer, told Mr. Raffiotta that in the spring of 1979 a young man had offered to sell him the two marble heads, which he said had been excavated in Morgantina.

“They were in the trunk of a car,” Mr. Mascara said in the deposition, and of “exceptional make.” But he did not buy them “because I didn’t know the man offering them to me and because of the asking price, which was enormous.”

Vincenzo Cammarata, another antiquities dealer who has been investigated for handling looted objects, also testified that he had been shown the acroliths, in the summer of 1979.

Mr. Raffiotta’s investigations began some years later and tracked the acroliths to the London showroom of the antiquities dealer Robin Symes, who is being investigated in Italy for dealing in looted art. Before arriving in London, the objects moved through Switzerland, a typical route used to disguise provenance.

In 1980 Mr. Symes sold the pair to Mr. Tempelsman, reportedly for $1 million. No evidence suggests that Mr. Tempelsman was aware that the statues might have been illegally excavated.

Mr. Raffiotta first made a claim to the statues in 1988, while they were on exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The museum immediately returned them to their anonymous lender.

In news reports Mr. Tempelsman later emerged as their owner. In 1994, upon the death of his companion Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, schoolchildren in Aidone sent Mr. Tempelsman a condolence note that also asked him to return the acroliths to their hometown.

Italian officials began quietly negotiating with Mr. Tempelsman, and Forbes magazine has reported that a deal was reached in which Mr. Tempelsman would give the acroliths to an institution, which would then return them to Italy after a specific period.

Mario Bondioli Osio, who was involved in those negotiations, said this week that he could not comment on the details until next year. “But I am convinced they will return home,” he said.


It would be helpful to know how this repatriation came about. The Forbes article does not appear to be published online yet. These acroliths have been displayed at UVA's Art Museum for five years. Was there some kind of arrangement where Tempelsman could donate the works to UVA, receive the substantial income tax deduction, and then the work would be returned to Italy? If so American taxpayers are subsidizing this repatriation of illicit antiquities, and that strikes me as very troubling.

Another related question: Tempelsman is a diamond dealer, who has been a vocal supporter of the Kimberley process; perhaps there needs to be a kind of Kimberley process for antiquities acquisitions?

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