Oct 31, 2008

MIA Returns a Nazi-Looted Work

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) has made the decision to return this work Smoke Over Rooftops by Fernand Léger.  From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The institute's saga began in 1997 when the museum received a letter claiming that the painting had been taken from Alphonse Kann, a legendary French collector who owned "tons of Picassos, Braques and late-19th-century Impressionist paintings," according to Patrick Noon, the institute's paintings curator. His story helped inspire a 1964 movie, "The Train," starring Burt Lancaster, about a trainload of art that the Germans tried to spirit away before the Allies liberated Paris in 1944.
Much of Kann's art was returned to him after World War II, but not the Leger. That painting was bequeathed to the museum in 1961 by Minneapolis businessman Putnam Dana McMillan, a General Mills vice president who bought it from the Buchholz Gallery in New York in 1951. No one questioned the picture's history. Nazi-era archives were sealed in France and inaccessible in Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe. 
Responding to the claim took years because the museum had to establish if it was legitimate. Was this Leger the same one Kann had owned? ("Smoke Over Rooftops" was a theme Leger painted at least six times.) If so, what had happened to the picture between 1939, when Kann fled Paris on the eve of war, and 1949 when a New York art dealer bought it from a French gallery? Did Kann sell it freely, or did the Nazis confiscate it?
There's no indication that this was a settlement of any kind, and a legal claim may have been difficult for the claimant as the work had been owned by the MIA since 1961.  It appears they voluntarily relinquished the work, though the story does make vague reference to a French Lawsuit.  Kaywin Feldmin, the MIA Director says "it was the right thing to do", which is a refreshing sentiment to hear from a Museum Director.   



Art-Beat Constables

Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper has the story of Scotland Yard's part-time volunteer officers which have been tasked with policing art theft, the sale of looted antiquities, forgery and fraud. 
ArtBeat began in January 2007, and there are currently 13 special constables (six males and seven females). These include two from national museums, three from the Art Loss Register, three archaeologists with the remainder from a variety of institutions. The two from museums are Zoe Jackman of the V&A (see below) and Michael Lewis of the British Museum, where he is deputy head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

The Art and Antiques Unit needs all the manpower it can get. Last year Scotland Yard proposed halving the staff of its Art and Antiques Unit, which had four officers. In the end, the cuts did not proceed and funding has been confirmed for the current financial year. Nevertheless, resources are tight and having 13 part-time special constables for two days a month is equivalent to one extra full-time officer. Inspector Alan Seldon told us: “There are only four officers in the unit. The scheme expands what we can do, and enhances our capability.” He wants to encourage more recruits from the London art scene.
This seems to be a good idea generally, and if it helps the Arts and Antiques Unit, that must be a good thing.  But its no substitute for an open and honest market in art and antiquities. 

Oct 29, 2008

Two Indicted for Looted Native American Artifacts

A local TV station in Sacramento has a brief account of two men who have been indicted for looting Native American sites in Nevada, Donald and Steven Parker. If they are ultimately convicted they will face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The story indicates this was part of a five-year investigation, leading me to the conclusion that this may have been related to the massive searches of California museums earlier this year.

Oct 27, 2008

Call for Return of Chinese "Cultural Relics"

Both China Daily and CCTV have reported on China's efforts to seek the return of two bronze animal heads, which were stolen from Beijing's Old Summer Palace in 1860 by an Anglo-French coalition during the Second Opium War. They were created in the 18th century. I learned with great interest that it was Lord Elgin who ordered the burning of the Summer Palace -- perhaps to discourage Chinese forces from kidnapping and as recompense for mistreating prisoners. Students of history will know his father was Thomas Bruce, the 7th Lord of Elgin who removed the Parthenon frescoes from Greece.
Charles George Gordon, a 27-year-old captain in the Royal Engineers wrote:
We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property which [could] not be replaced for four millions. We got upward of £48 apiece prize money…I have done well. The [local] people are very civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did the Palace. You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.

These heads, one of a rabbit and one of a mouse were two of 12 sculptures which were taken. Five others are still missing. Christies has announced these objects will be on sale next February in the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge Collection auction in Paris. At least some of the proceeds from the sale will be used for AIDS prevention. The two items are expected to fetch at least 8 million Euros. Any legaly claim for these sculptures will have long-since expired, despite the less-than-noble way in which they were looted.

The China's Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Fund, a privately funded organization has indicated it may try to purchase these objects and return them to China. In 2003 and 2004 the organization attempted to buy back these objects, but the asking price was $10 million. As the spokesperson told Daily China, "At that time, we bought back the pig's head for less than $1 million. We think the offered prices are unreasonable and unacceptable." China, an emerging economic power is in a unique position among nations of origin, as it can often use its considerable economic clout to buy back objects which were removed from the country during the imperial age.

Oct 24, 2008

Afghanistan Exhibit, Pros and Cons


I just listened to a very interesting story on Marketplace, discussing the pre-Islamic Afghani objects which are currently touring the United States. Two points. First, Afghanistan still is badly in need of funds and resources to protect sites; and second though the tour raises Afghanistan's international profile and has a number of important benefits, it may also raise the desire of collectors to buy similar objects. This puts pressure on the limited enforcement mechanisms. Of course one possible solution is to dissuade collectors from buying these items, or we might even encourage source nations to consider marketing some of their surplus antiquities (a wildly controversial solution to be sure).

More on this travelling exhibition here. There has been concern in the past that Afghanistan didn't quite get a fair deal out of this tour, though I think the piece speaks to this point. When Egyptian antiquities tour, the public associates Egypt with ancient civilizations. What does the American public currently think about when they think about Afghanistan? As the Afghan official pointed out, defining success for this Afghan tour is far different.

Bezanson on "Art and the Constitution"

Randall P. Bezanson has a very interesting and entertaining article (with pictures) in the most recent issue of the Iowa Law Review titled Art and the Constitution. From the introduction:

The First Amendment has been with us for 217 years. Over that long
history there have been surprisingly few Supreme Court cases involving art—
hardly more than a handful—and even fewer that are illuminating. When
forced to address the status of art under the Constitution, the Supreme
Court has simply said “of course” and “surely” the free-speech guarantee of the
First Amendment protects art. But as I tell my students in constitutional law,
when the Supreme Court explains itself by saying “of course” and “surely,” it
is a safe bet that the Justices do not really know what they are talking about.
This is the case with art. The Court does not tell us what art is, why it is
protected, or how the free-speech guarantee can be read to include it.
It turns out that the question of art and free speech is a very difficult
one, and this is the reason that art has had a troubled relationship with the
First Amendment. The law of obscenity, for example, protects only “serious”
art (whatever the Court means by that). But what about happy art? Or
humorous art? Or avocational, rather than professional, art?

And from the text:

Plato was right in at least one respect. Art is dangerous and incapable of
domestication. It rests on emotion and the senses. Art, as I use the term
here, is a representation perceived not mainly through our cognitive
faculties, but instead through our senses unconstrained by reason. An object
or performance that we call art is an instrument through which the
presented object is assimilated through the senses and becomes re-
represented as something distinct to each person—a perception or
understanding grounded in an act of imagination.

And from the conclusion:

Free speech—literally, textually, and by common public understanding
in the late Eighteenth Century—did not include art, but it should today.
The expansion of speech to include art reflects the evolved and evolving
habits and attitudes of society at large over a period of more than 200 years.
Today, art is a major source of expression and ideas. It is a central feature of
the creativity that our culture so prizes. Our culture has evolved from a time
when there was no broad private market in art—only patronage—to a time
when the private market in art is pervasive.

Highly recommended -- Strict constructionism, Justice Scalia, Serrano's Piss Christ, Manet, and Finley's Return of the Chocolate-Smeared Woman all in one article.

Oct 23, 2008

Art Fraud in New Orleans

Today's Times-Picayune has the story of a Mother and Son who "invented" artists to help sell cheap Chinese paintings from wholesale distributors. The pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. From the story:

Constance "Connie" Breithoff, 60, and Christopher Breithoff, 35, both of Covington, admitted in federal court on Wednesday to misrepresenting their galleries' artwork. They would buy inexpensive Chinese paintings from wholesale distributors and then market and sell them, at a large profit, as works created by Louisiana artists.

Specifically, the mother-son art dealers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Each now faces a $250,000 fine, as much as five years in prison and three years of supervision after prison. They were charged by the U.S. attorney's office on Sept. 17 and are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 28 by U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon.

The mother and son would mail a certificate of authenticity, along with a description of the fictional artists, to their customers after each purchase.

In addition to owning the Barlow Art Gallery and Transitions in Mandeville, the family operated a Barlow gallery in the French Quarter at 805 Royal St. from 1999 to 2005.

This mirrors in some ways the concerns with the buying of art at auction on cruises a few months ago. Do not buy art as a tourist, if you are spending more than a thousand dollars, make sure you educate yourself about the dealer and the artist.

If you bought a work of art in New Orleans by an artist named Falgot, S.A.M., Shanta, or Michel, you may want to contact the U.S. Attorney's office, victim witness coordinator at 504-680-3000.

Oct 22, 2008

Private International Law and Nations of Origin


I have posted on SSRN a working version of my forthcoming paper titled How Adopting the Lex Originis Rule Can Impede the Flow of Illicit Cultural Property, to be published some time next Spring in the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts. Here is the abstract:

The International trade and transfer of art and antiquities faces problems because nations have erected very different rules with respect to movable property. All nations forbid theft, however most cultural property disputes involve an original owner and a subsequent good faith possessor. Different jurisdictions have chosen to allocate rights and responsibilities between these two relative innocents in very different ways. Disharmony in the law is seldom a good thing, but in the realm of cultural property it can be particularly damaging to the interests of nations, museums, individuals, and our collective cultural heritage. The lack of harmony ensures no overarching policy choices will be furthered, which prevents parties from anticipating legal outcomes and giving substance to policies.

This article explores the default conflict of law rules which are applied to cultural property, and shows how the lex situs rule exploits the various legal rules which apply to art and antiquities. It challenges the lofty position enjoyed by the lex situs rule and proposes a radical reform of the default choice of law analysis. By employing the law of the Nation of Origin or lex originis courts can ensure the jurisdiction with the most tangible connection to an object enjoys the benefit of applying its legal rules to a given dispute. This will not only ensure the security of art and antiquities transactions, but impart much-needed transparency into the cultural property trade, and finally will decrease the theft and illegal excavation of art and antiquities.

The article begins by presenting some examples of recent disputes, and the problems they present for the law and cultural heritage policy. Section II describes the fundamental difficulty of adjudicating claims between two relative innocents, and the disharmony which has resulted as different jurisdictions have resolved this conundrum in very different ways. Section III lays out the ways in which private international law impacts art and antiquities disputes. Section IV analyzes the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, the most recent attempt to harmonize the law affecting cultural property. Section V proposes a radical reform of the choice of law enquiry taken by courts.


I'd be delighted to hear any reactions to the work at derek.fincham "at" gmail.com.


Oct 21, 2008

On Defining America's Heritage

Stephen Colbert takes his best shot, and pulls a Steve Wynn...

International Red Tape, $500 Translation

International red tape often hampers the investigation of the illicit trade in antiquities, this example involves Leonardo Patterson (discussed earlier here) and the difficulty in acquiring a decent Spanish-German translation. From AFP a couple days ago:

SAN JOSE (AFP) — The price of a translation is keeping the Costa Rican government from retrieving a collection of pre-Columbian objects it claims were stolen by a private collector now living in Germany.

In August 2007, Costa Rica first learned about Leonardo Patterson's collection stored in Spain since 1997. Its more than 1,700 pre-Columbian pieces originate from Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.

Costa Rica is seeking the recovery of 457 of those objects it says are part of its national heritage.

Patterson's collection is of incalculable value, said Marlin Calvo, head of the Cultural Heritage Protection department at Costa Rica's National Museum.

The objects are "very beautiful, very diverse, and in very good condition," said Calvo.

Patterson, a former Costa Rican diplomat and renowned art collector, was questioned and part of his collection seized by Munich police in April this year, after he took it out of storage in Spain and had it shipped to Germany.

Investigators valued the objects at more than 100 million dollars.

Costa Rica, along with Mexico and Peru, say some of the pieces were stolen and are attempting to recover them, even as Patterson maintains he obtained them in Europe, legally.

Since May, Costa Rican authorities have tried, without success, to reclaim the pieces. Their main problem: the price of a translation.

Oct 20, 2008

Student Comment on the 1970 UNESCO Convention

Janene Marie Podesta has written an article in the Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law, SAVING CULTURE, BUT PASSING THE BUCK: HOW THE 1970 UNESCO CONVENTION UNDERMINES ITS GOALS BY UNDULY TARGETING MARKET NATIONS. I haven't found a free copy available on the net, so you'll have to rely on the usual scholarly databases if you're keen to get your hands on a copy.

I continue to be surprised at the tremendous popularity of this topic, particularly the frequency with which cultural heritage issues are used as Note and Comment topics for law students. I think this is a good thing, though unfortunately they tend to rely a bit too much on the same staple of core topics and concepts.

From the Introduction:

This Note argues that UNESCO's current policy, which makes a minority number of market nations almost universally responsible for the protection of source nations' cultural property, is contrary to the international public good and cannot succeed in its current form. While well intentioned, placing all responsibility on the receivers of illicit goods will not curb the flow of these goods; it will only send the market further underground. It may also result in criminal prosecution for those who were simply ignorant rather than those who purposefully decimated their own countries' heritage. UNESCO requires almost nothing from some nations (generally, those who gain the most from the system) and burdens others with disproportionate accountability.
Part II of this Note will focus on the various international conventions on the subject of cultural property, predominately the 1970 UNESCO Convention. It will look at the context in which the 1970 UNESCO Convention was convened, the conflicting theories on the concept of “cultural property” underlying the drafting, and the resulting bias against internationalist nations within the 1970 UNESCO Convention. These factors make the system ultimately unsustainable.
Part III traces the development of the current situation by exploring the various interpretations countries have had of the UNESCO decree to “carry out the necessary concrete measures” to protect the state's own “cultural patrimony.” It will focus on the three main types of ownership laws that have been enacted by various countries, and will also reflect on the success that each such method has shown.
Part IV will, conversely, look at those steps taken by market countries, particularly the United States, to “prevent museums and similar institutions . . .from acquiring cultural property,” and “to recover and return” any such property. This part will highlight not only laws specifically enacted in reaction to UNESCO, but also laws that have substituted for such laws in cases of cultural property “theft.” It will then analyze the effects that various rulings have had on the cultural patrimony arena, and forecast the dangers likely to result from such holdings.
Part V suggests alternate possibilities that would more evenly balance the responsibility between those nations that wish to protect their own cultural heritage, and those that wish to help in this quest without sacrificing their own belief systems and citizens' rights.

New Heritage Legislation in the UK?

Jaspar Copping has a very interesting, though perhaps misleading, article in the Telegraph on Saturday detailing potential new heritage legislation in the UK. He writes initially that UK museums are prevented by law from giving works of art back to the families that once owned them. That is true, but that does not mean these families are denied compensation (which he points out further down in the piece). The Spoliation Advisory Panel has the power to award compensation to the claimant.

It seems there is a campaign by a Labour MP, Andrew Dinsmore:

"The owner of an artwork identified as stolen by the Nazis ought to have the right to decide whether they wish for the artwork to be returned," he said.

"Some people may be happy for work to stay in public collections, but they should have the option. At the moment, they are not given that choice.

"No one knows how many artworks this will relate to but we shouldn't think that just because the war was 60 years ago that this has all finished."

Under the current legislation, all national museums and galleries are prevented from disposing of any of their works. They can only offer compensation to the owners, although private museums are able to return artworks and artefacts.

I'm not sure if this is an essential change. I think the UK policy which avoids costly litigation is a useful model. In the US, where nazi-era restitutions suits are the most common, claimants often get title to the disputed works. However in nearly all cases they sell the works anyway to satisfy the enormous legal fees often required to bring these successful claims.

Then in a response, the Department of Culture Media and Sport said, "The Government are committed to introducing legislation as soon as possible to allow all national museums, that are currently prevented from doing so by the acts of parliament under which they are founded, to return works of art spoliated during the Nazi era." It seems this legislation will be a component of the prospective Heritage Protection Bill.

One thing to watch closely will be how the legislation may permit institutions to return the work to claimants, a potential move which may signal a shift in the obstacles the British Museum may have in electing to return antiquities to their nation of origin. The debate over that question will likely feature in the consideration, as the Parthenon Marbles always seem to be overshadowing UK heritage policy.

Oct 17, 2008

Antiquities as Natural Resources

Andrew P. Morriss (University of Illinois College of Law) has posted Politics & Property in Natural Resources on SSRN. Assuming Natural Resources are analogous to antiquities, he makes some interesting arguments. Here is the abstract:

Modern discussions of natural resources focus on increasing public control over extractive industries proposing measures that range from increasing the public's share of the gain via royalties and taxes to regulating extractive activities to prevent environmental problems to outright expropriation of private investments. This Article argues that such efforts are counterproductive because the fundamental economic problem of natural resources is producing the knowledge necessary to locate and extract resource deposits. The public benefit comes from enabling the use of the resources and the increased economic activity their discovery produces rather than from royalties or expropriation. The key question in designing natural resource laws is thus their effects on the incentive to discover and manage resources. Private property rights in natural resources are the best way to provide such incentives. Fortunately, the combination of property rights and tort law principles (trespass and nuisance) enables property rights to solve environmental problems related to natural resource extraction as well.

A History of Spoliation

Wayne Sandholtz has written a historical account of plunder and the norms which aim to prevent it over the last 200 years, Prohibiting Plunder. I have not had a chance to read it, but it looks promising. Here's the description:

For much of history, the rules of war decreed that "to the victor go the spoils." The winners in warfare routinely seized for themselves the artistic and cultural treasures of the defeated; plunder constituted a marker of triumph. By the twentieth century, international norms declared the opposite, that cultural monuments should be shielded from destruction or seizure. Prohibiting Plunder traces and explains the emergence of international rules against wartime looting of cultural treasures, and explores how anti-plunder norms have developed over the past 200 years. The book covers highly topical events including the looting of thousands of antiquities from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, and the return of "Holocaust Art" by prominent museums, including the highly publicized return of five Klimt paintings from the Austrian Gallery to a Holocaust survivor.

The historical narrative includes first-hand reports, official documents, and archival records. Equally important, the book uncovers the debates and negotiations that produced increasingly clear and well-defined anti-plunder norms. The historical accounts in Prohibiting Plunder serve as confirming examples of an important dynamic of international norm change. Rules evolve in cycles; in each cycle, specific actions trigger arguments about the meaning and application of rules, and those arguments in turn modify the rules. International norms evolve through a succession of such cycles, each one drawing on previous developments and each one reshaping the normative context for subsequent actions and disputes. Prohibiting Plunder shows how historical episodes interlinked to produce modern, treaty-based rules against wartime plunder of cultural treasures.

Ingo Venzke has a review in 19 European Journal of International Law 866 (2008).

Oct 15, 2008

Bonham's Withdraws Antiquities From Today's Auction

ANSA is reporting that Bonhams London has withdrawn 10 antiquities worth an estimated 250,000 Euros from a scheduled sale today after concerns were raised by the Italian government, seemingly at the last minute. There are indications these objects were illegally excavated or illegally exported from Italy, perhaps in the 1970s. It seems likely that it was Francesco Rutelli's "urgent" question to his successor, Sandro Bondi about this sale perhaps forced Bondi to act, particularly given the 11th hour nature of the actions. The Chairman of the auction house, Robert Brooks said in a statement:

We are always happy to cooperate with any action that limits the chance of items being sold that should not be sold. Having said that we would welcome a greater openness on the part of the Italian Government, which would allow us far more advance warning and information about concerns they have. Responsible institutions need to work together and not to keep information hidden, for whatever reason, until the very last minute.

Oct 14, 2008

Fatamid ewer sells for 3 million pounds


The fatamid ewer (discussed back in January) has now sold for 3.2 million pounds at a Christie's auction earlier this month.

From the Reuters report:

The ewer is the same one that came up for auction in Britain in January this year, when it was catalogued as a 19th century French claret jug and valued at 100-200 pounds.

In fact experts now believe it is an extremely rare ewer from the Fatimid dynasty which ruled parts of northern Africa and the Middle East in the 10th-12th centuries.

Reflecting its importance it sold in January for 220,000 pounds, although auction house sources said that transaction was later "annulled by agreement". They gave no further details.

Christie's said the ewer, which sold to an anonymous client in the saleroom, was made for the court of the Fatimid rulers of Cairo in the late 10th or early 11th century. It was embellished in enamelled gold mounts made in 1854 by a French silversmith.




Goya Recovered


Police in Columbia  Colombia have recovered this engraving by Goya, Sad Premonitions. The work was stolen in September from a gallery in Bogota. There aren't many details, but the work was found in a hotel room, after a 'tip-off'.

Oct 13, 2008

Brent Benjamin Appointed to CPAC


The White House announced back in September that President Bush will nominate Brent R. Benjamin to serve on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee for three years. David Gill commented on the appointment, as did Wayne Sayles. Earlier in July, Robert O'Brien, a Los Angeles attorney was nominated as well, though his appointment attracted little notice.

Ton Cremers, an administrator on the invaluable Museum Security Network argues this was an "outrageous" appointment. The reason for the concern is this antiquity, the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask which I discussed at length last year.

It was stolen from a storehouse in Saqqara sometime between its excavation in an archaeological dig in 1952, and its acquisition by the St. Louis Art Museum in 1998. It may be worth examining this acquisition in more detail. The best summary of the dispute I have found is this 2006 article in the Riverfront Times.

As always, the antiquities trade presents a number of questions. Was Benjamin at the museum in 1998 when it acquired this object? No, he came a year after the mask was acquired. Do his actions with respect to this mask disqualify him automatically from serving on the committee? I'm not sure they do. Does this ongoing dispute between Egypt and the St. Louis Art Museum automatically disqualify Benjamin from serving on the committee? Not according to President Bush, but did the Museum really have clean hands when they acquired the mask? The answer I think is not really.

They purchased it from Hichaam Aboutaam, who has been linked with looted antiquities. The work had been displayed at a Museum in Geneva when the SLAM was considering purchasing the work. However, the museum sent Mohammed Saleh, a retired director of the Cairo Museum a letter asking:

"[We have] been offered a mummy mask of the 19th dynasty and I was wondering if you know of any parallels to this object. I have never seen anything quite like it with a reddish copper-like face probably owing to the oxidation of the gold surface. It is currently on exhibition in the Egyptian exhibition at the Museum of Art and History in Geneva. I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on any parallels you might know of this piece and hope that I might have the opportunity to speak with you in several weeks by telephone about this opportunity."

Saleh of course was not perhaps the best person in Egypt to contact about the mask. Shouldn't someone on the Supreme Council on Antiquities have been better positioned to handle this request? Unfortunately this is the shady kind of enquiry which can pass for thorough provenance research in the antiquities trade. I think its likely perhaps that the SLAM was not too eager to look to deeply into the history of this object, for fear they would be unable to acquire it. The museum was told by the seller that the mask was seen at an antiquities dealer in 1952, and it remained in the ubiquitous "Swiss Collection" for the next 40 years. An expert hired by the museum, Peter Lacovara, reasoned that the mask was probably awarded to the excavator after the 1952 excavation. This would account for its appearance at a market in Brussels soon after, though refuting that fact is nearly impossible at this point.

Egypt has a tenable claim perhaps, but this is a close case. I'm not aware of the specific steps Egypt has taken in response. They have seemingly argued that the mask was stolen at some point from an antiquities storehouse. Now, its their cultural heritage and they're free to do with it what they please, but Egypt can be criticized on two accounts. First, is it really the best idea to have a unique piece like this mask just sitting in a warehouse for fifty years? Second, had Egypt documented its collection and its holdings more completely, they would have had a much stronger legal and ethical claim.

In any event, nobody looks really good in this dispute. Not the museum, the Phoenix gallery, nor Egypt. But I'm not sure Benjamin, by merely refusing to return the mask outright to Egypt has disqualified himself from serving on the CPAC, which it should be mentioned is comprised of individuals from all the disparate heritage interest groups, including archaeologists. Also, the CPAC has never refused a request made by a nation of origin.

Profile of an Antiquities Dealer


The Associated Press has an extended profile of Leonardo Patterson. An antiquities dealer from Costa Rica who is currently being investigated by German and Spanish authorities. In April, police in Munich seized more than 1,000 objects from his warehouse.

Pictured here is Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva. He received a catalog of Patterson's antiquities in 1997:

[H]e saw more than 250 ancient Peruvian pieces, mostly from tombs raided in the late 1980s. There were necklaces made of gold and lapis lazuli from la Mina in northern Peru. There were copper masks and a necklace made of 30 gold spiral-shaped ornaments from Sipan, the center of the Mochica culture dating to 200 A.D.

Alva was not surprised that many of the pieces had ended up in private European collections.

"There is a very active market in the United States and Europe," said Alva. "We have to eliminate this idea that those who collect archaeological artifacts are cultivated people."

He asked Interpol in Lima to investigate. Interpol in turn asked a Lima court for an international arrest warrant for Patterson in 2004. Four years later, there has been no ruling, according to Interpol officials in Lima.

Patterson is accused of selling fakes and forgeries as well as looted antiquities. It seems Patterson may have been connected in some way to the looted Peruvian gold headdress which was recovered from Patterson's lawyer's office in 2006.

Oct 10, 2008

Liquidating an Antiquities Dealer's Stock

Francesco Rutelli is making headlines again, this time in the Times, telling the Italian Parliament yesterday he had an "urgent question" for Sandro Bondi, his successor as Italian Culture Minister:

“Since the summer of 2007 the Ministry of Culture has undertaken extra-judicial negotiations with the commission of liquidators of the Symes collection nominated by a London court, with the aim of verifying the possibility of recuperating archaeological artefacts belonging to the heritage of Italy.”

The question involves antiquities which may be sold to satisfy the debts of Robyn Symes, who served prison time for bankruptcy. As an aside, my understanding of UK bankruptcy law is very limited, but I understand that seving jail time is a pretty extreme measure, and is given generally when a debtor won't pay their debts, though they may be able to.

The difficulty is that Symes had a great deal of antiquities, which are now in the process of being liquidated to satisfy his debts. The Italian authorities and other nations of origin are of course very interested in the disposition of these objects, given that they most likely were illegally excavated or illegally exported. Some of them are slated for sale at an auction held by Bonham's to be held on October 15th. One of the objects for sale is this Apulian 4th-century BCE red krater vase.

David Gill points to an Italian report in Il Messaggero which indicates that 17,000 objects worth 160 million Euros were recovered. An astonishingly high figure if accurate. It seems he also asked the Department of Culture Media and Sport about the liquidation but they stated "arrangement involving the Italian Authorities and other parties ... was facilitated by this Department [sc. DCMS], which is specific to an individual case." That's not particularly helpful of course. This is a sale which needs to be made public, and the DCMS and the Italian Culture Ministry needs to put their cards on the table and be accountable and tell us what and how they are resolving this dispute.

I strongly suspect that there is not much which can be done. Without sufficient evidence that these object were illegally excavated in Italy, or that they were illegally exported, Italy does not have much legal traction to challenge this sale. I suspect the DCMS may know that, but won't state that publicly because it would reveal the deep-rooted problems in the antiquities trade.

This may indirectly reveal the drawbacks with the recent Italian repatriation strategy. They have secured the return of many objects in recent years, but have done so in large measure without using courts, and without setting legal precedents, broadly defined (the interminable ongoing prosecution of Marion True is one exception). Some potential buyers, who want to work with Italy in the future may avoid this sale, though others, particularly private collectors may not be so constrained. Though the potential purchase price may decrease, I'm not sure there's any legal basis (absent solid evidence) for blocking this sale. We have strong suspicions of course, but I'm not sure the Italians have enough to withstand the evidentiary burdens of a legal proceeding. We're left with objects which "probably" originated from Italy, with only a limited universe of potential buyers. Such a state of affairs is not helping anyone.

Oct 9, 2008

Commemorating Italy's 1909 Antiquity Law


Elisabetta Povoledo has an overview of an Italian exhibition celebrating its 1909 Antiquities Law in Tuesday's New York Times. The proposed message is clear, were it not for Italy's strong cultural heritage laws, we would have lost a great deal of contextual and other information. One object from the exhibition is this bust of Augustas purchased in "an antiquarian market in 1938".

As the piece notes:

The exhibition is part of a broader scholarly program to study and celebrate the 1909 cultural-heritage legislation, which laid the groundwork for protective laws adopted in subsequent decades. “That early law consolidated principles that are still active today,” said Adriano La Regina, one of Rome’s leading archaeologists and the chief curator of the exhibition.

These laws have set an important precedent, and resahped the art and antiquities trade. They remain an imperfect instrument though. There are potential drawbacks to such an aggressive legal regime. One example is an unsuccessful attempt by Italy --characterized by John Henry Merryman as retention-- to secure the return of a French work by Matisse which was illegally exported to the United States, Jeanneret v. Vichy 693 F.2d 259 (2d Cir. 1982). The regime may also present difficulties for contemporary Italian artists, which often have a difficult time selling their work abroad:

Domenico Piva, president of the Italian federation of art dealers, said it was “preposterous” that a release form must be obtained from the Culture Ministry each time a 50-year-old art object is exported, “even if it’s an industrial object by an architect.”

He said the laws had “led to the creation of an entirely internal and provincial art market” and restricted the profile of modern Italian artists abroad. “We complain that the Impressionists have a great international market, and our own artists are ignored, but it’s because our artists only circulate in Italy,” he said.

These are the two sides of the cultural heritage debate. In a sense I suppose its a difficulty with art and culture generally when art and cultural output is commodified.

It's also interesting that this exhibition comes close on the heels of the resolution of the Oetzi "Iceman" dispute, in which a court ruled the North Italian province of Bolzano had to pay a finders' fee of 150,000 Euros. This after the finders -- who were on a hike in 1991 -- were offered 5,200 euros initially. Italian law provides a finders' fee of 25% of a discovery's value. The difficulty can be settling on a real value of an object which has no licit market. But the council finally agreed to pay the larger amount in recognition of the tremendous tourist dollars the find attracts.

Oct 3, 2008

My Article on the Portable Antiquities Scheme

I've posted on SSRN my article from the August edition of the International Journal of Cultural Property, A Coordinated Legal and Policy Approach to Undiscovered Antiquities: Adapting the Cultural Heritage Policy of England and Wales to Other Nations of Origin 15 Int'l. J. Cult. Prop. 347 (2008). Here's the abstract:

Blanket ownership laws, export restrictions, and the criminal law of market nations are the default legal strategies currently used by nations of origin to prevent the looting of archaeological sites. Although they have been remarkably successful at achieving the return of looted objects, they may not be the best strategies to maximize the recording and preservation of archaeological context. In England and Wales a more permissive legal regime broadly applied and adopted by the public at large has produced dramatically better results than the strong prescriptive regime of Scotland, which can be easily ignored.

This article attempts to clear up any misconceptions of the cultural policy framework in England and Wales. It accounts for the legal position accorded undiscovered portable antiquities, and describes how this legal framework is perfected by a voluntary program called the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). This approach stands in stark contrast to Scotland, which has used a legal strategy adopted by most other nations of origin.

The domestic legal framework for portable antiquities in England and Wales is unique and differs from the typical approach. Coupled with the PAS, this legal structure has resulted in a better cultural policy, which leads to less looting of important archaeological sites, allows for a tailored cultural policy, and has produced more data and contextual information with which to conduct historical and archaeological research on an unprecedented scale. Compensating finders of antiquities may even preclude an illicit market in antiquities so long as this compensation is substantially similar to the market price of the object and effectively excludes looters from this reward system. Although the precise number of found versus looted objects that appear on the market is open to much speculation, an effective recording system is essential to ensure that individuals who find objects are encouraged to report them.


I wanted to write what I hope is a thoughtful piece which describes in an objective way what the PAS does, and how it creates a pragmatic compromise. Many of the very best heritage scholars are still seemingly under a misimpression about what it does and does not do. It's not a perfect system, but it has produced some dramatic results, and may change the way we conceptualize heritage and context. I hope those interested in the scheme and archaeology will do me and the employees of the PAS the courtesy of reading the piece before dismissing my position. Sadly I'm afraid some already have reacted, without even reading the piece.

I have no doubt that some of my assertions may prove controversial, and I'm happy to have a vigorous debate, but I think everyone interested in heritage issues needs to work harder to make sure they are leaving room for meaningful discourse and disagreement and that we're respectful of differing views and positions.

Pictured here are a horse and rider found in Cambridgeshire which appeared in the 2007 PAS annual report, via the PAS flickr page.

Provenance Red Flags

For those of you who don't follow David Gill's Looting Matters blog, you should. He's had a great series of posts this week, but in my view his most valuable contribution to heritage policy is his tireless focus on antiquities which are offered for sale with little legitimate provenance. The latest came three days ago:

The Bonham's sale of antiquities on October 15, 2008 will include an Apulian volute-krater from the Robin Symes collection (lot 180). No other history has been provided.

Several antiquities associated with Robin Symes have been returned to Greece and Italy in recent years. So what is the previous history of this krater? Who is the present owner?


That's exactly the kind of pressure and pointed questioning the antiquities trade needs to account for. Where was the object unearthed? Where did Symes acquire it? He may have acquired it legitimately, but as courts have noted in other similar contexts the "red flags" should be up.

Oct 2, 2008

Renoir Recovered

This is a couple days old, but Italian authorities have recovered a work by Renoir, 33 years after it was stolen in Milan.

Oct 1, 2008

United States Senate Finally Ratifies the 1954 Hague Convention


On September 25th, the Senate gave its advice and consent and ratified the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The treaty was submitted to the Senate by President Clinton in 1999. You can read the statement submitted by the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, and other heritage advocacy groups here.

Pictured here is a "Blue Shield" in Austria I pulled from Flickr. The text reads:

"Protected by the convention of The Hague, dated 14 May 1954, for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. (BGBI. No. 58 3rd April 1964)."

I'm a bit surprised the ratification has not made any papers yet. Though a Presidential election and a world banking collapse certainly are taking their share of headlines; part of the reason may be that the Hague Convention was designed to prevent the kind of theft and widescale destruction which took place in World War II, as Larry Rothfield correctly points out.

As Rothfield notes:

A new and quite distinct danger has emerged in the half-century since the 1954 Convention, however. It comes not from military action, but from military inaction in the face of looting by civilians, fueled by the global market for antiquities that has boomed over the last few decades. While Hague leads the military to [focus] on avoiding harm, it imposes no requirement to actively protect cultural sites against the harm that comes from the breakdown in law and order and the concomitant surge in market-driven looting. The obligations it imposes on occupying powers, in fact, seem designed to limit the responsibility of occupiers for securing cultural property, with such responsibility applying only to "cultural property situated in occupied territory and damaged by military operations," only when national authorities are unable to protect it, and even then only so far as possible. Since looting by civilians is not damage inflicted by military operations, Iraq's archaeological sites are fair game and no necessary concern of the US military, which may in fact point to Hague as putting it off the hook for whatever goes wrong.

That succinctly points out the main flaws in the Hague framework. However Rothfield notes, and I wholeheartedly agree that the flaws in the Hague Convention certainly do not make ratification meaningless.

It officially adopts what had up to now been customary international law, and may help to aid and support the efforts of organizations like
Blue Shield and others. Ultimately, the difficulty international treaties and lawmakers have had in regulating the rules of conflict to prevent the looting and destruction of sites may indicate how difficult it is to regulate armed conflict -- and may perhaps be a powerful reason to avoid the use of force at all cost. As the Hague Testimony endorsed by heritage advocacy groups notes, adoption of the Convention "
is a crucial step toward improving our foreign relations by sending a strong signal to all nations that the United States values their cultural heritage."


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