Jan 29, 2009

Damage to Heritage in Gaza

Lauren Gelfond Feldinger has a report in the Art Newspaper to damage to Gaza's cultural sites:

JERUSALEM. After a 3,500-year history of invasions, the latest war on the beleaguered coastal strip of Gaza has once again put historic sites at risk.
The fragile ceasefire in force at the time of writing has allowed some information to emerge about the fate of Gaza’s cultural heritage. Gaza’s only museum, a private antiquities museum run by Gazan contractor and collector Jawdat Khoudary, was badly damaged during Israel’s 22 days of air and land strikes. The glass doors and windows have been shattered and the roof and walls have been damaged. Roman and Byzantine pottery, Islamic bronze objects and many amphorae have been destroyed, initially during shooting 20m to 200m away, and later because of nearby shelling, with one direct hit to the museum’s conference hall, Mr Khoudary said. Amphorae, clay and ceramic vessels with two looped handles, were created in Gaza and the region during the fourth to seventh centuries for holding wine, olive oil and food and trading perishable commodities.

Meanwhile, anxieties are growing about the fate of the city’s antiquities. “I am very concerned: the entire Gaza Strip is an archaeological site,” Palestinian archaeologist Professor Moain Sadeq said.

Professor Sadeq founded the Palestinian Antiquities Department of Gaza in 1994, and is currently a visiting lecturer at the University of Toronto while in contact daily with Gaza. “Historical sites and buildings in Gaza are adjacent to urban areas, so any location that was hit as a target also put the nearby historical sites and buildings in danger,” he said. Major sites where damage is expected because of heavy fighting in adjacent areas include: Tell es-Sakan, an early Bronze Age settlement that is the largest and oldest walled Canaanite city in the local region, and the oldest Egyptian fortified site outside of Egypt; Tel el-Ajull, an important middle and late Bronze period city that was an important trade hub between ancient Egypt and the Levant; and the remains of Anthedon, a Hellenist port. The Byzantine church of Jabalya was also near heavy fighting, and was the site of partial damage by Israeli tanks during an incursion in 2005. Al-Zeitoun residential quarter in Gaza’s Old City, a medieval historic district, has also been largely destroyed, Professor Sadeq added.

Archaeologists are expecting assessment of all of Gaza’s historical sites to be slow. As humanitarian assistance is the urgent priority, serious archaeological surveys of historic sites will be delayed. “I hope that Israel and the Palestinians will work to restore the sites. I am worried about Gaza sites that were excavated and are above the ground because I am sure during the military activity that some sites have been damaged,” Dr Yigal Yisrael, of the Israel Antiquities Authority Ashkelon region and Western Negev said.

Jan 28, 2009

All or Nothing

Rose Museum
Lots of very thoughtful reactions to the shocking decision by Brandeis University to shut down the Rose Museum of Art.  The Art Law Blog and C-Monster have all the links.  The best coverage comes via the Boston Globe and NPR

The decision is upsetting on two levels.  For one, the institution is deciding art does not have a place in its core education mission.  Second and perhaps more troubling, how many more Universities and museums will be confronted with similar difficulties in the coming years.  There was the rumored Iowa proposed deaccessioning, the LA MOCA debacle, the National Academy deaccessioning, and even the dissolution of 18 research positions at the University of Pennsylvania all signal a shift away from the arts and humanities. Endowments are way down for a host of institutions.  Given the economic situations, might these increase, rather than decrease? 

One of the potential avenues to block the closure, or at least guide it towards a more-acceptable resolution will be the Massachusetts Attorney General.  One wonders if in this climate, we may have to think about adopting the approach much of the rest of the World uses for cultural management, namely Government support and funding.  Much of the cultural management structures in the UK, such as the Waverley Export Process, were initiated in response to economic hard times, and the loss of art and world-heritage leaving the UK and heading elsewhere, namely to the US.  It might be worth remembering, that the Universal Museums in america were formed at the expense of other nations.  If a similar trend continues here in the US, might something like a Culture Cabinet Post become not just a nice idea, but a necessity?   

William R. Ferris, senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, made the case in an op-ed piece last month in the New York Times. It begins:
IN 1935, as part of the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Farm Security Administration, which reached out to rural families as they struggled during the Depression. Roy Stryker, who oversaw the agency’s photo documentary program, captured the strength of American culture in the depths of the country’s despair. The photographs of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks showed us both the pain of America and the resilience of its people.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson drew on his Texas roots when he created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, organizations that share America’s arts and humanities with the American people.
As we are entering another era of increased government programs, or so it would seem.  Might not a strong Cabinet-level advocate make very good sense?  I think it would.  

Turning back to the Rose decision, Donn Zaretsky beats me to the punch on one of my initial reactions to the decision.  Namely, the deaccessioning hurdles may perversely make it more feasible for an institution in financial or other difficulty to completely shut down, rather than sell parts of a collection. 

I wonder if the taboo against selling individual pieces might not have contributed, in some small way, to Brandeis's decision to close the museum? If they could have sold five or ten of the most valuable works without controversy, might the trustees have reached a different conclusion?
Richard Lacayo offers more substance on this with an interview with Michael Rush, the Rose's director:
"You can't solve a shortfall problem by selling, say, our Lichtenstein and still maintain yourself legally and ethically as a museum. I think that's what's behind the decision to do something drastic and close the museum.

"Over the last couple of years we went through one very meticulous deaccessioning. It involved some art that was not part of our mission and had never been shown in the museum but that happened to be valuable. We got in before the market crashed. We went through several meticulous processes there, with donors, with boards, with lawyers, with the AAMD.

"So the university, from the top down, was intimately familiar with deaccessioning processes. And I think that, rather than go through the scrutiny that would accompany the sale of a few paintings, they decided instead on what I'm sure they felt would be a one-shot situation of horrible feedback over closing the museum. As draconian as it may seem, I think that closing the museum was what they were advised, legally, to do. You can't do this piecemeal."

All or nothing, that seems to be the ethical landscape.   

True/Hecht Trial Continues Slowly

The trial of Marion True and Robert Hect continued last week in Rome.  The prosecution is now in its fourth year.  From the New York Times:

Focus shifted to the dealer, Robert Hecht, who has been accused along with Ms. True of conspiracy to traffic in antiquities looted from Italian soil. Both defendants deny the charges. Daniela Rizzo, an archaeologist, presented documents and photographs of artifacts that prosecutors contend passed through Mr. Hecht’s hands. Mr. Hecht’s lawyer said his client disputed the case made by prosecutors for the provenance of each object. Several objects sold by Mr. Hecht to institutions like the Getty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been returned to Italy.
 Italian court proceedings can be extremely slow, so this may not be that extraordinary.  One wonders at this point though, what are the consequences for Italy and other nations of origin if the defendants are not guilty? 

Jan 27, 2009

"Treasure is Trouble"

£2.6 billion worth. From the Telegraph:

In a project shrouded in secrecy, work is due to start on recovering the cargo, which was being transported to the United States to help pay for the Allied effort in the Second World War...
In order to protect its find until the cargo is brought to the surface, the company that located the wreck has not released the name of the vessel or its exact location, but has given the ship the code name "Blue Baron".
It says the merchant ship, which had a predominantly British crew, had left a European port, laden with goods for the US Treasury under the Lend-Lease scheme, whereby the American government gave material support to the Allied war effort in exchange for payments.
The Blue Baron first sailed to a port in South America, where it unloaded some general cargo, before continuing north in a convoy, heading for New York.
However, the company claim it was intercepted by German U-boat U87 and sent to the bottom by two torpedoes in June 1942, with the loss of three crew members. Their nationalities are not known.
Sub Sea Research, a US-based marine research and recovery firm, claims it has now located the wreck under 800ft of water about 40 miles off Guyana.


This could be worth as much as £2.6 billion, as the cargo included as much as ten tons of gold bullion, 70 tons of platinum, diamonds, and even tin and copper. Interesting that this was the expected payment for part of the lend-lease program. It is striking as well that there is very little mention of any archaeological study of the wreck, despite the very recent history, and mystery surrounding the sinking of vessel.

Jan 23, 2009

Fake and Stolen Dalis Seized

From the BBC:


Spanish police say they have confiscated dozens of suspected fake artworks by Salvador Dali that were to be sold in the town of Estepona.  More than 80 pieces were seized, 12 of which might be genuine, but are on Interpol records as having been stolen in Belgium, France and the US.  A fake 10ft (3m) Dali sculpture of an elephant was priced at $1.5m (£1.1m).
Police have arrested a Frenchman who transported the pieces from France for the sale. He was not identified.
The art includes sculptures, lithographs, engravings, cutlery and textile pieces.
Police also uncovered "20 certificates of authenticity" for sculptures attributed to the Spanish artist.  Police said their suspicions were raised because the Frenchman had not sought special security arrangements for the show.  Dali died in 1989, leaving a multi-million dollar estate, the exact value of which is difficult to calculate partly because of the widespread existence of forgeries.
The works were seized from the town of Estepona, a resort town.  Reminding us again, that when you're on vacation, take extra care when purchasing art. Of the 81 seized works, 12 were thought to have been genuine.  The difficulty, it seems, is with the huge number of Dali works, and purported works.  From the Times

Dalí, who died 20 years ago tomorrow at the age of 84, was said to have flooded the art market with thousands of fakes. He is thought to have signed as many as 35,000 blank sheets of paper to which lithographs could later be applied at any time. Some auction houses will not touch his work

Jan 19, 2009

Peter Sachs' Nazi-Era Restitution Disptue

David Rising for the AP has the story of 71-year-old Peter Sachs and his attempts to secure his father's 12,500 rare posters:

When Peter Sachs was only a year old in 1938, the Nazis seized his father's collection of 12,500 rare posters on the orders of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.
Sachs' father, Hans — a Jewish dentist — was then thrown into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin. After his wife managed to secure his release, the family fled to Boston — leaving the posters behind.

Today, some 4,000 of the posters, worth at least euro4.5 million ($5.9 million), are in the possession of the German Historical Museum in Berlin, largely in storage. Peter Sachs goes to court Tuesday to try to get them back.

"I think that any disposition of the posters would be preferable to their languishing in a museum for 70 years without ever seeing the light of day," Sachs told the AP in a telephone interview from his home in Sarasota, Florida.

The posters include advertisements for exhibitions, cabarets, movies, and consumer products, as well as political propaganda — all rare, with only small original print runs. One jewel of the collection was a 1932 poster for "Die Blonde Venus" — The Blonde Venus — a film starring Marlene Dietrich. It formed the basis for Sachs' suit when he filed it last year, but museum officials say it is not part of the Sachs collection they have.

Only a handful of the posters on display at any given time but museum officials say they form an integral part of its 80,000-piece collection. The museum also points out that those in storage are regularly viewed by researchers.

The suit at the Berlin administrative court is the latest step in a case that has dragged over several years.

Sachs, 71, lost his first attempt to have the posters returned through a German restitution panel, known as the Limbach Commission, which ruled in 2007 that the museum was the rightful owner. But Gary Osen, Sachs' Oradell, New Jersey-based attorney, said he is more confident of recovering the posters through the German legal system at Tuesday's one-day hearing.

It could be a difficult claim for Sachs, as his father accepted compensation in the 1960s of approximately $50,000, and the elder Sachs apparently viewed the sum as an appropriate payment.  

China's CPAC Request Granted

 China's request for import restrictions of certain classes of China's antiquities has finally been granted.  The Memorandum of Understanding is here, while the State Department Press Release is here.   Now prohibited, unless accompanied by a Chinese export license will be "archaeological material originating in China and representing China’s cultural heritage from the Paleolithic Period through the end of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 907), and of monumental sculpture and wall art at least 250 years old; including categories of metal, ceramic, stone, textiles, other organic material, glass, and painting".

Randy Kennedy has an overview for the New York Times.  Professor Patty Gerstenblith thinks the decision "is a very appropriate way for the State Department to have applied the statute and the statutory requirements to China’s request". 

James Lally, a New York dealer in Asian art was not quite as impressed, "It’s going to have a terrible effect on efforts to encourage new students to study Asian art and on collectors and patrons to become involved in the field ...  They’ll say, ‘Well, I’ll just go to contemporary art or I’ll support the symphony.’ It sends the wrong signal.”
 
Peter Tompa has a thoughtful criticism on his blog as well,

I would, however, echo [other's] concerns about fair enforcement, particularly when it comes to coins. Indeed, many Chinese coins of the types covered under the agreement have so little monetary value that it makes little sense for importers to go through the time and effort to secure the necessary certifications for licit import. For example, at the CPAC hearing in February 2005, I passed around a Han Dynasty cash coin from the 1st c. BC (bought for $2.25) and a Tang Dynasty cash coin c. 618-907 AD (bought for $8.00).

Such a problem presents some very difficult regulatory challenges, and goes I think to the heart of how we define cultural heritage or property.  I don't envy the task of ICE agents, who are now charged with making sure these very small objects are not imported into the US. 

China has created a large heritage bureaucracy which does allow the purchase and sale of antiquities, but the government has  right of first refusal for all of these objects.  There is also a complicated ratings system, overseen by a government official in relics shops, which determines what is too important to sell, and what is not.  The system has been criticized for its potential for abuse, though what heritage policy in any nation isn't. 

China Will Sue over Looted Bronzes

AFP is reporting that China will bring a repatriation suit in France over bronze statues taken from the Old Summer Palace before it was burned in 1860.

Chinese lawyers will sue auction giant Christie's over the sale of relics owned by the late Yves Saint Laurent which they say were stolen from a looted Beijing palace, according to state press.  The lawyers are hoping that French courts will stop the auction house from selling two bronze animal heads at a February sale in Paris and order the return of the relics to China, the Beijing Times reported.  "The lawsuit will be placed before a French court in accordance with international law," Liu Yang, one of 67 Chinese lawyers working on the case, told the paper.  "We are demanding that the auction house stop the sale and order the owner of the stolen items to return them."  The relics currently belong to the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and were being put up for auction by the late fashion magnate's partner Pierre Berge, the paper said.

This should shape up to be a fascinating dispute.  There's little question I think the bronzes were taken under lass-than-noble circumstances by the British.  More background on the dispute here.  

Jan 15, 2009

A Housekeeping Note about my RSS Feed and Syndicating

Many fellow bloggers have kindly syndicated content from this and other blogs. If you would please use the updated RSS feed for this site, it should use updated content, rather than the post from a couple years back: http://feeds.feedburner.com/IllicitCulturalProperty

For a number of reasons I have routed my feed through feedburner, so you'll have to use that address, not the general address for this blog.

Largest British Art Theft Comes to Light

When exhibits were returned to the V&A after the war, John Nevin was able to sneak some outEarlier this month, Cahal Milmo had an excellent article in the Independent on the story of John Nevin, an employee at the Victoria & Albert Museum between 1944 and 1953 who stole over 2,000 objects, some of which are still missing.  That makes this the largest art theft ever from a British museum in terms of the scale of objects taken.  This is an old theft, but many thefts which take place aren't done by armed gunmen or in a dramatic fashion, but rather in a mundane way by museum staff. 
  
Documents held at the National Archives in Kew, west London, reveal that Nevin was able to slowly remove his haul from the storage areas of the museum – smuggling out items such as a small table, which he dismantled and secreted bit-by-bit in his trouser leg – after he was granted unique access to showcases in the aftermath of the Second World War.
By the time police caught up with the kleptomaniac museum worker, who was 48 when he began his crime spree, Nevin had amassed a vast array of precious objects, including 20 Japanese silver sword guards, 229 illustrations torn from books, 18 pieces of Albanian embroidery, 132 original drawings and watercolours and a 300-year-old Flemish tapestry.
Nevin profited from the opportunity presented when elements of the V&A's collection were returned to its building in Kensington after the war, when they had been in storage.
Senior managers at the museum were shocked when the string of thefts was discovered late in 1953, the documents make clear. In his statement to police, Peter Floud, Nevin's boss and head of the Circulation Department, the part of the museum responsible for external loans, said: "His duties involved moving, handling, sorting and checking museum objects. As a result of the war years, when stocks were being moved into shelters and then back to the museum, a great deal of sorting was necessary.

Museums and institutions have learned many of these lessons, that their own employees can sometimes betray them.  This of course highlights the importance of accurate and complete documentation of museum collections, and is another consequence of the art trade, which does not rigorously check title histories.  There is a bit of comedy about this story though.  With Mrs. Nevin using an 18th Century Italian tortoiseshell handbag and claiming it as her own, and decorating their council house flat with objects from the V&A. 

Jan 14, 2009

100 Objects Returned to Panama

http://www.fbi.gov/pressrel/pressrel09/images/panamahigh4.jpg
Yesterday the FBI announced the return of 100 antiquities to Panama, including this very small piece of jewelry.  The objects were seized during an investigation "conducted  by the FBI's Portland Division":


The FBI’s investigation revealed that the widow of an amateur archeologist was storing the items in and around Klamath Falls, Oregon. The investigation showed that the individual acquired many of the items while working as a teacher on a U.S. military base in Panama during the 1980s. It was also during this time that he married his wife, then a Panamanian citizen. The two brought many of the items with them when they moved back to the U.S. in the late 1980s. Over the years, the couple sold some of the items at various markets and on the Internet. The Klamath Falls man died of natural causes in October 2004.No charges are expected.


The 1972 Panama Constitution and a 1982 Panamanian law make it illegal for any person to own antiquities from that country. Only the government of Panama may own such items, and give permission for archeological digs and/or transport of antiquities out of the country.

Neko Case and a Post for Charity

Neko Case and Anti-Records have teamed up to support Best Friends Animal Society by donating $5 for each and every Blog post and $1 for iLike user that adds her new single, "People Got A Lotta Nerve" to their profile. This runs through February 3, 2009.

Here's the MP3:

MP3 - Neko Case - People Got A Lotta Nerve


More information can be found on Anti's Blog: click here 

Hat Tip:  Jill.

Jan 13, 2009

Italy Announces Recovery of 10 Works, Doubled Recovery of Stolen Heritage

The Holy Family, a 16th painting depicting Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus that one expert attributes to Flemish master Hendrick van den Broeck was one of 10 paintings recovered. Italian police have recovered 10 works which were stolen back in 2004. Among the recovered works is this 16th Century painting depicting the holy family attributed ot Hendrick van den Broeck.

Gen. Giovanni Nistri announced the works had a value of $5.3 million USD, noting the works were found in a trailer wrapped in newspaper. The were were stolen in 2004 from "an ancient religious complex in Rome" according to the AP story.

The Culture Ministry also announced today that it had returned over 2,000 antiquities to Bulgaria, many of which were coins.

Nistri also announced that works totaling $243 million had been recovered in 2008, more than double the amount recovered the year before. Also noted in a Bloomberg account: "The number of known illegal digs in Italy last year increased by 15 percent to 238, mostly in the area around Rome, the Carabinieri police said." It seems most of this increase was due to the increased policing of unauthorized archaeological digs (which we might just call looting). How has Italy found the resources or will to increase its efforts? Perhaps its new heritage advisor Mario Resca, profiled in today's Wall Street Journal has some ideas on how to earn revenue from this heritage.

Whether Resca is the man to make the necessary changes remains to be seen, but he:

points in particular to Pompeii -- Italy's most popular site with 2.6 million visitors in 2007 -- where littering, looting and the dilapidation of 2,000-year-old buildings and frescoes prompted the government this summer to declare a "state of emergency." His concerns extend beyond conservation to issues of marketing and service.
Preserving this massive body of heritage is a difficult undertaking, and I touched on the difficulties at Pompei briefly here, but just because Resca is an outsider does not necessarily mean his ideas will be bad. In fact many of his suggestions have been floated before.

Jan 12, 2009

Egypt Returns Stolen Antiquity to Iraq

The AP is reporting on Egypt's return of a bronze statue to Iraq. Zahi Hawass, ever the showman knows how to run a press-conference. I was also surprised to read Egypt has recovered some 5,000 objects from Iraq. The smuggler currently faces a 3-5 year prison sentence, but it could escalate to a troubling 25 years if the Egyptian parliament enacts a new law. I'm a proponent of serious penalties for antiquities smuggling, put a 25 year ex poste facto sentence seems outrageous, especially one enacted after the criminal activity:

Egypt's antiquities chief unveiled Sunday a bronze statue of what he described as an ancient Mesopotamian goddess that had been looted from Iraq.

Zahi Hawass said an Egyptian man working in Jordan was caught at Nuweiba port trying to smuggle the statue into the country.

In the course of the ceremony, Hawass sliced through the plastic bubble wrap covering the 10 centimeter tall statue and handed it over to the Iraqi Charge d'Affaires, Abdel Hadi Ahmed.

"When the invasion of Iraq began in 2003, we wrote to the British and American governments asking them to protect Iraq's heritage and museums," said Hawass. "But that didn't happen."

Hawass said that since then his office has been tracking stolen Iraqi artifacts and has recovered some 5,000 items.

Hawass, who is a vigorous campaigner to recover Egypt's own stolen antiquities, said he will not do business with museums that buy stolen Iraqi artifacts.

The antiquities chief said he couldn't tell exactly the age or historical background of the statue, but said its headpiece suggests it is a female fertility deity.

Hawass said the smuggler now faces between three to five years in jail, but this could change to 25 years if a new law is approved in parliament next month.

Iraqi diplomat Ahmed told reporters that 24,000 stolen artifacts have been returned to Iraq as of July 2008.

According to UNESCO, between 3,000 to 7,000 pieces are still believed missing, including about 40 to 50 that are considered to be of great historic importance.

The smuggling of stolen antiquities from Iraq's rich cultural heritage is allegedly helping finance Iraqi extremist groups, according to the U.S. investigator who led the initial probe into the looting of Baghdad's National Museum.

2008 In Review

I'm a little late with my 2008 in review, but as this post will be my 500th, and as the blog has eclipsed the 100,000-pages-read mark, I think its a good time to look back on art and antiquities policy in 2008.  Pictured here is a part of the New Prospect.1 New Orleans Biennial.

  1. In January a massive search of the the LA County Museum of Art, along with Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and the Mingei Museum in San Diego seemed to signal new scrutiny by federal authorities of the antiquities trade.  However the investigation seems to have stalled significantly, as Roxanna Brown died in federal custody
  2. Also in January, Shelby White agreed to return antiquities from her private collection to Italy continuing Italy's wildly successful repatriation policy, which was further-publicized by the travelling "Nostoi" exhibition.  
  3. The extent of the forgeries produced by the Bolton forgers started to emerge as well, and revealed the underlying difficulty the art and antiquities trade has in authentication.  Even for world-class institutions, the temptation to purchase a masterwork at a "bargain" price is too tempting.  
  4. The ongoing dispute between Spain, Odyssey Marine, and even Peru over a massive underwater discovery has been taking place in Federal District Court in Florida.  
  5. In December, Peru filed suit against Yale University seeking the return of a number of objects from Machu Picchu. 
  6. Italy and the Cleveland Museum of Art reached an agreement to return antiquities to Italy.
  7. The state of Iraq's heritage has been in the news a great deal this last year as well, with a number of seizures, arrests and returns.
  8. In June, the AAMD issued a new ethics policy for the acquisition of antiquities, which stated essentially that in most cases a museum should not acquire an object unless evidence exists that the object was outside its "country of probable modern discovery before 1970, or was legally exported from its probably country of modern discovery after 1970."
  9. New Economic models were proposed for the antiquities trade, which share a lot of characteristics with some of the old models, but could if implemented carefully do a lot of good.
  10. The state of the American economy has made deacessioning an emerging issue for many arts institutions, and reveals I think a number of interesting discrepancies in how we think art should be displayed and allocated.
Many thanks for your continued readership.  

Jan 8, 2009

How to Buy a $125k Sculpture for $900?

Open up a scrapyard.  Larry Harnisch reports on the theft of a 6-foot bronze miner statue stolen last February in Los Angeles and recovered by the LA Police Department's art theft detail at a local scrapyard where the statue was purchased for $900. 

This is an emerging problem given the high price of metals, though these prices are falling again.  This is an inherent problem with public art, but much of the blame belongs to scrapyard owners as well, which might perhaps look the other way in such circumstances.  

Subway Excavations Spur Looting in Phillipines

A very interesting story this morning from Jobers Bersales of the Cebu Daily News on the looting which took place when subway excavations under Cebu's Plaza Independencia resulted in looting of ceramic and other objects uncovered by the digging. 

The tragedy of Plaza Independencia was compounded somewhat because of the failure of the National Museum to send a monitoring team to observe the subway project, a recommendation made by the private archaeological firm that was hired to conduct pre-project archaeological assessment of the plaza in 2006. It was only when this columnist came out in August last year to report the looting that the National Museum immediately and without haste came over to begin the monitoring process! That report was triggered by the same online heritage forum where a member mentioned the golden treasures that were taken out of the construction site with regularity.

The looting was compounded further by the fact that Kajima Construction, which actually reported to the National Museum about the looting way back in June but got no response, had some sub-contracted workers coming from their former infrastructure project in Butuan province – workers who had experienced looting burial sites in artifact-rich Butuan. The looting had so alarmed Kajima that it ordered an investigation way, way before the looting was reported, fired the workers, and requested the sub-contracting firm to order the return of the gold bracelets, armlets, earrings and untold number of jars, plates and other ceramics that were carted away by an antiques buyer posing just outside the walls of the construction site, a gray-haired man who carried thousands in a clutch bag.
For more, see here, a series of blog posts with photos from Cebu. 

Jan 7, 2009

Looting of Native American Sites in South Dakota

Josh Verges of the ArgusLeader had a good detailed story about the indictment of three men in South Dakota for trafficking in Native American artifacts:


The federal indictments of three men accused of trafficking in Native American artifacts reveal a lucrative trade centered on the illegal harvesting of a culture's buried history.

U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley said the indictments - the first of their kind in his two and a half years on the job - are partly a response to his conversations with tribal members."When I travel to Cheyenne River and Standing Rock ... this is very important to their culture and their tradition," he said.

Jackley said the investigation continues with the possibility of more indictments, and those already filed involve a "significant number of artifacts."

Brian Ekrem, 28, of Selby and Richard Geffre, 49, of Pierre allegedly sold three copper arm bands in violation of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act and were involved in the collection of many other artifacts, including beads, arrowheads and bone tools.  Scott Matteson, 60, of Fort Pierre is accused of buying red stone discs, arrowheads and a sandstone scraping tool, all of which had been removed from public and Indian lands.

Each man pleaded not guilty earlier this month in Pierre and was released without bond until his next court appearance. In each case, court records do not specify how the items were obtained or to which tribe they probably belonged.  Matteson said last week that he bought the items from an artifacts dealer and he did not know their origins. He said that transaction of less than $300 has resulted in what he hopes is only a temporary loss of his artifact museum.

He said federal agents recently confiscated his 38-foot trailer filled with Native American arrowheads, pots and other relics, which he has collected during the past 50 years.
Verges and the two other men were most likely looting sites and burial grounds.  Policing these violations is difficult given the vast geographical area federal agents and prosecutors are tasked with safeguarding.  That's why its particularly disturbing that President Bush has decided to pardon David Lane Woolsey (via) of St. George Utah, who violated the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. 

Jan 6, 2009

30 Works Stolen from Berlin

Art thieves don't party.  30 Works were stolen from a Berlin gallery sometime close to New Year's Eve the AP reported earlier this week:

Nu au rocking chair by Henri MatisseThieves stole works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and others from a Berlin gallery over the New Year's holiday, police said Friday.
More than 30 works — worth an estimated euro180,000 ($250,000) — were stolen, apparently between Wednesday afternoon and lunchtime Thursday, police spokeswoman Claudia Schweiger said. The artwork was taking from the Fasanengalerie, a private gallery near western Berlin's central shopping district.
The etchings, prints and sculptures included "Profil au fond noir," a 1947 work by Picasso; "Nude in a rocking chair," a Matisse print from 1913; and "Le Boupeut," a 1962 color print by Georges Braque.
The gallery's owner discovered the loss New Year's Day, having found signs the door had been pried open, police said. Given the number of works stolen and the weight of the sculptures, two or more people probably were involved, police said in a statement.

New Year's Eve is a popular time to steal works of art, as are other nights when cities revel and police may be stretched thin.  The theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum took place on St. Patrick's day in Boston. 

Brodie on the Market in Iraqi Antiquities

Neil Brodie, now at the Stanford University Archaeology Center, has posted a work in progress "
The market in Iraqi antiquities 1980-2008". I highly recommend giving the text a read, but here are a few highlights:

  • It is clear that during the period in question [1990 to 2003] and despite UNSCR 661 the quantities of unprovenanced artefacts being offered for sale did not diminish; in fact if anything they increased over the years running up to 2003.
  • Since April 2003, the sale of unprovenanced Iraqi artifacts at public auction in New York and London has stopped entirely, perhaps because of the widespread negative publicity that followed on from the break-in at the National Museum, or because of UNSCR 1483.
  • After 2003, outside the auction market, Iraqi artifacts continued to be openly traded on the Internet. On one day – 5 December 2006 – there were at least 55 websites offering antiquities for sale and that might have been expected to sell Iraqi objects.
  • Circular saws are not the tools of archaeologists, and traces of their use are clear evidence that the “bricks” were removed destructively from their architectural context and cut down in size to facilitate their illegal transport from Iraq.
I think the final point is most damning of all, describing pretty clearly that many of the "bricks" appearing on the internet have been cut with circular saws, surely not the tool of an archaeologists, if there was any doubt that these objects were removed from their context by legitimate, legal means.

Jan 5, 2009

An End in Sight to Portrait of Wally Forfeiture?


Martha Lufkin of the art newspaper summarizes the nearly 10-year-long dispute between Federal prosecutors, the Bondi family and the Leopold Museum in Vienna. For past posts on the long-running dispute over this work see here.

Lufkin also reports Federal prosecutors have asked that a judgment to be postponed to allow the review of some new evidence:

Judgement on a long-running lawsuit in New York, which helped launch a world outcry over Nazi-looted art at museums and prompted many institutions to begin examining their collections for history of Nazi theft, has been postponed to let the US government review new evidence. On 3 June the schedule was suspended on a case brought by the US government in 1999 to seek confiscation of Egon Schiele's Portrait of Wally from the Leopold Museum in Vienna, under the US National Stolen Property Act. The US says the Leopold knew that the art was stolen by a Nazi in 1939 from its Jewish owner, Lea Bondi. The case, which the parties had asked the court to resolve without a trial, is before the federal district court in Manhattan.


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