Jun 25, 2009

Light Posting

Posting will likely be light for the next few weeks.  I have the great fortune to teach a module of the ARCA Masters program in Amelia for two weeks on antiquities and heritage law.

Jun 24, 2009

NAGPRA complaint against UMass

Gale Courey Toensing for Indian Country Today reports on a NAGPRA complaint against the University of Masachusetts:


A complaint against the University of Massachusetts Amherst, claiming violations of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is under investigation and will be heard at a Review Committee meeting in the fall.

The complaint was filed jointly by Tribal Historic Preservation Officers Cheryl Andrews-Maltais of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Aquinnah; John Brown III of the Narragansett Indian Tribe; and Sherry White of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians in May 2008. Andrews-Maltais has since been elected chairwoman of her tribe. . . .



The complaint says that UMass Amherst has violated NAGPRA by failing to respond to the tribes’ request for repatriation of human remains from the Connecticut River Valley that are in its possession, and failing to consult with the tribes.

The joint complaint also says the university failed to publish a complete inventory of the human remains and other items of cultural patrimony in its possession, and claims the remains from the Connecticut River Valley listed in its partial inventory are “culturally unaffiliated” even while admitting that the three tribes had a historical presence in and historical ties to the area, and that they are the only federally recognized tribes with standing to claim the remains.

More Thoughts on the Parthenon Marbles

"[T]he collection is a miracle". So writes Michael Kimmelman on the opening of the New Acropolis Museum in the NY Times. He notes:




Ownership remains the main stumbling block. When Britain offered a three-month loan of the marbles to the Acropolis Museum last week on condition that Greece recognizes Britain’s ownership, Mr. Samaras swiftly countered that Britain could borrow any masterpiece it wished from Greece if it relinquished ownership of the Parthenon sculptures. But a loan was out.
Pity. Asked whether the two sides might ever negotiate a way to share the marbles, Mr. Samaras shook his head. “No Greek can sign up for that,” he said.
Elsewhere, museums have begun collaborating, pooling resources, bending old rules. The British Museum, the [Met], the Louvre and other great public collectors of antiquity have good reason to fear a slippery slope if the marbles ever do go back, never mind what the Greeks say.

Pity indeed. Lee Rosenbaum argues today that such a loan would be difficult, "More daunting than logistics of shuttling this monumental work back and forth is the issue of trust: The British Museum would need ironclad assurances that once the marbles were in Athens, they would be allowed to leave when the time came for their long-term London sojourn. I keep envisioning Elgin Marble Riots, with distraught Greeks hurling themselves in the path of transport trucks."  
However one comes down on this issue, it really is true I think that we are all the poorer for the inability of both the Greeks and the British Museum to work together, because somehow and in some form the sculptures should be viewed together, as one unified work of monumental art.
Here is David Gill's terrific video post on the Parthenon Marbles dispute:




Jun 20, 2009

Another Suicide in the Wake of the Federal Looting Investigation

Steven Shrader, one of the 24 individuals indicted for dealing in looted antiquities killed himself Thursday night. This comes after the suicide of another man in connection with the case. The sad news should increase the criticism by two Utah senators who have asked for a Congressional investigation into the tactics used by Federal Authorities.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:


News of a second death in the antiquities crackdown surprised southeastern Utahns . . . . "That's tragic -- if it's the result of his concerns over his case," said Phil Mueller, a Blanding resident and Redd family friend. "I don't know -- I don't know [Shrader]. But to hear the news is certainly very tragic." Mueller added that he doesn't accept federal authorities' explanation that they needed a show of force in the raid because they believed most of the suspects could be armed. "You could walk up to any house in San Juan County," he said, "and they'd probably have a gun."of a second death in the antiquities crackdown surprised southeastern Utahns, although those contacted said they had not heard of Shrader.

These suicides are certainly tragic, and though some blame may be placed on the tactics used by federal agents, the simple truth is when you violate federal law, you are running the risk of arrest and prosecution. Digging up Native American remains is not an innocent activity one accidentally does it seems to me. And as more of the search-warrant affidavits are made public, there is more and more allegations of clear wrongdoing on the part of the indicted individuals. Patty Henetz for the SLT summarizes the recent affidavit released by federal court:
On a brisk morning last September, three men -- including a federal undercover operative -- carried shovels and rakes to an ancient Puebloan mound on public land in San Juan County. As they piled dirt onto a blue plastic tarp, out popped a skull.

The discovery, recorded in real time and detailed in recently released federal court papers, didn't seem to slow the men much.

Richard Bourret picked up the skull and put it back in the hole, the documents say, then he, Vern Crites and the operative, whom federal authorities call the "Source," folded the tarp and funneled the dirt back into the hole. There wasn't quite enough to cover the damage.

Crites lamented a lost opportunity, saying he "wished that fella had still been intact, the skeleton, I mean."

Jun 19, 2009

Illicit Antiquities and Endangered Animals

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I saw this interview of Peter Laufer yesterday, and it highlights the similarities between the illicit art and antiquities trade and the trade in endangered species.  Laufer here could just as easily be talking about many antiquities collectors, or as Jon Stewart calls them "supervillains". 

Jun 18, 2009

Gerstenblith on Schultz and Barakat

Patty Gerstenblith has posted a recent article, Schultz and Barakat:  Universal Recognition of National Ownership of Antiquities, which appeared in the recent issue of Art, Antiquity and Law, Vol. 14, No. 1, Apr. 2009.  She discusses the two recent cases in the United States and United Kingdom which lay out the requirements for how courts in these two nations view national ownership declarations of art and antiquities by other nations of origin.  Here is the abstract:

Two decisions, one in the United Kingdom and one in the United States, decided just about five years apart, are significant for universalising the principle that vesting laws - laws that vest ownership of antiquities in a nation - create ownership rights that are recognized even when such antiquities are removed from their country of discovery and are traded in foreign nations. This basic principle has proven to be very controversial in the United States and has been subjected to bitter criticism; yet virtually the same legal principle, when decided in a British court, received little comment or criticism. Compounding the interest of these two decisions is that, although both decisions came to virtually the identical conclusion, they did so utilizing different methods of analysis.

Although laws regulating cultural heritage have a long history, nations have enacted national ownership laws since the nineteenth century for the dual purposes of preventing unfettered export of antiquities and of protecting archaeological sites in which antiquities are buried. When ownership of an antiquity is vested in a nation, one who removes the antiquity without permission is a thief and the antiquities are stolen property. This enables both punishment of the looter and recovery of possession of the antiquities from subsequent purchasers. By making looted antiquities unmarketable, these laws reduce their economic value. National ownership laws thereby deter the initial theft and the looting of archaeological sites that causes destruction to the historical record and inhibits our ability to reconstruct and understand the human past. While reinforcing these goals, the Schultz and Barakat decisions also bring uniformity to the national treatment of this central legal principle.

Hitchens on the Parthenon Marbles

A close-up of a Parthenon frieze.
Christopher Hitchens was interviewed this morning on NPR's morning edition, arguing the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Athens:


"If you can picture cutting the panel of the Mona Lisa in two and having half of it in Sweden and half of it in Portugal," he says, "I think a demand would arise to have a look at what they look like if they were put together."

Hitchens points out that other pieces of the Parthenon have been returned by the Vatican Museum, the Italian government and the University of Heidelberg in Germany. 

So far, officials at the British Museum have refused. 

According to a statement on its Web site, "The current division allows different and complementary stories to be told about the surviving sculptures, highlighting their significance for world culture and affirming the universal legacy of Ancient Greece."

Jun 17, 2009

Backlash over Federal Arrests in the Southwest

http://www.delsjourney.com/images/news/news_02-07-01/2-3855_Butler_Wash.jpgBrendan Borrell has an interesting piece for Scientific American following up on the number of arrests which focused on the theft of Native American objects from the four corners region, which has been described as a massive outdoor museum.  Pictured here are the Butler Wash ruins near Blanding. 

Two Utah senators, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett have both called on Congress to investigate the actions of the federal agents surrounding the arrests, which led to one apparent suicide, the raid of one home for 10 hours, involving 300 agents and a SWAT team. 

One of those arrested, Brent Bullock tells Scientific American, "I’m guilty of arrowhead collecting, as is two-thirds of this town.”  It seems he:

[T]ried to sell a blanket fragment, fireboard, and stone hoe known as a Tchamahia. In a phone interview, he said that, like Lacy, he was also asked to identify the spot where the items were obtained and he subsequently signed a Letter of Provenance.  He says agents later showed up at his house, placed his arrowheads and other artifacts in bags, and photographed them although they did not have permission to seize his or any other artifacts yet. “They ripped this place apart,” he says. “This town is all stirred up.”
Criminal penalties may help to ease the taking of objects from these sites, but they also create a great deal of anger and resentment.  I think rather than just focusing on the arrests and the backlash, we should also pay attention to much of the education and outreach being conducted.  Were all of these individuals really hardened criminals, bent on destroying archaeological heritage to sell antiquities?  I'm sure some may have been, but the investigation seems to be failing spectacularly at convincing at least some local residents the importance of heritage preservation.  What will happen when the attention of federal authorities goes elsewhere?  Criminal penalties are important, and certainly justified in many cases.  But I would like the attention being paid to this controversy to focus on some practical initiatives that can do a lot of good before looting and destruction take place.  Take a few examples such as:  volunteer programs, initiatives such as the Comb Ridge project, and continued recruitment of site stewards

More on the Picasso Sketchbook Theft

The director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, Anne Baldassari has asked thieves to return the sketchbook stolen last week.  Though initial reports indicated the display case was unlocked, it seems special tools were used to remove the book from the locked case.  She tells Farah Nayeri of Bloomberg, "It’s an interesting notebook from a scholarly standpoint, as documentation . . . .  On the market, it’s worth nothing, especially since it was stolen."  She noted that the book may be broken up, “The only people interested in this sketchbook are major museums: We recently bought a sketchbook ourselves, to prevent it from being destroyed and dismembered . . . .  It allows us to preserve all evidence of the work of Picasso.”

Jun 16, 2009

More on the Parthenon Marbles

Det nye AkropolismuseumWith the opening of the Parthenon Museum coming soon, there was bound to be a great deal of discussion of the proper place for the sculptures, which always seems to return to the question of whether Lord Elgin's taking of the sculptures 200 years ago was rightful, wrongful, illegal, unethical, or a combination of the above.  Part of this has taken the form of a back and forth over whether some kind of loan arrangement could be arranged between the Greeks and the British Museum.  The Guardian reports that the dispute has "indirectly dragged in the Queen, the Greek-born Duke of Edinburgh, and Gordon Brown."  It also quotes Antonis Samaras, who rejected the very tentative loan proposals because they would somehow legitimize Elgin's taking of the marbles. That is unfortunate I think, because focusing on the circumstances surrounding the taking are almost certainly going to prevent any kind of resolution to the dispute.

Three months won't be enough to take them out of their boxes . . . .  As a time frame, it's bizarre. And agreeing to the condition [of ownership] would be like sanctifying Elgin's deeds and legitimising the theft of the marbles and the break-up of the monument 207 years ago. No Greek government could accept that.  For the first time, they are opening a window. They see they have to do something, now that the new museum is here.

Hannah Boulton, the British Museum spokeswoman clarified her earlie comments and responded to Samaras saying "It's not the case that an offer to lend the Parthenon Sculptures was specifically made ... It is clear from Mr Samaras's statement that he does not recognise the British Museum's legal ownership of the sculptures in our collection, which makes any meaningful discussion on loans virtually impossible."

I inadvertently caused a minor stir among some commenters earlier this week, including Kwame Opoku when I argued that Greece has no tenable legal claim to the marbles.  By that I mean, if Greece were to bring suit againt the British Museum, its trustees, or even the Government, it would have absolutely no chance of succeeding in court, because far too much time has elapsed, and it is not clear I don't think that the taking of the marbles was illegal under early 19th century legal principles.  I do not think any court would recognize the takign of the objects as theft, nor am I aware of any international agreements that would consider the removal of the sculptures as theft.  If they were taken today, sure, of course they would be theft because they would be owned by the Greek government; but that was not the legal situation 200 years ago.  As Damjan Krsmanovic points out at the Assemblage, such an examination leads to one obvious conclusion—that the ethics of the time were wrongheaded when viewed from today's perspective, but that merely critcizing those actions does not get us any closer to where the marbles belong now. 

[I]n order to remove the marbles, Elgin needed to obtain a firman (a permit) from the Ottoman authority, which permitted him to remove any sculptures, inscriptions and the like as he saw fit. Because of the unwieldy size of some pieces, a number were sawn into sections for easier transportation. The use of contemporary ethics, which are a product of a particular context and time, is merely going to result in a biased perspective that nullifies the Ottoman law and Elgin’s actions, which are a product of a different social, cultural, and political context.
 We are left with a very heated, very emotional argument which seems unlikely to be resolved so long as both teh Greeks and the British Museum insist on a kind of public battle for popular opinion.  I think—and perhaps it is naive—that a better solution could be reached far sooner by a collaborative relationship, in which some or all of the marbles or even some other objects of antiquity are shared back and forth among the two nations. 

Jun 15, 2009

Asif Efrat on International Antiquities Law


In 1970 UNESCO adopted a convention intended to stem the flow of looted antiquities from developing countries to collections in art-importing countries. The majority of art-importing countries, including Britain, Germany, and Japan, refused to join the Convention. Contrary to other art-importing countries, and reversing its own traditionally-liberal policy, the United States accepted the international regulation of antiquities and joined the UNESCO Convention. The article seeks to explain why the United States chose to establish controls on antiquities, to the benefit of foreign countries facing archaeological plunder and to the detriment of the US art market. I argue that the concern of US policymakers about looting abroad resulted from a series of scandals which exposed the involvement of American museums and collectors with looted material. Advocacy efforts of American archaeologists also played a key role in educating policymakers about the loss of historical knowledge caused by looting and the necessity of regulation. The article further analyzes how antiquities dealers and certain museums lobbied Congress against implementing the UNESCO Convention and why Congress decided in favor of implementation as an act of international moral leadership. Following the analysis of the Congressional battle, I examine how the US debate over looted antiquities has evolved to the present. The article concludes with implications for the role of values versus interests in international law.

These things are three-times cursed

That's what Joseph Sisto said to his father with respect to the 3,500 objects in the elder Sisto's Illinois home according to Rosalind Bentley in a piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday. 

These things are three-times cursed, Sisto, of Duluth, would tell his father, John. Cursed once because they were stolen, cursed twice because they were smuggled, and cursed thrice because concealing the cache in their home had robbed the family of its peace of mind.

And there are more details on how the objects came from Italy to the United States.  I think one curious thing to pick up on here, are all the crates of antiquities and other objects which were shipped from Italy.  Customs agents in both the United States and Italy were unable to detect these objects which were certainly illegally exported, and some were perhaps stolen.  I'm left wondering how many crates of objects are still being shipped which are undetected.  And I don't think its a case of authorities not taking this problem seriously, or a lack of legal restrictions; rather I think there are limits to what we can reasonably expect of law enforcement and customs agents. 


Collectibles and old texts fascinated the elder Sisto. By the time Joseph was an adolescent, his father was taking him on regular trips to Italy to visit family. The trips were often more drudgery for Joseph than pleasure. Italian summers were interminably hot, and Joseph and his dad would spend hours looking for rare books and manuscripts in musty old castles and homes in the country. Often, his father would either leave with purchased packages or he’d wind up buying the entire contents of the place.

Months after the Italian visits, crates would arrive at the brick bungalow in Berwyn. Scores of crates, almost never just one or two. That’s when the real work began. Joseph, his younger brother and his father would spend every minute of their spare time unloading dirty, messy crates. Instead of playing softball outside with friends or just hanging out, Joseph and his brother had to stay inside and catalogue the contents. But instead of selling the items on the black market (which the FBI said had been part of an original plan), John Sisto kept almost everything.

He converted the second floor of the bungalow into a veritable archive. He had dozens of bookshelves installed. He filled the attic. Then he learned how to read and translate Latin to better appreciate what was in his trove. He quietly and cautiously sought out curators to learn how to properly preserve ancient documents, always taking his absolute worst and most insignificant piece for the consultation so as not to arouse suspicion, Sisto said.

Jun 12, 2009

Greece Not Interested in Sharing the Marbles

Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum
Greek Culture Minister Antonis Samaras has said his nation is not interested in working out a loan arrangement for the Parthenon Marbles. 

I can certainly understand that point of view, but at some point don't we need to move beyond the question of whether that taking in 1801-2 was wrongful; and start asking what is best for the marbles and those who want to learn from them today?  I don't want to belabor the point, but isn't the fact that the marbles are still on display at the British Museum a pretty strong indication that their removal was legal, or if not, not subject to current judicial scrutiny?  We can argue about whether their continued display in London is ethical, but not I do not think a legal question any longer. 

From the BBC:

The government, as any other Greek government would have done in its place, is obliged to turn down the offer," Mr Samaras said, in a statement. 
"This is because accepting it would legalise the snatching of the Marbles and the monument's carving-up 207 years ago." 
He added that he was prepared to discuss lending Greek antiquities to the British Museum "to fill the gap left when the (Parthenon) Marbles finally return to the place they belong". 
Mr Samaras was responding to comments made by British Museum spokeswoman, Hannah Boulton, on Greek radio. 
She said under existing British Museum policy the museum would consider loan requests by any foreign government, including Greece. 
But all requests would be considered on a case-to-case basis, taking many factors into consideration, including fitness of the item or items to travel. 
Greece would also have to recognise the museum's ownership rights to the sculptures, which is a loan condition.

Ms Boulton told the BBC that the British Museum had not received a request from Greece, nor had it offered the marbles for loan.

Jun 11, 2009

Looted Objects Returned to Afghanistan

The BBC reports on the return of 1,500 objects which were seized by customs agents at Heathrow airport.  A great deal of attention was given to the looting of the Baghdad Museum and other sites in Iraq.  But are we ignoring the problems in Afghanistan?  This may be only a fraction of the objects which are escaping its borders. 

A 900-year-old bronze bird.


More than 1,500 artefacts were recovered in an 11-day operation. Many are priceless objects of Islamic art looted in illegal excavations.

They include a magnificent tall bronze bird. Nine-hundred years ago, its owner would have burned incense in the drawer that slots into its puffed chest.

"We are really happy to have our objects back," says Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, who has been preparing descriptions of the recovered treasures in the Dari language for the display cabinets.

There are prehistoric tools - up to 6,000 years old - and ancient coins, as well as more recent Islamic tiles, inscribed basins and bronze candlesticks.

"We wish all the countries around the world - if they have our collections - would transfer them back to our country too," Mr Rahimi says.

During Afghanistan's civil war, Kabul museum was on the front line. Used as a base by the Mujahedin, the building was badly damaged. But most devastating of all - 70% of its rich collection was systematically looted and smuggled abroad.

Much of what survived was then smashed to bits by the Taliban.

More on the Four Corners Indictments

The LA Times has more on the 24 indictments unsealed yesterday by federal authorities.  The individuals were charged both under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.  The press release is here, which has the names of the defendants, and some of the arrest warrants.  I find it noteworthy for at least two reasons.

First, this seems to be the familiar problem with heritage preservation just about anywhere in the world—helping local residents understand the importance of preserving objects—and not removing them.  In the case of thisarea, there are artifacts, pots, baskets, textiles, axe-heads and other objects often are well-preserved by the dry air, and in some cases aren't even buried.  I think these arrests are a welcome development, but they aren't going to be the best or only solution.  These extensive criminal investigations help raise the profile of the problem, but as I've argued elsewhere; they aren't a solution.  These elaborate criminal investigations are expensive, and require a great deal of resources.  I'm not sure either that we can guarantee that these will continue.  I'd like to see these arrests followed by some outreach explaining to the residents of these and other rural communities why these objects need to remain where they are, so they can be preserved for future generations. 

Most of those indicted were residents of Blanding, Utah, which according to wikipedia has the benefit of nearby monuments such as the Natural Bridges National Monument, Monument Valley and the Four Corners area, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Lake Powell), Cedar Mesa archaeological and wilderness area, the San Juan River including Goosenecks State Park, and the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. It is located approximately 1 hour south of the popular recreation hub, Moab, and Arches National Park.

As the piece in the LAT notes:

Southwest residents have been scooping up artifacts for generations. Since the early 20th century, settlers were even encouraged to dig up arrowheads, pottery and other remains. In the 1920s the University of Utah paid Blanding residents $2 per ancient pot.

Federal authorities estimate that 90% of the 20,000 archaeological sites in San Juan County, where Blanding is located, have been plundered.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the FBI and Bureau of Land Management in October 2006 developed "a major dealer of archaeological artifacts" as a source who would help them unravel the informal network of pot hunters profiting off the land's history. Authorities wired the dealer to record the transactions.


Second, the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazer was at the news conference, in what seems to be a high-profile attempt to highlight how seriously federal authorities are taking the looting of Native American sites.  These charges arose as part of a two-year investigation.  This indicates a dramatic departure from one of the final acts of the Bush administration, which was to pardon a Utah man for stealing objects from Native American territory. 

Jun 10, 2009

"You really shouldn't own the Mona Lisa"

One of the artifacts recovered from John Sisto's home.All things considered today has a terrific interview with Joseph Sisto, the son of John Sisto—the man whose private collection of antiquities, books and documents was subject to an FBI investigation resulting in 1,600 objects being returned to Italy.  As I wrote earlier this week, this was a staggering number of objects in the hands of one private collection.   And clearly the decision by the son to bring in the authorities after his father's death has created some tension in the family. 


As the younger Sisto says in the piece "Throughout the late 1960s and early '70s, he went back and forth buying estates and castles — the contents of those estates — in Italy, and then shipping them back here to the United States," he remembers that "[a]t some point, you could barely move in the house."  It seems the elder Sisto was self-taught, teaching himself ancient Latin and script Latin.

The younger Sisto soon realized that many of these objects had been illegally removed from Italy when he learned about the UNESCO Convention, and cultural property law while earning a degree in cultural anthropology.   

The story presents a sharp contrast I think, in the attitudes of th elder Sisto who clearly thought he was conducting good research, translating thousands of these ancient documents.  However his work, and his collection of objects must surely have violated Italian law.  But why was nobody missing all of these documents?  Were they really stolen, or instead purchased and illegally exported?  What will happen to these ancient documents.  I expect historians an dothers will be able to make great use of these documents, something that I don't think they could have done had the documents remained in private hands. 

24 Indicted for Looting in the 4 Corners

A staggering 24 indictments are being announced as we speak for looting Native American sites in the Southwest. From the Salt Lake Tribune:


An ongoing federal investigation of archaeological-site looting in the West has moved into Utah, where federal authorities are expected to visit later today to announce a slew of criminal charges.


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Bureau of Indian Affairs boss Larry EchoHawk, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman and officials from the FBI and Justice Department plan an afternoon news conference in Salt Lake City to detail the charges netted after a two-year undercover probe in southeastern Utah.


The charges stem from the theft of cultural and historical artifacts from American Indian lands and federal tracts in the Four Corners area, according to the Interior Department.

Inspiration, Fairey and George Orwell

"[I]t wasn’t created to say that you can’t be inspired "

So says Shepard Fairey in discussing Copyrights in an interview with Justin Shady of the Onion AV Club:


The A.V. Club: You’ve used photo references throughout your career, even going back to the André The Giant image that became your signature. But the Obama “Hope” poster sparked a legal battle between you and the Associated Press. Where’s the line between intellectual property and creative expression?

Obama Hope by Shepard FaireyShepard Fairey: The most important thing about intellectual property vs. creative expression is that copyright law was created not to stifle creativity, but to encourage creativity. The idea behind copyrighting was that if you made something, a piece of music or art or a product, someone cannot make an exact facsimile or replica of it, because that would hurt your ability to sell the exact same thing. But it wasn’t created to say that you can’t be inspired by something and make an evolution of that, something that transforms it. A lot of classical music or even aspects of the Declaration Of Independence are all borrowed from works that came before them. Now, there’d be lawsuits over all this stuff, but the common sense was that you build on ideas. If what you build doesn’t compete on the market for the thing that inspired it, then everyone wins.

And that’s the way I look at this Obama image. First of all, the AP is showing the wrong photo. I’d found this image of George Clooney and Obama at this Darfur panel, and I thought, “That’s kind of the right look for Obama.” When I saw the one they had, I thought they’d just cropped in on the same photo, but I realized it was taken either a split second before or a split second after. It’s interesting how once you have my poster and everyone knows it as a reference, everyone wants to work backward and find the source. But the source was completely irrelevant to the final cause, because Obama wasn’t even running for president yet when that was happening. It was a news photo. What I created was clearly a presidential poster—new colors, new slogan, totally stylized and idealized, and it doesn’t compete with the original.
That makes good sense I think, and whatever you think of Fairey, I think he does have a point that so much of what is created owes a debt to what has come before; and overly restrictive copyright regimes thwart that creation.   For another example, Paul Owen in the Guardian recently argued George Orwell's 1984 owes much of its "plot, characters and conclusion" to a work by Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We".  He reviewed the work in 1946, three years before he published 1984.  But as Owen argues:
So does it matter that Orwell borrowed plot and characters from the earlier book? After all, it seems clear that he made a superior work of literature out of them. Nineteen Eighty-Four's importance comes not so much from its plot as from its immense cultural impact, which was recognised almost immediately when it won the £357 Partisan Review prize for that year's most significant contribution to literature, and which has continued to this day. Most of the aspects and ideas of the novel that still resonate so strongly in political life are his own: newspeak, doublethink, thoughtcrime, the Thought Police, Room 101; the extreme use of propaganda, censorship and surveillance; the rewriting of history; labels and slogans that mean the opposite of what they say; the role for Britain implied in the name Airstrip One.

Jun 9, 2009

Picasso Sketchbook Stolen in Paris

http://quotationsbook.com/assets/shared/img/5703/730px-HotelSale_CorpsLogis.JPG
More evidence that Picasso is a favorite among art thieves.  A sketchbook containing 33 drawing by Pablo Picasso was stolen from the Picasso Museum in Paris.  The theft was discovered this afternoon.  It is believed that the book was held in an unlocked (!) display case on the first floor of the museum.  There are not many details at this point, but I wonder if perhaps a visitor walked off with it?  Or it may have been an after-hours break-in.   

1,600 Objects Bound for Italy

A detail of a manuscript from 1745 was on display at a press conference at the Chicago FBI offices during a briefing on the the recently concluded investigation into the discovery of thousands of artifacts, antiquities, and books at a Berwyn residence.There were some terrific images released yesterday at the FBI press conference announcing the return of 1,600 objects found in John Sisto's home when he died in 2007. He had amassed thousands of documents and objects, all stored in his Berwyn, Illinois home.

Of the 3,500 objects found in Sisto's home when he died in 2007, the FBI has determined that 1,600 of them were stolen or illegally exported from Italy and must be returned. Despite the estimated value of the objects, perhaps as much as $10 million, there will be no prosecution in Illinois, though perhaps some Italian prosecutions may take place. The staggering fact is the owners of the nearly 2,000 other objects is unknown, and will be returned to the family.

Among the items to be returned are religious relics, manuscripts written by Mussolini, figurines from the 4th Century B.C., letters written by popes, and other objects.

In a Chicago Tribune piece by Margaret Ramirez and Robert Mitchum, they note these objects had become a point of contention with Sisto's son:

In the mid-2000s, Joseph Sisto learned that many of the items were likely illegal and confronted his father, telling them that the artifacts should be returned to Italy.

But his father refused, provoking a family dispute that separated him from his father during the final years of his life, he said.

When his father died, Joseph Sisto asked Berwyn police to enter the home with him, knowing that the thousands of artifacts would need to be investigated by authorities.

Berwyn Police Chief William Kushner recalled the incredible sight when he first entered the home in 2007. Kushner said the house was filled with hundreds of boxes, many piled 5 feet high and all labeled in Italian. Upstairs and in the attic, precious paintings covered the walls, protected by large sheets of cardboard refrigerator boxes. Immediately, Kushner knew he had to call the FBI art crimes unit. He ordered his officers not to touch anything.


The FBI believes many of the objects were taken from the Bari region of Italy, where John Sisto was born. Paul Barford wonders if perhaps this may become an increasing trend if "many children of today's no-questions-asked accumulators of archaeological artefacts (not to mention dealers) will be faced with similar dilemmas." One can't help but see parallels with the sale of William Kingsland's art collection, who died in 2006, and it was revealed that many of the works found in his home had been stolen.

One wonders as well how he came to acquire these objects; as surely Sisto didn't steal all of these objects himself. Why was it possible for him to acquire them. The FBI speculates that the objects may have been shipped to the U.S. between 1960 and 1982 by Sisto's father, who was still living in Italy. Perhaps the objects were taken from private collections or elsewhere.

Jun 8, 2009

Art Forgery in Australia

Australia's Four Corners has aired a piece on art forgery in Australia today titled "FAKE!": 


Reporter Quentin McDermott tells how up to ten per cent of art that's resold across Australia could be problematic. This crisis of confidence has led art lovers to demand that any fake unfairly traded should be destroyed or registered, to avoid it being traded again. 
It's a practice as old as art itself. A gifted painter takes a major artwork and reproduces it, or a variation on it. No harm in that, provided it's clear that it's not the real thing. Unfortunately some of these paintings find their way into the mainstream art market. Right now it's clear that certain individuals are prepared to place fakes for sale, making handsome profits.
Alone this would be of concern, but Four Corners reporter Quentin McDermott investigates the role of gallery owners in the marketing and sale of fakes. It's now clear that, either knowingly or unknowingly, a number of high profile gallery owners have been responsible for selling paintings worth thousands of dollars, with a question mark over their authenticity.
 . . .  

None of this is good news for art lovers. It's now clear consumers have to be very careful who they deal with, what kind of paintings they buy and who has authenticated them.
This crisis of confidence has led some artists to demand any work sold under false pretences to be destroyed. Others believe there should be an art register of forged works, once they are detected, that could then be accessed by dealers and the general public.
"FAKE!" will be broadcast at 8.30pm on Monday 8 June on ABC1. It is replayed at 11.35pm on Tuesday 9 June.

"Peru is rightful owner of artifacts"

So argues former First-Lady of Peru Eliane Karp-Toledo in an Op-Ed today in the Miami Herald (for a brief discussion of another Op-Ed in the NY Times, see here). She discusses the ongoing dispute between Yale and Peru over objects taken from Peru by Hiram Bingham, and effectively communicates Peru's position—and only their position.  Though I think it is reasonable to criticize some of the actions of Yale University since they have held the objects, Karp-Toledo does her argument a disservice I think by ignoring some very real and well-founded differences of opinion between Yale and Peru.

For example, she argues "Many years of frustrated negotiations, and Yale's presentation of an insensitive 'Memorandum of Understanding' in 2007, finally led the Republic of Peru to file a lawsuit against Yale in the District Court for Washington, D.C., in December 2008."  Yet I'm not really sure how that memorandum was "insensitive"; nor does Karp-Toledo really tell us why.  That agreement, now apparently abandoned, aimed at creating a kind of lease which would have created a collaborative relationship between Yale and Peru.  It would have been similar in form perhaps to the agreements Italy has been promulgating with many institutions forced to return looted antiquities.  Peru would have received title to all the objects, with many remaining in Connecticut. There would have been an international traveling exhibition, and proceeds would help build a much-needed new museum and research center in Cuzco. Yale also would have provided funds to establish a scholarly exchange program. As Yale president Richard C. Levin said at the time, "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."  I'm afraid I don't see how this arrangement was "insensitive". 

File:MuseoSicán lou.jpgAnother point of contention is where these objects may be stored if they are returned.  Though she points out the Royal Tombs Museum of Sipán (pictured here), she has little to say about the current exhibition near Machu Picchu at Aguas Calientes.  An expanded center such as the one Yale had offered would seem to be badly needed, as there are indications the current museum near the Aguas Calientes train station is not fit for purpose, according to Arthur Lubow in a long piece in the NY Times Magazine:

The doors were open to the air, which was moist from the nearby river, and the sole official was a caretaker who sold tickets and then exited the building. On display in the attractive (if unguarded) museum are the finds that Peruvian archaeologists have made at Machu Picchu in the years since Bingham’s excavations.
 I think it is worth asking at this point, how much of the ongoing dispute is a product of the effort to continue the Indigenous rights movement in Peru, irrespective of whether it is actually creating a better place to display these objects, and display them to the public—whether that is in the US or Peru?  I think that collaboration is a far better model, but I'm not sure Karp-Toedo has provided and argument which would call for zero collaboration.  Instead she seems eager to punish Yale and Hiram Bingham for taking Peru's heritage.  A claim I think which is not supported by the facts as we know them.  Though there are certainly indications that these objects should have been returned to Peru long ago, they were not, perhaps because of intervening events (America's involvement in WWI may have provided a distraction), neglect, negligence or even bad faith.  

3,000 Object Slated for Return to Italy

Today the FBI and the Berwyn Police Department will hold a news conference announcing the return of 3,000 religious objects, books, and antiquities that were illegally removed from Italy and found in a home in Berwyn.  This comes two years after John Sisto's, the homeowner, died.  On Friday the FBI said "many of the items ... were determined to have been removed illegally from Italy and will be repatriated to Italian authorities later next week." 


 "The house was filled with old books . . . ," said Berwyn Police Chief William Kushner.  "I am told that there are also papal documents dating back to the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries."

Authorities have been researching the authenticity of the items and trying to determining how Sisto came to have them.


"We can't question a dead man," said Kushner. "We are just going to return the items to the Italian authorities."
Sisto was born in Bari, Italy and immigrated to the United States at 29. After the items were discovered in his home in March 2007, the tidy brick bungalow was under constant protection by police for 15 days.

FBI agents contacted Italian authorities, and agents specializing in stolen art were seen entering the home. Rumors that the Swiss Guards of Vatican City were coming to the working-class suburb to collect their items caused media and neighbors to swarm the block for days, but the Swiss Guards never came. 

When he lived in Chicago in 1958, Sisto had complained that someone stole 72 rare books worth $40,000 from the basement of his home. Many of them were later recovered.

He told police the books were given to him by his father, Giuseppe Sisto, a history and geography professor at the University of Bari.

Jun 4, 2009

Spain Prevails For Now

"It is this comity of interests and mutual respect among nations . . . that warrants granting Spain's motions to vacate the Mercedes's arrest and to dismiss Odyssey's amended complaint". So concludes US Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo yesterday in Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. v. The Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel.

Odyssey Marine has lost in its bid to petition a US court for ownership of the coins, and Spain has prevailed—for now—in its suit to regain half a million gold and silver coins from Odyssey Marine Exploration which recovered them from a wreck in the Atlantic Ocean. The recovery of the coins, thought to be worth as much as $500 million was announced, though the location of the wreck, and information about the wreck was kept secret. In response Spain filed suit, and seized some of Odyssey's other vessels. UNESCO condemned the recovery, and much has been written and discussed about this recovery, considered perhaps the richest haul ever recovered from a wreck.

In the judgment which I've embedded below, the District Court held it lacked jurisdiction over the dispute and the property should be returned to Spain. Though Odyssey Marine attempted to hide the true identity of the wreck, initially code-naming the wreck the Black Swan, the court held that there was enough information to conclude the coins came from the "Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes", a warship which was carrying treasure back from Peru when it was sunk by the British off the Spanish coast in 1804. Spain, soon declared war on Great Britain, a point which may be lost in all this talk of the treasure. This treasure was an important piece of heritage, and all the talk of Odyssey's share prices, and the rich treasure haul shouldn't distract us from why these objects are protected, and why Spain fought so vigorously to have them declared the owner.

So these coins may be destined for Spain, finally, even though these coins were initially taken from Peru, which also asserted an interest. This has been a protracted dispute, and one that may indeed continue at the appellate level. It will be interesting as well to see how much continued involvement Peru has with the appeals process, or if Spain and Peru can come to an agreement about what can or should be done with the objects.


Spain's Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde is quoted by the BBC, calling the decision "a very important precedent for all future undersea discoveries". Gregg Stemm, CEO of Odyssey Marine said "I'm confident that ultimately the judge or the appellate court will see the legal and evidentiary flaws in Spain's claim, and we'll be back to argue the merits of the case."

But for now, US Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo has the final word, concluding his recommendation, "More than two hundred years have passed since the Mercedes exploded. Her place of rest and all those who perished with her that fateful day remained undisturbed for centuries - until recently. International law recognizes the solemnity of their memorial, and Spain's sovereign interests in preserving it."

For more on the company this older piece from Voice of America is pretty interesting. This suit is really about the continued viability of this kind of business, and the perils of doing so without the support of organizations like UNESCO or other nations of origin:

Yale Sued Again

Yale University has been sued in U.S. District Court in Connecticut by Pierre Konowaloff who alleges a work by Van Gogh—"The Night Cafe"—was confiscated from his great-grandfather during the Communist revolution in Russia. 



The action is a counter to Yale's earlier suit. Yale initially brought suit in March, seeking to pre-empt Konowaloff's claim.  In Yale's initial suit in March, they argued courts should not undo the property revolution of Russia.  Russian law would seem to prevent these kind of claims as well. Back in March, Richard Lacayo noted that Konowalof's grandfather—Ivan Morozov was "was one of the two outstanding Russian collectors and patrons of modern art early in the 20th century." The suit, Yale University v. Konowaloff, 09-466, U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut (New Haven), will determine whether this work was seized unlawfully during a Communist takeover of Russia in 1918. 

A similar issue recently arose in the UK with the recent dispute over the Royal Academy display of "From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 From Moscow and St. Petersburg". Russia nearly backed out of the deal.  The display required an act of Parliament to grant special immunity to prevent the works from being claimed by descendants of the original owners from whom many of the works were summarily seized during the Bolshevik revolution.

2009 must be the year claimants to Yale's cultural heritage decided to pursue their claims, because of course this suit follows soon after the Republic of Peru's suit filed in December over artifacts taken from Machu Picchu

Jun 3, 2009

Renoir Recovered in Venice

This work by Pierre Auguste Renoir, stolen 15 years ago in Rome was recovered in Venice according to AFP.  Not too many details, but these from the wire reports:


"We carried out all verifications, with the help of Interpol and French and British police, and established that the painting -- which depicts a mythical scene -- belonged to a Roman family from whom it was stolen in 1984," [an Italian Police Spokesman said].

Captain Salvatore Di Stefano, another police spokesman, said: "We don't know the value but it must be pretty high because Renoir did not paint that many mythical scenes."

With the Treviso resident unable to prove his claim that he bought it at a rummage sale, police seized the painting, dating from around 1895, in order to return it promptly to its rightful owners.

In September 2008, police in Italy, acting on a tip from an art critic, recovered a Renoir nude stolen 33 years earlier from a private collection in Milan. Three suspects were arrested.

Jun 2, 2009

Stolen Antiquities Recovered With the Help of the Art Loss Register

The Art Loss Register—though not a cure-all for what ails the antiquities trade—is an invaluable tool for the recovery of stolen objects so long as they have been documented and reported.  I have received a couple of press releases from the ALR highlighting recent recoveries of antiquities.  Though it cannot help aid the recovery of antiquities which have never been documented, it can help in the recovery of stolen antiquities which have been documented and reported missing, underscoring the need I think for museums and nations of origin to do a better job documenting and reporting the stores of objects which they currently have.  A couple recent seizures by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) highlight this.

Yesterday ICE announced a wall panel fresco which had been stolen in 1997 was recovered.  I found the history of the site interesting:


The panel, rectangular with a white background depicting a female minister, white wash on plaster with a modern wooden frame, was previously located at the excavation office in Pompeii and was reported stolen with five other fresco panels on June 26, 1997.

The investigation revealed that, between 1903 and 1904, the Italian government authorized a farmer, Giuseppe De Martino, to restore his farmhouse, which was located on an archeological site in Boscoreale, province of Naples. During the restoration, six important frescos, originating from Pompeii were found.

On July 12, 1957, the Government of Italy purchased the frescos. On June 26, 1997, after the completion of work to the excavation site, the Italian government observed that the six frescos were missing and subsequently reported the theft.


 This follows soon after the recovery of seven Egyptian antiquities which had been stolen from the Bijbels Museum in Amsterdam in 2007:



The investigation received significant help from the Art Loss Register (ALR) of New York, an organization that maintains a database of stolen works of art. The ALR discovered the artifacts at the Manhattan auction house, which turned the artifacts over to the Register and ICE agents.

One of the pieces recovered is a 7-inch-high depiction of a mummy with arms folded over the chest and hoes in each hand. It dates to between 1307 and 1070 B.C. The other recovered artifacts were an bronze figure of Imhotep, artchitect of the first pyramid, and one of Hapokrates, and an Egyptian painted Wood Osiris, all dating as far back as 712 B.C.

"The recovery of these artifacts sends a strong message to thieves that the market to sell stolen antiquities in the United States is freezing up." said Peter J. Smith, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. "ICE is committed to working closely with foreign governments and organizations like the ALR to recover priceless works of art and antiquities so they can be returned to their rightful owners."

A Pisarro Hidden for 70 Years to be Auctioned

Camille Pissarro's Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps (pictured), previously discussed here, recently recovered from a Zurich bank vault will go on sale later this month according to Catherine Hickley for Bloomberg:

 Gisela Bermann-Fischer waited almost 70 years to get back a painting by Camille Pissarro stolen from her family’s home in Vienna by the Gestapo in 1938. 


She recovered “Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps” after a quest that pitched her into a battle of lawyers’ letters with Bruno Lohse, a Nazi art dealer appointed by Hermann Goering to loot treasures in occupied France, and finally led to a Zurich bank vault, where the picture was stashed in a safe. Prosecutors sealed the safe as part of a continuing three-nation probe into associates of Lohse suspected of extortion and money-laundering. 

Now 80, Bermann-Fischer will auction the 1903 painting at Christie’s International’s sale of impressionist and modern art in London on June 23. Its value is estimated at between 900,000 pounds ($1.45 million) and 1.5 million pounds. Bermann-Fischer says it cost her at least 500,000 Swiss francs ($466,000) to recover the Pissarro, mainly in lawyers’ fees. At no point during her quest could she be sure of getting the artwork back.

One of the intriguing parts of the story was the brief resurfacing of the work in 1984:

“I don’t think we’ll ever find out from where to where the painting was transported over the years,” Bermann-Fischer said. “It truly was hidden. I think the exhibition at l’Hermitage Lausanne in 1984 was a test run, to see whether the original owners or any heirs were still on the lookout for the paintings and would make a claim.”

Jun 1, 2009

MFA Boston Prevails in Nazi-era Declaratory Judgment

Kokoschka_TwoNudes.jpg The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has prevailed in its suit against Dr. Claudia Seger-Tomschitz, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston v. Seger-Thomschitz, No. 08-10097-RWZ (D. Mass. 2009). 

At issue was this work, "Two Nudes (Lovers)" by Oskar Kokoschka, 1913.  The work has been on display "almost continuosly" since 1973 according to the Boston Globe's Geoff Edgers

The museum brought suit to preclude any potential restitution suit, essentially asking the court to declare it the rightful owner of the work.  The Museum brought suit back in January 2008, and in the complaint argued the "painting was never confiscated by the Nazis, was never sold by force as a result of Nazi persecution, and was not otherwise taken". 

The potential claimant, Claudia Seger-Thomschitz, claimed the painting was sold under duress by Oskar Reichel a physician and gallery owner in Austria. The work had been consigned on several occasions to an art dealer, Otto Kallir who owned the Neue Galerie in Vienna.  Kallir later left Vienna, eventually coming to New York, and he brought this and some other works of art with him.  He sent money to Reichel's sons at this point.  In 1939, the work was sent to Paris; in 1945 it was sold to a New York dealer for $1,500; Sarah Blodgett purchased the work in the 1940s; she gave the work to the MFA Boston in 1972.

District Judge Rya Zobel held:

[A]lthough the Reichel family never claimed compensation for any of the Kokoschka works that had been transferred to Kallir for sale, it did claim restitution for artwork and property that had been stolen by the Nazis.

[T]he Reichel family never attempted to recover the painting after WWII, and there is no evidence that it believed the transfer was not legitimate.

The evidence is undisputed that the members of the Reichel family had sufficient knowledge of Reichel’s ownership and transfer of the painting.

Dr. Seger-Thomschitz also ―waited more than three years to assert her claim after she was on inquiry notice of her possible right to the Painting…The information necessary to pursue her claim was readily available to both [Dr. Seger-Thomschitz] and her counsel at that time.

[T]he delay in bringing suit will prejudice the MFA because all of the witnesses with actual knowledge of the transfer are deceased.

Any claim by Dr. Seger-Thomschitz that Oskar Reichel was misled when he transferred the painting to Otto Kallir in 1939 was ―pure speculation.
 The court has held that the claimant had opportunities to seek title to the work, but did not, and as a consequence the limitations period has run.   Malcolm Rogers, Director of the MFA Boston stated “The MFA conducted a year and a half long comprehensive investigation of the work’s provenance, seeking documentation of the various transactions and changes of ownership in the painting’s almost 100-year history. We are satisfied and grateful that the judge has reaffirmed the Museum’s rightful ownership of the work.”

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