Jun 29, 2011

The Smithsonian Postpones Dhow Exhibition

Bronze Coins from the Tang Dynasty, Brought up from the 9th Century Wreck
In a move which shouldn't be all that surprising, the Smithsonian has decided to postpone the exhibition of artifacts recovered from a 9th century shipwreck which sunk off the coast of present-day Indonesia. The wreck offered new insights into the trade between China and the Middle East. The exhibition was scheduled to begin next spring, but now won't be rescheduled until 2013 at the earliest.

Archaeologists criticized the exhibition arguing that the objects were recovered without adherence to professional archaeological standards. Fishermen were looting the wreck, and in response the Indonesian government hired a salvage company to bring the objects up from the depths, and did employ a marine archaeologist. The objects were brought up quickly, but in the eyes of some, these objects were little better than looted objects. Archaeologists like Kimberly Faulk who call the salvage of these objects 'looting' are stretching the term. Michael Flecker, an archaeologist who worked for the commercial salvage operation published his findings:

  1. Flecker, Michael. "A 9th-Century Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesian Waters." International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. Volume 29(2), 2000.
  2. Flecker, Michael. "A 9th-Century Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesian Waters: Addendum.International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Volume 37(2), 2008.


The open question though is what should happen to these 60,000 recovered objects. What about the next wreck fishermen are looting? These objects present a difficult dilemma. They weren't taken in contravention of Indonesian law, these are legally-acquired objects. Indonesia may have done a poor job of protecting the underwater site, but in a world of finite resources, it seems to me being too critical of this exhibition sets a very high, nearly impossible to meet standard for exhibitions.


There may have been serious issues with the excavation undertaken by Seabed Excavations, the company hired by the Indonesian government to excavate the site. Yet, were those omissions sufficient to warrant this looting? Sufficent to preclude the display of these objects?This move may give the Smithsonian time to alleviate concerns of archaeologists, or more likely, may indicate a desire to avoid the entire controversy and cancel the exhibition without saying it outright.


Shipwreck Show Postponed - NYTimes.com

Jun 21, 2011

The Leopold Settles and Deaccessions

"Countess Kuefstein at the Easel" by Anton  Romako will  stay at the Leopold
The Leopold Museum in Vienna has reached an undisclosed settlement with the heir of a Jewish "construction entrepreneur"  who had his collection of art seized by the Gestapo some time before 1941. In order to pay the settlement and others, the museum will have to sell two other paintings by Egon Schiele. No one is talking of these sales in terms of deaccession, but that is what they are doing. Those Schiele works were surely in the public trust:

The Leopold Museum is selling an Egon Schiele painting, “Houses With Colorful Washing,” at a Sotheby’s (BID) auction on June 22. The cityscape is expected to fetch as much as $50 million, a record for the artist.
The revenue will help to pay for “Wally,” a portrait by Schiele that was the subject of a decades-long restitution dispute. In July last year, the museum agreed to pay $19 million to the heirs of the Jewish art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray to keep the portrait, which was stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s.
Last month, the Leopold Museum agreed to pay $5 million to the granddaughter of Jenny Steiner, a Jewish silk-factory owner, to keep in its collection “Houses by the Sea,” another Schiele painting that was stolen by the Nazis.


  1. Catherine Hickley & Zoe Scheenweiss, Vienna’s Leopold Settles With Heir on Nazi-Looted Paintings, Bloomberg, June 20, 2011, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-20/vienna-s-leopold-settles-with-heir-on-nazi-looted-paintings.html (last visited Jun 21, 2011).

Congratulations to David Gill

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has selected Dr. David Gill, Reader in Mediterranean archaeology at Swansea University and a writer of a related blog, looting matters, for the 2012 Public Service Award. Gill has been an outspoken critic of the antiquities trade and the looting of archaeological sites, his writing has made a direct connection between looting and the market in antiquities, and plays an important role in showing the scope of the problem. He does not propose solutions, rather his work offers a slow accumulation of anecdotal examples of the problem and the presence of looted antiquities in museums and auction houses. I wish him continued success and look forward to many more opportunities to discuss (and argue about!) these vexing problems.

Jun 17, 2011

Footnotes

Art connoisseurs have re-discovered this work by Van Dyck in Paris

Jun 13, 2011

Student Note on Aid for Iraqi Cultural Heritage

Priscilla Singer haw written a student comment for Chicago-Kent Journal of International and Comparative Law titled "THE NEW AMERICAN APPROACH TO CULTURAL HERITAGE PROTECTION: GRANTING FOREIGN AID FOR IRAQI CULTURAL HERITAGE". From the Introduction:

In reviewing the actions of the U.S. Department of State in response to the destruction of
Iraqi cultural heritage, I will first discuss Iraqi history and the background facts leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Next, I will discuss two separate events involving U.S.troops and the destruction of Iraqi cultural heritage: first, the initially passive response of U.S. troops to the obliteration of the Iraq National Museum and second, the U.S. occupation of the ancient city of Babylon. When dealing with each section, I will discuss basic facts describing American involvement in these events, American international law (or even domestic law) obligations when dealing with cultural heritage, and whether the U.S. lived up to their obligations. Finally, I will discuss current American operations at rebuilding and restoring Iraqi cultural heritage. I will analyze whether the current American approach falls into the American definition of foreign aid and what, if anything, will foreign aid do for fostering Iraqi identity.

Is an Electrician the greatest Picasso Thief?

Pierre Le Guennec and his wife
It would be hard to top 271. Police in France have charged a man and his wife with selling 271 stolen Picassos. He claims Picasso gave them as a gift:

Pierre Le Guennec, 71, was caught and sued along with his wife when he contacted the late Spanish painter's estate seeking to authenticate the works, which he had kept in his garage for nearly 40 years, Le Monde newspaper said.
The local public prosecutors's office declined to confirm the report to AFP and Le Guennec and his lawyer could not be reached for comment.
The report said Le Guennec claimed Picasso and his wife and muse Jacqueline had personally given him the works when he was working at their farmhouse in Mougins, not far from his own home in Mouans-Sartoux, southeastern France.
Investigators found however that some of the works -- which include collages, sketches and prints -- disappeared from another location, Le Monde said. They seized the works and charged the couple with handling stolen goods.

Jun 10, 2011

3rd Annual ARCA Conference July 9-10, Amelia Italy

ARCA 2011 Conference Poster

Footnotes

The Bost Arch in 1970

Jun 9, 2011

"neither party has blinked'

Le Marche by Camille Pissarro
So writes Second Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch in an opinion rejecting the innocent owner claim of Sharyl Davis. The case, previously discussed here, is an example of the Federal forfeiture power and pitted two seemingly innocent parties against one another. Ms. Davis, the loser in this dispute purchased this Pissarro monotype in 1985 for its market value, and had no knowledge that it had in fact been stolen from a Museum in Aix-les-Bains in France in 1981. 

Twenty years later the US government brought a forfeiture action against Ms. Davis when she consigned the painting to Sotheby's for auction, but the Department of Homeland Security, after a request from the French police, asked that the painting be returned. It was this second sale which triggered a reaction, as the painting appeared in the Art Loss Register's files—revealing perhaps some progress the art trade has made in uncovering stolen works of art.


The case reveals the continuing preference of American Courts generally for the original owner. In this case Davis—who now runs a B&B in Anthony Kansas—was in the unenviable position of having to defend an action against Federal Prosecutors, for the wrongful activity of Emil Guelton. Even though Davis prevailed on two of three of the forfeiture actions brought by the government, she was unable to maintain possession of the work. And in fact, despite winning those two cases she was unable to recover attorney's fees (which must have been substantial). Though CAFRA, a statute meant to ease some of the burden of defending forfeiture actions, does allow claimants to receive and award of attorney's fees who "substantially prevail", the material relationship with the painting was lost on one of the forfeiture claims, and Davis is left without a Pissarro and with a substantial legal bill.
  1. Kate Taylor, “Buyer of Stolen Pissarro Work Suffers Hefty Loss,” The New York Times, June 8, 2011, sec. Arts / Art & Design, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/arts/design/buyer-of-stolen-pissarro-work-suffers-hefty-loss.html?_r=1.
  2. United States v. Davis (2nd Cir. 2010).
I've embedded the opinion after the jump:

Looting with Dynamite in Greece

This is the first I've head of using dynamite like this to loot sites: six looters in northern Greece have been arrested for using dynamite at an archaeological site to search for gold:


Authorities said Thursday that the four Greek and two Albanian men were arrested Wednesday after police discovered a 12-meter (40-foot) tunnel blasted into the side of a mountain near the city of Kavala, 700 kilometres (435 miles) north of Athens. 
The tunnel, with support columns and a construction track, was first started in 2008, according to local police, who said the suspects would be charged with illegal excavation, illegal use and possession of explosives, and violating archaeological protection laws. 
Archaeological services would not comment on whether they believed there was buried gold in the area.

Jun 8, 2011

Forging Folk Art

The late Clementine Hunter, at home in Louisiana
A 79-year-old man from Baton Rouge has pleaded guilty to forging paintings of folk artist Clementine Hunter. William Toye pleaded guilty on Monday in federal court to one count of conspiracy to sell forged works. Here is an excerpt of the New York Times story:


 Over the past four decades, Mr. Toye and his wife have been formally accused three times of having sold or trying to sell fakes, most often imitations of paintings by the folk artist Clementine Hunter, whose work Mr. Toye professes to despise. But this is the first time he has been fully prosecuted. 
The conspiracy being considered is an odd one, involving Mr. Toye’s British-born wife, Beryl, and a dealer in New Orleans named Robert E. Lucky Jr., who is alleged to have sold the Toye Hunters to customers around the country and in some cases to have resold them after they were returned by disgruntled purchasers.

There is a good deal of bad blood. In a floridly reproachful letter in 2005, Ms. Toye told Mr. Lucky that if he were to end up in jail, “it will be with my blessing and my boot up your rear end.” Yet Mr. Lucky and Ms. Toye are scheduled to go on trial in August. (Ms. Toye’s lawyer said she continues to maintain her innocence.)        



  1. Campbell Robertson, “William Toye Pleads Guilty to Fraud,” The New York Times, June 7, 2011, sec. U.S., http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/us/08forgery.html.
  2. “Baton Rouge man admits Clementine Hunter forgery | NOLA.com”, n.d., http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2011/06/baton_rouge_man_admits_clement.html.

Jun 6, 2011

"Rarely have lawyers been paid so much to lose so much."

Hugh Eakin Reviews 'Chasing Aphrodite'. An excerpt:

I recently reviewed tax filings by the Getty Trust showing that it paid $16 million for outside legal services between mid-2005 and mid-2007 alone—a period during which it had handed its Italian dealings to a team of lawyers from a high-end Los Angeles firm. (This does not include the $750,000 that, according to Felch and Frammolino, the Getty paid to a “crisis management” firm, also in Los Angeles, for “largely unheeded advice.”) A truer estimate, though, would also have to take account of the hundreds of millions dollars’ worth of art—far more than the Italians would have been contented with in 2002—that was finally turned over to Rome and Athens, leaving the Getty Villa a pallid shadow of its former self. Rarely have lawyers been paid so much to lose so much.
  1. Hugh Eakin, “What Went Wrong at the Getty,” New York Review of Books, June 23, 2011, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/what-went-wrong-getty/?pagination=false.

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