Sep 28, 2012

Flea market Renoir really was a steal

Paysage Bords de Seine, Renoir
Every time I hear the story of a flea market sale where some lucky buyer with a good eye purchased a work by a well-known artist, I always think that chances are good that work was stolen at some point. How does a Renoir make it to a flea market, really. And that's the story of this Renoir purchased at a flea market in West Virginia for $7. It was scheduled for auction this week, but now it looks likely to have been stolen some time before 1951 from the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The painting has not it seems been reported to art loss databases. The Washington Post notes that its own reporters conducted research and found the painting was missing from the Baltimore Museum of Art:


Museum officials then searched their archives, where they found paperwork showing that the Impressionist work, “Paysage Bords de Seine,” or “Landscape on the Banks of the Seine,” was pilfered from their building nearly 61 years ago. The museum had the painting on loan from one of its famous benefactors, Saidie A. May, a Baltimore native who died in May 1951. Museum records show that the Renoir was stolen on Nov. 17, 1951, just as May’s art collection was being bequeathed to the museum for permanent ownership. The revelations put on hold Saturday’s much-ballyhooed auction of the Renoir at the Potomack Company in Alexandria. Elizabeth Wainstein, Potomack’s president, said the Virginia woman who made the flea market find was disappointed. But she immediately agreed to halt the sale until the FBI determines the rightful ownership of the painting, which the auction house estimated is worth $75,000 to $100,000. It will remain at the auction house until then, Wainstein said.
The case reveals the importance of reporting a theft, even decades into the future. There is no word on whether the doll and plastic cow the anonymous flea market art buyer also bought with the this $7 painting are stolen as well. But the buyer should get credit for reportedly cooperating fully with the FBI.

  1. Ian Shapira, Flea market Renoir was allegedly stolen from Baltimore Museum of Art, auction canceled, The Washington Post, September 27, 2012.

Sep 27, 2012

Miller on "The Visual and the Law of Cities"

Stephen Miller, of the University of Idaho College of Law has posted "The Visual and the Law of Cities", forthcoming in the Pace Law Review, on SSRN. From the abstract:

This experimental article will attempt to explore, through brief sketches, or “tableaus,” four ways in which the visual interplays with the law of cities, and how a deeper understanding of this intersection can assist in the development of these laws and their underlying policies. For the purposes of this article, the “law of cities” is defined as those allied fields of law that deal with building, construction, architecture, planning, developing, preserving, and otherwise creating the places where we live. First, the article explores the law’s longstanding adverse relationship to the visual, as well as contemporary efforts to change that relationship. The article then turns to the four tableaus that explore the law of cities and the visual. In the first tableau, the article discusses the question of the cultural value of a hand-drawn map by reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court’s nineteenth century jurisprudence on Spanish era diseños, or property maps, which were part of Spanish and Mexican California-era land grants. In the second tableau, the article discusses the question of whether aesthetics is a proper domain of the law of cities by comparing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Berman v. Parker, its progeny, and Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, which was the first, and perhaps most important, comprehensive plan drafted for an American city in the “City Beautiful” tradition. The third tableau explores the production of space and the philosophy of Henri Lefebvre in the context of the visual as law, most notably, in the rise of visual zoning codes. The fourth tableau extends the law and literature movement to the visual arts through the philosophy of Edward Casey as applied to the painter Edward Hopper. By presenting these four approaches in which the visual complicates and assists the law of cities, and sometimes even acts as the law of cities, the article intends to spur a dialogue on the complicated relationship of the visual to the law of cities.

Sep 25, 2012

$1.7 Million Reward Offered for Art Recovery


An oil Painting titled "Composition (A) En Rouge Et Blanc" by Piet Mondrian.
Composition en rouge et blanc
Piet Mondrian, one of the stolen works
Jeffrey Gundlach is apparently one of "the world's top bond gurus". Unfortunately his financial expertise does not seemed to have carried over to safeguarding his stuff. Gundlach returned from a trip to his home in Santa Monica on Sep. 14 to discover that his art collection, some of his rare wine, and his 2010 porsche. There are scant details of the theft, but the collection of stolen art is considerable, with the stolen works from Mondrian, Franz Kline, Jasper Johns, and others.

Today at a brief press conference Gundlach announced he would be offering a reward of $1 million for this Mondrian, and $700,000 for the return of the other paintings. The details of the theft can only be speculated at, but some reports indicate the thieves drove away with the paintings in Gundlach's very own porsche.


Sep 20, 2012

Austerity, Sponsorship and Preservation in Italy

A structure in Pompeii in 2011
There is a report in the Daily Beast about the difficulty Italy may be having in preserving its considerable heritage:

For the last several months, chunks of marble have been plummeting from the Colosseum, ancient walls have been reduced to rubble and even bits of the baroque Trevi Fountain have crumbled, changing forever the face of that illustrious monument. And that’s just in Rome. In Naples, the Royal Palace has fractures in its façade and once-glorious fountains in the city’s squares are covered in graffiti. Pompeii is at risk of becoming a wasteland as its ruins disintegrate to dust due to lack of maintenance. In Emilia Romagna, important churches and clock towers damaged in a series of springtime earthquakes will never be repaired. There simply is no money left in Italy’s tightened budget to take care of the country’s cultural heritage. Austerity measures to combat Italy’s stifling public debt and save the country from default has meant there is little money left over for anything but the bare necessities. But the bigger problem is that basic maintenance on many of the country’s cultural gems has been neglected for years. Recent budget cuts are just the last nail in the sarcophagus. In reality, the culture budget has been the first to be cut for the last several years. A full third—€1.42 billion—has been slashed from the culture budget in the last three years, meaning vital maintenance on some of the country’s most important monuments was never carried out.
I'm always skeptical of English language reporting of ways in which Italians aren't caring for their heritage. But cutting a culture budget by 1/3 is a drastic step. Of course cuts of all kinds are taking place, it was recently announced that the Georgia State archives will be closed after Nov. 1. I for one won't shed a tear for a bit of the gaudy Trevi fountain crumbling, and the pressures on Pompeii are nothing new. But so many cuts to heritage protection by a nation that respects and values its past is a sad sign of the difficulty facing culture ministries all over the world. It is no surprise that asking for sponsorship from the private sector may be a viable alternative. Selling the buildings may appear to be a drastic step, but there are historic preservation rules in place in Italy which would largely preserve the appearance of the protected buildings, if not the public access.

  1. Barbie Latza Nadeau, Italy’s Culture Falling to Ruins Amid Austerity Cuts, The Daily Beast (Sep 19, 2012).

Sep 19, 2012

Renoir added to FBI's Top Ten Art Crimes List

Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair
Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow
with Flowers in Her Hair
On September 8, 2011 this work by Renoir was stolen by an armed man wearing a ski mask. The owner of the painting was upstairs and discovered the thief downstairs. Today the FBI's art crime team has added it to their list of ten art crimes list, giving the theft and the work considerable exposure which substantially increases the likelihood of a recovery. The FBI notes that since the creation of the list in 2005 six paintings and one sculpture have been recovered. A reward of $50,000 is offered for information leading to a return. Information can be submitted online at fbi.gov.

Sep 14, 2012

Footnotes


The Campbell Soup Company celebrates the 50th anniversary of Andy Warhol's soup can series with special edition labels.
Art and Soup
Mike Madison wonders what the new agreement between the Warhol foundation and Campbell's is really about:

It’s unclear to me what, exactly, is being licensed. . . . "The starting point, said [Michael Hermann, Director of Licensing for the Foundation], was to review all of Warhol’s Colored Soup Can paintings to find four images that worked well as a group and translated well as packaging. Then Campbell’s created labels derived from the original works.” That makes a little more sense. But the cans themselves (pictured above, from the LA Times) seem “Warholian” to me, rather than “Warhol.” 

Deep cuts to funding heritage in Greece in USA Today
The Ministry of Culture's budget has been cut by 50% over the past two years, and deputy minister of culture Kostas Tzavaras says another 50% cut looms. But many here say that even if the cuts are a long time coming, they do not have to result in a reduction in care for Greece's architectural treasures. The Ministry of Culture has been renowned more for its spending sprees and ineptitude than its protection of monuments, analysts say. Former Culture minister Pavlos Geroulanos said he would resign after robbers stole dozens of priceless artifacts in February from a museum. Some of the bronze and pottery pieces dated from the ninth century B.C. and were protected by a single guard at the Archaeological Museum of the history of the Ancient Olympic Games. Still, the Culture Ministry says it has no choice but to pare back on things like paid security guards. "I didn't come like Santa Claus," Tzavaras said. "I don't have money to give away, like other ministers did."
ART LAW SCHOOL « Clancco Yes, something called the art law school exists. Terrific idea:

 The focus of the ART LAW SCHOOL is to introduce the artist to the “must-know” legal and business issues that arise when making art.

The Art Law Blog wonders about the big sale of Warhol's by the Warhol foundation: If it's not the tax exemptions, what is it?
No one would suggest that what the Warhol Foundation is doing is "unethical" or "repulsive" or "Stalinist." Nobody questions the right of artist-endowed foundations to sell work. Nobody claims those works are held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations. But why? Why are works owned by, say, the Warhol Museum held in the public trust, while works owned by, say, the Warhol Foundation are not?
The Daily Pennsylvanian : Turkish 'Troy gold' at Penn Museum stirs up controversy
The 24 pieces of “Troy gold” jewelry that the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology lent to the Turkish government in a landmark agreement announced Sept. 4 may have a more complicated history than meets the eye. Archaeology professor Brian Rose, a curator in the museum’s Mediterranean section, believes the artifacts arrived at Penn after they had been previously stolen. “I’m virtually certain they were looted,” said Rose, who has spent time studying the jewelry. “The question is from which region were they looted.” Penn had originally purchased the jewelry legally in 1966 from an antiquities dealer in Philadelphia without knowing all the details surrounding the artifacts’ history. “We bought it because it looked very like the gold that was excavated at Troy,” Penn Museum Director Julian Siggers said.
Victims of forgery are "left in limbo" - The Art Newspaper
Art forgeries are once again in the news and getting more attention from law-enforcement agencies worldwide. But recent cases, including those of the German forger Wolfgang Beltracchi, the FBI investigation into art sold through the defunct New York-based Knoedler gallery, and the forgery of Indian Progressive pieces by the UK faker William Mumford, are leaving victims unsure of the legal position of works not examined in a court of law. The problem is that few of the fakes identified in forgery cases are ever recovered, and if they are, may not be considered by a judge as part of a trial. In the case of Mumford, just 40 of the 900 forgeries thought to have been made were brought before the court. Only 12 of the 58 fakes that police believe were made by Beltracchi were examined in his trial in Cologne in 2011. So what about the rest? And what can you do if you think you have a forged painting? At the moment, it seems it is up to the victims to try to extract reparations.
Growth in Online Art Market Brings More Fraud - NYTimes.com 

Over the last few years the Internet has broadened the art market far beyond the exclusivity and opaque jargon of its moneyed enclaves and has helped turn the slogan “art for everyone” into reality. But it has also become a sort of bazaar, where shoppers of varying sophistication routinely encounter all degrees of flimflammery, from the schemes of experienced grifters to the innocent mistakes of the unwitting and naïve. A recent study by statisticians at George Washington University and the University of California, Irvine, estimated that as many as 91 percent of the drawings and small sculptures sold online through eBay as the work of the artist Henry Moore were fake. 

Abu Dhabi Police foils illegal sale of Dh2.5 million antique coins - The National

Abu Dhabi Police have thwarted the illegal Dh2.5m sale of four antique gold coins and a fake.And while four of the five coins were genuine, the fifth - also made of gold - appeared to be from the time of the 7th-century Umayyad caliph Abdul Malik ibn Marouan, but was a fake, Maj Gen Mohammed Al Menhali, the head of police operations at Abu Dhabi Police, told the Arabic-language daily Al Ittihad. A real coin from that period would have been worth around US$3m (Dh11m), he noted.

Sep 13, 2012

An Interview with Tomas Michalik, Slovak Lawyer and Archaeologist

Fake antiquities seized in Slovakia in 2010
I recently had a chance to have a conversation with Tomas Michalik, a lawyer and archaeologist working to protect cultural heritage sites in his native Slovakia. Slovakia is a central European nation with an impressive array of cultural heritage sites, but also some unique challenges. Many of the areas I talk about here a lot are the Mediterranean, but heritage protection and preservation is is a struggle in every single nation, and it is good to remind ourselves that other nations need consideration, not just the same usual suspects. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

What challenges do heritage advocates in Slovakia face?



The first (and in my point of view most important) challenge is the problem with the enforcement of the law. The Act on the Protection of Monuments and Historic Sites (No. 49/2002 Coll. as amended) has generally very good wording, a system of competences and has created legal consequences.  But due to our legal traditions and sometimes even legal thinking which are remnants of the communist era, we face difficulties with the enforcement of the law. Prosecution and courts sometime have very strange interpretations of the Act. Administrative delicts [legal causes of actions or torts] are usually being solved by Regional Monuments Boards or by the Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic, but the most important cases, like the destruction of the 18th century pastorate ("house of the priest") in Žilina, were stopped by the prosecution, under very problematic justification. Another problem is the lack of staff of the Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic. Our colleagues usually do their job very well (at least in Slovak conditions), but they don´t have enough people to control the implementation of the decisions in practice out in the field. And Unfortunately, there is sometime political pressure when the interests of somebody important at local or central level are endangered.

What kinds of sites and objects are at risk of looting in Slovakia?



Mainly archaeological sites are targets of looting. In the past, mainly in the 1990´s, churches suffered thefts, with sacred objects stolen to be sold to collectors, mainly abroad. Thanks to the Ministry of Culture all the important churches and church objects have alarm equipment today, but the loss since the 1990´s is irrecoverable. Since this time we also face the problem with treasure hunters, usually using metal detectors. This problem is huge not only in Slovakia or other countries of Central Europe, but also within the rest of Europe. In 2006 or 2007 Slovakia (specifically the Ministry of Interior, with the cooperation of Ministry of Culture) established a specialized police unit especially to police culture crimes. We have trained them (and later also prosecutors), but its future is not certain. We had also some success, as several cases of metal detectorists were already solved by the court. There are different kinds of archaeological sites which are the objects of looting, mainly castle ruins, prehistoric hillforts, open-air sites, Roman camps or graveyards. Due to establishment of better tools to protect (mainly archaeological) cultural heritage we have enacted more strict legal rules, which came into force atSept. 1st, 2011.
Looting is often blamed on a local population who may not conceive of the value of their heritage. I think this argument often can become problematic, as it quickly justifies looting and illegal export. What can you tell us about local attitudes about heritage?

Unfortunatelly, local people usually do not recognize the value of their heritage. But I think the situation is getting better, and there are some campaigns and a general increase of information. This has caused local people to have much more interest in what they have within their villages and towns. Personally, I have lectured for the students not only in the Department of Archaeology, but also in the village I come from for the children within the Lecture of Regional Education. When comparing with the past, local people now inform the police or their mayor on problematic and suspicious metal detectorist´s activities within the cadastre of the municipality. The ministry of Culture has provided a lot of money to the conservation and restoration of the cultural monuments in Slovak towns and villages so people begin to be proud of these monuments. In 2011 Ministry of Culture initiated program of conservation of castle ruins with the help of unemployed people, which is financially covered not only from our budget, but it is supported also by the European Social Fund. Principle stands on our belief that it is good to motivate unemployed people not only to take a money from the state for doing nothin, but to contribute to the preservation of the local monuments. In 2011 pilot program started with 2 castles (Šariš -http://www.hrad.wbl.sk/ and Uhrovec -http://www.uhrovec.sk/index.php?id_menu=45851), and in 2012 the project was broadened up to 20 castles. We presume continuation of the project also in 2013 and probably later. We consider involvement of local people as the most important point in the protection of cultural heritage, because they can help in situ. In my country local people usually do not accept academic attitude - they prefer practical measures.


Can you point to a success story, where an object or site was protected or preserved?



One of the very good points in the conservation is the above-mentioned project of the conservation of the castles with the help of unemployed people. But another special case, based on our long tradition of voluntarism (which is one of characteristic features of Slovak monuments conservation, already since the past) is a project of conservation of the ruins of the monastery of St. Catherine in Dechtice. Young Christian people decided to conserve it in the mid 1990´s and since this time this project became one of the most authentic projects in Slovakia. All the processes and methodology are strictly authentic / medieval. You can find more at www.katarinka.sk, unfortunatelly only in Slovak language, but you can find a lot of short movies there. In the last the year Ministry of Culture supported the effort of the young people, with the help of experts for conservation, archaeology, architecture and other fields. Recently we had some colleagues from Norway here and they were really surprised about the authentic style of the restoration. 
 Another great point is the identification of a workshop, where fakes of archaeological finds were manufactured. This workshop was identified by our special police team in 2010. We presume that the fakes were put in the black market and sold to collectors of archaeological finds. Very impressive pictures which you can see at http://www.minv.sk/?41&sprava=unikatny-pripad-policia-odhalila-podvody-s-falzifikatmi-archeologickych-nalezov

I know you are seeking support for your research, in an ideal world what kind of research project would you like to undertake and what do you hope to accomplish?



I believe that cultural heritage belongs to everybody and they should not be owned by the individual, without the access of public. Therefore I would like to compare national approaches to the protection of cultural heritage, especially archaeological finds and archaeological sites. Thank to my professional background - doctor of law and PhD. in archaeology, with experiences in central state administration and at university - I think I can contribute to knowledges and the best practice which should be applied in different regions. Due to the different legal traditions and historical progress of different parts of the world / Europe also the approach must also be different in interest of archaeological heritage protection. I think that the public usually doesn´t recognize real threat connected with looting, becuase the people don´t see the unique objects which were looted. Therefore I would like to continue in my previous work and to compare not only the legal rules (which in some regions are not enforceable in practice), but also practical measures in order to prevent the looting by the work with local public. As the result I want to identify the best practice which should serve as manual for archaeologists, state and municipal administration, museums and potentially for police and prosecution. I would like to connect theoretical presumptions from scientific literature and practical experiences I have.
To learn more about Dr. Michalik and his research he can be contacted at  tomas.michalik "@" gmail.com

Sep 5, 2012

More Bad News for Heritage in Mali and Timbuktu

Intentional destruction of an ancient shrine in Timbuktu in July
Destruction in Mali appears to be ongoing:

In the searing summer heat, and against a stifling climate of fear, the Ansar Eddine is ratcheting up the pressure. In late July the group gave the order for the city’s centuries-old Sufi mausoleums to be leveled, declaring them to be at odds with their own hardline blend of Islamic faith. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Timbuktu has for centuries been associated with Sufis, a mystical and spiritual fraternity, themselves closely connected with Islam. More than 200 Sufi saints are buried in free-standing mausoleums and within the compounds of mosques, tombs that have become the latest target of the Defenders of the Faith. Regarding them as idolatrous, the Islamist militia has taken hammers and shovels to their baked-mud adobe walls. They even destroyed a pair of ancient tombs set in the compound of the city’s celebrated Djingareyber mosque.
  1. Tahir Shah, Trouble in Timbuktu, Newsweek Magazine, 2012,  (last visited Sep 5, 2012).

Sep 4, 2012

Provenance and the 1970 UNESCO Convention

17 of the 21 objects at the Phoenix Ancient Art
Exhibition lack pre-1970 documentation
In a lengthy recent piece in Art & Auction, Souren Melikian argued that fewer and fewer antiquities without histories which pre-date 1970 are appearing at auction. The main argument for the piece, that the 1970 Convention is slowly encouraging a reformed antiquities market, rests on the idea that higher prices are paid for objects with documented and reliable evidence showing the object was either legally exported or removed from the probable country of origin before 1970.

Yet just because higher prices are paid for licit objects (or at least objects which were only illicit before 1970) does not necessarily mean that other looted or illicit objects are appearing on the market. Nord Wennerstrom makes this point, detailing four examples of antiquities up for sale which lack provenance information predating 1970. Of course the fact that an object does not come with this history does not mean automatically that it has been looted or stolen. But it is a very very big red flag.

Nord concludes by arguing:

All of the works discussed in this blog post may well have secure provenance dating before the November 14, 1970 UNESCO accord (or other corroborating evidence) - but if that’s the case, why isn’t it being provided? Melikian is right – caveat emptor – buyers need to demand secure provenance that dates before the UNESCO accord for any antiquities they contemplate buying. However, sellers – including auction houses and private galleries – also have a responsibility. And, it would be helpful if the media, when covering the sales, also mention the number of lots lacking that all important pre-1970 provenance. Melikian writes that we should “give it another 10 years” – that’s not a long time, but it could mean a lot of looting.
Yes it does.
  1. Souren Melikian, How UNESCO’s 1970 Convention Is Weeding Looted Artifacts Out of the Antiquities Market, ARTINFO (2012).

Sep 3, 2012

Restitution and Repatriation at DePaul, Oct. 29

On October 29 DePaul will sponsor a symposium examining the restitution and repatriation of cultural objects. From the announcement:

DePaul's cultural heritage symposium will bring together lawyers, museum ! professionals, representatives of indigenous communities, and other scholars and experts in the field to examine the repatriation of cultural artifacts. Participants will discuss the repatriation of cultural objects appropriated in the more distant past whose restitution some view as outside the scope of existing law, but others view as a matter of restitutionary justice. They also will address the repatriation of artifacts looted in recent times whose removal is often viewed as causing contemporary damage to the cultural heritage of communities and nations and to the historical and cultural record.
It looks like a promising event, with some important advocates and figures in some current disputes. Unfortunately teaching will likely prevent me from attending.

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