May 28, 2013

ARCA's Fifth Annual Conference, June 21-23, Amelia



Toby bull, Senior Inspector, Hong Kong Police Force, "Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong - Buyer Beware";

Ruth Godthelp, PhD Candidate Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam, Senior Police officer art related crime, Amsterdam Police, "The nature of crimes against Arts, Antiques and Cultural Heritage: A description of art-related crime in the Netherlands";

Saskia Hufnagel, Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, "Shifting Responsibilities: The Intersection of Public and Private Policing in the Area of Art Crime";

James Moore, retired trial lawyer and student of Caravaggio, "The Outrageous Theft of Caravaggio's Masterpiece The Nativity with Saint Francis and Saint Lawrence";

James Bond, ARCA Alumnus, Certificate 2011, "The Theft of Rare Books from the largest Home in the United States";

Chris Dobson, Former Master Armourer to the Royal Armouries at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, "Claiming Fake 'Fakes' in the Trade in Arms and Armour";

Stefano Alessandrini and Derek Fincham will lead a discussion on the Fano Athlete/Getty Bronze;

Joris Kila, Senior Researcher at the University of Amsterdam, ARCA award winner 2012, "An update on Armed Conflict and Heritage";

Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Partner with Sullivan & Worcester LLP, "American Wartime Art Restitution Litigation in the 1990s and Beyond-- Has it All Been Worth it?"

Jerker Rydén, Senior Legal Advisor Royal Library of Sweden, "Skullduggering in the Stacks: Recovering stolen books for the Royal Library of Sweden";

Judith Harris, author and free-lance journalist, regular contributor to the New York monthly ARTnews, "The Role of Collectors";

Felicity Strong, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne, "The mythology of the art forger";

Joshua Nelson, MA Candidate in Art & Visual Culture, University of Guelph, "Framing the Picture: The Canadian Print Media's Construction of an Atypical Crime and its Victims";

Theodosia latsi, MA in Global Criminology, Utrecht University, "The Art of Stealing: The Case of Museum Thefts in the Netherlands";

Verity Algar, Art History Student, University College London, "Cultural memory and the restitution of cultural property: Comparing Nazi-looted art and Melanesian malanggan";

Giulia Mezzi, PhD Candidate University of Reading, "The origins of Cultural Heritage Protection in Italy, a historical survey"

Carrie Johnson, JD Candidate South Texas College of Law, "Cultural Property in Crisis: Whose Burden is it?"

Alesia Koush, Foundation Romualdo Del Bianco-Life Beyond Tourism in Florence, MA Candidate at the University of Cologna under Prof. Luciano Carrino, "The Right to Culture"; and

Cynthia Roholt, JD Candidate South Texas College of Law, "Human Remains: Permission and Plastination".

The conference will open with cocktails at Palazzo Farrattini on Friday evening, June 21. The speakers will present at Chiosto Boccarini on Saturday and Sunday. Imbedded in the conference will be tthe ARCA Award Presentations: Art Policing and Recovery Award to Sharon Cohen Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York; Art Protection and Security Award to Christos Tsirogiannis, Archaeologist, Illicit antiquities researcher, University of Cambridge, former member of the Hellenic Ministry of Justice; Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship to Duncan Chappell, Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney, Australia; and the Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art to Bianco Nino Norton, Consultant Petén Development Project for the conservation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Ministry of Environment of Natural Resources/BID, Delegation of World Heritage Guatemala, Treasurer ICOMOS Guatemala, Presently serving as a Council Member for ICCROM.

To attend, please just RSVP to me at derek.fincham@gmail.com


May 24, 2013

That Picasso Vandal was Sentenced to two years in prison


In the informal straw poll I've taken with Houston artists, art student and all-around jerk Uriel Landeros is universally reviled.

In June last year he spray painted a work by Picasso, woman in a Red Armchair, at the Menil here in Montrose. His lawyer attempted to partially defend the crime by arguing he was making an artistic statement. I find that a particularly unconvincing defense, as it seems the sentencing judge did as well.

A video of the damage was posted on youtube and Landeros fled to Mexico. But he turned himself in at the border in January, and agreed to plead guilty to a graffiti charge. He was sentenced to two years, but with his 5 months already served he may be eligible for parole soon. Glasstire reports that he may be planning to return to the University of Houston for his final semester.

Here's hoping he's denied admittance to Houston's museums. And he can't use this notoriety to further his art career.


  1. Paula Newton, Picasso Vandal Sentenced to Two Years, Glasstire (May 21, 2013).



May 20, 2013

Jason Felch Updates the Southland Antiquities Investigation

In Sunday's LA Times, Jason Felch reports on a languishing federal antiquities investigation. In 2008 there was a loud showy raid on five museums in Southern California, including: the Bowers Museum, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the Mingei Museum, and the LA County Museum of Art. We are now five years since those raids, which resulted in the seizure of 10,000 objects, but has not resulted in any objects being returned, or even in any prosecutions. At least not yet. Which is strange, because if agents display such force in searching and seizing material in a simultaneous early morning raid, surely that investigation should bear fruit.

One reason for that is the death of those under investigation. Some of those are the result of natural causes. But not the sad death of Roxanna Brown—a witness for investigators and later a target—who died while in federal custody, in a shameful display of federal mismanagement. Here is a full history of Brown:

Roxanna Brown’s story: Part IPart IIPart III and settlement.

Many who follow this investigation probably echo Prof. Stephen Urice, professor at the University of Miami Law School, who is quoted:

I'm baffled . . . Given the amount of illicit antiquities moving through the U.S. borders, these guys are really hacks. Surely there must be more significant people out there.
 Felch reports that a criminal case against two men will begin in June: Robert Olson, aged 84; and Marc Pettibone, 62. Prosecutors allege that both men conspired to bribe officials in Thailand to secure export, and that the objects were then sold in the United States. And they would then use inflated appraisals for the objects and would secure excessive tax deductions for their donation.

All in all a troubling story on many levels. Few would dispute the staggering amount of objects which are being removed from Southeast Asia. But the prosecution and this investigation may be even more troubling. Its been a long investigation, with some very bad outcomes. The tragic death of targets of federal investigation is a growing trend in antiquities prosecutions. Think also of the three suicides which took place after the display of federal force in the four-corners antiquities investigation.

We can't of course blame federal investigators and prosecutors entirely, but they do share blame here, and if as many argue we are using these prosecutions to deter future smuggling, looting, and tax fraud, well the deterrent impact is very much in doubt. Criminologists can articulate this better than I, but a well-established truth that irregular regulation, even one which results in custodial sentences, cannot effectively deter. And when there is such a pall of controversy over these federal investigations, it may actually ossify the attitudes of individuals in the trade that they are being unfairly and unjustly targeted.


  1. Jason Felch, Stolen-artifacts case has cost much, yielded little, critics say, Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2013.

May 17, 2013

Cambodia Presses Other Museums

Tom Mashberg reports that Cambodia now has requested objects from others, including:
  • Denver Art Museum
  • Cleveland Museum of Art
  • The Norton Simon,
  • And of course Sotheby's which is challenging a federal forfeiture
New York's Metropolitan Museum announced it would return two other statues. It seems to have encouraged the Cambodians and their advocates to look for other similar material. And that precedent set by the Met may compel these other institutions to return objects. From the NYT piece:


The Met’s two statues represent brothers of Bhima who knelt in attendance during the fight. The Met’s statues were acquired in four pieces from donors 1987 to 1992. Those statues, plus the one from Sotheby’s, are known to have gone through a London art dealer, Spink & Son, in the early 1970s. Cambodian officials say the broken pedestals of all those sculptures were left in the ground by the looters. Norton Simon, who died in 1993, bought the Bhima in 1976 from a Madison Avenue Asian art dealer and gave it to the museum in 1980. “In more than three decades, the foundation’s ownership of the sculpture has never been questioned,” the museum said in a statement. The Sotheby’s statue was shipped to New York in 2010 to be sold at auction by its Belgian owner, Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa. Her husband, who has since died, acquired it in 1975 and Sotheby’s estimated its value to be $2 million to $3 million. Experts on antiquities trafficking say teams of bandits used ox carts to trundle their trophies along jungle trails and into Thailand, 15 miles north, during Cambodia’s war years. In their case against Sotheby’s, lawyers for the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York say the statue was one of many shipped illicitly from Bangkok to the United States and Europe after 1970. Sotheby’s says the statue was legally purchased in good faith from a reputable London auction house in 1975 and it “denies knowledge that the Duryodhana statue was stolen.” Cambodia’s secretary of state, Chan Tani, said the looting of Koh Ker is especially crushing because its style of statuary exists nowhere else. “They are part of our soul as a nation,” he said, “and they were brutally stolen.”

 One aspect I find really intriguing is how Cambodia has seemingly eschewed the Italian approach of offering long term loans and continuing to have a relationship with these institutions. Not sure why that may be, I'd be interested in hearing some ideas below in the comments.

Mashberg, Tom. “Cambodia Presses U.S. Museums to Return Antiquities.” The New York Times, May 15, 2013, sec. Arts / Art & Design. 

May 3, 2013

The Met Announces the Return of two statues to Cambodia

Today, Ralph Blumenthal reports that the Met has agreed to return two 10th century statues to Cambodia. The Met's director Thomas Campbell is quoted as saying:

This is a case in which additional information regarding the 'Kneeling Attendants' has led the museum to consider facts that were not known at the time of the acquisition and to take the action we are announcing today.

 The piece reports the statues may have been removed from Cambodia at around the same time the Koh Ker statue was removed, which is the subject of an ongoing forfeiture action by a federal prosecutor. Little information has been reported that I can find on the precise circumstances surrounding the removal of these statues from Cambodia. We know the instabality and conflict taking place in southeast Asia at the time of course. The statues were donated by Douglas Latchford in a series beginning in 1987. The parts of the statues were broken into pieces at some point, and the individual pieces of the figures were donated between 1987-1992. Conservators at the Met reattached the heads and bodies in 1993.

The Met should be congratulated for doing the right thing here with these objects which have such an important connection to Cambodia. This return may also give pause to Sotheby's, the Norton Simon museum, and others who have objects which were removed from Cambodia during this period.



Blumenthal, Ralph. “The Met to Return Statues to Cambodia.” The New York Times, May 3, 2013, sec. Arts / Art & Design. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/arts/design/the-met-to-return-statues-to-cambodia.html.

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