September 18, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017 - , No comments

What's the difference between ARCA's Blog and the Association's Journal of Art Crime?

  • The Journal of Art Crime articles are PDF, while ARCAblog posts are HTML, often with hyperlinks. 
  • The Journal of Art Crime articles usually have a title, abstract, introduction, methods, results (or description), discussion/conclusions, and references. 
  • ARCAblog posts are often simple discussion and conclusions and are frequently short-form. Blogposts are also designed to draw readers attention to current happenings in the field. 
  • ARCAblog posts might take an hour or two to write, whereas a Journal of Art Crime article might take weeks, months, or, if its a significant body of research, a year or more.
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  • The Journal of Art Crime is peer-reviewed, whereas ARCAblog posts are not.
Lastly the ARCABlog has been designed to be Open Access (OA) meaning ARCA gives readers free unrestricted online access to what it posts.  ARCA's Journal of Art Crime is available by subscription for both digitial and print versions, as the act of publishing research has an intrinsic cost.  Through subscription fees JAC subscribers help facilitate and promote global communication of academic research and discourse in the field of art crime.


Want to know more about the Journal of Art Crime? 

The Journal of Art Crime has been published in print and digital format by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art since Spring 2009.   Published twice per year during the Autumn and Spring,  the JAC is edited by Noah Charney, Marc Balcells and Christos Tsirogiannis. Each issue contains a select mixture of peer-reviewed academic articles, regular columns, editorials, and book reviews from contributors actively involved within the art crime and heritage protection sectors.  

More formal than the ARCAblog, the Journal of Art Crime seeks to identify emerging and under-examined trends related to art crime and to develop strategies that advocate for the responsible stewardship of our collective artistic and archaeological heritage.

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General questions and inquiries about the Journal of Art Crime should be addressed to the JAC's editors.

September 15, 2017

Recovery: Not all Ecclesiastical art that is stolen is lost forever



The brisk sales of "Individual A" buying objects from "Individual B"

As a result of the complex operation, twenty people are now under investigation by the Italian authorities for robbery, having received stolen goods, or other related violations of the law.  Those that have been charged, some with no prior police records, include middlemen fences who shopped desirable pieces to collectors of religious art who were apparently disinterested in the conspicuous origins of the ecclesiastical pieces they were purchasing.

Modus Operendi

Working to analyze the methodologies used to commit thefts in places of worship in neighboring municipalities, law enforcement officers saw a pattern evolving. 

Each of the thefts had occurred during daytime hours. 

Most of the incidents did not require any type of forced entry. 

To gain access to the objects the thief or thieves preferred to go about their work during opening hours, when the general public had free access to these religious institutions and where they were less likely to be impeded by burglar alarms or video surveillance systems.

Objects Recovered

The objects identified as recovered during this operation is quite extensive and paints a vivid picture of the frequency of church related thefts throughout Italy and in one case Belgium.

One of the more interesting pieces recovered was a 175 × 125 cm a 16th century Flemish panel painting stolen 37 years ago depicting the twelfth station of the cross.  The painting had been taken from the Treasury of the Collegiate of the Church of Sainte-Waudru in Mons, Belgium on July 2, 1980.   Thankfully the church had an inventory of their artworks so the alterpiece has been matched precisely and will be repatriated.

A white marble sculpture depicting a Madonna and child dating from the beginning of the sixteenth century stolen on July 4, 1997 from the church "Santa Marta" (Confraternity Of San Vitale) in Naples.

An 18th century wooden statue, depicting "San Biagio" stolen between May 10 and May 17, 2015 from the church Lady of the Angels located in Barrea.

An 18th century wooden statue of Saint Nicholas of Bari stolen between May 10 and May 17, 2015 from the church Lady of the Angels located in Barrea.

A 16th century stone statue of St Michael the Archangel,  a sword in silver with an ornate blade and a silver oval shield decorated with words "quis ut Deus" stolen on January 19 2016 from the church of San Michele Arcangelo in Monteroduni.

Fifteen 16th century oil paintings on canvas, mounted to panels depicting "The Mysteries of the Rosary", stolen on December 21, 2016 from the Church of Saint Bartolomeo Apostolo in Cassano Irpino.

Two 17th century wooden statues depicting angels, a 17th century gilded throne used for Eucharistic ceremonies, stolen on November 28, 1998 from La Libera church in Montella.

A 19th century monstrance, also known as an ostensorium or an ostensory, in embossed silver stolen on October 11, 2009 from the church "Santa Cristina" in Formicola.

A wooden statue of the baby Jesus and a silver embossed thurible in which incense is burned during worship services, stolen on March 3, 2016 from the church Saint Peter the Apostle in Sala Consilina.

A late 17th century panel painting depicting a river landscape with animals French stolen on July 16, 1990 at the Rome auction house Antonina dal 1890.

A 19th century painted paper mache statue of baby Jesus stolen on January 5, 2010 from the Cathedral of San Cassiano in Imola.

An 18th century silver monstrance, an 18th century silver reliquary with a stippled glass case, an 18th century metal reliquary, stolen on February 10, 2016 from the church of San Lorenzo located in Castelvetere sul Calore.

An 18th century breastplate with helmet, shield and sword, decorated in gold, which once served as ornamentation to a San Costanzo statue was stolen on January 10, 2016 in a burglary of the parish of "Santa Maria Maggiore" in Itri. NOTE:  Many of the other items stolen during this raid have not been recovered.

Two 19th century gilded wood reliquaries stolen on August 25, 2002 from the church of San Giacomo Apostolo in Gaeta.

Four carved and gilded wooden portapalma (holy) vases  stolen on January 31, 2012 from the church of San Francisco in Gubbio.

A gold plated cup,  a gold plated ciborium with matching lid used for eucharistic ceremonies stolen on January 12, 2016 from the church of Saint Lucia located in Olevano sul Tusciano - Salitto fraction.

A pendulum clock with bronze lyre-shaped inlays stolen on August 25, 1994 from a private residence in Rome.

A 19th century paper mache figurine depicting the Christ child stolen on November 5, 2009 from the church of Saint Augustine in Faenza.

Two 18th century winged putti, stolen on January 5, 2016 from the church of Saints John and Paul in Carinola (Ce) - Casale fraction.

An 18th century oil painting on canvas depicting baby Jesus lying with crown of flowers stolen on August 14, 1994 from a private residence in Lanciano.

An 18th century monstrance with silver and gold metal cross stolen September 29, 2015 from the church Santa Maria dell’orazione located in Pontelatone.

An 18th century chalice embossed and engraved in silver stolen on July 15, 2015 from the church of San Quirico and Julietta located in Serra San Quirico (An).

A 19th century monstrance in embossed silver stolen on January 20, 2016 from the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli located in Contursi Terme..

An 18th century silver reliquary engraved with "nm" stolen on October 4, 2011 from the parish of "Santa Maria Assunta" in Filettino.

September 12, 2017

Repatriation: United States will return Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq in 2018.

Books and documents from the Iraqi Jewish Archive prior to conservation

On May 6, 2003, in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat headquarters, American soldiers from MET (Mobile Exploitation Team) Alpha, led by now-retired Chief Warrant Officer Richard “Monty” Gonzales, found thousands of Jewish communal and religious books in Arabic and Hebrew that appeared to record the life of Iraq's Jewish community  which flourished for over 2,500 years in the region of Babylonia. Unfortunately, the cache of historic items was discovered floating in hip-deep wastewater in the recently-liberated, bomb-damaged headquarters.

Former Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzales in waist-deep
sewage water in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s
Mukhabarat headquarters in Baghdad. Image Credit: Richard Gonzales

For emergency assistance in preserving the trove of books, manuscripts and documents, some dating from the mid-sixteenth to late twentieth century, Doris Hamburg, then Director of Preservation Programs at the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) preservation program was contacted by the Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad.



Hamburg and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Chief of the Document Conservation Laboratory, in cooperation with the Iraqi officials, recommended freezing the documents as soon as possible as heat and humidity would produce a conservator's worst enemy: mold.  Freezing as a short-term solution is a common method which can quickly stabilize mold infestations until such time as an appropriate treatment to dry out materials can be undertaken.  The ability to freeze documents buys conservators time, allowing fragile material to be preserved until the documents can be sorted with care and worked on in a priority-centric  and carefully informed pace. 

Heeding NARA's advice, those on the ground moved the waterlogged damaged, and by now moldy documents into 27 large steel trunks.  In turn, these 2,700 books and thousands of Jewish paper documents were placed in a requisitioned freezer truck for storage until August 17, 2003 when a deal was struck between NARA and Iraq’s interim government.    

Citing Iraq's Antiquities Law No. 55, Dr Jaber Khalil Ibrahim, Chairman of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage at the Iraqi Ministry of Culture agreed to send the documents to the United States on a temporary basis, to allow NARA to undertake emergency conservation, on the condition that the material would be returned to Iraq within two years.

As their part of the agreement, NARA agreed to cover overhead costs for administrative functions, lab use, storage and utilities.  The US Military provided the security and transport of the archive from Baghdad to the United States where conservation treatment would occur. 

The trunks were brought to BMS Catastrophe (BMS CAT), a freeze drying company in Ft. Worth Texas utilized by NARA which deals with catastrophic damage and where salvage operations on the documents would start in earnest. Cleaning the documents of mold would be a complicated process, as those working with the materials would be required to wear protective suits for their own health and safety. 

Successful recovery of water-damaged archival materials is usually done in one of two ways: evaporation or sublimation, depending on the state of the water before it passes to vapor and escapes from the materials being conserved.  Water in the wet state can evaporate via air drying but this is not always the optimal method of choice. When freeze dried in controlled atmospheric conditions, water in its solid state, ice, will sublimate and can then be removed from the materials while still in its gaseous phase, without passing through the liquid phase. 

Freeze drying in a vacuum chamber was the conservation method of choice for the Iraqi Jewish Archive given the large numbers of waterlogged and damaged books, some of which had water-sensitive inks and coated paper.  It also limited the problems of bleeding and tidelines on the materials and helps to minimize document shrinkage and brittleness. Ultimately, vacuum freeze drying the texts allowed mold, mud, dirt, and dust to be vacuumed from the surface of the material in a controlled manner, so that conservators could focus their attention on reparations of the archive's contents, prioritizing which objects needed treatment first.  

A lengthy process, the archive's preservation at times has been hampered by funding concerns. As the Iraqi Jewish Archive is not a U.S. govern­ment collection, the United States National Archives and Records Administration funds could not be used for the conservation project.  Outside funding, provided by private donors, foundations or indirectly via other government agencies with authority was needed.

Many philanthropic Jewish organizations balked at funding the conservation and cataloguing initiative knowing that it was highly likely that the collection would ultimately be returned to Baghdad and not remain in the United States or Israel. 

In late 2005, $98,000 was allocated via the National Endowment to the the Center for Jewish History who facilitated the second phase of the preservation project.  To establish preservation priorities for Phase II Susan Duhl and conservation technician were contracted to work under the direction of the National Archives to assess and document the condition of the collection. 

Focusing on proper storage, the pair inventoried the material and took digital photographs used to establish a preliminary digital archive and catalogue, which, with language expertise, could then help set priorities as to what documents were in the collection as well as what actually should be preserved first. 

Experts knowledgeable in Levant and Jewish history met in May 2010 and offered recommendations regarding priorities for preservation, access, and to discuss the potential of an online digital archive and exhi­bitions.

In 2011 the US Department of State allocated an additional 2.97 million for was was to be the final phase of the preservation project.  This funding specified that the project was to be completed in 2014, with the objects to be repatriated June 2014. 

On May 14, 2014, Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the US, announced that the Iraqi government had authorized an extension period in which the archive could remain in the United States for a while longer, with key pieces displayed on exhibition.

The four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. is set to expire in September 2018. 

Call it cultural preservation, cultural imperialism, or call it stealing. 

Since the initial transfer of the Iraqi Jewish Archive to the United States, the question of its eventual repatriation to Iraq has been a source of continual contention.  Some argue that Iraq viciously persecuted its Jews and given their displacement, the archive should never be repatriated, belonging instead to the country's displaced jews. 

Others argue that the US is ethically bound to repatriate as they singularly promised the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad they would do so. 

Speaking to some individuals in Iraq, some feel strongly that the US government intervened solely because of the Jewish nature of the damaged objects.  They resent the special attention this archive received while other important archival documents and rare books belonging to the Iraq National Library and Archive, also impacted by the same type of wastewater flooding, were neglected. [NB the archival materials removed from the INLA were far more extensive than the Jewish documents held by the Mukhabarat and didn't fair as well with regards to preservation]. 

Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project has said that while it appears that the US government is now of a mind to finally return these artifacts to Iraq in 2018, there will be others in clear opposition to that repatriation. 

He writes: 


Sigal Samuel, a self described Iraqi Jew, argues that the archive should go home. 

In a 2014 article in favor of the their return she stated:


On the argument of accessibility by Jewish readers when the artifacts go home Samuel argued:

"I understand that returning the archive to Iraq would make it difficult or impossible for most Jews — particularly Israelis — to safely access it. But even though I myself am saddled with an Israeli name and citizenship, I still don’t think this is an argument for keeping the archive in the U.S. I think it’s an argument for digitization — a process that’s already underway. Or it’s an argument for setting up loans, which would allow the exhibit to be housed permanently in Iraq but travel every few years to this or that Jewish population center.

In digital-age America, we take it for granted that everything we love should be at our fingertips. But relinquishing that luxury sometimes comes with distinct advantages. When it comes to returning this trove to Iraq, the advantages are clear: There, it will serve a vital educational purpose, both for world Jewry and for non-Jewish Iraq."

In a statement to the Jewish Telegraph Service this week, State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez said the four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. will expire in September 2018, as will funding for maintaining and transporting the contents of the archive. Outside of a new agreement being drawn up and signed between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government it looks like the archive is finally going to be repatriated.

Portions of the archive, featuring 23 recovered items and a “behind the scenes” video of the painstaking preservation process will be on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland from October 15, 2017 until January 15, 2018.

Highlights include:

For more details please see:
https://www.ija.archives.gov/
https://www.archives.gov/files/publications/prologue/2013/fall-winter/ija.pdf

September 5, 2017

Iraqi pawns and an American chess player

Image Credit: U.S. Embassy Baghdad

The United States has returned dictator Saddam Hussein’s chess set to the Iraqi government in Baghdad but has not given much in the way of details as to who the set had been stolen by or where it has been recovered.

Image Credit:
U.S. Embassy Baghdad

The gameboard and its pieces went missing in 2003.  U.S. coalition forces invaded Iraq in an operation dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom between March 20th and May 2003 signalling the start of the Iraq War.  Hussein’s Ba'athist Iraqi government was deposed less than a month later.   Hussein himself was captured in December 13, 2003 and was executed in December 2006, having been convicted of crimes against humanity by the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

Image Credit:
U.S. Embassy Baghdad
Whoever made off with this little piece of costly war booty had a good eye, even if it appears that the object was not treated gently as it made its passage from the Middle East to the United States. 

A similar Austro-Hungarian enamelled, parcel-gilt silver and stone-inset chess set was sold at Sotheby’s in its New York April 22, 2010 auction for $35,000


Another set sold at Doyle's, New York, Belle Epoque sale on September 23, 2009, lot 209 ($28,125). Provenance: Property from a Private Collection, Fontana, CA. Condition. 

Five years ago a Christie’s consignor (property of a private collector in Pittsburg) made a healthy profit during its New York April 18, 2012 auction selling theirs for $32,500.


All proving that years after the invasion, auction houses in the U.S. wouldn't have had any trouble selling this Saddam-era bauble, which, like many others, may be traceable back to U.S. government employees and contractors who took items as souvenirs or war trophies. 

September 4, 2017

Egyptian Mummy Cartonnage on Pawn Stars


On this blog we spend a lot of time stressing provenance, provenance, provenance, and the need for antiquities collectors and dealers to perform satisfactory due diligence before purchasing or selling an ancient object.  

Now granted one shouldn't judge the efforts of the entire ancient art collecting community against a single episode of a TV program, but this recent clip, showing the sale of Egyptian mummy cartonnage on The History Channel's popular staged reality TV show Pawn Stars serves as a good reminder of how little an object's legitimacy in the art market, enters into the discussion between buyer and seller when art transactions are filmed for television.  

video

Pawn Stars has been a History Channel staple since 2009. Filmed on site at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, each episode is framed around the buying, selling, and appraising of items of historical value.

To keep their audiences coming back for more, the program is fast paced and edited to fit several transactions into each episode, in some cases sourcing objects in advance of the program's shooting.  For important pieces there is time allocated for pop-in appraisals by "experts" alongside the requisite name dropping of corporate sponsors, spiced up with a dash of comic relief to keep the audience coming back year after year. 

While I can understand that the show's viewers probably wouldn't tune in to a History Channel series for eight years if the show were to spend a chunk of its expensive air time ensuring that the objects being bartered wer not looted or stolen, but sometimes making a fast buck has led to problems.  

One Season 6 episode "Shekel and Hyde" featured a gentleman who sold a shekel of Tyre to the owners of the Pawn Shop for $1,600.  Unfortunately the coin was apparently stolen.

This is the reason why we keep beating the already dead due diligence horse and why we encourage buyers and sellers of ancient objects to look at the origins of an object before they make a purchase.   But not everyone is interested in ensuring that the objects they want to purchase have not been stolen or looted or come with proper documentation showing compliance with export regulations.

In addition to the mummy cartonnage, Pawn Stars has featured other items of the type that are at risk of being trafficked, again without presenting any information as to if the object was appropriately vetted off camera to ascertain its licit status prior to filming.  

Some of these objects include:  



and 



TV shows the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, American Pickers  and PBS’ Antiques Roadshow attract millions of viewers, as everyone likes the idea of a secret treasure.  Unfortunately the producers of these programs miss a valuable opportunity to educate buyers and sellers, promoting ethical trading in the pieces of the past. 

By:  Lynda Albertson




August 31, 2017

UK Art dealer arrested in Los Palacios, Spain for stealing antiques and on an order of extradition to Italy

Objects seized.  Image Credit: Guardia Civil / DGGC
Identified during a routine inspection of guest lists for lodgings in Los Palacios y Villafranca, a city located in the province of Seville, Spain's Guardia Civil, has detained a British citizen on August 16, 2017 on an arrest and extradition warrant from Italy for the alleged theft of antiquities and cultural heritage objects.

Reported Tuesday, August 29, 2017 in a published statement by the Civil Guard, the detainee, was listed simply with his initials, W.T.V.  At the time he was detained, he was found to be in the possession of 140 objects, including ancient oil lamps, ancient Roman and Arab origin coins, rings, clay tiles and five burner phones. Despite the large quantity of artefacts in his possession, authorities have stated the arrestee was unable to show proof of legal ownership.  

While the full name of the individual was not stated in the press release, the arrestee's initials belong to an expatriate Hungarian coin dealer named William Veres who once managed a company named Stedron based in Zurich, Switzerland.  Veres is known to have worked out of both the UK and Spain and has had his name attached to various illicit activities. 

If Vere's name sounds familiar it is because we mentioned him on this blog one week ago.  He is one of two individuals prosecuted for his earlier role in the illicit sale of a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale forfeited to Italy by Michael Steinhardt following a lengthy court case and appeals in the United States. 

Working with the Carabinieri in Italy it will be interesting to see what Spain's Guardia Civil will be able to determine regarding the provenance of the objects found in this dealer's possession.  

Now in custody, he will likely be sent back to Italy via the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system, applied throughout the EU to replace Europe's old lengthy extradition procedures within the territorial jurisdiction.  Through the EAW crime suspects are extradited at the request of foreign countries without the evidence against them being examined in the court of the country where they are detained. 

An EAW may be issued by a national judicial authority if:
  • the person whose return is sought is accused of an offence for which the maximum period of the penalty is at least one year in prison;
  • he or she has been sentenced to a prison term of at least four months.
Having appeared before a judge at a closed hearing in Madrid, it is not yet clear if Veres has agreed to being extradited or whether he will fight the attempt to return him to Italy to face prosecution.

Updates on Turkey’s lawsuit over the multimillion-dollar, 5,000-year-old antiquity known as the Guennol Stargazer.


On August 28, 2017 attorneys for Michael Steinhardt and Christie's filed a lengthy, contentious Motion to Dismiss in the US District Court (SD/NY) related to CIV. ACT. NO. 17-cv-3086 (AJN), Turkey’s lawsuit over the multimillion-dollar, 5,000-year-old antiquity known as the Guennol Stargazer

Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York
The "motion to dismiss" in this case seeks a court order to dismiss the plaintiff's claim on the statutory grounds that such a claim was untimely brought.

Under New York law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations or application of the laches doctrine, one cannot obtain title from a thief unless the present-day possessor's title can be traced to someone with whom the original owner voluntarily entrusted the art.  As a clear title is not possible in the case of the Guennol Stargazer, it will be up to Steinhardt and Christie's attorney to make a case on the laches defense, where it is clear that the plaintiff, in this case Turkey, unreasonably delayed in initiating an action and a defendant(s) are unfairly prejudiced by the delay.

The purpose of the doctrine of laches is to safeguard the interests of good faith purchasers, in this case of lost/stolen art, by weighing in the balance of competing interest, the owner's diligence in pursuing their claim.   

While delay in pursuing a claim for the Stargazer is generally considered in the context of laches under New York law, it has long been the law of this state that a property owner, having discovered the location of its lost property, cannot unreasonably delay making demand upon the person in possession of that property.

Attorneys for the defendants believe that the repatriation lawsuit must fail as there is evidence that Turkey knew about the Stargazer’s location for longer than three years before it sued, providing the court with a graphic charting that shows when the object first became publicized, implying Turkey's claim, twenty years after its first public announcement, is unreasonable.

The auction home points out that given that the idol’s arrival in the US, it has been referenced on numerous occasions  in museum catalogues and educational publications. 

August 27, 2017

While London's Art and Antiques is suspended, Mexico creates new federal police division to protect cultural heritage

Course Opening Ceremony Image Credit: INAH
While a lot of the art crime news recently has been about the (hopefully temporary) shuttering of New Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques unit in London as its officers are reassigned to work on the Grenfell Tower fire, Mexico seems to be moving in a more positive direction. 


The objective of the pilot course was to establish stronger links between the Secretariats of Culture and the government, in order to ensure the legal care and protection of Mexico's cultural heritage  as stipulated in the country's federal law on Monuments and Archaeological, Artistic and Historical Areas.

The government also announced the formation of a database to be developed to help police determine which heritage assets are susceptible to damage or theft as well as a documentary repository for information about investigations. 



Conference - Authenticity, forgery, provenance, and ethics at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting


The 2017 Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, will be held in Boston on November 18–21, 2017 and will feature an interesting panel on legitimacy and forgery and the ethical and unethical trade and publication of historic archaeological material with limited or no provenance. 

The title of the panel is:  Avoiding Deception: Forgeries, Fake News, and Unprovenanced Material in Religious Studies

Session date and time:  November 19, 2017 from 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Rome and Location: Orleans (Fourth Level) - Boston Marriott Copley Place (MCP)

Invited speakers include: 


According to the annual meeting program book this session will delve into the following: 

Why is provenance important? Although the forgery of documents and artifacts has always been a primary concern in religious studies, recent events surrounding the colloquially designated “Jesus’ Wife Fragment” and various unprovenanced fragments touted as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls have propelled scholars into a new era of forgery studies. While some may suppose that scholars are easily able to identify and disprove such items as forgeries, the complicated landscape in which such materials surface and are distributed has necessitated the adaptation of scholarship to remain diligent in preserving authentic items of history for study. This panel will address the challenges facing scholars in identifying and disproving forgeries in our current era. Invited speakers will similarly offer a space to examine the complexities and current status of forgeries in religious studies, identifying ways scholars can navigate the field without perpetuating erroneous materials in their scholarship. Time will be left following the panel for students and faculty to meet and mingle, in order to facilitate networking between scholars interested in similar material.

August 26, 2017

Yes Virginia, there really are honest dealers in the world.


University of Arizona Museum of Art Curator Olivia Miller
authenticating Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre,”
on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017.  The painting has been missing since 1985
Often times it seems that antique and antiquities dealers are seldom mentioned on this blog unless there is negative news to share.  Today though, ARCA would like to give a shout out to some really swell folks at Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques of Silver City, New Mexico. 

On the day after Thanksgiving, November 29, 1985, an unremarkable couple:  a woman in her mid-50s with shoulder-length reddish-blond hair and a man in his mid-20s, with short, wavy dark hair and a large mustache entered the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson at the start of the day.  Distracting one of the guards in a conversation on the stairs, the man continued upwards to the second floor gallery and quickly sliced Willem de Kooning's painting "Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning, 1954-1955, 30 in. x 40 in., oil on canvas from its frame.   Hiding the painting under his blue water-repellant coat, the thief and his accomplice made their way back downstairs and out the exit in less than 15 minutes.  

For more than thirty years the painting remained missing, until it was scooped up by David Van Auker, who owns Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques when visiting the home of deceased H. Jerome "Jerry" and Rita Alter to assess its contents as part of an estate sale.  Along with his business partners Richard Dean Johnson and Buck Burns Auker purchased the house's contents, including the painting for $2000.

Back at the shop and with a little help from their customers, the trio soon began to realize that they might have a valuable painting on their hands.  Doing a quick internet search on de Kooning, they came across a 2015 article on azcentral.com of one of the artist's paintings, “Woman-Ochre,” that had been stolen in a daring heist from the University of Arizona Museum.  Matching the photograph pictured on the website with the painting in their shop, the guys decided to do the right thing and give the museum a call.

video

If you want a chuckle, take a look at their video above, taken from their Facebook page here.   It will make your day, because yes Virginia, there really are honest dealers in the world who do the right thing when they find looted art.

August 24, 2017

Theft: The Universitetet i Bergen posts photos of stolen objects to Flickr

The  Universitetet i Bergen has begun uploading images to Flickr of the approximately 400 objects stolen from the University Museum of Bergen in Norway on August 12, 2017. 


Thieves who broke into the museum entered
 through this window on the seventh floor
 of the building. Image Credit: Begin Police
Thieves entered the museum on the Saturday by climbing up a scaffold and breaking a window on the 7th floor.  Currently it is unclear to authorities whether or not the burglary was professional in nature, as apposed to opportunistic. 

Of the items stolen, most appear to be from the Iron Age, Migration Age and Viking Age periods. All the more puzzling as these objects are of historical significance and well documented, so not likely to generate a significant sum if the thieves tried to fence them.

As the public demands an answer as to how 400 objects could be carted away without someone noticing, individuals at the university are trying its best to look towards the recovery of the objects.  In order to spread the word quickly about the impact of the theft, they have established a Facebook group (primarily in the Norwegian language)  Tyveriet på Historisk museum (Burglary at The University Museum of Bergen) and social media hashtags #vikingskatten #vikingtreasure. Their goal being to draw the public's attention to the crime and to make the public aware that these objects may be in circulation.  


August 23, 2017

Hedge Hogs and the Art of Wealth: The Curious Background of Michael Steinhardt


Michael Steinhardt has a long standing record of making astute financial decisions, many of which have led to stellar investment performance earnings totalling in the millions on Wall Street.  Unfortunately his culture capital record: for making careful, sound, and informed decisions when purchasing antiquities for his purported $200 million private collection of art, has been anything but stellar. 

As Master of the Hedge Fund Universe, Steinhardt has the liquidity to be choosy about his art purchases. With a current net worth of $1.05 billion, according to a 2017 article in Forbes Magazine, and almost thirty years of collecting experience, he's also a member of Christie’s advisory board.  Tight with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he has had a Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. gallery named after him at the museum. All that to say Steinhardt should be sufficiently well informed about the social and ethical obligations of responsibly acquiring, managing and disposing of items in his burgeoning art collection. 

So why then, with access to so many of the art world's elite, has he chosen to overlook the importance of provenience (country of origin) and provenance (history of ownership) of the objects he fancied BEFORE allowing them to enter or exit his collection and comparing that information within the context of the US and international legal frameworks and abiding accordingly?

I guess traders love to gamble (more on that later) a fortune on their compulsions.

Some of Steinhardt's costly gambles:  

A fourth century BCE gold phiale


November 09, 1995, U.S. Customs agents seized a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations from Steinhardt's Fifth Avenue residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  The financier appealed the lower court's ruling only to have the decision of forfeiture affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Despite clear proof that the object was smuggled out of southern Italy, Steinhardt petitioned the lower court's ruling all the way to the United States Supreme Court, in the hopes of retaining the object for his collection. 

The high court found no compelling reason to rehear Steinhardt's case on the basis that the importer had intentionally undervalued the object's worth, transited the object illegally from Sicily to Switzerland, and provided false statements misrepresenting the phiale's country of origin on the objects import documentation. 

The two antiquities dealers involved in the purchase, Robert Haber and William Veres, were each given suspended sentences of one year and ten months imprisonment.  The extent of Steinhardt's culpability though was left vague in the final court filings.  Yet Steinhardt's experience as an art collector and specifically his experience with Haber, with whom he had already purchased some $4-6 million in art objects, raises considerable doubts as to his naïveté.  

The fact that the bill of sale from Haber to Steinhardt's even stipulated that if "the object is confiscated or impounded by customs agents or a claim is made by any country or governmental agency whatsoever, full compensation will be made immediately to the purchaser" gives the impression that both the collector and his dealer were aware of the potential for illegality in the market, and possibly with this object specifically. 

(Il)licit Excavations of Maresha Subterranean Complex 57: 
The ‘Heliodorus’ Cave


In early 2007 Michael Steinhardt acquired the so-called Heliodorus Stele from Gil Chaya, an antiquities dealers in Jerusalem, who is reportedly a nephew of the late Shlomo Moussaieff.  Moussaieff once owned one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities, many of which were unprovenanced.  After the purchase Steinhardt and his wife presented the stele to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on an extended loan.

The stele contains a magnificent 2nd century BCE Greek inscription which documents a correspondence between the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (brother of Antiochus IV) to an aide named Heliodorus.  Unsurprisingly though, the bottom portion of the stele was missing, leaving a gap in scholarship as well as a tell-tale signature that the stele had likely been looted upon its extraction, since its base was missing. 

Earlier, during 2005 and 2006 excavations at the Maresha Subterranean Complex 57 at Beit Guvrin National Park three fragments were uncovered that were subsequently identified as matching the bottom of Steinhardt's stele.  These fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute's "Dig for a Day" program.  The correlation of the fragments' epigraphy and testing of their stone and soil samples at the find site proved that the fragments were a perfect match, completing missing pieces of the stele.  

It was later determined that the stele had been stolen during a robbery at the Beit Guvrin National Park in 2005.  Tel Maresha's head archaeologist, Dr. Ian Stern verified that he remembered arriving at the site on a Sunday morning in 2005 only to find that the cave where the fragments were later found, had been “turned upside down,” apparently by looters searching for ancient objects to be sold on the black market.  

United States v. One Triangular Fresco Fragment



Despite the object's obvious Italian origin, the shipment had a customs declaration form which falsified the object's country of origin as Macedonia. The fragment was forfeited to the U.S. government and repatriated to Italy on February 24, 2015.

A Sardinian Marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture


November 21, 2014 Christos Tsirogiannis identified a $1 million Sardinian marble female idol dating from 2500-2000 B.C.E. scheduled for auction as Lot 85 at Christie's on December 11, 2014 as having been matched with an image he found in the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt, the object had previously made its way through Harmon Fine Arts and The Merrin Gallery*, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of pet food giant Leonard Norman Stern, the object was once displayed, but not photographed, in a "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event in 1990 where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27th the object was pulled from the Christie's auction for further review. Its current status has not be made known publically. 

An Anatolian marble female idol of Kiliya type, AKA The Guennol Stargazer
Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York

On April 29, 2017 at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, Christie's applied precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely looted from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary 60-day hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted. During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD was confirmed but not collected.  As a result of the object being contested, the would-be buyer bowed out from the purchase shortly after to case broke in the international press. 

According to documents, Michael Steinhardt had purchased the Stargazer from Merrin Gallery* in August 1993 for under $2 million.  Had the sale not been halted he would have pocketed $12.7 million for the 5,000 year-old Guennol Stargazer, twice the object's pre-sale estimate.

A Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE)

Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE),
 (image courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Earlier this month Manhattan prosecutors took custody of a 2,300-year-old marble bull's head, that was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art over suspicions that the antiquity had been pillaged. 

The marble head of a bull was purportedly purchased by Lynda and William Beierwaltes in 1996 for more than US$1 million. The Beierwaltes in turn sold the statue on to Michael Steinhardt in 2010 who later loaned the antiquity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After learning that the object might be subject to seizure, Steinhardt asked that the Beierwaltes take possession of the object and compensate him for his purchase. 

The Beierwaltes have stated they purchased the object through an unnamed London art dealer. NOTE: The Beierwaltes were clients of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides.

Six examples of high stakes "risks" overlapping with names of antiquities dealers many of whom those who analyse art crimes will already recognize.  

Yearning for Legitimacy or Repeating the Sins of the Father?

Steinhardt says the inherent risk in antiquities collecting doesn’t intimidate him. “It is a little bit dangerous, but that is what makes it exciting,” ....“But life is filled with risks, isn’t it?”

Understandably, leading a life on Wall Street makes you look at risk differently than the average person, and hedge fund overlords thrive on tightrope walking high-risk investment tactics in order to bring in lucrative returns.  In a world designed to aggressively accumulate wealth, it's not surprising that Michael Steinhardt approached his art acquisitions apparently enjoying the adrenalin-filled rush from the risk-taking he took.  

Yet with so many examples of getting it wrong; electing to overlook the provenance of the objects he collected in favor of the buy, working with dealers already known to raised eyebrows or prosecutions for undocumented artifacts, and irregular import documentation, Steinhardt's maneuvers shouldn't be interpreted as simple novice mistakes made by a collector with more money than Midas. Despite that, Steinhardt has profited more than he has been held in account for, which shows, unfortunately, that the odds remain remarkably in his favor, despite the alleged illicit purchases. 

Risk vs. Payoff: Lessons from Childhood

But before the legendary Wall Street money manager stepped into the collector's ring, Steinhardt was brought up in working-class Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  He is the son of the late Sol Frank Steinhardt, a reputed gambler and jewelry fence, who was a  lieutenant of the prohibition era crime boss Meyer Lansky.  Lansky was one of the most notorious of the Jewish crime bosses and a valuable money-maker for Joe Masseria's organization which made much of their income through extortion and is reputed to have been one of the most violent gangs of the era.

A gambler, "Red" Steinhardt, as Sol was also sometimes called, partnered with Lansky in Florida and Havana on gambling rackets that helped finance the National Crime Syndicate, alongside Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo, a New York mobster and a high-ranking Capo in the Genovese crime family. 

Before long, Sol Steinhardt's dealings as a farbrekher got him arrested, and in 1958 he was sentenced to 5-10 years on each of two counts for his fencing escapades.   Sol served out his sentence at Sing-Sing prison and Dannemora, the maximum security facility along the Canadian border.  According to Michael Steinhardt's autobiography, Steinhardt Sr. paid for his undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, – most likely with ill-gotten gains.

Antiquities and Risk 

In 2005 Linda Sandler interviewed Michael Steinhardt on antiquities and risk, after his lost his appeal on the gold phiale.  During the interview he said:


I guess some collectors aren't candidates for sainthood either. 

The moral question is this: Suppose you can legally gain the reward and stick other people with the risk. It is easy enough for me to tell you not to do it. But will it change your action? 

By: Lynda Albertson
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* The Merrin Gallery was started by Edward Merrin, now run by his son, Samuel Merrin and Moshe Bronstein, appears in the business records of Sicilian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina, who was charged with receiving and trafficking in looted antiquities.