Showing posts with label Fabio Isman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fabio Isman. Show all posts

April 11, 2015

Sir, how much is that (2nd Century B.C.E.) Vase in the Window? Part III

Antiquities trafficking continues to make headlines in multiple countries in 2015.  In this last of a three part series, ARCA explores one final art trafficking network that underscores that the ownership and commodification of the past continues long after the traffickers have been identified.

August 31, 1995
Europa Paestan red-figure Asteas signed calyx-krater
In a fluke summer accident, Pasquale Camera, a former captain of the Guardia di Finanza turned middle-man art dealer, lost control of his car on Italy’s Autostrada del Sole, Italy's north-south motorway, as he approached the exit for Cassino, a small town an hour and a half south of Rome.  Smashing into a guardrail and flipping his Renault on its roof, Camera’s automobile accident not only ended his life but set into motion a chain reaction that resulted in a major law enforcement breakthrough that disrupted one of Italy’s largest antiquities trafficking networks.

While the fatal traffic accident fell under the jurisdiction of Italy’s Polizia Stradale, the Commander of the Carabinieri in Cassino was also called to the scene.  The investigating officers had found numerous photographs in Camera's vehicle which substantiated what investigators had already suspected, that the objects depicted in the photos had been illegally-excavated and that Camera had been actively dealing in looted antiquities.
Tombarolo holding Asteas signed calyx-krater

The images in the car were of a hodgepodge of ancient art.  Two that stood out in particular were of a statue in the image of Artemis against the backdrop of home furnishings and a Paestan red-figure calyx-krater, signed by Asteas in what looked to be someone's garage.  

Having been previously assigned to the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the  Commander from Cassino called the TPC’s Division General, Roberto Conforti, who requested a warrant be issued to search the premises of Camera’s apartment in Rome, near Piazza Bologna.

Investigators who carried out the search of Pasquale Camera's personal possessions discovered hundreds of photographs, fake and genuine antiquities,  reams of documentation and the now famous Medici organagram.  This org chart revealed Giacomo Medici’s central position in the organization of the antiquities trade out of Italy.  Interestingly, the wallpaper in Cameria's apartment also matched the background of the photo of the Artemide Marciante found in Camera's vehicle. 

Subsistance Looter to Middle Man

Another photo, of Antimo Cacciapuoti, showed the tombarolo holding the freshly-looted Asteas-signed Europa krater.  A copy of this photo was provided by journalist Fabio Isman for the purpose of this article.  Isman confirmed that this image was one of the Polaroids found in Camera's Renault and went on to add that during later negotiations Cacciapuoti would confess to having been paid 1 million lire plus "a suckling pig" for his work in supplying the krater.

One of the links in Italy's largest known trafficking chain had begun to crack.

Medici Organagram
As the investigation progressed authorities went on to raid Giacomo Medici’s warehouse at the Geneva Freeport in September 1995 and recovered 3,800 objects and another 4,000 photographs of ancient art that had, at one time or another, passed through Medici’s network.

1998  Identifications

Matching seized photos to looted works of art is a laborious process.  Three years after the start of the investigation Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini from the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria meridionale at the Villa Giulia, working with the Procura della Repubblica (the state prosecutor's office) and the Court of Rome on this case, identified the Artemide Marciante from the photo found at the scene of Camera's fatal auto accident.  The photo of the statue matched another found in a June 1998 issue of House and Garden Magazine and another photo seized from Giacomo Medici which showed the object unrestored and with dirt still on it.  This statue was ultimately recovered from Frieda Tchacos.

Rizzo and Pellegrini also identified the location of the Paestan red-figure calyx krater, painted and signed by Asteas.  It had been sold by the dealer Gianfranco Becchina to the John Paul Getty Museum in 1981.
2001-2005 More Seizures

In the early years of the new century law enforcement authorities investigating this trafficking cell widened their attention on Gianfranco Becchina, whose name was listed on  the organagram, placing him as head of a cordata and as a primary supplier to Robert Hecht.  This important lead convinced investigators to explore Becchina's suspected involvement in this trafficking cell. 

As the investigation continued authorities seized 140 binders containing 13,000 more documents, 8,000 additional photographs of suspect objects and 6,315 artworks from Becchina's storage facilities and gallery.

But the purpose of this article is not to rehash a 19-year old story already detailed in “The Medici Conspiracy” by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini.    It is now fairly common knowledge that an estimated 1.5 million items have been looted from Italy's myriad archaeological sites during the past four decades and a surprising number of these illicit objects have ended up in some of the world's most prestigious museums via ancient art dealers passing through the hands of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robert Emanuel Hecht Jr., and Robin Symes.

Instead, this article focuses on what is happening in the present and serves to demonstrate that despite the nearly two decades that have past since Pasquale Camera's car veered off Italy's A-1 autostrada, suspect illicit antiquities, traceable to this network, continue to be sold, often openly, on the lucrative licit art market.

To underscore the conundrum of looted to legitimate Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis a Research Assistant with the Trafficking Culture Project, housed in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow has highlighted four objects for sale at Christie’s upcoming antiquities auction in London, on Wednesday, 15 April 2015.  For the last eight years (2007-present), Tsirogiannis has been identifying looted and ‘toxic’ antiquities as they come up for sale from photographic evidence he was given by authorities from the three primary dossiers of photographs derived from the property seizures in these cases.

Each of these four objects listed below have been identified by Tsirogiannis as having corresponding photos in these archives, something potential purchasers may want to consider when bidding on antiquities that, at face value, are reported to have legitimate collection histories.

SALE 10372 Lot 83 Property of a Gentlemen
Provenance: Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s.
Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16.
Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006.
Beazley archive no. 26090. 

SALE 10372 Lot 102 Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner.  

SALE 10372 Lot 108 Property from a London Collection
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 8 December 1986, lot 183, when acquired by the present owner.

SALE 10372 Lot 113: Property from a Private Collection, Canada
Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998.

At first blush, review of Christie's sales notes on these objects seems to demonstrate a modicum of collecting history pedigree which normally would serve to comfort potential buyers.  None of the auction lot however go on to reveal where these objects were found, or whether their excavation and exportation from their country of origin were legal.  

This should be the first alarm bell to any informed collector considering a purchase on the licit antiquities market.  ARCA reminds its readers and buyers of art works that lack of this information in an object's collection history should be a strong signal that the object may be suspect and that it is better to walk away from a beautiful antiquity than purchase an object that quite possibly may have been looted or illegally exported.

Extracts from Notes by Dr. Tsirogiannis on the Christie's Auction Lots

Regarding Lot 83
Christie's catalogue does not include any collecting history of this Greek amphora before its appearance in Japan in the 1980's. Documentation in the Becchina archive links Becchina to three German professors regarding the examination of the amphora in the 1970's.

Regarding Lot 102 
From Watson's and Todeschini's book, we know that in the 1980's Medici used to consign antiquities to Sotheby's in London, through various companies and individuals.  Why does the Christies auction not include any collecting history before the 1985 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 108

Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue does not include any collecting history of this antiquity before the 1986 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 113
Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue is not precise about the collecting history of this antiquity prior to 1998.

Are these Notifications Helpful?

In the past, when Dr. Tsirogiannis or Dr. David Gill have pointed out objects with tainted collection histories, dealer association members and private collectors have countered by screaming foul. They have asked,
Others have criticized this practice saying that by outing sellers and auction houses on their tainted inventory, the objects simply get pulled from auction and proceed underground.  Detractors believe that this leaves dealers to trade illicit objects in more discreet circles, where screenshots and image capture are less accessible to investigators and researchers and where the change of hands from one collector to another adds a future layer of authenticity, especially where private collections in remote location buyers are less likely to be questioned.

I would counter these concerns by saying that researchers working on this case diligently work to not impede ongoing investigations by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and Italy's Procura della Repubblica and to notify the appropriate legal authorities in the countries where these auctions take place.   In the case of these four antiquities INTERPOL, the Metropolitan Police and the Italian Carabinieri have been notified.

But police officers and dedicated researchers only have so many sets of eyes and the prosecution of art crime requires dedicated investigators and court hours not often available to the degree to which this complex problem warrants.   To mitigate that, it is time that we dedicate more time educating the opposite end of the looting food chain; the buyer.

The academic community needs to learn to apply persuasive, not adversarial, pressure on the end customer; the buyers and custodians of objects from our collective past.  By helping buyers become better-informed and conscientious collectors we can encourage them to demand that the pieces they collect have thorough collection histories or will not be purchased.  As discerning buyers become more selective, dealers will need to change their intentionally blind-eye practice of passing off suspect antiquities with one or two lines of legitimate buyers attached to them.  

Buyers would also be wise to apply the same pressure to auction houses that they apply to dealers, persuading them to adopt more stringent policies on accepting consignments.  Auction houses in turn should inform consignors that before accepting items for consignment that have limited collection histories they will be voluntarily checking with authorities to see if these objects appear in these suspect photo dossiers.  In this way the legitimate art market would avoid the circular drama of having their auctions blemished with reports of trafficked items going up for sale to unsuspecting buyers or to having gaps in their auction schedule when auction houses are forced to withdraw items on the eve of an upcoming sale.

In April 2014 James Ede, owner of a leading London-based gallery in the field of Ancient Art and board member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art wrote an article in defense of the antiquities trade in Apollo Magazine where he stated:

The IADAA's Code of Ethics states: "The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property."

In the past Mr. Ede has stated that small dealers couldn't afford to use private stolen art databases such as those at the Art Loss Register.  I would ask Mr. Ede in the alternative how many London dealers registered with the IADAA have ever picked up the phone and asked Scotland Yard's art squad to check with INTERPOL or their Italian law enforcement colleagues when accepting a consignment where the collecting histories of an object deserved a little more scrutiny? 

Or better still, should the more than 14,000 photos of objects from these dossiers ever be released, to private stolen art databases or to a wider public audience, how would the IADAA ensure that its membership actually cross-examine the entire archival record before signing off that the object is not tainted? Mr. Ede has also indicated previously that the IADAA only requires its members to do checks on objects worth more than £2000.  Items of lessor value would take too much time or prove too costly to the dealers.

In 2015 is it correct for dealers to remain this passive and wait for law enforcement to tell them something is afoot?  Would the general public accept such an attitude from used car sellers regarding stolen cars?

Given that Mr. Ede is the former chairman and board member since the founding of the IADAA, an adviser of the British Government, a valuer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and a member of the council of the British Art Market Federation his thoughts on this matter carry considerable weight in the UK.  As such he is scheduled to speak on April 14, 2015 at the Victoria and Albert Museum on "The Plunder: Getting a global audience involved in the story of stolen antiquities from Iraq and Syria."

I am curious how Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General Art and Museums, Syria  who is also speaking at this event would feel about low valued items being excluded from the IADAA's "clean or tainted" cross checks or if Mr. Ede has any workable suggestions that would actually begin to address this problem in an active, rather than passive way among the art dealing community.  

Will blood antiquities be held to a higher standard of evaluation given the public's interest while it remains business as usual for objects looted from source countries not involved in civil war or conflict?

By Lynda Albertson


References Used in This Article

Antoniutti, A., and C. Spada. "Fabio Isman, I predatori dell'arte perduta. Il saccheggio dell'archeologia in Italia." Economia della Cultura 19.2 (2009): 301-301.
Gill, David,   "Almagià: "It’s ridiculous Princeton didn’t do anything to fight that" Looting Matters (August 2010)

Felch, Jason, and Ralph Frammolino. "Chasing Aphrodite. The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum." (2001).

Isman, Fabio "Un milione di oggetti clandestini" Il Giornale di Arte, (May 2011)

Marconi, Clemente, ed. Greek Vases: Images, Contexts and Controversies; Proceedings of the Conference Sponsored by The Center for the Ancient Mediterranean at Columbia University, 23-24 March 2002. Vol. 25. Brill, 2004.
Watson, Peter, and Cecilia Todeschini. "The Medici Conspiracy: Organized Crime, Looted Antiquities, Rogue Museums." (2006).







June 17, 2014

History of Art Crime: Fabio Isman's 1992 reporting of the discovery of Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ" in Dublin

The National Gallery of Ireland's "The Taking of Christ"
Caravaggio, 1602
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Jonathan Harr's The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece (Random House, New York, 2005) -- includes the story of how Fabio Isman, an Italian journalist who regularly attends ARCA's Art Crime Conference in Amelia (and a key advisor to ARCA), broke the news that a restorer at the National Gallery of Ireland, Sergio Benedetti, had found Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ" (1602) at the residence of the Society of Jesus in Dublin.

Harr recounts how in 1992, Isman, an investigative journalist with Rome's daily newspaper Il Messaggero, heard from scholar Sir Denis Mahon that another Caravaggio masterpiece had been found. Mahon would did not specify the work or the location, but Isman persisted in ferreting out the information by calling 'one Caravaggio scholar after another' and chancing upon 'a Caravaggio show with no Caravaggios except for The Supper at Emmaus, which Dublin had somehow managed to get on loan from London.'

This book describes how scholars hunt for authenticity through archives and publications, the differences between record keeping in Britain and Italy, and the competition amongst researchers. A perfect warmup to ARCA's Conference June 27-29 in Amelia.

January 31, 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014 - , No comments

Institute Français London: "The Fate of Europe's Treasures After WW2 -- Perspectives from France, Germany, Italy, Austria and the UK" Feb. 7 through the 9

Italian journalist Fabio Isman, a specialist in covering antiquities and cultural heritage from Rome, joins other European speakers at the Institute Français in early February to discuss the repatriation of Nazi-looted art after World War II (here's a link to the program's website page):
This launch evening will shed light on looted art – in the context of the recent discovery of the Gurlitt hoard in Munich and the release of Monuments Men – broaching the personal story of art historian and WW2 heroine Rose Valland, and moving personal accounts, fantastic finds and hard-fought legal battles. The debate will be introduced by a rare screening of Anne Webber’s documentary Making a Killing, about the Gutmann family’s 50-year quest to recover their missing art collection. 
Debate with Emmanuelle Polack (Head of the Archives of the Musée des Monuments français), Fabio Isman (Italian journalist, Il Messaggero), Anne Webber (Founder and Co-Chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe), Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow (co-authors of Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft and the Quest for Justice).

December 28, 2013

Fabio Isman reports on scholar Augusto Gentili's identification of sitter of portrait "Young Knight in Landscape" at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Carpaccio's 1515 "Young Knight in a
 Landscape", Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Investigative journalist Fabio Isman's article "Scoperto chi è il “Cavaliere Thyssen” di Carpaccio" discusses the work of scholar Augusto Gentili who has identified the mystery man in Vittorio Carpaccio's painting "Young Knight in a Landscape" (1515) at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. Gentili, a lecturer at Ca'Foscari di Venezia until his retirement, has identified the painting as a portrait of the Venetian captain Marco Gabriel decapitated by the Turks in 1501 during wartime.

Here Mar Borobia for the museum describes the difficulty in identifying painting as either a fictional knight or a portrait which would be "the first known example in which the sitter is depicted full-length":
It has been suggested that this new format can be explained if this image were a posthumous portrait of a soldier, in which case the figure would be similar to funerary images of a comparable type and date. The landscape around this enigmatic young man is as mysterious and troubling as he is, combining as it does flowers and animals that refer both to good and evil, purity and corruption.
Isman reports that Professor Gentili linked the portrait to Marco Gabriel and to Venice's Hotel Gabrielli. The English translation of Gentili's analysis will be published in The Burlington Magazine.

December 14, 2013

Christie's New York Auction of "Antiquities" withdraws "Symes Pan" from sale: Christos Tsirogiannis says that in due course more information will be found about The Medici Pan, the Hermes-Thoth, and the Symes Pan

"Hermes-Thoth" marble once passed
through the hands of Robin Symes
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCAblog Editor-in-Chief

As reported by Professor David Gill on his blog Looting Matters, Christie's New York auction house withdrew the "Symes Pan" identified by Cambridge's Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis from the Schinousa archive. Dr. Gill wrote in an email to the ARCAblog after conclusion of the three-hour "Antiquities" sale at Rockefeller Plaza today:
Buyers of antiquities are rightly concerned about buying objects that can be identified from the seized photographic archives such as the Medici Dossier and the Schinousa images that related to Robin Symes. Institutional reputation is also a factor and auction houses are wanting to distance themselves from any perception of endorsement of the illicit trade in antiquities.
The ARCAblog asked Dr. Tsirogiannis for his perspective on Sotheby's withdrawal of The Medici Pan; the sale of the Symes/Schinousa Hermes-Thoth marble by Sotheby's yesterday; and Christie's decision to not auction the Symes Pan):
The Medici Pan withdrawn by Sotheby's
The Medici Pan in Sotheby's seems to be a totally different case; it appears to lack any collecting history before 1975 and Sotheby's may have to explain when this antiquity passed through the hands of Medici and why Sotheby's did not refer to Medici as part of the collecting history of the object. I am sure that soon we will find out more interesting things about the case of The Medici Pan. 
Although the Hermes-Thoth head was sold with a collecting history before 1970, it is yet to be proved if it is still protected by any bilateral agreements between the US and other countries or breaks any national legislation. One question that Sotheby's may have to answer is when did the object pass through the hands of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides.
Symes Pan withdrawn by Christie's
Regarding the Christie's Pan (lot 114), Christie's may have to answer why they withdrew the antiquity if it has a documented collecting history before 1970 (at least since 1968)? 
I am sure that in due course, more information will be found and will become available regarding these three cases.
The ARCAblog asked the opinion of Fabio Isman -- an Italian investigative journalist who has covered the illegal antiquities market for decades -- of how antiquities are sold in New York City with so little information about where they came from and how they got to the auction houses:
As usual, the auction houses don't quite care about the past. Important, for them, is only money. I think they are not very ethical. And, at the end, after Christos Tsirogiannis pointed out a few objects he recognized, they decided to withdraw two main objects: which was the minimum they could do.
Signore Isman, the author of "Pezzi di Medici e Symes: all'asta: fino a quando?" in the Italian Artemagazine, writes of "The Great Raid" in Italy since 1970 of the illegal excavation of 'at least one a half million artifacts' (Princeton University) that have been sold on the lucrative international market. Isman points out that of the 85 archaeological finds scheduled to be sold at Sotheby's in New York on December 12, that Christos Tsirogiannis, a Greek archaeologist working in England at Cambridge University, has identified two lots 'that are not new for anyone who has dealt with the Great Raid in Italy, from 1970 onwards.' 

Isman writes that Tsirogiannis identified a marble "Hermes-Thoth" from a photograph in the Schinousa archive, a group of photographs recovered by Greek police of objects Robin Symes and his partner Christos Michaelides sold through their gallery headquartered in London. Isman writes that according to Tsirogiannis Sotheby's acknowledges the connection to Symes but points to a private English collection as the source. Tsirogiannis also identified the Greek terracotta pan, withdrawn today from auction by Christies, from the Symes' photographic archives from the Greek island of Schiousa from where Symes and Michaelides conducted business away from the office. Christies listed the Merrin Gallery and a private New York collector as "provenance". Isman writes that Italian investigators have suspected the Merrin Gallery of conducting business with Gianfranco Becchina and Robert Hecht, art dealers allegedly transacting with Medici.  

Isman writes that the third object recognized by Tsirogiannis from one of the polaroids found in Medici's Geneva freeport warehouse is associated with the "Hydra Galerie", opened in Geneva by Medici, under a false name, in 1983.

At the end of this article, Fabio Isman laments the absence of Paolo Giorgio Ferri from the Cultural Heritage Ministry where he served two years before he returned to the Ministry of Justice -- in the past Ferri would have been the one protesting on behalf of the Italian government against the auction of these suspected artifacts.

  

January 18, 2013

Roundtable Discussion Organized by the Archaeological Superintendency of Southern Etruria on "Illicit trafficking and recovered cultural patrimony: Results and Perspective" at the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia on Jan. 24

A roundtable discussion on "Illicit trafficking and recovered cultural patrimony: Results and Perspective" will be held at Fortune Hall at the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia at 9.30 on Thursday, January 24, 2013.  The meeting, chaired by journalist Cinzia Dal Maso, will serve as the closing event to the Villa Giulia's current exhibition, I predatori dell’Arte e il Patrimonio ritrovato.

An internationally focused exhibition, inaugurated on European Heritage Day 2012 which  ran from September 29th through December 15th 2012 was inaugurated on the occasion of the European Heritage Days 2012 and was exhibited on the first floor of the Villa Giulia. The exhibition consisted of recovered objects, illegally looted and trafficked from multiple locations around Italy dating back as far as the 1970's and recovered as the result of seizures made, beginning in Switzerland in 1995. 

As a result of the exhibitions success in Italy's capital city, Rome, the pieces will go on display in the Spring at the National Archaeological Museum of Vulci and at the National Etruscan Museum of Cerveteri during the summer.

This January round table discussion, draws upon the title of the exhibition and was developed to provide a platform for thoughtful discussion and scientific debate regarding the sharing of information throughout this series of interwoven cases.  The round table will cover the various flows of information throughout the cases lengthy discovery and will consist of many principle voices involved in the information sharing of this case.  This discussion will strive to present a critical comparison and analysis of the problems associated with illicit trafficking while focusing on differing perspectives in achieving possible solutions for the long term problem. 

Based on these considerations, the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Southern Etruria, in collaboration with the Directorate General of Antiquities of the Ministry of Culture, has planned a day of topics divided into morning and afternoon panel sessions.  One session will focus on the results obtained so far in the field recovery.  The second session will  be forward thinking, looking towards the future and Italy's prospects for the recovery of its cultural patrimony. 

During the first session, after the introduction from the Director General of Antiquities Luigi Malnati, there are themed presentations aimed at highlighting the operational aspect of the cases, showing the work done by the Judiciary, the Carabinieri TPC, by the Guardia di Finanza and by the archaeologists Ministry of Culture.   Those attending the session will have the opportunity to hear the thoughts and impressions of General Roberto Conforti, former Commander of the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection; Guglielmo Muntoni, President of the Court of Review of Rome; Maurizio Fiorilli, Attorney General of the State; Lynda Albertson, CEO, The Association for Research into Crimes Against Art; Major Massimiliano Quagliarella, Head of Operations, Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection; and Major Massimo Rossi, Commander of the Cultural Heritage Protection Group of the Guardia di Finanza. Rounding out the discussions will be Italian journalists Fabio Isman and Cecilia Todeschini.  

The afternoon session, focusing on future initiatives in the field will discuss guidelines and possible solutions to the trafficking problem.  Speakers will include Alfonsina Russo, Superintendent Archaeologist for Southern Etruria; Paolo Giorgio Ferri, Magistrate and judicial advisor to the Directorate General for Antiquities; Jeannette Papadopoulos, Director of Services III to the Directorate General for Antiquities; Anna Maria Dolciotti, the Directorate General of Antiquities; Pier Giovanni Guzzo, former Superintendent Archaeologist for Naples and Pompeii; Francesca Spatafora, Director of the  Archaeological Park Himera; and Maurizio Pellegrini, official archaeologist of the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Southern Etruria.

After the presentations, the floor will open for discussion and feedback of the topics presented followed by a wine tasting from the wine cellars of Casale Cento Corvi e Castello di Torre in Pietra.

July 15, 2012

Press Release for the 2012 ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

by Noah Charney, Founder of ARCA

The fourth annual ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection was held June 23-24 in Amelia, Umbria, the seat of ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, a program held in Italy every summer that is the first academic program in the interdisciplinary study of art crime. Among the many important speakers were winners of the annual awards presented by ARCA, including George Abungu, the leading spokesperson for the protection of cultural heritage in Africa; Joris Kila, a co-winner with Karl von Habsburg, who is a specialist in the protection of art and monuments during military operations; and Jason Felch, co-winner with Ralph Frammolino, for his investigative work in the , about the Getty art scandals.

HRH Ravivaddhana Sisowath, Prince of Cambodia
A surprise addition to the roster of speakers at the conference was His Royal Highness, Ravivaddhana Sisowath, Prince of Cambodia. His Highness spoke about the recent seizure from Sotheby’s of the Koh Kher statue by US authorities.

Fabio Isman
Isman, Italy’s leading investigative journalist on the black market in antiquities, and winner of a 2011 ARCA award, spoke of the continued problem of looted Italian antiquities, and the extent of the problem as a whole, which is far greater than most realize. An estimated 7% of all works looted from Italy since the Napoleonic era have been returned—the rest remains abroad. That said, Italy has had more art repatriated than any other country, in any period in history, aside from the immediate repatriation of post-World War Two Nazi-looted art. A Princeton University study estimates that, since 1970 alone, approximately 1.5 million items were looted from Italy. Isman’s research found around 25,000 items that had been identified and returned. What is still out there is staggering. Isman discussed cases within the last six months that show the continued willingness for museums to trade in illicit antiquities.

Laurie Rush
The Writer in Residence on the ARCA Program for 2012, Dr Rush is an archaeologist with the US Army who is charged with training US soldiers and officers about the importance of respecting and protecting local cultural heritage and traditions in combat zones. Conflict offers opportunity for theft, but also and far more frequent the inadvertent damage of cultural property. Rush noted the Italian antiques market magazine Antiquariato, in 2011, wrote that this was the best time to collect Egyptian antiquities, referring to the social turmoil in Egypt, which would surely turn up more antiques smuggled out of the country. Dr Rush is preparing the US Field Commander’s Guide to Cultural Heritage Protection, and is an advocate of paying local families in conflict zones like Afghanistan, who have lost their livelihood, to protect and supervise local cultural heritage sites—they are empowered, paid a small amount that is large to them, and are best situated to respectfully function as long-term protector of a site.

Bill Wei
Dr Wei, of the Netherlands Institute of Cultural Heritage, is an engineer and conservator who spoke of a new system for “fingerprinting” artworks that he has helped to develop. The system is called Fing-Art-Print, and is a non-contact method for the three-dimensional identification of unique art objects.
 
Joris Kila
Dr Kila, who accepted the award on behalf of both winners, discussed his adventures investigating accusations of looting in Libya, and found no such evidence, aside from the now-renowned Ben Ghazzi coin heist, in which thieves elaborately drilled through a thick cement bank vault floor during bombings. Dr Kila also emphasized the tremendous success of precision bombing during the Libya conflict: Ghaddafi had situated key military targets on or next to archaeological sites, to dissuade bombings. And yet the precision bombing was so successful that no archaeological items were damaged, and yet the targets were destroyed, even when they were situated beside the archaeological site. Dr Kila showed photographs of destroyed military transports and radar machinery that stood within meters of a Roman ruin, and yet the ruin was entirely unharmed.

Jason Felch
Felch accepted the award on behalf of both parties. He discussed his immersion in the world of illicit antiquities and major museums, and how he slowly uncovered a vast cache of tens of thousands of documents and images of looted art, many of the documents explicitly proving that insiders at the Getty had knowingly purchased looted antiquities over many years, and were making secret plans to cover up their actions. While the Getty has returned 60 objects looted from Italy, a secret Getty memo uncovered by Felch and Frammolino noted around 350 total looted objects that Getty officials were concerned could be targeted by Italy because they were looted. Felch also described his WikiLoot project, a new endeavor in its infant stages which Felch envisions as a crowd-sourcing online platform to publish documents and photographs related to the illicit trade in antiquities. He intends to publically publish these tens of thousands of documents and photos in the future. The ARCA Conference, and Jason’s activities, were covered recently in The Guardian.

George Abungu
The final award of the day was for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art, and when to George H. O. Abungu. Dr. Abungu, a native of Kenya, has served on multiple chairs and committees related to protection world and African cultural heritage. He was Director-General of the National Museums of Kenya, and is now Vice-President of ICOM, serves on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, among his many distinguished titles and activities. Dr Abungu discussed the protection and preservation of rock art throughout Africa. Rock carvings and paintings dating to thousands of years BC are found throughout Africa, from South Africa to Morocco—and yet they are largely at exposed, though remote, sites and are therefore at risk of the elements, looting, and occasional vandalism.

Paolo Giorgio Ferri
The renowned Italian prosecutor, winner of an ARCA award in 2011, returned to give a keynote speech, discussing his discovery of a forged Euphronios kylix that had been mixed in with authentic looted antiquities and passed off by tomb raiders as original, demonstrating the alarming link between forgeries and the illicit antiquities trade. While artist foundations preserve the legacy of modern painters, there are no organizations charged with preserving the legacy of the ancients. Dr Ferri discussed the importance of enforcing the well-meaning, but not always effective customs laws put in place by UNESCO and the Palermo Convention. He also was asked why the infamous art dealer Robin Symes has not been indicted by Italy. He responded that there were many factors, including the non-cooperation of the UK, the end of the statute of limitations for the main case Italy had built against Symes (the crime took place in 1982 but the evidence was only complete in 2004), and the face that Symes had cooperated with Italian authorities in the recovery of some looted antiquities taken by other dealers, including an ivory mask that was recovered thanks to Symes, and for information about the Fleischman collection laundering operation.