May 19, 2017

Look into my eyes, but also into my collection history.

Collecting ancient art can be an extension of a personal passion, a status symbol or a piece of cultural currency but it also serves as a defacto calling card for the current-day purchaser's own collecting ethics.

As this new video, produced by the UNESCO Beirut Office in the framework of the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage project, underscores, conscientious and ethical antiquities collectors can and should demand that their source dealer or auction house provide a full and complete provenance record before making a purchase. 


UNESCO reminds collectors to keep an eye out for these red flags:

- Is there dirt on the object? 
- Does the object seem like a broken fragment of what could be a larger artifact? 
- Is there a reference number painted on its base of the object that could indicate it was looted from a museum? 
- Does the object's price seem too good to be true?

and finally...
- Can the seller provide you with the object’s provenance paperwork?

Likewise ARCA reminds its readership that an object's reported collection history as reported by a dealer or auction house should not always be taken as complete or accurate.  Collection histories can and often are faked.

As this blog has reported frequently, many consignors and auction houses omit passages that sometimes reflect irregularities in acquisition or fail to advise would-be purchasers that an antiquity they wish to purchase has passed through the hands of a tainted individual or art dealer already known to have a reputation for illicit trafficking in the antiquities art market. 

The art market’s appetite for antiquities, and the profits to be had from this appetite, will always be a motivation for others to loot them.

It is ultimately up to the collector to demand ethical selling practices from the dealers or collectors they purchase antiquities from.  Prospective buyers should demand to see import and export licenses for the object they are considering and they should require the seller/consignor/auction house make those documents available.

The prudent purchaser should vet the trophy works that they purchase for their collections, cross checking all of this accompanying documentation.  Is there an export license? Does that document look authentic? Has the license been falsified?  Has the country of origin been falsified? Does the country of export match with the country of the object's origin?  Does the object have a find spot?   How far back does the chain of ownership go? and are there any other red flags like "property of an anonymous collector"?

Collectors should not discount the unacceptable buying and selling habits of those profiting from the ancient art market and they should especially be careful when purchasing antiquities from regions of conflict.

Just as property investors thoroughly vet the status and ownership of a property they are interested in, before entering into a business transaction, so should art collectors remember that it is their responsibility to conduct adequate due diligence on the artworks they purchase. 

May 17, 2017

Blast from ARCA Program Pasts: ARCA'13 Alum Summer Clowers asks: Is the ARCA program for you? Really now.

A medieval town & its secret passageways
by Summer Clowers, ARCA 2013

WARNING: this essay is a work of satire.  It will be best understood if read in the voice of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, from Downton Abbey.

As an ARCA alumna, I have come to warn you about all of the things that you will hate about this small program on art crime. In that vein, I here offer you a list of the woes of living in a small Umbrian town the likes of which will keep you up at night as you scroll through old Facebook photos.  A letter of warning, if you will, to all prospective ARCA-ites. Should you choose to ignore my advice, I cannot be responsible for the consequences.

Your first few days in Amelia will leave you with an intense urge to explore and make friends.  The town is ancient, surrounded on most sides by a Neolithic wall with even more history buried beneath it.  There are secret passages and hidden rooms and you’re going to want to grab a new-found buddy and sneak through every one of them.  DON’T.  The more you explore, the more you will love the town, and it will make it that much harder to leave.  Yes, there is a secret Roman cellar underneath one of the restaurants.  Yes, the town’s people do scatter the roads with rose petals in the shape of angels every June.  Yes, there quite possibly is a hidden room in your classmate's flat.  All of these things are beside the point.  Walk steady on the path and avoid all temptations to adventure.

As for friends, stick with people that live near to you back in the real world.  I know Papa di Stefano is fantastic, and yes, he will befriend you in a way that transcends language, but do you really want to miss him when you’ve gone?  And your fellow students?  Well, most of them are going to live nowhere near you.  Do you really need to have contacts in Lisbon and Melbourne and New York and Amsterdam?  No, you don’t.  It’s so damp in the Netherlands and we all know London is just atrocious.  I mean really, all those people. Take my advice, ignore anyone that lives far away from you.  You are here to learn and leave, not make connections that will last you the rest of forever.

You will also want to avoid the town’s locals.  Amelia is tiny, so getting to know most of its shopkeepers and inhabitants will not be very hard, but you must resist the urge to do so.  It’s true that Massimo will know your coffee order before you get fully through his door, and the Count will open his home with a smile to show you around his gorgeous palazzo, but these things are not proper.  Do not mistake their overflowing kindness and warmth for anything other than good breeding.  And when you find yourself sobbing at the thought of saying goodbye to Monica, you can just blame your tears on the pollen like the rest of us.

Your instructors are going to be just as big of a challenge.  The professor’s are really too friendly.  I know that Noah Charney says that he’s available for lunch and Dick Ellis will happily have a beer with you, but is getting to know your professor socially really appropriate?  I mean, we’ve all attended seminars where you barely see the speaker outside of stolen moments during coffee breaks, and that’s the best way for things to go, isn’t it?  Sterile classroom experience with little to no professorial interactions is the way academic things should run.  I know I never saw any of my professor’s outside of class.  And I certainly don’t keep up with Judge Tompkin’s travels through his hilarious emails; that would just be inappropriate.

And then there’s the conference.  It lasts an entire weekend.  Why would I want to attend a weekend long event where powerhouses in the field open up their brains for poor plebeians?  I mean honestly, meeting Christos Tsirogiannis at the conference will be a high point in your year, and it will be too difficult to control your nerdy spasms when Toby Bull sits down next to you at dinner.  And then, when you find out that Christos joined ARCA's teaching team in 2014 and you’ll find yourself scrambling to come up with a way to take the program a second time just so you can pick his brain. Think about how much work that will be.  They aim to make this an easy experience where you rarely have to use powers of higher thinking.  This should be like the grand tour, a comfortable time away from home so that you can tell others that you simply summered in Italy. 

And the program would be so much better served in Rome.  I mean, just think on it.  You would never have to learn Italian because you’d be in a city full of tourists.  You’d get to pay twice as much for an apartment a third of the size of the one you rent in Amelia, and you wouldn’t have to live near any of your class mates.  A city the size of Rome is big enough that a half hour metro ride to each other’s places would be pretty much de rigueur.  This means you wouldn’t have to deal with any of those impromptu dinner/study sessions at the pool house.  And there certainly wouldn’t be random class-wide wine tastings at the Palazzo Venturelli. That’s just too much socializing anyway.  It’s unseemly.

And finally, let’s talk about the classes.  Do we really care about art crime? Sure, Dick Drent is pretty much the coolest human you’ll ever meet, and Dorit Straus somehow manages to make art insurance interesting, but really, do we care?  Isn’t that better left to one’s financial advisor?  And the secret porchetta truck that the interns will show you as you study the intricacies of art law, could surely be found on one’s own.  Couldn’t it?  I think we would all be much better served by just watching the terrible Monuments Men movie, fawning over George Clooney and Matt Damon, and thinking about the things we could be doing all from the safety and comfort of our own homes.  I do so hate leaving home.  The ARCA program involves work, and ten courses with ten different professors, and classmates that will quickly become family. It’s all so exhausting.  I mean really, tell me, does this sound like the program for you?

ARCA Editorial Note:  If you would like more information on ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program, please write to us at: education (at) artcrimeresearch.org 

We will put you on the list to receive application materials when the 2018 application period opens in Autumn 2017. 

May 15, 2017

Art Held Hostage: Italy's Carabinieri issue its new online bulletin of stolen works of art


Since 1972 Italy's Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale has published a periodic bulletin that has proven to be a valuable tool towards raising awareness and working to combat illicit trafficking and the theft of works of art.

In his opening comments on their 38th edition, released today, Brig. Gen. Fabrizio Parrulli, Carabinieri TPC Commander stated

"We believe that what has been stolen must not be considered as lost forever. On the contrary, we regard it as held hostage by offenders who can and must be defeated by the Italian and the international police force, together with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage Activities and Tourism, the art dealers and all the citizens."

Under the general's guidance and oversight, this year's "Art Held Hostage", was coordinated and developed by Lt. Col. Roberto Colasanti, the Carabinieri TPC Chief of Staff working with Maj. Luigi Spadari, the Carabinieri TPC Data Processing Unit Commander.  Targeted towards those who protect cultural heritage, academics working in the field and the art market itself, the Art Squad's bulletin includes descriptions and images of the main works of art stolen in Italy during the past year which have not yet been recovered.

Objects in the bulletin are sorted in categories, identifying
- the artist or school (such as "attributed to", "workshop of", "copy by", etc.);
- title or subject of the work;
- material and technique;
- size;
- The Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage database reference number.

and where possible, images of whatever quality is available in the objects documentation records.  

This year's bulletin highlights a total of 99 stolen works of art.  It also lists an additional 40 objects that have been recovered during the last year from bulletins 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 18, 21, 22, 23, 25, 35 and 37.   Not a bad recovery rate and one that proves having good documentation increases the probability that a stolen work of art can be located and recovered. 

Fabrizio Rossi
Luogotenente presso Arma dei Carabinieri
Image Credit: UNESCO
Several of the objects listed as recovered in today's bulletin, like the Castellani jewellry collection, stolen in a dramatic theft to order heist from the Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia in Rome and the marble head of Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus stolen from Hadrian's Villa, and recovered in the Netherlands, have been covered on this blog.  

Ancient Roman sarcophagus worth $4 million returned to Italy in 2014 after being stolen in 1981.


“Sansone” by Jacopo Tintoretto stolen November 19, 2015 from the
Verona Civic Museum of Castelvecchio with the exhibition curator

Peplophoros Statue Stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983



May 11, 2017

Working canines: Can customs dogs be trained to sniff out smuggled antiquities?

Image Credit and litter of working canine puppies
from parents Zzisa (TSA) X Ffisher
at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Customs dog have long been trained to sniff out narcotics, firearms or explosives hidden in strange places or wrapped in layers of plastic.  Some have even been trained to sniff out large amounts of undeclared cash. 

In Australia, labradors, selected for their steady temperament, motivation, adaptability to challenging environments, and non-threatening appearance, are purpose-bred by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection at their Customs National Breeding and Development Centre.  At the age of two, these eager juvenile pups begin sniffer training with a handler.  


The United States TSA’s Puppy Program, started in 1999 was modeled after the Australian Customs Service National Breeding Program and selects dogs with the abilities and temperaments suited to customs authorities needs.  Many of these working canines are earmarked for explosives detection canine teams, trained and certified by the TSA for the purposes of transportation-related security.  

Detector dogs are routinely tasked to search air and sea cargo, aircraft, cargo containers, luggage, mail, parcels, structures, vehicles, vessels, and most importantly, people.  But what if multi-response detector dogs, already being trained to sniff out multiple substances, could be trained to also detect smuggled antiquities which might be hidden in those same crates, packages, and cargo containers?

That's what the folks at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the Penn Museum, of the University of Pennsylvania, partnering with the nonprofit Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research want to know.  To that end they have started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing campaign called the K-9 Artifact Finders Project to help explore ways to combat this top-priority problem.


You can also read more about the K-9 Artifact Finders working canine project by consulting the project webpage at the Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research website.