Showing posts with label cultural repatriation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cultural repatriation. Show all posts

October 10, 2016

Carabinieri del Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale to return stolen archaeological finds to Mexico

Mexican Embassy in Rome, Italy
In a ceremony to be held October 11, 2016 at 13:00 at the Mexican Embassy in Rome, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Italy's new Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, in a ceremony to repatriate illicitly trafficked heritage will return twelve archaeological objects to the Mexican authorities via a handover to the country's ambassador to Italy, Signore Juan Jose Guerra Abud, KBE. 

Having succeeding General Mariano Mossa as the head of Italy's specialised Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale this year, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli is not stranger to the nuance of international policing.  With degrees European Studies as well as International Law and Diplomacy the new general has commanded a team of Iraqi police as part of the NATO mission in Iraq and served as the commander of a training department for police in Baghdad.  Closer to home,he has served within the Carabinieri TPC overseeing the its NCO School in Florence.

The twelve pre-Columbian Mesoamerican pieces to be repatriated are from the Mesoamerican Preclassical period (2500 BCC - 200 CE) and the Classical Period (200-1000 CE).  The objects seized included a clay head of votive use portraying a character of high rank, another votive bust with disk-shaped earrings and another sculpture with nose ornamentation.

The antiquities were seized by law enforcement between 2013 and 2016 as the result of three separate investigations coordinated by the prosecutor of the Republic of Palmi (RC), Pesaro and Ascoli Piceno.  Several of the objects were seized during a customs cross-check of two travellers arriving from Mexico via the Reggio di Calabria "Tito Minniti" Airport, also known as the Aeroporto dello Stretto, in southern Calabria.  In a second instance an object had been marketed via "a popular online sales site" where the seller listed the city where the object was currently located and a cellular where he could be reached for further questions.  To verify the authenticity of the objects being sold the Carabinieri TPC worked with experts from the Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini in Rome as objects of this type are often reproductions.


Mexico is a quintessential example of an antiquities-rich “source nation”.  It's a country with an abundance of unprotected archaeological sites that all too often yields artifacts with a commercial value on the art market.  It is also a nation, that despite making great strides, still lacks the economic resources necessary to adequately protect much of the remote cultural patrimony found within its borders. 

In 2013, art market trend watcher Emma Crichton-Miller noted that Paris had superseded New York as "the most dynamic centre for pre-Columbian art globally, attracting collectors mainly from Europe and America, but also Latin America, the Middle East and Asia." This might explain why traffickers importing illicit goods, appreciate Italy's strategic placement on the European mainland. 

The theft and illegal trade of Mexican pre-Columbian antiquities is fed by high demand within the art market, which in turn creates strong incentives for poverty-driven digging.   Individuals and teams of looters dig indiscriminately where opportunity avails, without concern for the objects lost archaeological context.  They then collect and smuggle valuable finds to market countries by whatever channels are available to them.  

What legal instruments are there in Mexico to protect cultural heritage? 

Mexico's heritage law, written January 19, 1934 (Art. 27, Political Constitution of the Republic of Mexico; Law on the Protection and Conservation of Monuments. Typical Towns and Places of National Beauty), established national ownership of all immovable archaeological material in the public domain, and precluded the export of all works of art or antiquities without an export license.  

This law was further refined in 1972 creating new archaeological zones and extending national ownership of the cultural patrimony to private collections and absolutely forbidding the export of pre-Columbian antiquities. The only exception to this strict mandate is in the case of presidentially-approved gifts and exchanges to foreign scientific institutions and foreign governments for diplomacy purposes. 

It is also illegal in Mexico to excavate archaeological sites, even on private land, without the permission of the Mexican government's National Institute of Anthropology and History. 

December 30, 2013

Was the repatriation of a footless 10th century statue to Cambodia this month related to Sotheby's history of selling Khmer pieces with "no published provenance" or "weak" collecting histories?

This month's repatriation of a 10th century footless sandstone statue looted from an archaeological site in Cambodia has a backstory going back a few years. In an academic article published in July 2011, Tess Davis, then assistant director of Heritage Watch, wrote that Sotheby's Auction House had listed 377 Khmer pieces for sale between 1988 and 2010:
Seventy-one percent of the antiquities had no published provenance, or ownership history, meaning they could not be traced to previous collections, exhibitions, sales, or publications. Most of the provenances were weak, such as anonymous private collections, or even prior Sotheby’s sales. None established that any of the artifacts had entered the market legally, that is, that they initially came from archaeological excavations, colonial collections, or the Cambodian state and its institutions. While these statistics are alarming, in and of themselves, fluctuations in the sale of the unprovenanced pieces can also be linked to events that would affect the number of looted antiquities exiting Cambodia and entering the United States. This correlation suggests an illegal origin for much of the Khmer material put on the auction block by Sotheby’s
In the summer of 2011, Jane Levine of Sotheby's objected to Ms. Davis' article and demanded a retraction. About six months later, Cambodia asked that Ms. Levine be removed from a cultural panel based on perceived ethical conflicts.

At the end of February 2012, Tom Mashberg and Ralph Blumenthal wrote in The New York Times ("Mythic Warrior is Captive in Global Art Theft", February 28, 2012) that the Cambodian government had asked the U.S. for help to stop the sale of a reputedly looted 10th century Khmer Koh Ker footless sandstone statue Sotheby's intended to sell in March. This month, almost two years later, an agreement was reached to return the disputed statue, now described as a Duryodhana statue, to Cambodia ("Duryodhana statue from Prasat Chen, Cambodia: "Voluntary" Repatriation by Sotheby's and consigner").

Ms. Davis is now a Researcher in the Scottish Center for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow.

December 13, 2013

Duryodhana statue from Prasat Chen, Cambodia: "Voluntary" Repatriation by Sotheby's and consigner


By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO



Located 120 kilometres (75 mi) away from Siem Reap and the ancient site of Angkor, Chok Gargyar is often referred to in legal proceedings by its modern name, Koh Ker. The site and its temple complexes once made up the 10th century capital of the Angkorian empire.  It is also one of the most remote and inaccessible temple sites in Cambodia.

The decision to repatriate the Duryodhana Hindu warrior follows the Metropolitan Museum of Art's June 2013 restitution of two life-size sandstone masterworks from the same temple complex.   The two "Kneeling Attendants" had graced the the entrance to the Met’s South East Asian galleries since they opened in 1994.

Throughout the investigation Ms. Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa has maintained that she inherited the statue via her husband’s estate and that he had purchased the statue in good faith in London in 1975.  A copy of the the United States legal complaint can be viewed here.

As part of the Stipulation and Order of Settlement accord signed on Thursday December 12, 2013 by Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, Sotheby's and U.S. federal attorneys, comes the statement that the plaintiffs “voluntarily determined, in the interests of promoting cooperation and collaboration with respect to cultural heritage,” that the object should be returned to Cambodia. Sotheby’s Spokesman, Andrew Gully went on the record to add that “the agreement confirms that Sotheby’s and its client acted properly at all times.”

It is interesting to speculate if this accord was in any way influenced by Aaron M. Freedman who pled guilty this month to six counts of criminal possession of stolen property valued at $35 million.  He was the long term manager of Subhash Kapoor’s art gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. As part of his plea agreement, Freedman has agreed to work with New York and US investigators with their investigation and prosecution of Kapoor who is currently being held in a Chennai jail awaiting trial.

December 12, 2012

Erik Nemeth on "The Diplomatic Case for Repatriating Art and Antiquities" in U.S. News

Erik Nemeth, formerly with the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, is a trustee of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and an adjunct international security policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. Here's a link to Nemeth's article in U.S. News & World Report on "The Diplomatic Power of Art" which begins here:
Even as cultural property faces immediate peril today in conflict zones like Syria and Mali, there is anecdotal evidence that some nations are awakening to the diplomatic and foreign policy benefits that can flow from the repatriation of cultural patrimony.
While on a different scale from World War II, historic structures, religious monuments, and other priceless antiquities continue to suffer collateral damage and exploitation in armed conflict. Antiquities have been stolen, smuggled and sold in what is a reported multibillion dollar underground market. They have become the illicit prizes of private collectors and the subject of legal claims against museums.
So it goes in Syria, where wartime damage to World Heritage Sites, such as Krak des Chevaliers, seems intractable. In northern Mali, too, religious strife has brought ruin to centuries-old, historic shrines in Timbuktu. Where is the constructive potential of cultural property?

November 30, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: "The Hattusa Sphinx and Turkish Antiquities Repatriation Efforts" by Aaron Haines

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Aaron Haines writes about "The Hattusa Sphinx and Turkish Antiquities Repatriation Efforts":
On March 1 of 2012, Art News journalist Martin Bailey reported that the Turkish government had prohibited the loan of cultural artifacts to the New York Metropolitan Museum of art, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism stated that these museums have artifacts that were illegally removed from Turkey, and that the ban would be removed once the contested objects were returned.  Soon it was discovered that Turkey had given the ultimatum to many other museums, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Dumberton Oaks, the Museum of Art at Bowling State University, the Louvre Museum, and the Berlin Pergamon Museum.  Turkey has prohibited exhibition loans to any of these museums until the requested objects have been returned. 
Turkey has been petitioning for the return of most of these artifacts for many years, but most often these petitions have come in the form of simple requests.  This is the first time that the country has made such a widespread and forceful demand.  This should not come as a surprise, in light of recent events regarding Turkey's repatriation efforts.  Of particular importance was its recovery of the Hattusa Sphinx, returned last year from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.  Turkey was forceful with Germany, and the two countries were able to quickly come to an agreement.  This success emboldened Turkey and gave it the necessary confidence to use forceful tactics with other reluctant countries and institutions that own contested objects.  Exploring the motivations and actions of both parties involved with the Hattusa Sphinx will shed further light on why Turkey recently enforced this ban and what their plans are for the future.
Aaron Haines is a teaching assistant at Brigham Young University where he is pursuing a B. A. in Art History and Curatorial Studies.  He has worked at the Museo civico in Siena, italy as well at the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University.  He recently completed training with the Provenance Research Training Organization in Magdeburg, Germany and is a Foreign Language Area Studies Scholar.

November 7, 2012

Lynn Nicholas spoke as keynote speaker at DePaul's conference "Restitution and Repatriation: The Return of Cultural Objects"

Image of Nefertiti
by Sarah Wilson, Second Year Law Student at DePaul University

Lynn Nicholas, the noted author of The Rape of Europa, presented a captivating and thoughtful keynote lecture at the “Restitution and Repatriation: The Return of Cultural Objects” conference held at the DePaul University College of Law. Hurricane Sandy may have hindered the quantity of speakers that attended the event, but the super-storm could not hinder the quality of Nicholas’ lecture. She addressed several issues surrounding restitution, many of which were raised in the acclaimed film about the dreadful lootings that occurred during World War II.

Nicholas examined Holocaust-era pillaging from a various perspectives, providing the audience with a broad roadmap of the different ideologies surrounding stolen objects. Of particular interest was the work of the Monuments Men (and Women) who dedicated their efforts to protecting the cultural identities of war-ravished countries. This group of American servicemen saved many of Europe’s artistic treasures and preserved much of the continental cultural heritage that came under threat of destruction during the war. Nicholas commented on the dichotomy of stolen objects: on one hand these objects are considered prizes of war, but on the other there is an essential consideration for common justice and decency that desires the return of such objects.

Nicholas raised an interesting point in the stance that Russia takes regarding looted Holocaust art. Russia—following the “prize of war” outlook—approaches restitution with an unwavering determination to maintain possession. This position is echoed in the final scenes of The Rape of Europa movie, and displays the reasons why these issues are not soon to be resolved. The government of the former Soviet Union nationalized all of the WWII works in its control at the close of the war. The country refused then—and still refuses now—to restitute the works to the pre-war owners. Whether this is viewed as the collateral damage to be suffered by other countries as the cost of doing war, or whether Russia simply feels entitled to the works that ended up within its borders, the debate continues: who are the proper owners of looted works?

The Hermitage Museum admittedly houses numerous items of suspicious origin, both on its gallery walls and hidden in the labyrinth of passageways beneath the building. Russian museums have even gone so far as to publish books about the Holocaust-era objects in their collections, an obvious display of their apathy for persons pillaged during the war. The country’s refusal to participate in restitution efforts displays a further problem: will these looted works ever be returned to the proper owners without a significant effort to harmonize international laws? In Nicholas’ opinion, the answer is no. Restitution may be morally admirable, but it appears that morals are often secondary to possession. Until the affected countries can develop mutually-beneficial methods for dealing with the problem, a solution remains elusive. As the search continues for a global resolution, the focus should remain on providing fair outcomes for all parties. Ex post facto looting from good faith purchasers of stolen objects is not the objective that Nicholas advocates.

Thousands of objects stolen during the war are still unclaimed and unrestituted. Increased litigation in the coming years appears inevitable. This is also due to the passing of the WWII generation, many of whom bequeathed stolen art to their unknowing heirs. Issues of ownership and proper title become increasingly relevant as these works find their way to the marketplace. While lawyers may aim to facilitate the harm suffered by wronged parties, their work may actually exacerbate the injury. Legal professionals often lack a proper understanding of provenance and the importance that it has on restitution attempts, and Nicholas stressed the imperative need of educating lawyers working in this field. Restituting objects becomes increasingly complicated if the ownership line is not given adequate weight. The issue is compounded by the fact that claims for looted works are frequently exaggerated, not only by lawyers, but also by media publicity. Numerous cases that result in amicable settlements regularly go unacknowledged. Nicholas also voiced her apprehension against litigation, claiming that efforts to enact restitution laws may be too political to be effective.

Nicholas served the audience well by using her all-encompassing expertise to educate the listeners about the importance of restitution. Nicholas refrained from giving a rosy-colored outlook of the future of looted objects. However, her candor leads one to believe that the path to global restitution is possible, albeit with several obstructions to overcome first.

Ms. Wilson is President of the Art and Cultural Heritage Law Society at DePaul.

October 12, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: "Repatriation via the Art Market: A New Type of Recovery, New Trends Coming from China" by Johanna Devlin

In the Fall 2012 electric edition of The Journal of Art Crime, Johanna Devlin writes on "Repatriation via the Art Market: A New Type of Recovery, New Trends Coming from China":
The aim of this study is to highlight new trends in the art market and the different ways in which issues concerning ownership of cultural objects have been revealed. In investigating the reasons behind the repatriation of Chinese art via the art market and analyzing its impacts on the art market, this paper will try to uncover what lies behind this new type of recovery.
Ms. Devlin is a graduate of the ARCA Post-Graduate Certificate Program and King's College London. she has worked at Christie's and has studied in China.  She is currently based in Paris.

Here's a link to ARCA's website and information regarding subscribing to The Journal of Art Crime.

July 17, 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - ,, No comments

Spotlight on Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations and Repatriations

By Colette Loll Marvin

On July 12th, I attended a cultural repatriation ceremony at the Embassy of Peru in Washington, DC. The ceremony was conducted in order for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to formally return to the government of Peru 14 stolen and looted cultural paintings and artifact. The items were recovered in 5 separate investigations by special agents of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Returned to the people of Peru were 9 beautiful 18th century religious paintings from the Cusco region of Peru, a Spanish colonial silver and gilt enamel monstrance from the 1700’s that was stolen from a church altar, and 4 archeological items that date back more than 2,000 years. The return of these items was the culmination of a year’s long investigative effort by ICE special agents, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Interpol, and the State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center.

Participating in the repatriation ceremony were ICE Director John Morton, Peruvian Ambassador to the United States Harold Forsyth, and U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

“The plundering of cultural property is one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border crime and has become a world-wide phenomenon that transcends frontiers” said ICE Director John Morton. He then added, “Why do we care about cultural heritage crimes when we could be chasing drug smugglers, human traffickers and gang members? If we ignore these crimes, we debase our past.”

“This repatriation is an example of what can be accomplished when law enforcement partners and government leaders from around the world work together in pursuit of a common goal” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

Because of the proactive and thorough investigative and undercover work by special agents, these items were able to be returned to their country of origin. Several were up for auction at a Christies, some were being sold at numerous galleries, and still others were offered for sale on EBay. HSI investigations revealed that all of these objects were taken out of Peru in violation of Peruvian law and brought into the U.S. in violation of U.S. Customs law and regulations. Specifically, the items had been removed in violation of a U.S.--Peru bi-lateral agreement negotiated by the U.S. Department of State and enacted in 1997, which restricts the importation of pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial-era religious objects into the United States without proper documentation.

Federal importation laws give HSI the authority to take a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property and art. Customs laws allow HSI to seize cultural property and art brought into the United States illegally, especially when objects have been reported lost or stolen.

ICE agents bring valuable artworks into the Peruvian Embassy ICE agents inspect works that are intended for repatriation