• Geneva… Singapore… now Red Hook?

    Known for its “industrial charm”, New York’s Red Hook section in Brooklyn will soon be home to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services–a subsidiary of the auction house. In Wall Street Journal’s article “The Ultimate Walk-In Closet”, Kelly Crow questions if Christie’s “is walking a delicate line”: balancing clients’ desire for confidentiality and customs’ desire to “deter potential smugglers and money launderers from hiding assets or stashing stolen or looted works.”

    According to Crow, “Christie’s said it will run credit checks on customers and check stored items against registries of stolen art, but added that it can’t police everything it brings into its new warehouse.”

    In light of recent events in New York and London where stolen objects were nearly auctioned off undetected, one can only hope that auction houses will check more thoroughly where items come from while providing safe storage for them.

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  • Yet another one…

    This morning, while browsing the web for current Southern Hemisphere antiquities trade news to blog about, I came across the webpage of a company/auction house that, to me, seems as brazen in their sale of unprovenanced and/or recently surfaced artifacts as the world’s largest wholesale auction houses. Indeed, they occasionally have their own auctions! This time I’m talking about Arte Mission (or artemission.com), based out of South Kensington, London, and specializing in “ancient art from Egypt, the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, in Islamic Art and Ancient Coins.” With apparently 40+ years in the business, and with “major galleries and museums” as both recipients and guest appraisers of artifacts, their website provides prospective buyers with everything from a Membership list, a searchable database, website translation into a number of different languages, a recommended reading list of books and articles at a “Reader’s corner,” two-day ...

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  • Stolen Indian Statue Sold in New York, Despite being on Interpol Stolen Art Database

    Interpol news 22 April 2010, The statue of two Asian deities was stolen in September 2009 from the ruins of a temple in Atru in the Province of Rajasthan in Western India. At the request of the National Central Bureau (NCB) in New Delhi, the stone sculpture was added to INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art database. Despite that, it was sold by an ” international auction house having bases in New York and London”. It was only located in New York after it was spotted by somebody in New Delhi featured in a magazine advertising its sale. By this time the object was already in the port of New York while being prepared for shipment to England. In the nick of time, the sculpture was seized by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (on Friday 16 April), and Indian and US authorities are now liaising over the return of the statue.

    While the inclusion of the statue on INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art database did not directly lead to its identification, the fact that an object is recorded does help facilitate and speed up investigations by involved countries,” said Karl Heinz Kind, Co-ordinator of INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art unit at its General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon. “This also underlines the necessity for auction houses and all those dealing in cultural property to regularly check INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art database, which is publicly available and free of charge, to ensure that they avoid taking possession of stolen goods,” added Mr Kind. INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art database has been available to the public since August 2009, and now has more than 1,300 individuals currently registered for free access.

    It seems though from recent news items that there is very little evidence than major auction houses are at all concerned about where the items they sell come from.

    Photo: the stolen relief seized at New York Airport.

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  • Due Diligence, Antiquities and Auction-houses

    The decision by Bonhams (London) to withdraw a Roman statue from its sale of antiquities this month has reminded us that auction-houses have yet to take the problem of newly surfaced antiquities seriously. The marble youth featured in the dossier of Polaroids seized from the premises of Giacomo Medici in the Geneva Freeport. Its collecting history (misleadingly termed as “provenance”) showed that it had surfaced at a Sothebys London auction in December 1986. 

    Last year three antiquities were seized from Christies in New York. They too are reported to have featured in the Medici “archive”.

    Has the time come for auction-houses to adopt 1970 as the benchmark for collecting histories? It would certainly avoid the bad publicity generated by the withdrawals.

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  • Cuno debates "Who Protects Antiquity?" with Rothfield and Coben

    The latest public lecture in the “Who Owns the …” series took place in midtown Manhattan on April 7, at the Graduate Center, CUNY. The speakers were Larry Rothfield, Larry Coben and James Cuno. Thanks to FORA.tv, you can now see the entire lecture.

    True to his message, James Cuno focused his discussion on ownership, and continued to question source nations’ claims to their own cultural property, in deference to the concept of “cosmopolitanism.” For some time now, Cuno’s message has been delivered with practiced consistency in the media, with the “Who Owns the…” books, lectures, panel discussions and “debates” with archaeologists including Colin Renfrew, Donny George, to name a few.

    This time, however, there is a difference. The speakers not only appeared to agree on a few points, everyone seemed to acknowledge that it’s time to bring the focus back on how best to protect antiquities from looting and the black market trade. As SAFECORNER blogged here and here, to own or not to own is not the question.

    What do you think?

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  • Charges against True and Hecht to be dropped

    Sources close to the case have confirmed that Marion True’s and Bob Hecht’s conspiracy trial in Rome will not end by October 2010. At that time, further prosecution will be barred by a statute of limitations; the case will be dismissed and charges dropped.

    How will this development affect museum acquisitions? Read about the case in The Medici Conspiracy, winner of SAFE’s 2006 Beacon Award.

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  • CPAC review of MOU between U.S. and Italy

    Last week, the U.S. Department of State issued a Notice of the Meeting of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to take place May 6-7, 2010. The committee will review a proposal to extend the MOU between the U.S. and Italy concerning the current import restrictions on archaeological material. You can register to speak or simply sit in during the public session (May 6th 9:30-11AM) by calling the Cultural Heritage Center. Note that if you do wish to speak at this meeting, comments are limited to 5 minutes and must be submitted for the committee’s review by April 22, 2010. Even if you cannot be attendance at the CPAC meeting, you can still make a difference by faxing a letter to the Cultural Heritage Center (also by April 22). Please refer to SAFE’s “Say YES to Italy” page and to the AIA’s guidelines to write an informed and effective letter expressing your hope that the U.S. will extend their bilateral agreement with Italy.

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  • More from BC Galleries

    Just a few moments ago, while writing the 2nd entry ever for my new blog (which will assist in detailing and tracking the Southern Hemisphere antiquities trade), I came across further evidence that BC Galleries is still attempting to sell Southeast Asian artifacts (specifically deriving from northern Vietnamese “Dong Son” burial sites) with human bones inside them! Not only that, but they are not trying to hide this fact or disguise it in anyway…it is still out there for all potential customers to see. Indeed, it might even be viewed as a selling point. This time, the objects in question are ‘armlets,’ similar to those recently removed from sale within the eBay store of “The Unique Things Gallery,” detailed in my last post. I feel less and less certain that this is a coincidence, and more certain that it represents the distribution of a bulk shipment that came into the country in one go. Only further monitoring and investigation will tell…

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  • The Looting of the Iraq Museum: 7 Years Later

    This weekend marks the 7th anniversary of the tragic looting of the Iraq Museum—an anniversary that is especially important for SAFE. Cindy Ho founded SAFE in response to the mass looting in 2003, and since then, SAFE grew from a single-purpose public awareness campaign into a non-profit organization, the only one of its kind, with a much broader mission.

    SAFE and others around the world have commemorated the looting of the museum each year with special events, like candlelight vigils. These gatherings are an easy way to say that we have not forgotten, and they also remind us of the challenges Iraq faces today to protect its cultural heritage. One of the major challenges we were reminded of this year is the reopening of the museum. SAFE, like most other media outlets, all too eagerly announced that the museum was reopened in February 2009. Our friend and former director of the Iraq Museum, Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, warned us ...

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  • A small victory?

    A couple days ago, I posted an expose about that proportion of the Southern Hemisphere antiquities trade currently passing through the hands of BC Galleries. They have apparently removed from their catalogs the Iron Age bangles containing human arm bones mentioned in my last post, but still feature other highly suspect artifacts, such as this immense Dong Son drum, this late Iron Age bracelet, or this prehistoric Thai shell necklace, the rarity and condition of which points to their previous use as grave goods, or, in the case of the drum, something requiring concentrated effort to unearth, clean, and ship once perhaps ‘accidentally’ discovered. What I wish to share now, however, is another small, but significant, victory; an example of what positive media pressure can do to “interrupt” the vicious cycle of the antiquities trade…at least where some of ...

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  • BC Galleries: The Antiquities Trade Down Under

    A few days ago, a very shocking and depressing addition to my personal monitoring of the global antiquities trade, especially in regards to Southeast Asian artifacts, was brought to my attention. I’m talking about a distributor called BC Galleries (http://www.bcgalleries.com.au). Formerly a member of sothebys.com, and with clients ranging from individuals, to museums, to other galleries, they have operated out of Melbourne, Australia, since 1976 (with a website for international transactions online since 1999). The company has two major financial associates that lend their operations the air of legitimacy. CINOA (Confederation Internationale des Negociants en Oeuvre d’Art, or International Confederation of Art and Antiquities Dealers Associations) is based out of Brussels, a city notorious for antiquities trafficking in its own right. It represents over 5,000 dealer organizations in 22 countries, all of whom must sign the ...

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  • Remembering Sam Paley

    SAFE is deeply saddened by the passing of Professor Samuel M. Paley on March 31. The academic world mourns the loss of a preeminent scholar, an innovator, and a caring teacher. SAFE mourns the loss of an ardent supporter and loyal member.

    We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, family, friends and colleagues. Sam, we miss you.

    Cindy Ho President, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone

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