Thursday November 16, 2006, 6:00PM – 7:30PM
Chelsea Art Museum
556 West 22nd Street, (at 11th Avenue)
New York, New York
SAFE organized Peter Watson’s first US lecture on his latest book “The Medici Conspiracy” (voted one of Time‘s 10 best books of 2006) in New York’s Chelsea Art Museum. This presentation, book reading and signing included a questions-and-answers session. This event is part of SAFE Beacon Awards Benefit Gala where Mr. Watson was be honored in an award ceremony and buffet dinner immediately following the lecture.
In a minimalist white hall at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York, Peter Watson took time from his vacation to treat a standing-room-only audience to a lecture on his new book (with co-author Cecilia Todeschini) The Medici Conspiracy. The picture of an urbane Englishman in a room packed with black-clad New Yorkers, Mr. Watson gave an entertaining and informative summary of the events leading to the discovery of a treasure trove of looted artifacts and incriminating information at Geneva warehouse in 1995 that sparked the trial and 2004 conviction of Italian antiquities dealer Giacamo Medici, the return of dozens of artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts and J. Paul Getty Museum to Italy, and the ongoing trial of dealer Robert Hecht and former Getty Museum curator Marion True.
From steadfast Italian investigators and prosecutors to unscrupulous antiquities dealers, and museum professionals now distancing themselves from the Medici affair, the characters in Mr. Watson’s account both humanize and focus the debate over the ethics and legalities of antiquities collecting. What begins as a story of damage already done—replete with descriptions of ransacked artifacts that have been rendered mute, unable to convey to us the history that looters have stripped from them — a hopeful ending grows more likely with each new reader he informs. As Mr. Watson told the audience, the market for looted antiquities from Italy is now collapsing due to stepped-up enforcement and high-profile prosecutions in Italy, changing attitudes among museums and collectors and revelations found in Mr. Watson’s and Ms. Todeschini’s book. More than a true crime drama or art world exposé, “The Medici Conspiracy” is a call to action for anyone who appreciates the knowledge gained through proper excavation of our ultimate non-renewable resource: the intact evidence of our undiscovered past. … for anyone who sees more in a Greek vase than simply craftsmanship.
After the lecture, the SAFE Vice President Rick St. Hilaire led a spirited question and answer session, discussing topics such as the value of prosecuting art dealers to discourage unscrupulous antiquities acquisitions. Afterward, Mr. Watson signed copies of his book and taxied to the gala celebration where he received the 2006 SAFE Beacon Award.
Stolen antiquities have made front-page news in recent months, related to issues such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s decision to give back its Euphronios krater and the re-opening of the Getty Villa in Los Angeles. As an expert witness in the trial happening now in Rome of Marion True, former curator of the Getty, and Robert Hecht, the dealer who is accused of selling millions of dollars’ worth of suspected stolen antiquities to these museums over the past thirty years, Peter Watson was given access to hundreds of thousands of documents, objects, and photographs that paint the only full picture of this shady underground world.
From the police in the Carabinieri Art Squad who started by chasing local crooks and ended up exposing an international conspiracy, to tombaroli like Pietro Casasanta who sneak into archaeological sites in the dead of night to swipe objects to sell on the black market, to dealers such as Hecht and Robin Symes who made fortunes manipulating the art market, to curators such as True who turned a blind eye to (or willingly concealed) the shadowy provenance of these objects, to the wealthy private collectors who were all too happy to receive huge tax breaks when they donated their collections of looted objects to these famous museums — Watson has investigated them all. His latest book, “The Medici Conspiracy”, is a fascinating portrait of this vast conspiracy that’s overtaken the art world.
Peter Watson, known as a “swashbuckling art journalist” to some (ArtNet Magazine), is well known in the art-literature market for his exposés of the darker side of the art world. His book “The Caravaggio Conspiracy” was the result of a sting operation during which he went undercover as a dealer to blow the lid off an art theft ring. In “Sotheby’s: The Inside Story”, Watson gained access to insider information from a Sotheby’s employee and revealed the auction house’s role in smuggling art and antiquities between countries and their arrogance in covering their tracks. Watson is the premier investigative journalist in this area — he writes for the New York Times and has written weekly columns on the art market for the London Sunday Times, Observer and Evening Standard.