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Showing posts from May, 2010

Bernheimer and the "critical break-off date"

Max Bernheimer of Christie's has been interviewed for Apollo (Lucian Harris, "Collectors' focus", Apollo April 24, 2010).

Harris introduces the interviews with this statement:
More recent attitudes have focused attention on the negative aspects of the antiquities trade – the looting of sites, the funding of the international trade in drugs and weapons, the proliferation of restitution claims and the continuing appearance of sophisticated fakes. Within the archaeological community in particular there exists a vocal minority in opposition to any trade in antiquities. Dealers are at pains to point out the entirely legitimate trade in objects that have been neither looted nor smuggled and which are in as much demand as ever. It should be noted that Harris did not bother to get an alternative view and presents a misleading view of those concerned about looting. Archaeologists are calling for restrictions on the trade in recently surfaced antiquities to address the genuine …

"Provenance ... has become paramount"

G. Max Bernheimer, International Head of Antiquities at Christie's has given a timely interview (May 24, 2010). Among the questions asked was this:
In recent years, the issue of repatriation has garnered attention as institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Museum have returned artifacts to their source countries. Where does the issue stand today, and what impact does this have on your collectors?
Provenance has always been important, and in light of recent repatriation issues, it has become paramount. In a way these issues have helped the auction business because of the transparency of our operations; buyers can have complete confidence when buying at auction. Everything we do is published, and source countries have the opportunity to review our catalogues long before the date of sale.
Remember that this interview was issued subsequent to the report by Theo Toebosch on May 15.

I have long-argued that provenance is a misused term. Christopher Chippindale and I …

"History is Hot"

Today I attended the launch of the beta version of the People's Collection Wales / Casgliad y Werin Cymru at the National Museum in Cardiff. (The official launch is due to be in August 2010.) The website includes tours as well as the ability to add data.

One of the aims of the project is to put objects residing in museums back into the spatial contexts. The Collection is far more than archaeology but we were reminded by one of the participants that "History is Hot".

St Davids Head, Pembrokeshire © David Gill

A Dilemma for Christie's

I understand that on May 11 Christie's were asked direct questions about three specific lots in their forthcoming June sale of antiquities. The reason is that an Apulian rhyton, a Canosan terracotta and a marble statue of a youth with a cockerel appeared to be close to three objects that appeared in the Medici Dossier.  A comment on the sale appear in the Dutch press on May 15 [detail though one lot number has been revised].

Attention to the same three pieces was given in the New York press on May 25.

I find it hard to believe that Christie's is unaware of the story especially as the collecting history (or "provenance") of one of the pieces has had to be revised to show that it passed through Sotheby's London in 1992. (See Peter Watson's, Sotheby's: Inside Story (1997) [worldcat] for this period.)

In 2009 a spokesperson for Christie's described two separate antiquities as "stolen". Indeed attention was drawn to "the transparency of the …

"A part of Italy's national heritage and identity"

I would like to look back nearly a year. At the beginning of June 2009 it was reported "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today recovered today a Corinthian column krater from Christie's auction house" [press release, June 1, 2009]. The release continued:
"Christie's cooperated fully with ICE Special Agents in New York who, with the assistance of the ICE attaché in Rome, collaborated with Italian authorities to determine that the Corinthian column krater is indeed part of Italy's cultural property and was stolen."In addition [and repeated December 2, 2009]:
"The investigation into the Corinthian column krater revealed it may have been illegally introduced into the art market by Giacomo Medici and a third party at Sotheby's Auction house in 1985."Later in the year two further pieces that had been sold at the June 2009 sale were seized (see Art Museum Journal).

Can we expect to see such full co-operation should further identificat…

"Messy, murky issues clouding the market"

Paul Barford has drawn my attention to Michael H. Miller's article "Digging Up The Past", New York Observer May 25, 2010. In some ways Miller shows that he has a poor grasp of the issues. There are major differences between items that have surfaced on the market since 1970 (the date of the UNESCO Convention) and objects that were acquired by museums well before that benchmark date. (Countries such as Egypt and Greece are, of course, making claims on pieces such as the head of Nefertiti or the Parthenon marbles.)

Miller then turned to the case of recent returns from North American Museums: "Italy has been the most aggressive, successfully demanding the return of objects from both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty". Miller could have added Boston's Museum of Fine Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum. He uses this to hang the story of Christie's June sale of antiquities: "Now, three pricey ancient Greek …

Mud on the krater

Christos Tsirogiannis is undertaking some remarkable research on the scale of looting in countries bordering the Mediterranean. He recently showed me the Polaroid of an Attic red-figured volute-krater with a Dionysiac scene. You can still see mud adhering to parts of the rim. The image comes from the Medici Dossier seized in the Geneva Freeport.

The krater appears to have been ripped from the ground and quickly snapped before (presumably) being cleaned up ("restored") and sold on. The complete nature suggests that it came from a funerary context.

What else was found in the tomb? Was it an inhumation? What was the gender of the primary burial? Or was it a multiple burial? Was this the only pot with a Dionysiac scene?

Volute-krater illustrated in the Medici Dossier

Robin Symes and yet another department

You may recall that earlier in April it was announced that the Home Office was arranging for the sale of part of the assets of Robin Symes. Later in the month the Home Office directed me to the Ministry of Justice ... who then directed me back to the Home Office. One month on I have just been informed that it is nothing to do with the Home Office ... it is the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Cultural Cutbacks in England

The Department of Culture Media and Sport has announced a £61 million cutback on its budget in response to the national deficit. In effect this means a 3% reduction on spending for bodies supported by DCMS. Art Council England's budget is being slashed by £5 million.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has clearly been hoping to be treated favourably. What will a 3% (or so) reduction mean?

Toxic Antiquities and the Medici Dossier

Followers of Looting Matters will know that the images from the Medici Dossier have helped to secure the return of objects from several public and private collections, as well as from at least two dealers. The Polaroids have also caused the withdrawal of several lots from one London auction-house on at least two separate occasions in 2008 and 2010.

The "toxicity" of these desirable antiquities does not come from questions about their authenticity but rather from the route by which they were removed from their archaeological contexts, passed through the market, and into their present collections. Doubters need to read Peter Watson's Sotheby's Inside Story (1997) or (with Cecilia Todeschini) The Medici Conspiracy (2006). Christopher Chippindale and I wrote a review article on the second of the two works for the American Journal of Archaeology (2007) [pdf].

As long as these lovely objects are valued, there rightly will be a market for them. Working in that market will be …

New role for Philippe de Montebello

Lee Rosenbaum, Culturegrrl, is a shrewd observer of the cultural scene in North America. She is a fan of the Met's former director Philippe de Montebello - who can forget her moody rendering of "Philippe Baby"? (still unavailable on iTunes) - and comments on his new role as Special Advisor to the Leon Levy Foundation.
News to me last night was that among the many hats that Professor Philippe now wears is that of consultant ... to the Leon Levy Foundation headed by antiquities collector Shelby White, a major patron of the Met.You can see him in the photo ..., at a meeting convened by the Levy Foundation on "how best to make available the trove of unpublished information from important ancient world sites excavated under "partage" agreements." Timothy Potts, erstwhile of the Kimbell, now director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, is in the top row, second from the left. Philippe, bottom row at the left; White, bottom row, third from left.The issue of…

Looting Matters: Toxic Antiquities in the Market Place

Looting Matters: Toxic Antiquities in the Market Place

A reflection on how auction houses can avoid offering "toxic antiquities" for sale by adopting 1970 as their benchmark for collecting histories.

The Medici Dossier and the Identification of "Stolen Artifacts"

Six months ago Sung-Hee Park, the Public Relations Officer for Christie's, drew attention to the way that the "transparency of the public auction system" at Christie's had allowed "two stolen artifacts" to be identified.

It seems that the two pieces in question had featured in the Medici Dossier. Thus it seems that a major auction-house is describing such material (and remember there are some 4000 images from the Medici Dossier) as "stolen".

Washington lobbyist Peter Tompa has now questioned the use of images to identify objects in public sales. He will be unaware that Christie's were asked by a third party on May 11, 2010 about three specific lots in their June 2010 sale. Full Polaroid images similar to those lots were released on May 12, 18, 19after Christie's had replied to the third party.

Christie's have made it clear that they "do not sell works that we have reason to believe are stolen". Such a position is to be appl…

"The transparency of the public auction system led to the identification of stolen artifacts"

Three antiquities that had apparently featured in the Medici Dossier were recovered from Christie's New York during 2009. A Corinthian krater, that apparently had surfaced at Sotheby's London in 1985, was recovered just prior to the June sale. (Material that passed through Sotheby's 1985 sales have included two pieces returned from a New York gallery and a New York private collector; a further piece was withdrawn from a sale at Bonham's in London.)

Two pieces that passed through the June sale at Christie's were seized later in the year. They appear to have been an Attic pelike attributed to the Aegisthus painter that had surfaced through the Summa Galleries in the mid-1980s (lot 120), and an Apulian situla that had followed the same route but slightly earlier in 1977 (lot 132). Together they had realised over $120,000.

I later posted the comment from Christie's:
Sung-Hee Park confirmed that "the transparency of the public auction system combined with the ef…

Apulian rhyton from the Medici Dossier

There is an image of an Apulian rhyton in the Medici dossier of some 4000 photographs. The piece is in the shape of a goat's head with horns painted white. A crouching Eros, holding a fan in his right hand, is shown on the neck.

This seems similar to lot 104 that is due to auctioned at Christie's next month. The Christie's rhyton surfaced at Sotheby's in New York in 1994. Who consigned it to the sale?

There are major implications if the two rhyta are indeed the same. Was Medici consigning antiquities via New York in the same way that he appears to have done for London? What was the scale of this activity? Where are the pieces now?

Apulian rhyton from the Medici Dossier

Kouroi seized near Corinth: update

There is some additional information about the seizure of the pair of kouroi near Corinth. Overnight reporting has suggested that the pair of statues were estimated at $12 million ("Greek Men Tried to Sell Stolen Statues for $12M", AP May 18, 2010). Who would have purchased them now that North American museums have decided  to observe 1970 as a benchmark for acquisitions? Is there still a market for classical antiquities in the Middle East and south-east Asia? The news report states:
Police chief Lefteris Economou said the arrests followed information from culture ministry officials. He provided no details on the identity of the potential buyers or which country the finds had been heading for.There is a suggestion that the kouroi were found at Tenea, not far from Corinth. The kouros now in Munich (Glytothek no. 168 [Richter no. 73]) was said to have been found there in 1846.

Composite from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture

Kouroi seized near Corinth

Two fragmentary marble kouroi dating to the 6th century BC have been recovered in a police raid near Corinth (May 18, 2010, press release [in Greek]). This appears to have been the result of a surveillance operation and involved Austrian nationals. The statues measure 1.82 m and 1.78 m high, and showed evidence of recent breaks. They appear to have come from the same workshop.

The statues will be sent to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Who would have purchased such recently surfaced antiquities? What was their original find-spot? Were the funerary or dedications in a sanctuary? Were they associated with any inscriptions?

Composite from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture

Christie's and the Medici Dossier: Correction

It now appears that lot 110 in the June sale of Antiquities does not feature in the Medici Dossier. The reason is simple: Christie's had placed the incorrect image against lot 110. (However, it would be interesting to know the collecting history of the piece prior to it being acquired by the anonymous Japanese private collector in the 1980s.)

During the afternoon the image against lot 110 moved to lot 112 and the image of lot 112 to lot 110.

Lot 112 is a Canosan 'Greek terracotta goddess', dating to the 3rd century BCE. It is valued at $6000 to $8000. The figure rests against a herm.

The present proprietor is not given ("Another Property"). However it is perhaps significant that the piece surfaced at "Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9-10 July 1984, lot 551" before passing into an anonymous English private collection.

Several other interesting pieces passed through Sotheby's, London in 1984.

Medusa and the Medici Dossier

Among the images seized in the Medici Dossier in the Geneva Freeport was this Polaroid of a Canosan terracotta figure. The figure appears to be holding a Medusa mask in its left hand.

The figure seems to be similar to one from an anonymous Japanese private collection that is due to be auctioned at Christie's in June (lot 110).

Who sold the Christie's figure to the Japanese private collector in the 1980s? Who is the anonymous Japanese private collector? Who is the present proprietor ("Another property")? Will Christie's reveal the full and detailed collecting history of this figure?

Polaroid of a Canosan figure from the Medici Dossier.

"We do not sell works that we have reason to believe are stolen"

Theo Toebosch has a short piece in Saturday's NRC Handelsblad (May 15, 2010). He notes three lots (104, 110, 139) from the upcoming sale of antiquities at Christie's that seem to feature in images from the Medici Dossier. Toebosch contacted the press office at Christie's and was told, "we do not sell works that we have reason to believe are stolen". The spokesperson also stated that Christie's adheres strictly to all local and international laws relating to cultural property.

Toebosch took this to mean "no comment" ("geen commentaar").

Medici Archive: Roman Marble Youth

Among the polaroids seized from Giacomo Medici was one of a Roman statue of a youth. He appears to be holding a cockerel in his left hand.

It seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to the Roman Youth due to be auctioned at Christie's New York in June 2010 (lot 139). The Christie's piece surfaced at Sotheby's London in 1992.

Can we assume that Christie's will withdraw the lot if it does appear to have surfaced via Giacomo Medici?

It should be noted that the Christie's entry has been updated to include its earlier collecting history.
Saleroom Notice
Please note additional provenance on this lot:
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9-10 July 1992, lot 527.
From the Medici Dossier.

Looking Out For Toxic Antiquities

Recent events have suggested that auction-houses need to be careful when handling material that surfaced in a certain London auction-house in the 1980s and early 1990s. If lots from those sales were consigned by the agents of Giacomo Medici then there is a strong possibility that there could be a Polaroid lurking in the Medici Archive that was seized during the raids on the Geneva Freeport. Wise staff will either conduct ultra-rigorous due diligence searches or pass over the opportunity to sell the object. Yet if there is a declining pool of antiquities from old (i.e. pre-1970) collections, then some auction-houses are likely to take risks and hope that the objects will not be recognised. And the Medici Archive is but one set: remember the images seized from Schinoussa and the Basel warehouses. There may be well some 20,000 objects waiting to be identified.

And this must be a concern for potential buyers. Who would want to spend tens of thousands of dollars for an object that could we…

The Schinoussa archive and its potential impact

There is a useful report on the background to the identification of the four Roman statues that had been due to be auctioned at Bonhams at the end of April ("Κυνηγός αρχαιοκάπηλων με έδρα το Κέιμπριτζ", Eleutherotypia May 8, 2010). The article explains the role of Cambridge researcher Christos Tsirogiannis.

It also records the decision to remove Ioannis Diotis from working on the archive of material seized on Schinoussa. This archive contains evidence that has already helped to bring some material home to Greece.

From Eleutherotypia.

An Apulian rhyton from an American private collection

Ricardo Elia's research on Apulian pottery has meant that I study the appearance of this type of material with additional scrutiny. Among the seven pieces on offer at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza in June 2010 is a rhyton in the form of a goat's head (lot 104). The estimate for $25,000 to $35,000 makes it one of the more expensive Apulian objects.

The rhyton, presently in the collection of an anonymous American private collector, had first surfaced at Sotheby's, New York, 8 June 1994, lot 189.

Who consigned it to Sotheby's in 1994? Who is the present proprietor? What was its collecting history prior to 1994?

Due Diligence and Auction Houses: Lessons from the Geneva Freeport

Events at Bonhams in April reminded us of the problems that can be caused when auction-houses do not conduct rigorous due diligence searches to ensure that collecting histories can be traced back to the period before 1970. It is still not clear how an auction-house that had been caught in the spotlight over the sale of the Geddes Collection could, a mere 18 months later, be selling objects that could be traced to the notorious Geneva Freeport.

But Bonhams was not alone. During 2009 three items, apparently identified from images confiscated in the Geneva Freeport, were reportedly seized from a single New York dealer: a Corinthian krater, an Attic pelike and an Apulian situla.

As the June sales approach, we would hope that New York auction-houses would have adopted checking procedures to ensure that they were not going to be handling any material that could be traced back to a certain dealer and his operation in Geneva.

A bronze amphora from Italy

There is an interesting story about an bronze amphora, decorated with handles in the form of a kouros, that appears to have been looted from Casserta in Italy ("Amphore gesucht!"). The piece was said to have been sold to a Munich dealer in February 2004 for 200,000 Euros. It was then sent to Switzerland for restoration.

See also here for the Operation Ghelas raids in Munich and Barcelona.

A Canosan figure from an old Japanese collection

I have not commented much here about Japanese collections of classical antiquities (but see the Miho Museum). I was thus intrigued to see a Canosan terracotta figure of a woman (lot 110) among the pieces on offer at the June 10, 2010 sale of antiquities at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza. The 3rd century BCE figure is valued at $5000 to $7000. She is "holding a mask of Medusa in her left hand".

The collecting history is simple: "Japanese Private Collection, 1980s".

Who was the original vendor of the piece? What is the name of the anonymous Japanese private collection? Who is the present proprietor?

Canosan figures are usually found in Apulia in southern Italy.

Collecting histories: a Roman Youth with Cockerel

My attention has been drawn to the Roman marble torso of a youth that is due to be auctioned at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza on June 10, 2010 [sale 2323] [lot 139]. The estimate is $20,000 to $30,000.

The statue is distinctive and the catalogue entry notes the youth is "holding a cockerel in his left arm, his hand at the bird's left wing, its tail feathers curving along the contours of the boy's hip".

The piece has an interesting collecting history:

Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9-10 July 1992, lot 527.Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 11 June 1997, lot 116.Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, Rockefeller Plaza, 10 December 2004, lot 576. [$22,705]
It is now "The property of a Massachusetts private collector".

For some unexplained reason the Sotheby's appearance is not mentioned in the latest catalogue entry. Who consigned the piece to the original Sotheby's sale in 1992? Why did Christie's omit this part of the collecting…

Recently surfaced coins from Tarentum

CPAC will be reviewing the MOU with Italy and it appears that several speakers will be making presentations on behalf of the coin-dealing and coin-collecting communities.

It would be interesting to see somebody discussing how 4 silver diobols of Tarentum (and their associated box) made their way from a river (of unknown location) to Zurich. What is the "collecting history" for this group?

BBC: Photographic Evidence from the Archives

I was speaking on the BBC's "Good Morning Wales" this morning. We were talking about the identiification of objects from the "Medici Dossier" that had surfaced on the London market.

The programme is available on the BBC iPlayer.