Thursday, 7 June 2012

Christie's and the Art Loss Register

The Art Loss Register (ALR) states on its website that it "searches all auction catalogues and private sales for Christies to identify before sale any items which are registered as stolen, fake, missing, looted". The ALR continues: "This is the foundation of due diligence to ensure that the buyers obtain good title free of disputes."

This is a bold claim. Are all looted antiquities documented and photographed? Do looters submit their photographs to the ALR? So the statement assumes that looted antiquities have to be registered.

And what if objects in one of the auctions are identified from one of the photographic dossiers seized in Switzerland and Greece? Will Christie's only respond if the ALR makes the identification?

And does the work of the ALR guarantee that "buyers obtain good title free of disputes"? What if the Italian authorities make the identification themselves and approach the auction-house directly?

The wording is clearly intended to reassure potential buyers. But does it?

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Alfredo De La Fe said...

While an item that happens to have a photograph in one of the "dossiers" (Medicci is one) certainly would give reason for caution, you are making a pretty bold assumption that all of the photographs found were of items which had been "recently" looted. (As opposed to looted prior to whatever cutoff date is valid for the country in question - but for the sake of argument let's say 1970)

All dealers maintain photofiles. Some items may have been offered to said dealers and a photograph taken to obtain opinions on specific pieces before they were purchased and/or sold. Or, photographs could have been taken before and after restoration work of pieces that are from "old" collections.

While I certainly agree that a photograph from the "Medicci dossier" should be of concern, it does not establish that a specific item is "looted" as fact. It is only one piece of evidence that must be taken into consideration.

While it would be irresponsible to dismiss the fact that a photograph exists in one of these dossiers it is also irresponsible to label all items in those photographs as positively looted.

Paul Barford said...

How about treating items in such a "dossier" as items known to be have been sold by a dealer who is known to have dealt in looted objects?

If that is the ONLY verifiable provenance that object now has, it is tainted.

Alfredo De La Fe said...

I agree, thus, it is reason to be cautious. But a much bigger issue is that these photos have not been made available to the public in their entirety.

Paul Barford said...

Most dealers in dugup antiquities do not reveal to the public the details of where the individual objects they handle actually come from.

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