Wednesday 29 August 2012

Operation Totem: English heritage related crime

I have discussed the shortcomings of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology. One of the concerns was under-reporting of finds by metal-detectorists.

I note that Operation Totem has yielded a "catch" in Lincolnshire ("Lenient sentence given to metal detecting thief", Horncastle News August 29, 2012).
A metal dectector enthusiast has been convicted of theft in so-called ‘nighthawking’ trips in the Horncastle area. [The individual from Yorkshire] faced nine allegations of theft between January 1 and July 8 2011, one allegation of going equipped for theft on June 5 and two allegations of possession of criminal property at his home on July 8. 
He denied all the offences but was convicted of eight offences of theft and of going equipped for theft by District Judge John Stobart at Skegness Magistrates Court last week.
More detail is given:
After a police raid at his home in July 2011, police found a large quantity of objects  - brooches, coins, pins and seals - two of which were found to have precious metal content in excess of 10 per cent which should have been declared as treasure to the Coroner. 
It also transpired that between July 2010 and May 2011, [the main] advertised 56 items on E-Bay and had sold approximately 30 of them. He had also entered the items referred to in the charges on to the UK Detectors database for recording finds. He stated they had all been found in May 2011 by him in Lincolnshire.
I notice that the other report from Horncastle ("Police send clear message sent to illegal nighthawkers", August 29, 2012) claims that the police worked in partnership with English Heritage "who were able to provide the support and advice on aspects of heritage-related crime". Sergeant Booth who led the investigation is quoted at length:
“Operation Totem was introduced to deal with concerns raised by members of the farming community who were suffering from persons illegally using metal detectors on their property. 
“This was resulting in significant damage to crops and the loss of unique historic artefacts.  
“A great deal of work was carried out by the officers involved in the operation to bring offenders to justice and to send out a clear message that illegal metal detecting and heritage crime will be taken seriously. 
“Many people seem to hold the opinion that metal detecting is a harmless hobby and feel that they have a right to roam and use their equipment at will, where they like, without permission or any likelihood of facing the consequences of their illegal actions. 
“While there are many responsible people who legitimately enjoy metal detecting with the permission of land owners, while using the proper channels to register and dispose of items that they may find, there are a small minority who persist in operating outside the law.”
I note that it is English Heritage taking a lead against English "heritage-related crime".

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Monday 27 August 2012

Fortuna and the unnamed gallery

Source: MiBAC
In December 2011 Humana announced that it would be returning two statues to Italy. These had apparently been purchased from an unspecified New York dealer of antiquities. Who was that dealer?

This matters. This month we have seen a major North American museum (that has already had to return antiquities to Italy) renewing its policy of acquiring recently surfaced archaeological material.

Is the same New York dealer associated with this new material? If the dealer is associated, this is likely to damage the museum's claim that it has conducted a rigorous due diligence search.

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Excavations matter in Norfolk

Caistor-St-Edmund © David Gill, 2012
It was good to visit the excavation outside the walls of the Roman town of Caistor-St-Edmund just outside Norwich. The stratified (and undisturbed) finds will help to reveal the history of the site.

I am reminded that the site was receiving weekly "nighthawking" raids as reported in the 2009 survey (see earlier comments).

Advocates of a so-called "licit market" in antiquities have yet to grasp the importance of objects excavated in a scientific manner.

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Tuesday 21 August 2012

Drusus and PIASA

Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
It appears that the Drusus from an old Algerian collection was sold by PIASA (a point noted by Rick St Hilaire in an important commentary on the portrait).

The first documented surfacing was in September 2004 at a sale in Paris. the press release for the sale notes the head (identified at the time as Tiberius rather than Drusus):
Le 29 septembre à Drouot Richelieu, avait lieu la seconde partie d’une vacation consacrée à l’archéologie, organisée par la maison de ventes PIASA (Picard, Audap, Solanet, Velliet, Teissèdre). Elle comprenait de l’archéologie classique, du Proche-Orient, de l’Egypte, mais aussi de l’art paléochrétien, byzantin et islamique. 
La plus haute enchère a été portée sur une tête monumentale représentant le portrait de l’Empereur Tibère, lot n°340, en marbre blanc à grains fins, Art Romain du Ier siècle, qui a été emportée à 324 013 €. Cette tête provenait d’une collection particulière.
Now PIASA is not without interest. This same syndicate handled a Middle Kingdom alabaster duck, apparently removed from the Saqqara archaeological store, that popped up in the holdings of Rupert Wace in January 2006 (as from a French private collection). How the duck moved from the store to PIASA has not been explained (at least to my knowledge).

Now the Drusus / Tiberius seems to have bobbed onto the market through PIASA about the same time as the duck.

Did the Cleveland Museum of Art investigate PIASA as part of their rigorous due diligence search?

Rick St Hilaire also comments on the way that the collecting history for the portrait is presented in the catalogue of Phoenix Ancient Art.

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Monday 20 August 2012

The Merrin Mayan War Vase

The Merrin Gallery has conveniently issued a video of the Mayan "War Vase" recently acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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Wednesday 15 August 2012

Is Cleveland seeking to undermine AAMD Guidelines?

Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
Is the Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art attempting to undermine the AAMD Guidelines on the acquisition of archaeological material? Drusus does not appear to have authenticated documentation for its collecting history. What is the nature of "all the documentation [the museum] needs to describe the work’s provenance" (Franklin).

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Tuesday 14 August 2012

Cleveland Comment on Lack of "documentary confirmation"

Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
It is worth noting the way that the Cleveland Museum of Art has drawn comment from various sources (described by Director David Franklin as "that world") over its acquisition of the Drusus from an old Algerian collection, and the Merrin Mayan vase.

Here is a flavour:
The Drusus is now on the AAMD object register. Its collecting history is provided:
Fernand Sintes before 1960; sold at auction at Hôtel Drouot-Richelieu Paris on September 29, 2004, lot. no. 340, unknown purchaser; Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A.(2004); sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art by Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012.
It is perhaps noteworthy that the register entry makes the following comment (emphasis mine): "The Cleveland Museum of Art has provenance information for this work back to the 1960’s, but has been unable to obtain documentary confirmation of portions of the provenance as described below..."

Is the earliest documented surfacing of this portrait no earlier than 2004?

The Merrin Mayan vase has yet to be posted on the AAMD Register.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has also issued a press release ("Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Two Stellar Antiquities Objects", August 13, 2012), no doubt to counter comment. It includes the alleged (and unsupported) collecting history:
The ownership history of the Drusus Minor portrait has been traced to the late 19th century, when it was the property of the Bacri family of Algiers, Algeria. Sometime before 1960, Fernand Sintes inherited the work, and in 1960 transferred it from Algiers to France. In 2004, it was sold at auction in France.

The Director, David Franklin, emphasises what he terms "responsible collecting" by the Museum:
“I am pleased we can add these important works of art to the museum’s Classical and Pre-Columbian holdings and continue our collecting of the finest examples of art from across cultures and time periods,” stated David Franklin, the Sarah S. and Alexander M. Cutler Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “I believe museums play an invaluable role in society as repositories and presenters of the world’s art history, and through responsible collecting, museums make accessible the world’s art objects for the public’s enjoyment and education.”
Perhaps Franklin will produce what appears to be the unauthenticated documentation to defend his acquisition.

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Monday 13 August 2012

Drusus from an old Algerian collection

Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art purchased a marble portrait head of Iulius Caesar Drusus Minor (Steven Litt, "Cleveland Museum of Art buys important ancient Roman and Mayan antiquities", August 12, 2012). The head head has been purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art for an undisclosed sum. Litt provides the collecting history:
The museum said the portrait of Drusus Minor was the property of the Bacri family of Algiers, Algeria, as far back as the late 19th century. The museum said the work was inherited by Fernand Sintes before 1960s, and that Sintes transferred it to France in 1960.
The museum has yet to disclose the authenticated documentation for this reported "pedigree". David Franklin, the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art and expert in Italian Renaissance art, informs the report:
Franklin said the two new purchases follow guidelines established by the Association of Art Museum Directors, which stipulate that museums generally should avoid buying antiquities unless they were documented as being outside their likely country of origin before 1970, the date of an international UNESCO convention aimed at halting the looting of antiquities, or were legally exported thereafter.
What is the evidence that Drusus was known prior to 1970? Franklin appears to expect that questions will be asked about the Drusus.

Cleveland is unwilling to discussion its acquisition of the bronze portrait of Marcus Aurelius that appears to come from Bubon. The collecting history for the so-called Cleveland Apollo (also acquired from Phoenix Ancient Art) has been disputed.

Cleveland was one of the North American museums that agreed to return material to Italy (list here). So there is every reason for the museum to wish to be seen to be conducting a rigorous due diligence process prior to acquisition.

The dispute over the St Louis Art Museum's acquisition of an Egyptian mummy mask, purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art, has shown flaws in the reported collecting history.

The second piece acquired by Cleveland is a Mayan vessel "with a Battle Scene" had apparently passed through the hands of Edward H. Merrin in 1973. (Edward H. Merrin had also handled the "Merrin Zeus" displayed at the Cleveland Museum of Art.)

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Saturday 11 August 2012

Congressman Paul Ryan and the Collector Community

Today's announcement that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan will be Mitt Romney's running mate is not without significance. Paul Barford has rehearsed the issues here. It is sufficient to note that Ryan hold's the ACCG's Friend of Numismatics Award (2006).

See also "ACCG has 'Friends' in Congress" (2006).

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Tuesday 7 August 2012

Robust provenance and the Sackler

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, part of the Smithsonian, has issued a statement in response to the Subash Kapoor case (August 3, 2012). Interestingly concerns are spreading to material linked to his brother Ramesh. The statement notes:
The Sackler owns four South Asian art objects purchased from a separate business, Kapoor Galleries (1015 Madison Avenue, New York), owned by Ramesh Kapoor, Subhash Kapoor’s brother. These include: a marble bracket figure, India, 13th c. (purchased in 1995); a seated figure of Jambala, Tibet, bronze, 13th c. (purchased in 1996); a Gautama Buddha, Tibet, gilt copper, 14th c. (purchased 1997); and a pair of lamps of fortune, India, bronze, 17th c. (purchased in 2000).
What are the authenticated collecting histories of these four items?

I also note that the release mentions that the curatorial staff are investigating the "robust provenance information" for the items. I hope that museum professionals will consider dropping the use of the misleading word "provenance" and replace it with "collecting history". Perhaps the curatorial staff would like to read more on the terminology.

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Sarcophagus from Aquino

Source: Omniroma
I am grateful to Livius (of the History Blog) for seeking clarification of the link between Robert Hecht and the recovered sarcophagus stolen from the church at Aquino.

Antonino Grincia, the mayor of Aquino, reported on the discovery in mid-November 2011 ("Sarcofago romano rubato ad Aquino e trafugato all’estero, ritrovato dalla Guardia di Finanza", Il Punto November 14, 2011). He did not disclose the details but said:
Mi era stato chiesto di mantenere il riserbo ancora per un pò data la delicatezza della fase di recupero ancora in corso, ... ma dato il momento particolarmente adatto, e dato anche che il sarcofago è ormai recuperato anche se non ancora in Italia perché il ritrovamento è avvenuto all’estero, ho ritenuto opportuno annunciarlo in questa occasione.
Robert Hecht's trial in Rome expired in January 2012, and he died in February 2012.

A press release about the sarcophagus was released in July ("Torna in Italia il sarcofago delle quadrighe; capolavoro romano recuperato da GDF, era in lista dei ricercati", ANSA July 19, 2012). It reviewed the theft of the sarcophagus in September 1991. The report noted that the presence of the sarcophagus in London had been identified in the summer of 2011 ("avvenuto l'estate scorsa a Londra"). It appears that Hecht had negotiated to return several objects, including the sarcophagus ("Hecht aveva cominciato a trattare per la restituzione di alcune delle opere in suo possesso, tra cui il sarcofago"). Hecht was also reported to have purchased the sarcophagus in 1991 ("Pare che il collezionista l'avesse comprato, proprio nel '91, pagandolo oltre un miliardo di lire"). The final phase of negotiations continued between the Italian authorities and Hecht's executor (who delivered the sarcophagus to the Italian embassy).

This report suggests that more ex-Hecht material will be handed over to the Italian authorities in due course.

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Monday 6 August 2012

Shiva in Canberra: statement

The National Gallery of Australia has issued a statement about the acquisition of the bronze Shiva.
The National Gallery of Australia is aware of media reports that Indian police have arrested the New York based art dealer, Mr Subhash Kapoor, for allegedly trafficking Indian antiquities and that the case against him is currently underway. 
At this point, the Gallery has not been contacted by Indian police or any other authority regarding this matter. 
The Gallery contacted the Indian High Commission in Canberra earlier this week to ensure a fully co-operative approach will be taken if required. 
The Gallery is one of at least 18 major international art institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington DC and the Art Institute of Chicago that have acquired works of art through gifts or purchased from Mr Kapoor. 
‘As with all leading art institutions around the world, the Gallery is committed to strict due diligence when acquiring works of art, particularly with regards to determining provenance,’ said Ron Radford AM, Director of the National Gallery of Australia. 
The Gallery purchased its Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance from Mr Kapoor in 2008 following a thorough due diligence process regarding the quality, provenance and time of its departure from India. 
‘It is yet to be determined if this work is one of the stolen works as has been speculated about in certain media outlets. 
The Gallery has not received any advice from Indian authorities to this effect at this time,’ said Ron Radford. 
The Gallery adheres to the principles of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The Australian Government is a signatory to this Convention. 
The Gallery has commenced plans to undertake a comprehensive re-examination by a panel of internal and external art experts of the supplied documentation as well as the provenance of work acquired from Mr Kapoor, as many international Galleries are also doing. 
The Gallery is liaising closely with the Indian High Commission in Canberra to ensure that the internationally accepted protocols for dealing with such issues are followed.
There is currently no image available on the NGA website. The earlier collecting history for the piece is unstated.

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Shiva in Canberra

The National Gallery of Australia is finding itself being asked serious questions about its acquisition policies. At the heart of fuss is the bronze sculpture of Shiva as Lord of the Dance, acquired in 2008 with the assistance of National Gallery of Australia Foundation. The bronze appears on the back cover of the Annual Report of the NGA.

Michaela Boland ("NGA admits buying from disgraced dealer", The Weekend Australian August 4, 2012) noted
The National Gallery of Australia has admitted to acquiring 21 items from disgraced New York antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, who was arrested on an Interpol warrant and extradited to India, where he is being held on suspicion of trading in stolen precious artefacts. 
Among $11 million worth of antiquities Kapoor has so far admitted to trading is a large 900-year old bronze sculpture of the Indian god Shiva, which the Canberra gallery bought in 2008 and displayed prominently on the back cover of its annual report that year.
The museum seems reluctant to comment:
Gallery director Ron Radford, who was director when the statue was acquired, declined to answer questions from The Weekend Australian about the discovery or say how the gallery would address the concerns of the collecting community.
The NGA now needs to present its due diligence process and to demonstrate that the Shiva had a recorded history that could be recorded back to at least 1970.

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Australia and Indian antiquities

I have already noted the issue of recently surfaced Indian antiquities in North America. It is now reported that dealer Subhash Kapoor supplied six Indian objects to the Art Gallery of New South Wales ("Shady dealer sold art to AGNSW", The Australian August 6, 2012).

Among the pieces reported to be from Kapoor is a stela from West Bengal showing Varaha "rescuing the earth goddess" (inv. 164.1999). This was "Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 1999". Two other pieces had been purchased in 1994, and another also in 1999.

The Director of AGNSW is Dr Michael Brand whose comments drew attention to the way that looting "destroyed the evidence used by archaeologists to build stories"..

This new revelation follows news that Kapoor also sold material to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The NGA said that the acquisition of the objects was subject to a "thorough due diligence process".

The Australian makes a major point "about the lack of thorough research conducted by Australia's collecting institutions when accepting gifts and buying works".

I have had caused elsewhere to note the display of classical material in Australian collections.

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Eagerly waiting for bailout

The Independent Movement for the Repatriation of Looted Greek Antiquities [website] has produced a video about the return of the Caryatid removed from the Erechtheion on the Athenian acropolis.

I went to see the London Caryatid last month, tucked away behind the Lydian monuments in a cul de sac created by the closure of the Halikarnassos gallery.

Is it time for this architectural sculpture to be reunited with the other elements of the building?

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Thursday 2 August 2012

'Not Praising, Burying': Cambridge Workshop

The acquisition of figure-decorated Greek pottery by museums and its display alongside fine art raises certain issues about the ancient status of such ancient objects. Even Athenian pots attributed to "high status" artists can be shown (from ancient trademarks) to have had relatively low status. So when a museum pays $1 million for an Athenian krater, does it distort our perception of ancient "art"?

Issues such as this were explored in Artful Crafts, co-authored with Professor Michael Vickers, formerly of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

A workshop on the theme will be held at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge on Friday 2 November. Details are available from the McDonald Institute website.
A workshop/symposium, to be understood as an artwork, that brings together archaeology, art practice, art history, philosophy, classics and history to interrogate assumptions about status, art and culture through classical Greek pottery will take place at the Fitwilliam Museum. This talk will describe this type of art practice and its processes. A few of the workshop participants including artist and Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Alana Jelinek, archaeologist David Gill, and Kettles Yard's Sarah Campbell will present their impressions.
The following week (Thursday 8 November, 5.30 - 7.00 pm) there will be a discussion:
Alana Jelinek and Prof David Gill plus other participants will discuss the workshop process and the potential for relationships between art and archaeology and the potential of this methodology for art practice.

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Wednesday 1 August 2012

Suffolk Treasure in a Dust-cart

Detail of Mildenhall Great dish © David Gill
I was discussing the display of the Mildenhall Great Dish with Dr John Blatchly earlier today. Blatchly asked me if I had read his piece in the East Anglian Daily Times ("Treasure borne by dust-cart", July 21, 2012).

Apparently the Mildenhall Treasure was removed from Ipswich to the British Museum in an Ipswich Borough Council dust-cart, escorted by William Goldsmith, the superintendent of the refuse service. It appears that this was to foil any attempt to steal the treasure between the two museums.

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The Stern Collection in New York: Cycladic or Cycladicising?

Courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis There appears to be excitement about the display of 161 Cycladicising objects at New York's Metropolit...