Culture crime news 29 June–5 July 2015


Hot this week: Palmyra outrage and confusion

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Museums and looted art: the ethical dilemma of preserving world cultures (General)
(29 June 2015; The Guardian)
What Cuno calls ‘nationalism’, Davis calls ‘colonialism’.

Looted treasures open door to a dark Nazi past (General)
(2 July 2015; The Australian)
Reflection on recent sales of paintings seized or force sold during WWII.


Egypt’s Karnak temple theft claims ‘unfounded’: Officials (Egypt)
(28 June 2015; Ahram Online)
Apparently someone mistook an archaeologist’s car filled with samples for some sort of theft.

Chinese Art Professor Devoted to Ancient African Artifact Protection (Togo)
(2 July 2015; All Africa)
But is a private museum really protection? What happens when the collector dies?


Outrage after “disgusting” thieves steal massive veterans’ memorial from Calgary cemetery (Canada)
(28 June 2015; Calgary Sun)
The ‘Anvil of Peace’ sculpture was taken from Mountain View Memorial Gardens, Calgary.

Chinese visitor face charges in ancient art scam (Canada)
(29 June 2015; The Vancouver Sun)
The scam victims, who shouldn’t have been trying to buy artefacts in the first place, bought ‘gold’ items that turned out to be iron.

Midnight thief steals $160,000 sculpture from Westmount art gallery (Canada)
(30 June 2015; Montreal Gazette)
The suspect entered the gallery through the back door and grabbed the sculpture.

Sin funcionar el sistema de videovigilancia en templos de Cholula (Security camera systems not functioning in the temples of Cholula; Mexico)
(28 June 2015; Municipios)
Sixteen of Cholula’s protected churches have security cameras that do not function properly.

Calculan saqueo de 30 mil objetos de cultura maya (Looting of 30,000 cultural objects calculated; Mexico)
(29 June 2015; El Universal)
Mexican archaeologist Alfredo Barrera Rubio has accused early archaeologist E.H. Thompson of taking 30k artefacts out of Mexico illegally over 40 years.

Lucrar con el pasado: venta del patrimonio arqueológico de Michoacán (Profit from the past: The sale of the archaeological heritage of Michoacán; Mexico)
(29 June 2015; Cambio de Michoacán)
The looting and neglect of archaeological remains in the region.

No hay robo de arte sacro en San Luis: INAH (No theft of sacred art in San Luis: INAH; Mexico)
(2 July 2015; Plano Informativo)
Cataloging of sacred art as a successful theft prevention measure.

US Museums Criticized for Mishandling Nazi Art Restitution Cases (USA)
(29 June 2015; Hyperallergic)
Via a report from the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

The Fine Art of Forgery (USA)
(29 June 2015; The Atlantic)
Use of 3D printing for artefacts may have all sorts of preservation applications. Why own the real thing?

Delaware Art Museum Completes Sale of Artworks to Repay Debt (USA)
(30 June 2015; The New York Times)
Part of the general deaccessioning controversy going on in museums. Is this a violation of public trust?

Why two American museums are fighting to keep art stolen by the Nazis (USA)
(30 June 2015; The Washington Post)
Thoughts on the controversial art in the Norton Simon and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

British Museum’s ivory icons denied US entry for loan show (USA)
(1 July 2015; The Art Newspaper)
On the face of it, this seems to confirm the fears of those who were against the US’ new tough on ivory stance.

Feds: Artist Terry Lee Whetstone Is a Fake Indian Read more at (USA)
(2 July 2015; Indian Country Today)
It is illegal to sell art as native mad if it isn’t, but is this artist Native American? It might be complicated.

A $100,000 Eagle Finial (USA)
(2 July 2015; Maine Antique Digest)
Short piece on the reward offered for the art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The artful dodger: Prolific forger Mark Landis gave all his counterfeit paintings away for free (USA)
(2 July 2015; City AM)
An uncomfortable story. He liked how the museums treated him.


Second World War tank and anti-aircraft gun found hidden in basement of villa in Germany (Germany)
(3 July 2015; The Telegraph)
“Some people like steam trains, others like tanks.” The villa owner is thought to be in violation of the war weapons control act.

Acto de desagravio ante el robo sacrílego en Valencia (Act of atonement against a sacrilegious robbery in Valencia; Spain)
(4 July 2015; Religión Digital)
The tabernacle was stolen from the chapel in the hospital of Arnau de Vilanova.

Stone thieves are dismantling Yorkshire’s heritage, warn police (UK)
(27 June 2015; The Guardian)
Theft of roof tiles, York stone pavings, and dry stone walls.

Museum searching for `devastated’ boy who accidentally smashed ancient jug (UK)
(29 June 2015; Metro)
The museum has reassembled the broken pot and they would like to show the boy how it was done.

Security alert after historic stone artefact stolen from church (UK)
(29 June 2015; Darlington & Stockton Times)
A portion of an 8th century carved cross was stolen from All Saints’ Church, in Hovingham.

Rare books: Foiling the thieves (UK)
(2 July 2015; The Economist)
Several cases of rare book theft and some coverage of the The Written Heritage of Mankind in Peril conference.

Rare Victorian perfume bottle stolen from Burton Constable Hall (UK)
(2 July 2015; Hull Daily Mail)
The object, dating to the 1830s, was taken from an East Yorkshire country house.

Paintings stolen decades ago returning to Amsterdam Museum (UK)
(2 July 2015; The NL Times)
Images of the paintings that have been recovered (note this article says 5 while the others say 6).

Missing Dutch art is discovered in Sussex (UK)
(3 July 2015; The Argus)
The six paintings (note other articles say five) were purchased for a few hundred pounds in 1991 but were found to be in the Art Loss Register, stolen from the Amsterdam Museum in 1972.

Museum hands back Renaissance riches linked to Nazi looters (UK)
(5 July 2015; The Telegraph)
The 16th century salt cellar was returned by the Ashmolean to heirs who are now selling it at Sotheby’s.

Lowry’s paintings are worth a fortune – but can you tell the real ones from the fakes? (UK)
(5 July 2015; Radio Times)
The article asserts that Lowry’s style lends itself to faking.


Indigenous man’s skull returns to his people more than 150 years after its theft (Australia)
(29 June 2015; ABC)
An interview with Alexandra Roginski, a PhD student’s work that led to the return of the stolen skull.

Hindus urge National Gallery of Australia to expedite provenance of Hindu statues (Australia)
(4 July 2015; Merinews)
Looking for a timeline for the review of the possibly illegal objects in the NGA collection so they can be returned to temples.

Art stolen from Whanganui gallery (New Zealand)
(30 June 2015; 3News)
The 5 works, ceramics by Rick Rudd, were stolen from locked cases as Whanganui prepared for a flood.

South and East Asia

Almost a third of China’s Great Wall has disappeared (China)
(29 June 2015; The Guardian)
Over time. Not totally recently. Due to, among other things, tourist damage and theft for building materials.

Chinese man fights for return of 100 million yuan in seized antiques, ancient artefacts (China)
(1 July 2015; South China Morning Post)
The man claims the seized items were family heirlooms, not loot.

Gov’t Restrictions Block Ways for Chinese Relics to Return Home (China)
(3 July 2015; CRIEnglish)
Auction market representatives say that tax barriers are ‘blocking ways’ for looted artefacts to return to China. I suppose those ‘ways’ are profitable sales.

शिव मंदिर मे चोरी (Theft at Shiva Temple; India)
(29 June 2015; Amar Ujala)
Thieves broke the Pipleshhwar Shiva temple gate to steal the idol as well as sound equipment.

மதுரை கோயிலில் 120 வருட பழமையான நடராஜர்- சிவகாமியம்மன் ஐம்பொன் சிலைகள் திருட்டு (120-year-old idol stolen; India)
(29 June 2015; One India)
A 120 year old Nataraja idol was stolen from a private temple while reconstruction work was taking place.

जैन मंदिर पर चोरों का धावा, वर्षों पुरानी प्रतिमाएं चोरी (Jain temple invaded by thieves, age-old statues stolen; India)
(3 July 2015; Rajasthan Patrika)
The thieves took umbrellas and statues. The article notes that this is one of many thefts from Jain temples

Windows to the past (India)
(30 June 2015; The Indian Express)
“Before opening up the antiquities market, India needs to modernise the registration process and address its lack of institutional expertise.”

मंदिर का ताला तोड़कर चार चांदी के छत्र चोरी (Four silver umbrella temple theft; India)
(1 July 2015; Patrika)
Four silver umbrellas were stolen from a temple.

ICE HSI partners with major art collector to recover stolen idol from India (India)
(1 July 2015; ICE)
A collector has returned a looted Chola bronze bought from Subhash Kapoor, presumably in return for being kept anonymous. Justice not really served.

Robbery attempt at Jain temple foiled (India)
(5 July 2015; The Times of India)
The would-be thieves tripped the alarm at the ancient Parshvanath Jain temple in Bhadrawati which scared them off. This is the second recent theft attempt at that temple.

Precious artefacts get damaged, others face risk of theft during shifting (Pakistan)
(5 July 2015; Dawn)
Accusations that an unprofessional move of artefacts to a museum is leaving them open to theft.

Pongpat gets 2 more years (Thailand)
(1 July 2015; Bangkok Post)
The former Central Investigation Bureau chief has been convicted of receiving stolen antiquities.

West and Central Asia

An impossible watch heist, now on display at Jerusalem museum (Israel)
(1 July 2015; Haaretz)
An exhibition at The Islamic Museum features watches recovered after a major theft.

Isis militants destroy 2,000-year-old statue of lion at Palmyra (Syria)
(2 July 2015; The Guardian)
A confused timeline and poor reporting make it difficult to get much out of such reports.

Palmyra: looting under the rebels, the Assad regime and the Islamic State? (Syria)
(3 July 2015; Conflict Antiquities)
I think Dr. Sam Hardy has, once again, produced an important blog post. Please read this before repeating poor Syria reporting.

Looted in Syria — and sold in London: the British antiques shops dealing in artefacts smuggled by Isis (Syria)
(3 July 2015; The Guardian)
Thoroughly misleading headline, none of the experts quoted said that the obviously-looted, obviously-smuggled antiquities for sale were smuggled specifically by *IS, how could you prove that? Still a good article nonetheless.

UNESCO lists Yemen world heritage sites as endangered (Yemen)
(3 July 2015; Art Daily)
Seems fitting. Old Sana’a is as at risk as anything in the world right now.