Culture crime news 19–25 October 2015


Hot this week: Reflecting on so many scandals

Receive ‘Culture crime news’ as a weekly newsletter! Sign up here


The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne: A Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery by M.L. Longworth
(24 October 2015)
Long week? Me too. Why not relax and read an amusing and uncomplicated art crime mystery.


Artists Need to Protect Their Work From Theft
(19 October 2015; Huffington Post)
Insuring one’s own artwork.

Have Multi-Million Dollar Forgery Scandals Changed the Art Market for Good?
(19 October 2015; Artsy)
Thoughts on the effects of recent art fakes scandals.

Flood of restitutions deepens as museums investigate objects bought through Subhash Kapoor
(21 October 2015; The Art Newspaper)
Museums may want to consider taking preemptive actions here.

Stashing Your Art in a Tax Haven Can Be Dicey
(24 October 2015; Barron’s)
Not really an issue that I have personally had to face, but yes the Swiss are starting to audit their freeport.


King Tut’s wooden head suffers whiplash after school visit (Egypt)
(19 October 2015; Albawaba)
More on the story. This article says that it wasn’t the mask that leaned, it was the wooden bust.

African art needs to come home – and this is why
(21 October 2015; The Guardian)
Economic loss and identity loss.


Se robaron la campana de bronce de la Iglesia de Cabalango (Bronze bell of the church of Cabalango stolen; Argentina)
(20 October 2015; El Diario Carlos Paz)
The bell weighs around 100 kilos and was installed in 1800.

Insólito: roban la campana de una iglesia (Unusual: Church bell stolen; Argentina)
(21 October 2015; La Razon)
More on the bell theft from Cabalango, with photos.

La historia del ladrón que necesitaba urgente un reloj despertador: Robó en una iglesia y se quedó dormido junto al botín (The story of the thief that urgently needed an alarm clock: robbed a church and fell with the loot; Colombia)
(20 October 2015; Noticia al Dia)
I suspect a sign of the thief’s desperation.

Cuban artist El Sexto released from jail for planned art piece criticizing Castros (Cuba)
(20 October 2015; The Guardian)
The artist Danilo Maldonado was held without charges for 10 months.

Dos meses del robo en una iglesia y no hay rastro de los autores (Ecuador)
(20 October 2015; El Comercio)
Vestments and the rings of the Virgin were stolen from a church in Selva Alegre, in the Los Chillos valley.

Antropología acogerá pieza olmeca devuelta por Francia (Antropología will host the Olmec piece returned from France; Mexico)
(21 October 2015; El Universal)
The Museo Nacional de Antropología is housing the piece returned from a private French collection

Cusco regional strike against concession of archaeological sites (Peru)
(21 October 2015; Peru This Week)
The 48 hour strike is against a decree that would allow admin of archaeological sites to be granted for 10 year terms to private companies.

Cusco strike: Archaeology-concession decree repealed (Peru)
(23 October 2015; Peru This Week)
The strikes have been effective, the decree will not go through.

NAGPRA Bears Fruit! IU Anthropologists Return Remains, Attend Nalukataq (USA)
(16 October 2015; Indian Country Today)
The objects and human remains were in Indiana University after being taken from Point Barrow, Alaska, in the 1930s.

Squatter busted by SFPD in art theft at vacant Presidio Heights home (USA)
(19 October 2015; KTVU)
The real question is what was this art doing in a vacant house?

Squatter ‘makes $300,000 by selling off art collection’ from San Francisco mansion (USA)
(21 October 2015; The Independent)
More detail on this case. $17m property was on the market and the fellow had forged documents saying he was buying it.

Non-Profit Makes 3-D Digital Archives of Endangered Heritage Sites (USA)
(19 October 2015; Observer)
Profile of California-based CyArk

Museum Of The Aleutians Closes After 1801 Bible Found In Director’s House (USA)
(19 October 2015; KUCB)
The museum remains close pending an investigation.

US asks to be re-elected to UNESCO board (USA)
(19 October 2015; DW)
The US is about $300 mil in arrears to the organization since stopping payments at the admission of Palestine to UNESCO in 2011.

How to Save Art From Islamic State (USA)
(20 October 2015; The Wall Street Journal)
I respect Anderson but I don’t agree with him. Such a system focuses on the objects and not the systematic problem. Sure doesn’t break up smuggling networks or protect sites.

Foundation dedicated to WWII Monuments Men will close after Congressional Gold Medal ceremony (USA)
(20 October 2015; The Dallas Morning News)
Author Robert Edsel plans to close the Monuments Men Foundation: “job is done”.

As Monuments Men are honored, their foundation faces its demise (USA)
(21 October 2015; The Washington Post)
Another piece on the shutting down of the Monuments Men Foundation

Luke Brugnara Gets Seven Years in Prison for Art Fraud (USA)
(21 October 2015; ArtNet News)
After a strange trial, Brugnara is going to prison for dodgy dealings with a Degas bronze.

Museum returns totem pole stolen by actor John Barrymore in 1931 (USA)
(22 October 2015; Associated Press)
The piece was returned to the village of Klawock, Alaska.

Police charge man with cemetery gates theft (USA)
(22 October 2015; Citizen’s News)
The early 20th century brass gates were stolen by a metal scrapper.

Woman offers to replace stolen Washington Irving medallion (USA)
(23 October 2015; Lohud)
The War of 1812 medallion was stolen from the author’s grave at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Drunk California man accused of spraying graffiti on prehistoric carvings (USA)
(23 October 2015; The Guardian)
Rock art of a big horn sheep was spray pained over by a drunk man who said he was mad at his boss.


Un inventaire pour protéger le patrimoine religieux (An inventory for protecting religious heritage; France)
(17 October 2015; Ouest France)
Pontivy is inventory its 22 chapels and 3 churches to help combat theft.

Dispute over Venetian painting seized by Vichy regime resolved after more than 70 years (France)
(19 October 2015; The Art Newspaper)
The painting was seized from the Jaffé collection in 1942.

Christie’s to Auction Off Painting Looted During WWII as Part of Deal With Jewish Heirs (France)
(20 October 2015; Haaretz)
Another piece on the painting once owned by John and Anna Jaffe

Jean-Michel Basquiat Painting Worth $10 Million Stolen in Nasty Divorce Tug-of-War (France)
(20 October 2015; ArtNet News)
The theft and swift return seems to now be part of a divorce of the wealthy.

Banksy’s ‘Dismal Aid’ Sign Stolen by Enterprising Thieves (France)
(23 October 2015; ArtNet News)
A bit of a misleading headline. It seems the sign was removed by aid workers.

Nazi claims spur fight between Vienna and Krakow over Bruegel (Poland, Austria)
(21 October 2015; Financial Times)
Was the piece stolen from the Krakow Museum by the wife of a Nazi governor?

Why can’t Soviet stolen art be recovered, but Nazi theft can? (Russia)
(23 October 2015; Financial Review)
A piece by Harvard’s Noah Feldman.

Saquean la iglesia de Balerma (The church of Balerma is looted; Spain)
(20 October 2015; Ideal)
Various sacred items were taken and the church suffered damages

Un año de cárcel por robar en la iglesia de Feáns (One year in jail for robbing the church of Feáns; Spain)
(23 October 2015; La Opinión a Coruña)
The man stole several silver sacred items including a baptismal shell.

Fem års fängelse för kyrkstölder (Five years in prison for church theft; Sweden)
(14 October 2015; Sveriges Radio)
The man was convicted of stealing sacred art from several churches and historical societies

From Caravaggio to Graham Ovenden: do artists’ crimes taint their art? (UK)
(17 October 2015; The Guardian)
Should art that was produced or collected by a pedophile be destroyed? A UK judge things so.

Police hunting art thief after four paintings worth more than £1,000 stolen from library (UK)
(20 October 2015; Lancashire Telegraph)
It seems small scale, but how devastating for the artist and the community.

National Crime Agency Warns British Museums Against Imminent Threat of Organized Crime Rings (UK)
(21 October 2015; ArtNet News)
A weird warning from the Arts Council of England. Is there an organised group robbing UK museums?

HMS Hermes thefts: Teynham man arrested (UK)
(23 October 2015; Kent Online)
The two men were found to also have artefacts thought to be stolen from other wrecks.


Fire destroys historic trams and buses at Sydney Tramway Museum (Australia)
(24 October 2015; The Sydney Morning Herald)
The fire was started by vandals.

Traditional owners mark Uluru handback (Australia)
(25 October 2015; 9 News)
It is the 30 year anniversary of the return of this sacred place to it’s rightful Indigenous owners.

$75,000 wake-up call over fake painting (New Zealand)
(19 October 2015; Radio New Zealand)
The Alexander Turnbull Library ignored expert advice when buying the painting of a Maori man which has now been shown to be fake.

Editorial: Lesson for library in ‘fake’ purchase (New Zealand)
(23 October 2015; The Dominion Post)
More on the unhappy purchase of a fake by the Alexander Turnbull Library

The Attorneys General and the Motunui Panels (New Zealand)
(22 October 2015; Taranaki Daily News)
Some note on the legal issues associated with attempted return of these smuggled pieces.

South and East Asia

Artefacts returned by collector (Cambodia)
(21 October 2015; Phnom Penh Post)
More on the return of two stolen Angkor-era statues.

Return of mummified statue urged before ‘birthday’ (China)
(15 October 2015; ECNS)
The “Buddha Mummy” has not yet been returned to China

Sosale mutt seer among three held for theft of silver chariot (India)
(25 October 2015; Deccan Herald)
Vidyamanoharatheertha Swami, the pontiff of Vyasaraja Mutt was arrested for theft of 23kg worth of silver objects from a temple.

ACM’s return of ‘stolen’ statue raises questions about artefacts leaving India (India)
(22 October 2015; The Strait Times)
What is the wider significance of the Subhash Kapoor returns.

Asian Civilisations Museum to return controversial Indian bronze sculpture (Singapore)
(19 October 2015; Today)
The piece, an Uma Parameshvari, is one of 8 stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu and sold by Subhash Kapoor.

West and Central Asia

Lebanon, Italy team up to tackle illegal antiquities trade (Lebanon)
(21 October 2015; The Daily Star)
They came away with “We’ll make [another] database”. Good luck databasing undocumented looted antiquities, folks.

Meet the man out to save Gaza’s antiquities (Palestine)
(20 October 2015; Palestine Pulse)
Sculpto Nafez Abed preserves threatened antiquities by copying them.

A Jailed Activist’s 3-D Models Could Save Syria’s History From ISIS (Syria)
(21 October 2015; Wired)
Well, kinda. Bassel Khartabil is a prisoner. His photo 3D models of sites are about to go online..

The Islamic State isn’t the only group looting Syrian archaeological sites (Syria, Iraq)
(21 October 2015; The Washington Post)
File this under “what we’ve all been saying for the past few years”.

1600-year-old artifacts in Bodrum bay area looted (Turkey)
(20 October 2015; Hurriyet Daily News)
A church mosaic depicting a nun was taken from a site in the Kisebükü Bay area.

Treasure hunters destroying precious Thracian relics in Turkey (Turkey)
(21 October 2015; Hurriyet Daily News)
The site of Heraion-Teikhos is being targeted by looters according to archaeologists.

In Other News

Farmer faces arrest after refusing to tear down mock castle he built without permission and hid behind straw bales (UK)
(22 October 2015; The Independent)
Keeping his entire home hidden for 4 years? Wow.

Two months later, Massachusetts family still desperately searching for stolen Ronald McDonald statue (USA)
(18 October 2015; NY Daily News)
The tragic theft of a ‘creepy’ McDonalds mascot.

Grand Theft Vino: Higher Wine Prices Are Attracting More Thieves (USA)
(21 October 2015; NPR)
Reflecting on recent high-priced wine thefts in the US.

Suspect Wanted in Connection With Wine Thefts Across Northeast (USA)
(22 October 2015; NBC Connecticut)
The police are looking for a man named Scott Deluca who is accused of going on a collectible wine theft spree.