Culture crime news 11–17 January 2016


Hot this week: Is everyone ripping off street artists?

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Famous Art Robberies (card game), by Kulturmeister
(17 January 2016)
Totally fun, totally reasonably priced card game that is packed with accurate and interesting info about real art heists.


End the Looting of Antiquities: A Plea for Action
(13 January 2016; The New York Times)
“Looted antiquities lack a paper trail; buyers can often ascertain whether goods are stolen simply by doing their homework.”


Antiquities minister set to inaugurate exhibition for recovered artefacts on Thursday (Egypt)
(12 January 2016; Ahram Online)
The objects were illegally smuggled and recovered and will be at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir.

The Grave Robbers Looting Egypt’s Archaeological Heritage (Egypt)
(13 January 2016; Vice)
An episdoe from VICE season three on the topic.

Sarah Parcak, Space Archaeologist (Egypt, USA)
(15 January 2016; The Wall Street Journal)
Great work on measuring archaeological site looting via satellites.

Libya’s threatened ancient history, and why it is significant (Libya)
(15 January 2016; Apollo)
Are we forgetting theft and destruction in Libya due to hyper focus on Iraq/Syria? Probably.

Five questions for the director of the Bardo Museum (Tunisia)
(16 January 2016; The Art Newspaper)
“Moncef Ben Moussa describes the museum’s efforts to rebuild after a terrorist attack at the museum killed 23 people last year”


Argentina comienza la restitución de piezas arqueológicas más grande de su historia (Argentina starts the largest return of archaeological pieces in its history; Argentina, Peru, Ecuador)
(14 January 2016; Télam)
Over 4500 looted, trafficked artefacts are being returned to Ecuador and Peru.

Thief returns photo stolen from Halifax alehouse after social-media manhunt (Canada)
(14 January 2016; The Hamilton Spectator)
The piece had sentimental value and the internet brought it home.

History museum staff silenced after raising ethical objections to buying Empress of Ireland artifacts (Canada)
(15 January 2016; National Post)
The museum staff feel that the artefacts were looted from the wreck.

Roban ángel de mármol en iglesia de Soledad y se lo llevan en motocarro (Marble angel from Soledad church stolen, taken in a car.; Colombia)
(12 January 2016; El Heraldo)
It is curious that the thieves took that particular piece and not more valuable pieces of sacred art.

En una trocha apareció el ángel robado de la iglesia de Soledad (Angel stolen from the church of Soledad found in pathway; Colombia)
(14 January 2016; El Heraldo)
The statue was not damaged.

Saquean camino maya (Maya Road Looted; Mexico)
(16 January 2016; Diario de Yucatán)
The sacbe, ceremonial ancient Maya road, between Izamal and Aké has been partially destroyed.

New York Comes Down on Art Collectors (USA)
(1 January 2016; Barron’s)
Actually cracking down on art world tax cheats.

Mystery Surrounds Recovered Painting That Vanished In Salisbury (USA)
(6 January 2016; Hartford Courant)
A 91 year old dementia patient is still missing, but his valuable Maufra painting has turned up.

Our Stepmom Stole a Monet From Our Dad and We Want it Back, Sons Say (USA)
(6 January 2016; DNA Info)
This is the family of art dealer Sam Salz.

Guy Wildenstein Trial To Take Five Month Hiatus Over Legal Technicality (USA)
(7 January 2016; Artlyst)
The pause in the dealers $600 mil tax evasion trial comes for a probe into the case’s constitutionality.

Ancient elk bones returned to MSU museum after 32 years (USA)
(11 January 2016; Detroit Free Press)
The ancient bones were returned by an anonymous person who says they were stolen from a specific archaeological site.

Ancient Ohio sites lack state protection from archaeology scavengers (USA)
(11 January 2016; The Columbus Dispatch)
Artefact hunters and the looting of Native American sites.

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Artists’ Resale Royalty Suit—Who Wins? (USA)
(12 January 2016; ArtNet News)
The auction houses and the dealers win, but not the artists.

Library Says Missing Painting Was Stolen (USA)
(12 January 2016; Courthouse News Service)
The piece by Vilmos Aba-Novak was taken from the American Hungarian Library in 1992. It was discovered in an estate auction, but the estate won’t give it up.

Lost Bones, Damage and Harassment at Ancient Sacred Site (USA)
(13 January 2016; Indian Country Today)
Controversy over the sacred site of Tosawihi Quarries in Nevada from gold mining.

Gardner suspect’s sentence was cut (USA)
(14 January 2016; The Boston Globe)
But did David Turner, the man in question, provide info to the authorities for a sentence cut?

A Deming man accused of digging on federal land in New Mexico and damaging an archaeological resource has changed his plea to guilty (USA)
(15 January 2016; Daily Journal)
The defendant is 81 years old and now admits to looting archaeological sites on federal land.

Think of burial mounds as earthen records of Wisconsin’s native people (USA)
(15 January 2016; Journal Sentinel)
A bill that would allow landowners to loot and destroy Native American burial mounds is, rightly, sparking controversy.

4,000 artifacts stored at Oregon refuge held by armed group (USA)
(15 January 2016;
The detestable militia guys say they probably won’t use archaeological maps there to loot sites. Hooray?

Welcome to the ‘Academy Awards’ of Coin Collecting (USA, Iraq, Syria)
(16 January 2016; Fortune)
With some knee slapping puns from our friend Andrew Reinhard. Also highlighting ancient coin theft and seizure in West Asia.

Library’s Claim to Books Survives Timeliness Challenge (USA)
(19 January 2016; The New York Law Journal)
Judge rules that there is no statue of limitation on the NY Public Library’s claim on stolen books.

Bill would issue archaeology permits to any citizen (USA)
(12 January 2016; First Coast News)
Any. Anyone. And keep whatever they find.

Florida Archaeologists Condemn Proposed ‘Citizen Archaeology’ Permit (USA)
(13 January 2016; Forbes)
The must-read piece on this truly horrible proposed legislation

Picasso Bust at Center of Custody Battle Between Gagosian and Qatar Royal Family (USA, UAE)
(12 January 2016; The New York Times)
It appears as if Picasso’s elderly daughter sold the statue twice, maybe via different children. Maybe. This one is messy.

Will Picasso Litigation Force Gagosian to Reveal His $100 Million Mystery Buyer? (USA, UAE)
(14 January 2016; ArtNet News)
Will the dispute result in a curtain on art market secrecy being pulled back?


Austrian Restitution Law Criticized For Failing to Regulate Trade of Looted Art (Austria)
(11 January 2016; ArtNet News)
It still says that art buyers have “the undisturbed right to possess an object and to offer it on the international art market without later being confronted with claims for restitution.”

Odyssey Explorer: Cyprus to examine suspect cargo of antiquities from offshore supply ship (Cyprus, Lebanon)
(16 January 2016; The Independent)
Odyssey Marine naturally declare that they’ve done nothing illegal, which they have said before in cases where courts decided they had.

Owner of purported Monet loses case in French court (France)
(7 January 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The judge won’t rule on if the piece is fake or not, rather says that it won’t order inclusion in the catalogue raisonné.

Suspected arson at Fontainebleau church (France)
(13 January 2016; The Art Newspaper)
Fixtures and objects from the Church of Saint-Louis are destroyed or missing.

Fight ‘Islamic State’ by preventing illegal artifacts trade (Germany)
(13 January 2016; DW)
“We would like to see stricter regulations on imported goods than was previously the case”; me too.

Few Answers on True Owners of Art Found in Gurlitt Trove (Germany)
(14 January 2016; The New York Times)
“The task force’s success should not be measured in the number of returned works”

Germany German task force finds five Nazi-looted works in Gurlitt trove (Germany)
(14 January 2016; DW)
“Jewish groups have already decried the snail’s pace of the investigation.”

German team probing stolen Nazi art defends slow progress (Germany)
(14 January 2016; The Times of Israel)
“Only one percent of paintings hoarded by Cornelius Gurlitt ‘without doubt’ were stolen from Jewish families, task force says”

Tres detenidos por el robo de más de 200 piezas en iglesias de la provincia de Burgos (Three arrested for the theft of more than 200 pieces from churches in Burgos province.; Spain)
(12 January 2016; Tribuna Salamanca)
The sacred art and books were taken from town churches such as Caborredondo, Revillagodos and Villamórico.

Expolian un mosaico de 2.000 años de antigüedad en la Villa Romana de Río Verde en Marbella (Looted: a 2000-year-old mosaic in the Roman Villa of Río Verde in Marabella; Spain)
(13 January 2016; ABC de Sevilla)
The well-known archaeological site was hit during the weekend and a head of Medusa mosaic was taken.

Switzerland returns stolen Etruscan treasures to Italy (Switzerland, Italy)
(15 January 2016; Swiss Info)
They were seized in the storerooms of “A former high-profile British art dealer, who was previously linked to trading looted antiquities”. Guess who!

Local councils resist temptation to cash-in on their art—for the time being (UK)
(13 January 2016; The Art Newspaper)
Cuts in public funding may inevitably lead to the breakdown of public collections.

‘Priceless’ ball stolen from Dunblane Museum (UK)
(14 January 2016; BBC News)
The ancient petrosphere was taken in November.

The best places in England for unearthing lost treasure (UK)
(17 January 2016; BBC News)
An okay-enough article with a headline that makes me want to cry into my morning coffee.

‘Stealing my painting from St Mary’s Church in Beverley was like a plot from The Archers’ (UK)
(17 January 2016; Hull Daily Mail)
The artist hopes that the homeless man who committed the theft is spared jail time.

Historic mosque attacked in Crimea (Ukraine, Russia)
(12 January 2016; World Bulletin)
The wall of a historic mosque in Ay-Serez village, Crimea, was gratified.


Keith Haring mural door in Collingwood resurfaces after 20 years (Australia)
(16 January 2016; The Weekend Australian)
Missing, not quite stolen, and a public appeal brought the piece back.

Te Pahi’s medal among Waitangi treasures (New Zealand)
(14 January 2016; Radio New Zealand)
The bittersweet return of stolen cultural objects that were sold, amid protest, at Sotheby’s.

Art work stolen before exhibition opens (New Zealand)
(16 January 2016; Nelson Mail)
A piece of Terry Brunell’s woodwork was taken; everyone, lock your doors.

South and East Asia

Grave robbing gone wrong: Chinese tomb raiders suffocate after setting off dynamite while trying to break into ancient burial site (China)
(15 January 2016; The Daily Mail)
Two men died while looting the tomb, a third was arrested. Warning, graphic photos.

When the Forgery Is the Art (Hong Kong)
(12 January 2016; The Atlantic)
In the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism Architecture, the skill needed to create counterfeits is being explored.

Minister writes to CM on Rajrappa shrine security (India)
(14 January 2016; The Daily Pioneer)
Pointing to the theft of idols from nearby temples, “We want a permanent security arrangement for the place”.

Assam: Government asked to stop auction of Jahangir’s 400-year-old golden hookah (India)
(14 January 2016; The Northeast Today)
It was owned by the Gauripur royal family, was seized by the courts, and now is up for auction so that the money can be split among warring family members…but it hasn’t been registered properly under the law.

घाटमपुर में राधाकृष्ण मंदिर से अष्टधातु की मूर्ति चोरी (Idol theft from Radhakrishna Temple; India)
(15 January 2016; Inextlive)
The temple priest found the lock broken and the idol gone in the morning.

Siolim – Sodiem temple robbed by unknowns (India)
(16 January 2016; The Times of India)
A silver goddess idol and other items were taken.

मूर्ति चोर गिरोह गिरफ्तार, अष्टधातु की 70 मूर्तियां बरामद (Thieves arrested in stolen idol case; India)
(16 January 2016; News 18)
70 idols were recovered in Madhya Pradesh

Ahir for rules to stop melting of ancient coins (India)
(16 January 2016; The Times of India)
I think we can all get behind Nagpur’s Minister of state for chemicals and fertilizers Hansraj Ahir: melting ancient coins is a bad thing.

Four acquitted of theft at temple in Sec 37 (India)
(12 January 2016; The Tribune)
The 7-year-old case concerned the theft of gold and silver sacred art at gun point.

Temple loot gang busted; 4 traders among 8 held (India)
(13 January 2016; Orissa Post)
Gold and silver items from temples in Balasore, Bhadrak, and Cuttack were recovered.

Temple burglary gang busted in Odisha (India)
(14 January 2016; IAmIn)
The robbery of the 250-year-old temple of Goddess Mangala in Jhanjirimangala, Cuttack has been solved.

West and Central Asia

Rote ICOM-Notfallliste: Verstärkter Kampf gegen illegal gehandelte Kulturgüter aus dem Irak (ICOM Emergency List: Fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods from Iraq strengthened.; Iraq)
(15 January 2016; Archäologie Online)
Reporting on the ICOM Emergency Red List

How Did Nazi-Looted Art Wind Up in Israel — and What Can Be Done About It? (Israel)
(10 January 2016; Forward)
Not even Israel is immune to the stain of Holocaust art in public and private collections.

Muhammad cartoons censored at Charlie Hebdo exhibit in Tel Aviv (Israel, France)
(10 January 2016; The Times of Israel)
This was after the French embassy expressed concern.

From Auschwitz to Israel, the Saga of a Long-Lost Mini-Torah (Israel, Austria)
(11 January 2016;
A family’s lost, now blood-stained Torah found.

Renowned Writers Unite in Support of Saudi Artist Sentenced to Death (Saudi Arabia)
(15 January 2016; ArtNet News)
I doubt that this will matter to the Saudi government.

DGAM Director General: Terrorist organizations transgressing on archeological sites in Quneitra (Syria)
(11 January 2016; Syria Online)
Ma’moun Abdelkarim names specific sites that are currently being targeted by looters.

Istanbul explosion: 10 dead and 15 wounded in suspected Isis ‘suicide bombing’ in Sultanahmet Square – as it happened (Turkey)
(12 January 2016; The Independent)
This was in the middle of Istanbul’s historic/tourist area.

Ancient obelisk becomes makeshift memorial in Istanbul (Turkey)
(14 January 2016; News 24)
A new meaning for an ancient object, at the foot of which people were killed this week.

In Other News

Facebook accused of censoring photo of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue (Denmark)
(4 January 2016; The Telegraph)
Eventually it was allowed on the site.

William Boyd: how David Bowie and I hoaxed the art world (General)
(12 January 2016; The Guardian)
Boyd recounts how Bowie published his fake biography of fake artist Nat Tate. Bowie’s participation in the hoax gave it heft.

Lego changes bulk buy policy after Ai Weiwei backlash (General)
(13 January 2016; BBC News)
They will no longer ask WHY customers are buying the bricks in bulk after they declined to sell some to artist Ai Wei Wei.

From Michelangelo to Marden, Seven Fierce Fistfights from Art History (General)
(15 January 2016; Hyperallergic)
Who would you place your money on?

Lady Gaga plagiarism lawsuit coming to New York (USA)
(7 January 2016; Page Six)
The artist Orlan has accused the singer of stealing her facial implant art and look for a music video.

Confiscated Edward Snowden Bust to Resurface at Brooklyn Museum (USA)
(13 January 2016; ArtNet News)
The piece was part of a guerrilla art exhibit.

St. Cloud State professor pleads guilty to trafficking up to $1.5 million in rhino horn, ivory (USA, China)
(13 January 2016; Star Tribune)
The St. Cloud State philosophy professor pleaded guilty to smuggling and dealing the ivory and rhino horn.

Street Artist Jamie Hef Sues Pop Singer Kiesza over Unauthorized Use of His Work (USA)
(14 January 2016; ArtNet News)
The artwork was painted in such a way to be publicly visible and is on the city street in the background of the music video.

The Lawsuit Over Katy Perry’s Met Gala Dress Proceeds to Trial (USA)
(15 January 2016; Vanity Fair)
Street artist Rime says that designer Jeremy Scott stole the pattern for the pop star’s dress from his work.