Culture crime news 3–9 October 2016


Hot this week: Rare book theft and rare book return

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Human Eyes Might Not Notice a Good Forgery, But Computers Could
(5 October 2016; Atlas Obscura)
A look at Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Rutgers University.

What It Takes to Recover a Stolen Work of Art
(8 October 2016; Artsy)
Art Lawyer Leila Amineddoleh discusses what a victim should do if they’ve had their art stolen.


Egypt’s Own: Repatriation of Antiquities Proves to be a Mammoth Task (Egypt)
(5 October 2016; Newsweek)
“The repatriation of antiquities has been hard, and thousands of smuggled pieces continue to be out of reach”

Antiquities ministry receives golden mummy mask from French-Egyptian citizen (Egypt, France)
(6 October 2016; Ahram Online)
The item was gifted to the man on the birthday of his son and he returned it out of a “”sense of belonging and loyalty to his home country, Egypt”

Nine suspects charged with smuggling rare Torah manuscripts into Israel (Egypt, Israel)
(7 October 2016; Egypt Independent)
“One suspect, identified as Salama S. from Sheikh Zuwayed in North Sinai, is thought to have formed the gang and stolen the manuscripts from Iraq, offering them for sale to some Israelis, according to police.”

Egypt recovers 5 stolen artifacts from US (Egypt, USA)
(3 October 2016; State Information Service)
The returned objects include two boats, a linen shroud and mask, and the hand of a mummy.

Egypt retrieves 4 Pharaonic artifacts from the US (Egypt, USA)
(3 October 2016; Egypt Independent)
The Egyptian Embassy took legal steps with US authorities to retrieve the artefacts, and proved that it have been smuggled out of Egypt.

Gandhi’s signature spectacle stolen, UG authorities fear theft of statue (Ghana)
(5 October 2016; My Joy Online)
The statue is currently the subject of controversy and Ghana University is worried the whole thing will be stolen.

Cambridge under pressure to return looted Benin bronze cockerel – but won’t return it in case it gets stolen again (Nigeria, UK)
(8 October 2016; The Telegraph)
Jesus college appears to be having the same post colonial grumbles as other UK institutions that hold looted Nigerian cultural objects.


Chile debe devolver libros saqueados (Chile must retrieve looted books; Chile)
(2 October 2016; Diario Uno)
Reclaiming the works stolen during the War of the Pacific

El Sucre protege a sus restos arqueológicos (El Sucre protects its archaeological remains; Ecuador)
(8 October 2016; El Telégrafo)
“People found pots, skulls, bones and other remains which were then sold to foreigners…Everyone was engaged in looting and that created enmity between neighbors. Because of this, from dusk to dawn, we invaded groups of intermediaries buying objects of any size and at any price.”

En el abandono están los sitios arqueológicos de Comayagua y La Paz (The archaeological sites of Comayagua and La Paz are abandoned; Honduras)
(2 October 2016; El Heraldo)
While tourism to the region is being considered, it can’t be done without proper protection or the sites are likely to get looted.

Denuncia el INAH saqueo de piezas prehispánicas en Asientos (INAH denounces the looting of prehispanic archaeological pieces in Asientos; Mexico)
(3 October 2016; Hidro Calido)
The team says they found scattered skeletal remains and other evidence that looting continues at the site.

“La corona ya no está en Tabasco” (“The Crown is not in Tabasco”; Mexico)
(7 October 2016; Tabasco Hoy)
Speculation that the stolen crown has left the state.

Machu Picchu wall painted red (Peru)
(7 October 2016; Peru This Week)
It appears as if school children have defaced the stones which have not been cleaned.

I Used My House Key to Break Into the DMA’s Vault (USA)
(1 October 2016; D Magazine)
The author was apparently able to access the Dallas Museum of Arts stores with little resistance.

Indie Artist Lili Chin Is Suing Kohl’s for Allegedly Ripping Off Her ‘Doggie Language’ Designs (USA)
(4 October 2016; Jezebel)
Despite the obvious similarities, Kohl’s is not backing down. The lawsuit was filed in New York.

How a Nazi-Looted Painting Made its Way to University of Oklahoma (USA)
(4 October 2016; Newsweek)
The story of Pissarro’s Shepherdess (1886)

Should It Be Illegal To Buy And Sell Purple Hearts? One Congressman Thinks So (USA)
(4 October 2016; Task and Purpose)
There is a huge market for the more prestigious medals, but should we place price tags on them?

Angelina Jolie’s Divorce Lawyer Embroiled in Dispute Over ‘$100 Million Pollock’ (USA)
(4 October 2016; ArtNet News)
The lawyer has a joint venture agreement to sell the Pollock, but he claims his partner in the deal is preventing him access. The authenticity of the work is in question.

Dash Snow’s Estate Sues McDonald’s for Copyright Infringement (USA)
(5 October 2016; Hyperallergic)
“Seven years after the artist’s death, a knockoff of his tag has popped up in various graffiti-themed McDonald’s restaurants.”

Bay State director tapped to write screenplay for art heist film (USA)
(5 October 2016; The Boston Globe)
The film will be based on “Stealing Rembrandts” and, thus, about the Gardner Museum heist.

Greenpoint’s USS Monitor trail marker stolen (USA)
(5 October 2016; Brooklyn Daily Eagle)
The historic marker was put up in 2015.

After 185 Years, Nat Turner’s Alleged Skull Returned to Family (USA)
(7 October 2016; National Geographic)
The skull had been donated to a former mayor “at a 2002 charity gala for the Civil Rights Hall of Fame”.

St Louis Museum Embroiled in Controversy as Staff Member Reputedly Attacked, Boycott Underway (USA)
(7 October 2016; Hyperallergic)
“The controversy around the current Kelley Walker exhibition continues to escalate”

Meadows Museum Solves Mystery of Murillo Paintings’ Provenance (USA)
(8 October 2016; Artfix Daily)
The Meadows Museum at SMU says it now has proof that the two pieces by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo had been lawfully restituted to the Rothschild family following the war and before they were purchased by the museum.

Crime & The Courts: Stolen Nazi flag’s value not just historical (USA)
(8 October 2016; The Columbus Dispatch)
Valuing a swastika emblazoned Nazi flag as part of a trial over its theft.

Gold Butte two years after the Bundy standoff (USA)
(4 October 2016; The Journal)
“The federal employees tasked with safely guarding these antiquities were prevented from doing their jobs”

Bears Ears named one of nation’s most ‘endangered’ places (USA)
(4 October 2016; Deseret News)
“Citing low federal agency staffing and mismanaged recreational use”, the archaeological sites in the controversial area are prone to looting.

Ancient ‘Kennewick Man’ remains returned to Columbia River tribes (USA)
(3 October 2016; CBC)
“U.S. Congress has passed legislation that will return 8,500-year-old remains home to Kennewick, Wash.”

Congress Condemns Trafficking of Native American Objects (USA)
(3 October 2016; Arizona Public Media)
“The House and Senate have passed a resolution to help stop the trafficking of sacred Native American artifacts.”

‘We Are a Big Family’: Dealers Unite Against Thefts of Rare Books (USA)
(4 October 2016; The New York Times)
The article claims that “reselling ill-gotten old books is almost impossible.”

Man Charged With Stealing Rare Books Worth $20,000 From Manhattan Dealer (USA)
(6 October 2016; The New York Times)
“Gabriel Hundiashvili, 35, admitted to detectives that he had stolen the books”


Paintings That Bear the Scars of War (Belgium, France)
(5 October 2016; The New York Times)
A review of the exhibition honouring Paul Rosenberg at the Fine Arts Palace, Liege, Belgium.

To recover history from peril: on the dealer Paul Rosenberg and the Nazi seizure of Modern art (Belgium, France)
(7 October 2016; The Art Newspaper)
“An exhibition on Rosenberg in Belgium focuses on the story of his Paris gallery and the recovery of his looted art”

Prague centre plans permanent exhibition of Nazi-confiscated art (Czech Republic)
(5 October 2016; Prague Daily Monitor)
This would be done by The Documentation Centre for Property Transfers of Cultural Assets of WW II Victims.

French minister says stolen art may fund terror via ‘free ports’ (France)
(6 October 2016; Yahoo News)
Michel Sapin says that free ports are the the weak link when it comes to halting the movement of illicit art.

Police in Greece arrest 26 in bust of alleged antiquities smuggling ring (Greece)
(5 October 2016; The Art Newspaper)
“Investigators recovered more than 2,000 objects, mostly coins, that they say were offered for sale through auction houses”

Greek police bust ‘antiquities smuggling ring’ (Greece)
(5 October 2016; 7News)
Although 26 people were arrested, the items pictured are forgeries. It is unclear if they are tied to this case.

More than a pretty picture: Mafia bosses said to bank big on art (Italy, Netherlands)
(4 October 2016; Al Arabiya)
“Today art, especially contemporary art, is the main channel for money laundering” says the interviewee. I’d hesitate before believing that.

UNESCO-backed exhibit in Rome features 3 destroyed treasures (Italy, Syria)
(6 October 2016; The Daily Mail)
Beyond the replicas, there are several pieces that were smashed in the Palmyra Museum.

Did The Mafia Steal Caravaggio’s ‘Nativity of St. Francis and St. Lawrence’? (Italy)
(9 October 2016; The Daily Beast)
The piece was taken from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo in 1969 and, because Sicily, everyone things mafia.

Bull of Nimrud destroyed by Isis to be recreated in Rome (Italy, Syria)
(6 October 2016; The Guardian)
“Organisers said the purpose of the exhibition was to raise public awareness about the destruction of cultural heritage” but others see such reconstructions as much less positive than that.

Following the Ghent Altarpiece, the World’s Most Stolen (and Well-Traveled) Artwork (Netherlands)
(6 October 2016; CN Traveler)
“Conservators just wrapped up a major restoration of the altarpiece and it will be back on display for the first time in five years.”

Five Paintings Stolen in 2005 Return to Dutch Museum (Netherlands, Ukraine)
(7 October 2016; The New York Times)
The five recovered paintings were returned to the Westfries Museum from Ukraine.

Northampton Sekhemka statue sale: Council ‘warned by lawyers’ (UK)
(1 October 2016; BBC News)
“A council that pocketed £8m by selling an ancient Egyptian statue had been warned by lawyers not to sell it for “financial motives”, it has emerged.”

Former Port Hope art curator’s fraud sentence delayed in Peterborough court (UK)
(4 October 2016; Northumberland Today)
“Dorette Carter, 62, pleaded guilty to three forgery and fraud-related charges”

Old Master market reels from Sotheby’s fake assessment (UK)
(5 October 2016; Financial Times)
Sotheby’s has admitted that a piece they sold as a Hals for £8.4mil is a forgery.

Banksy fake fools local art fans (UK)
(5 October 2016; JMU Journalism)
The piece appeared in place of the authentic Banksy “Love Plane” which had been controversially removed.

Ancient Egyptian artefacts and old weapons stolen from museum at Biel House, Stenton (UK)
(6 October 2016; East Lothian Courier)
The historic home is privately owned and the pieces were stolen over the night.

If treasure is found in my garden, can I keep it? (UK)
(6 October 2016; Financial Times)
The answer is “maybe” and “it depends” in the article and really it may be unethical no matter what.

Cosgrove Hall fire: 18th Century country mansion gutted (UK)
(7 October 2016; BBC News)
Only the stone shell of the structure remains and it is unknown how the fire started.

Lost and found: 5 pieces of Dutch Golden Age art have been recovered after a 10 year hunt (Ukraine, Netherlands, Russia)
(5 October 2016; CNN)
thieves are thought to have hidden inside a coffin on display inside the museum before disabling the security system and taking off with 24 paintings and 70 pieces of silverware.

Treasures of the Black Sea turn into political hostages (Ukraine, Netherlands, Russia)
(6 October 2016; DW)
The museum is leaving it up to a Dutch court to decide if the objects will be returned to Ukraine or Crimea so Russia.

The future of ‘Scythian gold’ to be finally decided on Dec. 14 (Ukraine, Netherlands, Russia)
(6 October 2016; Ukraine Today)
The pieces were on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia claimed Crimea. The question is, are they returned to Kyiv, so Ukraine, or to Crimea, so Russia.


Cultural ownership and responsibility is not just a fad (Australia)
(3 October 2016; Eureka Street)
“And how can public institutions best exercise cultural responsibility?”

Stolen brazier leaves artist dissapointed (New Zealand)
(4 October 2016;
The steam punk sculpture was taken from a Nelson gym

South and East Asia

Chinese Contemporary Art Collector Guy Ullens Draws Fire for Allegedly Profit-Seeking Moves (China)
(7 October 2016; ArtNet News)
“Ullens was attacked for wanting to make money out of a non-profit space long sustained by [his] generosity”

Why so little of Hong Kong’s underwater heritage has been preserved (Hong Kong)
(3 October 2016; South China Morning Post)
Development, not looting, is blamed for poor preservation of underwater heritage and it is suggested that diving be encouraged.

Raza’s missing ‘Bindu’ traced to city (India)
(3 October 2016; The Times of India)
The painting went missing from the artist Syed Haider Raza’s alma mater in 2007.

Art detectives track down stolen 12th-century Indian sculpture (India, UK)
(3 October 2016; India GB News)
Thieves took the artwork from the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Rani-ki-Vav in Patan, Gujarat in November 2001. It was handed over to the Art Loss Register in London.

Idols, donation box stolen from Jain temple in Mumbai (India)
(4 October 2016; Mid-day)
“However, since there are no CCTVs installed inside the temple and no eyewitnesses have claimed to see the thief, the police are finding it difficult to make a breakthrough in the case.”

Thieves target Khermai temple, decamp with jewellery worth 1.5 lakh (India)
(8 October 2016; The Hitavada)
Gold and silver ornaments were taken from Khermai temple near Rani Durgawati University

Temple politics in Kullu (India)
(9 October 2016; The Tribune)
The latests twists in the controversy concerning ownership and control over the temple following a highly profile idol thef.

India needs to bring heritage-criminals to justice (India)
(3 October 2016; Sunday Guardian Live)
Anuraag Saxena of the India Pride Project on India’s need to make and enforce better laws.

Heritage for sale: Stop the loot of India’s past (India)
(4 October 2016; Sunday Guardian Live)
“Most of these looted-objects share the same shipping-agents, trade-routes, hawala agents, auction-houses and art-dealers.”

Heritage crimes: Let’s get our past back (India)
(9 October 2016; Sunday Guardian Live)
Saxena of the India Pride project offers a 5 point plan for stopping heritage crime and getting stolen antiquities back.

Damaged Bagan Temples Under Detailed Assessment (Myanmar)
(6 October 2016; The Irrawaddy)
The quake-damaged temples are being assessed by UNESCO experts and the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library.

Ministry seeks law to fight art forgery crimes (South Korea)
(6 October 2016; Korea Times)
“All art transactions by unregistered dealers will be subject to a fine”

Statue stolen from ancient pagoda (Vietnam)
(4 October 2016; Vietnam Net)
The 19th century Bodhisattva was taken from the Me So Pagoda in the northern province of Hung Yen’s Me So Commune

West and Central Asia

Raiders of the Lost Archive: How Newly Discovered Manuscripts of Afghanistan Ended Up in Israel (Afghanistan, Israel)
(5 October 2016; Hyperallergic)
The pieces were looted from Afghanistan, trafficked, and now they are being bought by the National Library of Israel.

ISIS destroys, loots archaeological sites near Kirkuk (Iraq)
(3 October 2016; Iraqi News)
Iraqi media is saying that 100 graves in the area have been destroyed but, I caution, no evidence of this is offered with this article.

Ancient Assyrian site graffitied with Kurdish flag to be restored (Iraq)
(6 October 2016; AMN)
The graffiti was removed by a team from Udine University in Italy.

Basra Museum: How Saddam’s palace was given to the people (Iraq)
(8 October 2016; BBC News)
The space is now a museum and one gallery is open to the public. Great photos of the restoration.

Lebanese activists fight to save Beirut’s architectural heritage (Lebanon)
(5 October 2016; Equal Times)
Destruction in the name of development, experts are blaming a lack of architectural heritage protection laws.

Exclusive: Under the Russians’ noses, looters continue to plunder treasures of Palmyra (Syria)
(3 October 2016; The Telegraph)
I warn that no proof of this has been offered. Be very careful what you believe.

In Other News

Treasure hunter believes he’s closing in on lost Nazi loot (Czech Republic)
(6 October 2016; Toronto Sun)
“Josef Muzik claims Adolf Hitler’s henchmen hid the fortune in a small village 30 km from Prague.” They didn’t.

How Indie Artists Can Protect Designs From Unauthorized Retail Use in the Digital Age (General)
(2 October 2016; Apparel)
“The fashion industry does not have the same intellectual property protection as other creative disciplines”

Debate simmers over name of Devils Tower monument in Wyoming (USA)
(7 October 2016; Casper Star Tribune)
“It hurts us to think about such a beautiful, sacred place called Devils Tower,” said Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Great Sioux Nation.