Culture crime news 16–22 October 2017


Hot this week: Caligula’s Coffee Table

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World Monuments Fund recognises sites threatened by conflict, climate change and natural disasters
(17 October 2017; The Art Newspaper)
“Cultural locations in the Caribbean, the US Gulf coast and Mexico hit by recent hurricanes and earthquakes were a last minute addition to the list”


Historical Porcelain Pots smuggling attempt (Egypt, Lebanon)
(19 October 2017; Egypt Today)
Six 19th century pieces headed to Lebanon.

Pressure On Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation And Humboldt-Forum To Return Illegally Acquired Artefacts And Human Remains (Ghana, Germany)
(20 October 2017; Moder Ghana)
Analysis by Dr Kwame Opoku

Philaeni statues’ disappearance refuted by antiquities authorities (Libya)
(16 October 2017; Libya Herald)
The Italian era pieces were said to be stolen about 2 years ago, authorities said they were removed for safekeeping

Benghazi palace may become archaeological museum (Libya)
(18 October 2017; Libya Herald)
One of the city’s oldest colonial buildings was heavily damaged in conflict but could be used to house antiquities.

Legendary Kumalo photos abandoned in museum (South Africa)
(16 October 2017; IOL)
Alf Kumalo Museum in Diepkloof is said to be in a bad state with some of the photos stolen.

Kumalo museum disgrace (South Africa)
(17 October 2017; IOL)
A look inside the Alf Kumalo Museum in Diepkloof where alleged photo thefts have taken place.


The U.S. Is Withdrawing from UNESCO—What Happens Now? (USA)
(13 October 2017; Artsy)
Worries and speculations; whatever it is, it probably isn’t good.

California wildfire destroys ‘Peanuts’ creator Charles M Schulz’s house (USA)
(14 October 2017; GkMen)
Schulz’s son has confirmed that there were Peanuts-related items in the house.

Joe Quesada reveals heartbreaking details of art theft…and how you can help (USA)
(17 October 2017; The Beat)
Handyman who stole the comics art had been working for the Marvel exec for 15 years.

FBI agent tells Norfolk crowd he’s still optimistic about solving famous Boston art heist case (USA)
(18 October 2017; The Virginian-Pilot)
FBI Special Agent Geoff Kelly believes that the Gardner Museum case is solvable.

It Turns Out That Oxycontin, the Highly Addictive Painkiller, Has Helped Bankroll More Than a Dozen Museums (USA)
(18 October 2017; ArtNet News)
The Sackler family, who have been implicated in criminal rebranding of opioid pharmaceuticals, have also sponsored museums all over the world, leaving their name everywhere.

The history of Iraqi Jews is in jeopardy (USA, Iraq)
(19 October 2017; The Washington Post)
Who owns Iraqi Jewish artifacts? The state of Iraq or the Jewish community?

Thieves steal 200-pound anvil, vandalize historical marker in Shawnee (USA)
(20 October 2017; The Kansas City Star)
Commemorated the location of an 1860s blacksmith shop; possibly stolen for scrap.

After 20 years, has mystery of Oñate’s foot been solved? (USA)
(20 October 2017; Albuquerque Journal)
Theft of the statue’s foot to protest the conquistador’s treatment of the Pueblo.

Norman Rockwell’s Family Meets With Massachusetts AG in Attempt to Halt Sale of Berkshire Museum’s Paintings (USA)
(17 October 2017; ArtNet News)
“Family members brought along a 1958 letter that the Berkshire Museum’s former director wrote to Rockwell, which they believe proves that the artist wanted his works to remain accessible to the public.” The museum previously did not respond to the family.

Can the Museum of the Bible overcome the sins of the past? (USA)
(16 October 2017; Science)
Probably not: the artefacts are looted and they can’t unloot them.

New Bible Museum Previews Exhibits and Ethical Standards (USA)
(18 October 2017; The Christian Perspective)
The director claims that they are not “using anything where it’s not clear where it’s coming from”; an unbelieveable claim that even the top museums of the world can’t make. *Eyebrow Raise*

Ancient Roman artifacts repatriated to Italy following ICE probe (USA, Italy)
(20 October 2017; ICE)
Stolen at some point from the Ships of Nemi Museum

Found: A Mosaic From Caligula’s Ceremonial Ship, Turned Into a Coffee Table (USA, Italy)
(20 October 2017; Atlas Obscura)
“Most people wouldn’t choose to make a coffee table from art belonging to a bloodthirsty, tyrannical, sex-crazed Roman Emperor.”

A Remnant from Caligula’s Ship, Once a Coffee Table, Heads Home (Unites States of America, Italy)
(19 October 2017; The New York Times)
Sitting in the Park Avenue apartment of an antiques dealer for decades

Donald Trump’s ‘Renoir’ raises questions (USA)
(16 October 2017; The Art Newspaper)
It’s very much in the Art Institute of Chicago. Does Trump think his isn’t a fake?

Trump Continues to Lie About His Fake Renoir (USA)
(19 October 2017; Hyperallergic)
Apparently the President of the United States owns a copy of a Renoir painting he insists is an original. Go figure.

Who Owns Graffiti, the Artists or the Developers? A Landmark Trial Over 5Pointz Considers This With Fresh Eyes (Unites States of America)
(20 October 2017; ArtNet News)
Twenty artists have filed a lawsuit saying that the removal of their murals is a violation of their rights.

Accused of Defrauding Clients of Millions of Dollars, Art Dealer Timothy Sammons Goes to Jail in New York (Unites States of America)
(20 October 2017; ArtNet News)
“Prosecutors are calling for the former Sotheby’s specialist to serve five to 15 years in prison for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients”

Norman Rockwell’s Sons Sue Berkshire Museum, Seeking Halt to Sotheby’s Sale (Unites States of America)
(20 October 2017; Art News)
They argue that the museum does not have the authority to deaccession the works.


Larnaca CID seize stolen ancient Egyptian pot (Cyprus, Egypt)
(17 October 2017; Cyprus Mail)
The piece had been smuggled out of Egypt and was in the possession of a Cypriot.

Victory for Matisse family in $4.5m cut-out battle with dealer (France)
(20 October 2017; The Art Newspaper)
“Paris art dealer Jérôme Le Blay ordered to hand over works to artist’s descendants”

Performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky sets fire to a bank in Paris (France, Russia)
(16 October 2017; The Art Newspaper)
He was granted asylum in France recently.

Russian Artist Is Charged Over Fire at Central Bank Building in Paris (France)
(19 October 2017; The New York Times)
Pyotr Pavlensky started the fire at Banque de France on Place de la Bastille

Gardai recover iconic Finglas statue stolen during Hurricane Ophelia (Ireland)
(18 October 2017; Dublin Live)
Knocked down by the wind, 3 men spotted putting it in a van.

Beatrix Ruf Resigns From Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum After Accusations of Conflict of Interest (Netherlands)
(17 October 2017; ArtNet News)
Alleged dodgy dealings with German collector Thomas Borgmann

Looted Benin bronzes to be lent back to Nigeria (UK, Germany, Nigeria, France)
(16 October 2017; The Art Newspaper)
A permanent rotating display is not nothing but not a repatriation.

EU admits the Elgin Marbles will REMAIN in Britain after Brexit (UK, Greece)
(18 October 2017; Express)
As the Parthenon Sculptures were brought to Britain long before the EU even existed, the connection between Brexit and returning them to Greece was nonsensical in the first place.

Replica of Nelson’s stolen jewel on display (UK)
(20 October 2017; The News)
“Chelengk, a military decoration containing more than 300 diamonds,” was stolen in 1951.

Drug dealer caught with stolen £1m Sir Stanley Spencer painting jailed (UK)
(20 October 2017; The Guardian)
Painting stolen from Stanley Spencer gallery, but is privately owned. Maybe hiding your drugs in a stolen thing is not the best plan.

Infamous art forger John Myatt reveals his secret: you have to love the artist (UK)
(20 October 2017; The Sydney Morning Herald)
Not quite a “how to” from Myatt

National museum suffers £60,000 of thefts in five years (UK)
(20 October 2017; STV)
Thefts from the same gallery of the National Museum of Scotland, though these were in 2014 and 2015.

Border guards seize ancient books on border with Crimea (Ukraine, Russia)
(16 October 2017; Ukrinform)
Well, 19th century books, but still illegal.


Gabriella Coslovich on Writing the Brett Whiteley Forgery Trial (Australia)
(15 October 2017; Daily Review)
New book on a major case of Australian art fraud

Back page: Penelope Jackson talks art crime in New Zealand (New Zealand)
(15 October 2017; Bay of Plenty Times)
New Zealand cases of art capers

South and East Asia

HC asks officials to join hands to fight idol theft (India)
(13 October 2017; The Hindu)
Chalking out ways to solve idol theft cases

File Status Report On Preservation Of Artifacts And Manuscripts In National Museum: Delhi HC (India)
(21 October 2017; Live Law)
Questions as to if the manuscripts are being properly cared for.

The man who stole gods (India)
(21 October 2017; The Hindu)
A long read on the Subhash Kapoor case

Islamic State’s looting of antiquities is rising but hard facts remain scarce (Iraq, Syria)
(19 October 2017; The Art Newspaper)
Nothing we haven’t heard before. Yes, IS is on the retreat, but yes, they still loot and destroy antiquities. And no, the fabulous sums they’re allegedly making from it are still not verifiable by any stretch. Also, the number of fakes on the market increases.

Tourism Ministry to lay more emphasis on saving, protecting shipwrecks, artefacts (Malaysia)
(17 October 2017; New Straits Times)
Out of fear that the shipwrecks will be looted

How Qatar sidestepped the UK export system again (UAE, UK)
(17 October 2017; The Art Newspaper)
The legal intricacies around a jade wine flask, currently in the Victoria and Albert Museum, but legally owned by Qatar Museums.

West and Central Asia

‘Stolen Salvador Dali’ painting recovered in Lebanon (Lebanon)
(19 October 2017; BBC News)
…but is, according to the quoted expert, “not considered a serious painting”. Some asking if it is real.

In Other News

Performance Artist Who Exposed Herself In Front of the “Mona Lisa” Is Acquitted (France)
(20 October 2017; Hyperallergic)
Deborah De Robertis was acquitted of the charge of sexual exhibitionism because her performance was ruled non-sexual.

Kinkier than Thou: Pompidou Installs Doggie-Style Sculpture the Louvre Dumped (France)
(20 October 2017; Hyperallergic)
Viewable until 22 October.

Tourist killed by falling masonry in famous Florence church (Italy)
(19 October 2017; The Guardian)
From the 15th century Basilica di Santa Croce, leading to questions about Italy’s upkeep of monuments.

Lady Somerleyton loses heirloom pendant in Morrisons supermarket (UK)
(18 October 2017; BBC News)
I’m lucky if I bother to change out of pyjamas when I visit Morrisons, let alone wear/lose valuable jewelry.

National Museum of the American Indian to Show a Mile-Marker From the Standing Rock Protests (USA)
(15 October 2017; ArtNet News)
Preserving symbols of contemporary Indigenous protest

Drilling Near Dinosaur National Monument Draws Criticism (USA)
(18 October 2017; The New York Times)
“Oil rigs instead of a pristine landscape”