Culture crime news 21 August–4 September 2016


Hot this week: Extra long news list, your compiler was on holiday.

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Why should a court decide the authenticity of a living artist’s work?
(26 August 2016; Apollo)
The Peter Doig case calls the whole idea of authenticity into question

What is the Cost of Preserving the Past? (Audio)
(26 August 2016; BBC World Service)
A group of experts including Syria’s Prof Mammoun Abdulkarim discuss the more complicated aspects of the protection of heritage.

Human Skulls Are Being Sold Online, But Is It Legal?
(23 August 2016; National Geographic)
“Last month, eBay banned human bone sales. But it’s still happening on other websites”

The Big Business Of Looted Antiquities (Audio)
(24 August 2016; The Diane Rehm Show)
The host talks antiquities with Amr Al-Azm, Tess Davis, Sarah Parcak, and Gary Vikan.

Do Ancient Shipwrecks Stand a Chance?
(24 August 2016; Hakai)
“Humanity’s sunken past should stay beneath the waves and off the auction block”


Protecting antiquities in Syria and Libya from Islamic State (Libya, Syria)
(4 September 2016; The Sydney Morning Herald)
A short discussion of the ongoing issue.

On trial: the destruction of history during conflict (Mali)
(22 August 2016; Al Jazeera)
This article goes into the tricky idea of “military necessity” when it comes to cultural destruction in times of conflict.

Islamist rebel apologises for destroying Timbuktu shrines at ICC trial (Mali)
(22 August 2016; BBC News)
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi has pleaded guilty and apologised. It is doubtful that this will serve as a deterrent or send any sort of message.

From Timbuktu to Grimsby, heritage deserves to be restored and revered (Mali, Bosnia, Iraq, Germany)
(25 August 2016; The Guardian)
“Historic buildings possess a cultural vitality. Failing to repair them is a loss to our communal memory”


Robaron la corona de la Virgen de Peña en Tartagal (The crown of the Virgen de Peña stolen in Tartagal; Argentina)
(1 September 2016; El Tribuno)
The temple has security grills and it is unknown how the thieves were able to enter.

Indignación en Tartagal por el robo de la corona de la Virgen de la Peña (Indignation in Tartagal over the theft of the crown of the Virgen de la Peña; Argentina)
(2 September 2016; Agencia Informativa Católica Argentina)
There have been other recent sacred art thefts in the region of this shrine.

Artefacts stolen from Parliament Building (Barbados)
(25 August 2016; Nation News)
Very little about what exactly was stolen.

Ottawa backs request for return of Beothuk remains from Scotland (Canada)
(25 August 2016; CBC)
Canada’s heritage minister has notified the director of the National Museums Scotland that a formal demand for the remains will be made.

Stolen 116-year-old notebook puts focus on pioneer museum in Chilliwack (Canada)
(1 September 2016; Chilliwack Times)
“During the Chilliwack Fair, as higher-than-normal numbers of people flocked to the museum, a 116-year-old handwritten schoolbook was stolen.”

Guaquería, la historia oculta bajo tierra (Looting: the history hidden under the ground; Colombia)
(25 August 2016; El Espectador)
A look at this threat to Colombian heritage.

Saquean tumbas prehispánicas en Totimehuacan (Prehispanic tombs looted in Totimehuacan; Mexico)
(1 September 2016; El Sol de Puebla)
Eight tombs were looted at the site and the theft has been reported to the INAH

Yaguarón: Rescatan candelabros robados del templo (Yugarón: Candelabras stolen from church returned; Paraguay)
(22 August 2016; Ultima Hora)
The 10 candelabras are were returned to San Buenaventura de Yaguarón.

Roban valiosos objetos de la iglesia de Taurisma (Peru)
(25 August 2016; RPP)
The sacred art, including metal objects and two oil paintings, were taken from the church in the Huyanacotas district.

Perú recibe de Guatemala restos de la Cultura Paracas (Peru receives Paracas culture remains from Guatemala; Peru, Guatemala)
(1 September 2016; RPP)
It’s worth noting that Peru and Guatemala signed a bilateral cultural property return and recovery agreement in 2004.

Juliaca: perpetran nuevo robo sacrílego en Templo Santa Catalina (Juliaca: New sacrilegious robbery perpetrated in Santa Catalina temple; Peru)
(29 August 2016; RPP)
The stolen items include various items used for communion.

Denuncian robos sacrílegos en el templo Santa Catalina de Juliaca (Sacrilegious theft in the Santa Catalina temple in Juliaca denounced; Peru)
(30 August 2016; Diario Correo)
This is the third robbery this month at the temple.

Man who stole Diana Vreeland portrait says he was drunk (USA)
(21 August 2016; New York Post)
“I was an idiot. I blacked out. When you wake up from a hangover and you realize what you did, you’re like, ‘Oh, no,’ ”, said the art dealer.

SF church’s holy relic stolen (USA)
(22 August 2016; SFGate)
The piece taken is said to be a piece of the true cross.

Stolen Identities: The Repatriation of Indigenous Artifacts (USA)
(22 August 2016; Law Street Media)
“The repatriation of artifacts and human remains is a battle that has been fought for decades yet is far from over.”

Who’s Got the Bones? Timeline Reveals Park Service Employees Covered Up Theft of Ancient Remains (USA)
(22 August 2016; Indian Country Today)
“An aging National Park Service superintendent steals the remains of hundreds of ancient medicine men and leaders and sticks them under a workbench in his garage in cardboard boxes.”

Security Guard Files Lawsuit Against Metropolitan Museum of Art After Being Fired for Vandalism (USA)
(22 August 2016; ArtNet News)
The ex guard says that security footage will show that he didn’t make green marks on an Egyptian statue.

East Harlem Kenny Scharf Mural Stolen a Second Time (USA)
(23 August 2016; Patch)
“The mural on the East River Esplanade was commissioned by the Friends of the East River Esplanade at a cost of thousands.”

Looters hit county’s archaeological sites (USA)
(23 August 2016; ECB Publishing)
There have been several arrests in Jefferson County of illegal artefact looters at various sites.

Missing Torahs at Jersey City synagogue after back-to-back burglaries (USA)
(24 August 2016;
“Two Torahs and some silver religious pieces valued at a total of $80,000 were taken from a West Side Avenue synagogue”

Artist Peter Doig wins case over painting he said was not his work (USA, Canada)
(24 August 2016; BBC News)
“That a living artist has to defend the authorship of his own work should never have come to pass.”

Antique Heist Leads To $50K Loss Of Rare Greek And Japanese Artifacts (USA)
(25 August 2016; SFist)
The ancient pieces were taken while the dealership was under construction.

Resignations at the Bronx Museum Over a Costly International Push (USA)
(26 August 2016; The New York Times)
The concerns primarily regard what the board members see as questionable deals with Cuba, some of which are likely impossible.

Gold Coast breakup ends in federal court, claims of art theft (USA)
(26 August 2016; Chicago Tribune)
The split is between Bonnie Deutsch and her ex-partner artist Joseph Kennebrew who accuses her of not returning art.

Stolen shields: Native art stolen from elementary school (USA)
(27 August 2016; Juneau Empire)
The shields, known as Tináa were stolen off the school wall.

Richard Prince And Gagosian Sued By Makeup Artist Over Instagram Copyright infringement (USA)
(28 August 2016; Artlyst)
This is only one of four current copyright infringement suits that Prince is facing.

What we learned from the Knoedler fakes scandal (USA)
(29 August 2016; The Art Newspaper)
“Are collectors “stupid” to spend millions of dollars on a work of art without personally investigating its authenticity?” A soft yes.

Paintings presumed stolen from Dunkirk Museum (USA)
(30 August 2016; WGRZ)
There may have been some time that passed since the pieces were taken.

Judge OKs return of Native American shield sent to Paris (USA, France)
(31 August 2016; Las Cruces Sun-News)
The shield was nearly auctioned at a much protested sale in France.

Tourist Sues Manhattan Gallery for $100,000 Sale of Allegedly Fake Art Deco Sculptures (USA)
(1 September 2016; ArtNet News)
The British tourist claims they were sold an inauthentic Chiparus, portrayed as real because the gallery owner was retiring.

Good Samaritan returns stolen statue of Port Richmond Church (USA)
(1 September 2016; WPVI)
The statue had been stolen from a Philadelphia church and was found sitting in a shopping cart

Hawkins woman heads north to retrieve valuable stolen ‘reborn doll’ heads (USA)
(2 September 2016; Times News)
There’s nothing creepy at all about stealing doll heads…

SFPD searching for stolen ivory relics, arrest made (USA)
(2 September 2016; KTVU)
The man had been arrested for a separate incident and has been charged with stealing over 60 ivory figurines.

Federal judge in Oregon standoff case rules on what evidence can be introduced at trial (USA)
(2 September 2016; Oregon Live)
“No government witness will testify about any documents regarding the location of sacred artifacts at the refuge were stolen or unaccounted for, unless defense makes an inquiry.”

Mystery of the missing Mary: Police recover church’s stolen statue in river (USA)
(2 September 2016; Berkshire Eagle)
The piece, stolen from North Bennington, was found abandoned in a shopping cart by the river

Woman seeks return of late husband’s $85,000 horse sculpture (USA)
(3 September 2016; 3 News)
“Before bringing it home, Voiss says the statue was on display at the Regis Galerie inside The Venetian. “

Santa Fe art dealer, Harvard reach deal over book’s photos (USA)
(4 September 2016; Santa Fe New Mexican)
“Harvard sued Elmore in federal court last year, alleging copyright infringement and breach of contract over photos he had used in the book, In Search of Nampeyo: The Early Years 1875-1892.”

Vegas Memorabilia House Accused of Fraud (USA)
(30 August 2016; Courthouse News Service)
The dealer is accused of using the ‘renown’ of a Pawn Stars celeb to bolster the authenticity of fake items.

Memorabilia heists in NY, NJ mirror Fargo Maris theft (USA)
(31 August 2016; Inforum)
Law enforcement seems to think that a single perpetrator is behind several recent sports memorabilia thefts.

Meet the woman who found priceless earring that was stolen from MFA (USA)
(22 August 2016; Boston Globe)
Coverage of a showing of Karen Audette’s documentary “The Nike Chariot Earring”.

Art Heist Suspect Robert Gentile Wants Release From Prison Because Of Failing Health (USA)
(1 September 2016; Hartford Courant)
The 80-year-old Gardner Museum heist suspect is said to be in deteriorating mental and physical health.


Valuable Ancient Jewelry Found in Private Home in Bulgaria’s Nikopol (Bulgaria)
(25 August 2016; Novinite)
Very little info about the seizure but the items are all metal.

Audit Office raids Paphos museum and sites (Cyprus)
(1 September 2016; Cyprus Mail)
Surprise inspections in wake of allegations that antiquities are not being properly stored or tracked.

Anselm Kiefer’s Workshop Robbed for Raw Materials Again (France)
(31 August 2016; ArtNet News)
The metal that Kiefer uses for artworks is thought to have been stolen for scrap

75% increase in infringement on Egyptian monuments in Greece: Ministry of Religious Endowments (Greece, Egypt)
(25 August 2016; Daily News Egypt)
“Egypt owns Mohammed Ali Palace along with approximately 38 acres in Greece”

Feature: Greece strives to preserve underwater antiquities (Greece)
(29 August 2016; Xinhua)
“Lacking funds partly because of the debt crisis, Greece which is rich in underwater antiquities, is now working closely with archaeological groups from other countries to explore, preserve and display the treasure trove.”

Artist Kevin Sharkey arrested over alleged art theft (Ireland)
(31 August 2016; Independent)
“Mr Sharkey claims he did not steal the paintings as they were his and he destroyed them two years ago.”

Assisi basilica declared safe after fatal earthquake strikes central Italy (Italy)
(24 August 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The “Monument to Saint Francis, decorated with frescoes by Cimabue and Giotto” has been spared in the deadly quake and officers will secure the site to prevent theft.

Rise of the Nazi-Grave Robbers (Poland, Germany)
(23 August 2016; Bloomberg)
“Profiteers are digging up World War II gravesites in search of memorabilia”

The Mammoth Pirates (Russia)
(25 August 2016; Radio Free Europe)
A spectacular interactive feature on the looting of mammoth ivory from Siberia’s forests.

Old Master recovered and gang arrested in Marbella (Spain)
(29 August 2016; EuroWeekly)
Four men were arrested for forcing an the owner of the painting sign over the painting to them.

Nazi treasure hunt: Spain wants return of ‘Aryan’ artifacts gifted to Third Reich in 1940s (Spain, Germany)
(30 August 2016; RT)
The Spanish Government no longer wants the Visigoth items that Germany gifted to Spain in the 1930s

Roban las joyas de la Virgen en la ermita de Tiagua (Jewels of the Virgin of the hermitage of Tiagua stolen; Spain)
(1 September 2016; La Voz de Lanzarote)
A villager noticed the glass broken in a small window in the chapel.

Robo frustrado de noche en la iglesia de Santa María de Laredo (Theft thwarted in the night at the church of Santa María de Laredo; Spain)
(3 September 2016; El Diario Montañes)
The Gravedigger chanced upon the theft in progress and the thieves ran off

Security firm brought in to protect artwork after thieves target Southern Nature Art Exhibition (UK)
(21 August 2016; Southern Daily Echo)
The exhibition was the target of art thieves last year.

Cheltenham MP calls for inquiry into removal of Banksy’s Spy Booth (UK)
(22 August 2016; The Guardian)
It is still unclear what exactly has happened to the protected mural.

Somerset man who claimed theft of expensive painting was ‘drunken prank’ escapes jail (UK)
(27 August 2016; Somerset Live)
“A man who denied stealing a painting worth thousands of pounds from a Castle Cary art gallery claiming it had been a drunken stupid prank has been given a six month suspended prison sentence after being convicted of theft.”

Edinburgh International Culture Summit 2016 ends with call to save heritage endangered by war (UK, Syria)
(28 August 2016; The Edinburgh Reporter)
“Representatives from Libya, Syria, Oman and China shared details of their efforts to save their cultural heritage, the incredible value of it to their communities in often volatile regions of the world, and the personal cost of its destruction.”

The truth about the Hemingway Heist (UK)
(30 August 2016; The Guardian)
David Mason relates how his safe was cracked and letters by Hemingway were taken, seemingly targeted, in 1993.

Major art theft in Harborough district (UK)
(2 September 2016; Harborough Mail)
“Leicestershire police have just issued a series of photographs of some of the stolen items, which includes work by leading contemporary sculptors Michael Simpson and Jeff Childs.”

200-year-old priceless bibles returned to church after break-in (UK)
(3 September 2016; Daily Record)
The books were stolen from Abercorn Church, near South Queensferry, Scotland, in July.


Victory for Gweagal man Rodney Kelly in fight to have artefacts returned from British museums (Australia, UK)
(23 August 2016; ABC)
“A motion was passed in NSW Parliament to have artefacts from two British museums repatriated”

Sacred Maori paintings taken from King Country trust boardroom (New Zealand)
(23 August 2016; The New Zealand Herald)
Paintings of tūpuna were taken from the Te Kuiti boardroom

Author says New Zealanders need to watch out for art crime (New Zealand)
(1 September 2016;
Penelope Jackson looks at art crime in Aotearoa.

Art crime in New Zealand – there’s more than you think (New Zealand)
(1 September 2016;
“Anywhere there is art history, there is a history of art crime, unfortunately.”

South and East Asia

4 suspected tomb raiders held in Hebei (China)
(22 August 2016;
They are “accused of stealing a column cap from the Eastern Qing tombs site in Zunhua City, Hebei Province in May”

Gold chains worth Rs 2.5 lakh stolen from deity of Bhadrachalam temple (India)
(22 August 2016; The New Indian Express)
The pieces were taken from the Goddess Sita in the famous Sri Sitaramachandra Swamy temple

‘Need to sensitise law enforcement agencies on heritage’ (India)
(23 August 2016; The Hindu)
“Heritage experts should help law enforcement agencies in the country understand the heritage value of antiques” says S. Vijay Kumar.

Jharkhand: Authorities ensure Rs 2,500-cr Krishna idol is guarded well (India)
(26 August 2016; Hindustan Times)
Although there are rumours that the temple will be hit with theft, authorities say it is secure.

Journey of ‘Queen of Khajuraho’ to Canada (India, Canada)
(27 August 2016; The Asian Age)
“All we know is that the idol was trafficked from Delhi to Toronto and then to Ottawa in Canada in 2011.”

Bid to steal panchaloha idols from temple (India)
(29 August 2016; The Hindu)
An alarm activated at Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, scaring away the thieves who are assumed to have been after the 14 idols housed within.

Burglars steal 13 brass bells from century-old temple (India)
(30 August 2016; The Times of India)
Also stolen were three idols of Krishna and Radha from the temple in Agra Village, the second theft at the same temple in 20 days.

Udupi: Valuables stolen from Mukhyaprana temple (India)
(30 August 2016; Daijiworld)
Silver armour and other silver items related to the deity were stolen from Manai math Mukhyaprana temple.

আবার চুরি মন্দিরে (Robbery at temple raises questions about police and security; India)
(1 September 2016; Ananda Bazar)
Sacred items, particularly jewellery, were stolen from two temples in Nalhati

12 किलो वजन की यह मूर्ति पीतल और अष्टधातु की थी (Dumka Thakurbari Temple Idol Theft; India)
(4 September 2016; Live Hindustan)
The stolen statue weighted 2 kg

Idol, valuables stolen from Jain temple (India)
(2 September 2016; The Free Press Journal)
CCTV captured two men stealing the idol and other valuables but their faces were covered.

Items worth two lakh stolen from Jain temple (India)
(2 September 2016; The Times of India)
The theft occurred in the Aerodrome area of Indore and around 6kg of silver was taken.

Myanmar earthquake kills three, damages scores of ancient temples (Myanmar)
(24 August 2016; Reuters)
The 6.8 magnitude quake has caused damage and collapse at a number of temples in and around Bagan.

Bagan After the Quake: Concerns Over Manhandling of Debris (Myanmar)
(25 August 2016; The Irrawaddy)
Worries that sacred art will be further damaged or go missing in debris clean up.

Myanmar President Visits Bagan to Survey Quake-Damaged Pagodas (Myanmar)
(25 August 2016; Radio Free Asia)
Htin Kyaw is urging local officials to carry out repairs systematically

The earthquake aftermath: ‘Don’t rush with restoration’ (Myanmar)
(29 August 2016; DVB)
At least 397 temples will need repair, but priorities need to be take into account and the process should be done under accepted heritage standards.

Bagan pagodas to be repaired in 7-step process (Myanmar)
(31 August 2016; Eleven)
Information about the process that will be used to repair Myanmar’s quake-damaged temples.

Police recover 400-yr old stolen idols, ornaments (Nepal)
(21 August 2016; The Kathmandu Post)
The pieces were stolen recently from a temple in Naudobahal, Lalitpur, and the SSP mentions organized crime.

Balgopaleshwar Temple reconstruction suspended (Nepal)
(30 August 2016; My Republica)
The Dept of Archaeology halted the reconstruction due to concerns that archaeological and preservation norms were being violated.

Unesco concerned about inappropriate rebuilding of Ranipokhari (Nepal)
(1 September 2016; The Kathmandu Post)
“In a letter to the Kathmandu Metropolitan City and the Department of Archaeology, the Uneso said such practice raises serious questions on the creditability of future heritage rebuilding in the Kathmandu Valley”

Stolen Buddhist painting to be returned from U.S. (South Korea)
(1 September 2016; Yonhap News Agency)
‘The painting, called “Obuldo” in Korean, a depiction of Five Buddhas, was stolen from Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, 415 kilometers southwest of Seoul, sometime in the early 1970s.’

Action urged for Yama lintel return (Thailand, USA)
(23 August 2016; Bangkok Post)
Photos exist of the lintel in the Nong Hong temple before it was stolen. It is now in San Francisco.

Another artifact at US museum ‘may have been stolen’ (Thailand, USA)
(24 August 2016; Bangkok Post)
“Annother ancient artifact, believed to have been smuggled out of temple ruins in Buri Ram, is being exhibited at the Chong-Moon Lee Centre for Asian Art and Culture in San Francisco”

Collector Nguyen Thi Thu Hoa: A code of practice must soon be formed for collectors (Vietnam)
(31 August 2016; Vietnam Net)
A basic call for collectors to buy paintings from trusted sources.

West and Central Asia

Iran to Reclaim Achaemenid Tablets from US after 80 Years (Iran, USA)
(22 August 2016; Iran Front Page)
“Iran loaned to the University of Chicago Oriental Institute for research, translation and cataloguing some 80 years ago.”

Tomb raiders pillaged ancient Kazakhstan pyramid leaving only skulls and pottery (Kazakhstan)
(23 August 2016; International Business Times)
The looting probably took place in ancient times.

Ancient artifact smugglers arrested in south Lebanon (Lebanon)
(3 September 2016; The Daily Star)
Four were arrested, however the item imaged appears to be a poor fake.

Israeli museum transfer sets ‘dangerous precedent’ (Palestine, Israel)
(24 August 2016; Al Jazeera)
“A recent court ruling sanctioned the move of a rare archaeological library from East to West Jerusalem.”

Ancient capital of Israel site beset by vandalism (Palestine, Israel)
(3 September 2016; Ynet News)
There is clearly graffiti on Sebastia in the West Bank. The situation is no doubt complicated.

Almost 70% of smuggled objects seized in Syria and Lebanon are fakes, antiquities chief says (Syria)
(24 August 2016; The Art Newspaper)
This also includes objects seized in Lebanon. A much more realistic picture of Syrian looting and ‘looting’.

11th century Bible recovered in central Turkey (Turkey)
(30 August 2016; Daily Sabah)
Police recovered the manuscript in the city of Aksaray.

Qatar’s oil boom created the world’s most extravagant art scene—and also led to its demise (UAE)
(24 August 2016; Quartz)
“Qatar’s rapid ascension from regional backwater to international art dealer was built on the back of huge oil and natural gas reserves.” Then oil prices fell…

UNESCO Director-General condemns the destruction of a 9th century old mosque of Bani Matar in Yemen (Yemen)
(4 September 2016; Malaysia Sun)
“Several reports from the General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM) and the General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities (GOPHCY) in Yemen, notably, have confirmed the destruction of the mosque by an air strike on Thursday 25 August 2016.”

How Yemen’s past is being erased, one air strike at a time (Yemen)
(2 September 2016; Middle East Eye)
Not even the UNESCO world heritage site of of Old Sanaa is safe from destruction, yet this is a loss the world community isn’t discussing.

In Other News

Cambridge artist’s Gord Downie portrait stolen by T-shirt sellers (Canada)
(30 August 2016; Cambridge Times)
The young artist’s work featuring the Tragically Hip frontman has been stolen my people seeking to profit from their popularity.

Bolton pub’s ghost ‘stolen’ by Chinese artist (UK, China)
(30 August 2016; Metro)
Lu Pingyuan traveled to Bolton specifically to bottle the ghost for display.

Will a $395,000 lawsuit make Craig Breedlove’s damaged Spirit of America great again? (USA)
(23 August 2016; Autoweek)
Breedlove says that the car was returned damaged and has sued the Museum of Science and Industry

Vandals steal Nelson Park lobster sculpture (USA)
(3 September 2016; WCVB)
The 5 foot tall, 150 pound, mosaic lobster is gone from Plymouth.