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October 16th, 2013

Posted In: Tom Flynn

The Parthenon Marbles: A European Concern

Tom Flynn

Paper delivered by Tom Flynn at the Round Table at the European Parliament 
in Brussels on 15 October 2013
Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, distinguished members of the European Parliament. Let me begin by thanking Professor Sidjanski for the kind invitation to contribute to today’s Round Table. It is a pleasure and an honour to be with you in Brussels. 
What can we say about the case for reunifying the Parthenon Marbles that has not been said a thousand times before? What more can we add to the numerous persuasive arguments already made for reuniting the dismembered components of Phidias’s finest achievement? How many more times must we convene to reiterate the importance of restoring coherence to a work of art whose desecration at the hands of Lord Elgin damaged one of Greece’s greatest gifts to the world?
The answer to these questions is that there will always be more to say about the case for reunifying the Marbles. There will always be new and ever more compelling arguments for reuniting them in Athens. And until that happens our generation and future generations will continue to convene and will go on reminding the British Museum of its moral duty to restore to these objects the dignity that Lord Elgin so rudely snubbed. The story the Marbles tell is of a cultural moment that is a precious and irreplaceable part of our birthright as Europeans and the bedrock of our democratic ideals. That story loses much of its narrative charge while its components remain dispersed across different locations.
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via tomflynn: The Parthenon Marbles: A European Concern.

October 16th, 2013

Posted In: Tom Flynn

Mum’s the word: Should we alert art thieves to the value of their haul?

April 5, 2013

Tom Flynn

Another day, another theft from a museum…and another tranche of media articles alerting the thieves to the market value of what they’ve just stolen. Clearly we cannot stop journalists researching the likely open market value of stolen works of art, particularly when art price databases are so widely available and high prices make juicy headlines, but what’s the industry intelligence on this? Should law enforcement authorities, art theft investigators and specialist art crime research agencies reveal values or not? 
This question occurred to me while reading ARCA CEO Lynda Albertson’s excellent and informative piece on this week’s theft of important Castellani jewellery (left) from Rome’s Villa Giulia Museum.
If you believe, as many erroneously do, that stolen works of art have no economic value whatsoever (because they cannot be sold on the open market), then it logically follows that there is no harm in revealing recent auction prices for comparable works. In doing so you’re just telling the criminals how stupid they are. However, if you believe, as I do, that thieves often derive real economic value from art theft (albeit only a fraction of legitimate market value) — through insurance ransoms, using the objects as collateral against other criminal commodities, or benefiting from “rewards for information leading to recovery”, etc. — then surely there is genuine harm in revealing recent market prices. Won’t this only encourage further thefts?

There is, of course, a difference between the theft of works by ‘blue chip’ artists, the notional values of which are more widely known, and the theft of more academic material or unique works that have no direct or obvious market equivalent. We are therefore doing ourselves — and indeed the aggrieved museums or private collections — no favours by alerting thieves to the market value of comparably rare objects or comparable objects from specialist niche categories. The objects might have been nicked on commission (whisper it) on behalf of a collector with an aesthetic passion for such things and who in any event would never sell (in which case their market value is largely irrelevant). But they might also have been stolen opportunistically, in which case why inform the thieves as to the likely black market value of their haul?

The recent theft from the Rotterdam Kunsthal immediately triggered a hail of media reports estimating the likely market value of the hoard. Almost all of these were so wide of the mark as to be laughable to anyone with specialist knowledge of the art market. But they made good headlines. More critically, they may well have served to encourage other criminals to have a go.

I don’t know the answer to this, but my instinct tells me that those who understand art’s economic value (and particularly the relationship between legitimate and black market values) would generally refrain from educating the criminal fraternity on the financial upside of art theft.
I’d be interested to hear what specialists in the ‘art crime industry’ think. Should we broadcast prices? Or keep ‘schtum’?

tomflynn: Mum’s the word: Should we alert art thieves to the value of their haul?.

April 5th, 2013

Posted In: Tom Flynn

Art Loss Register and Jack Solomon facing lawsuit over their part in Norman Rockwell title dispute

June 6, 2012
Norman Rockwell, Russian Schoolroom

It took years, and cost her a fortune in legal fees, but in 2010, US art dealer Judy Goffman Cutler finally won title to the Norman Rockwell painting which she legitimately bought and rightfully owned but which had been challenged by the painting’s former owner, Jack Solomon.Solomon, who for a time pressed his claim with the support of the Art Loss Register (ALR), was eventually described by the presiding judge in the case as “not credible.”

Now Mrs Cutler has filed an official complaint in Las Vegas Federal Court, suing Solomon, the Art Loss Register, and Christopher Marinello, executive director of the ALR, seeking “punitive damages for abuse of process and conspiracy.”

The original case was a tangled web of claim and counter-claim, but at its heart was an attempt by Solomon to claim ownership of a painting for which he had already benefited financially on two previous occasions. Courthouse News Service, the California-based nationwide news service for lawyers and news media, reported on Thursday that Christopher Marinello of the Art Loss Register was listed as one of Solomon’s attorneys in his original complaint. The Courthouse News article goes on to state: “But Marinello would later testify in a separate proceeding that he never was Solomon’s attorney and that he agreed to add his name as the attorney of record in order to ‘give it some kind of added cachet or publicity that the Art Loss Register, as an organization, was blessing [Solomon’s] cause.'” Why a connection with the ALR could be assumed to “add cachet” has never been explained.

Solomon, a Missouri-based art dealer and Rockwell specialist, bought the painting — Russian Schoolroom, (above left) — in 1971 for $5,000. Two years later, he sold it through his Arts International gallery in Clayton, Missouri to Bert Elam, a collector, for $25,000. Elam agreed to leave the picture on temporary display at the gallery for the duration of a Rockwell exhibition. A few days later, on 24 June 1973, the painting was stolen from the gallery by persons unknown. Solomon and his gallery reimbursed Elam for the loss and made an insurance claim, which was duly compensated by the gallery’s insurer, Chubb.

In 1988, the painting resurfaced at Morton M. Goldberg Auction Rooms in New Orleans, consigned for sale by “a couple” whose identity has never been established. Solomon was contacted by the auctioneer and was sent a catalogue, the front cover of which showed a colour illustration of the painting. The auction was also widely advertised in the trade press, including a page in Antiques and the Arts Weekly in October 1988, in which the painting was illustrated (right).Judy Goffman Cutler was also contacted by auctioneer Morton Goldberg, who was aware of her status as America’s pre-eminent dealer in Norman Rockwell’s work. Mrs Cutler has a New York gallery specialising in American illustration and is also co-founder, with her husband Laurence, of the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, Rhode Island. Prior to the auction, Morton Goldberg requested Mrs Cutler’s interest in Russian Schoolroom in a price range of $90,000-100,000. She politely declined it at that price level, but made an index card to take note of it, which she filed away.

Soon after, on seeing that the painting was coming under the hammer at Goldberg’s ‘Louisiana Purchase Auction,’ where it was now estimated at $80,00-100,000, Mrs Cutler requested a catalogue for the sale (below left). She then began conducting her own extensive due diligence inquiries into the picture’s provenance. Finally satisfied that it could legitimately be bought, Mrs Cutler bid for the picture and secured it at the sale on 29 October 1988 for $64,000 ($70,400 including auctioneer’s fees).

Being the new proud owner of the painting, Mrs Cutler set about alerting the Rockwell collectors among her clients and advertising it for sale. What she was unaware of at this point, but which emerged in the subsequent court case, was that behind the scenes Solomon had cut a deal with Goldberg Auction Rooms prior to the sale. Despite having been paid out by his insurers in 1973, Solomon arranged with Goldberg that 10% of the auction proceeds would go to Goldberg, $20,000 would be paid to Chubb and that Solomon and the consignor would split the remaining proceeds 50/50. The identity of the consignor remains shrouded in mystery. What is also unclear is why the consignor — who must have acquired it in good faith — agreed to split the proceeds with Solomon, who had already been recompensed for the original theft and thus had no legitimate title to the painting. Unfortunately (one is tempted to say ‘conveniently’), Goldberg Auction Rooms long ago went out of business and its records have vanished. Who consigned the painting to auction? How, and from whom, did they acquire it?

In September 1989, Mrs Cutler sold Russian Schoolroom to her long-time client, the film director Steven Spielberg, who is also an enthusiastic Rockwell collector. Nothing further emerged until 2004 when an unknown person alerted the FBI to the 1973 theft. The FBI staff were unaware at that time that the case had been effectively resolved in 1988 when Solomon consented to the auction. In 2007, one of Steven Spielberg’s staff became aware that investigations were being conducted and contacted Judy Goffman Cutler.

Mrs Cutler then gave Steven Spielberg a Rockwell painting of comparable value and importance in order to remove him from the case and thereby save him the embarrassment. The Russian Schoolroom was placed into storage and Mrs Cutler and Solomon proceeded to argue their claims to title.

In April 2010, Judge Roger L. Hunt, presiding in the District Court for the District of Nevada, awarded title to Russian Schoolroomto Mrs Cutler.

Whether Mrs Cutler will succeed in her official complaint against Solomon and the ALR just filed in the Las Vegas Federal Court remains to be seen. However, one can understand how an honest art dealer who conducted extensive due diligence before acquiring a picture would seek recompense for the enormous sums subsequently expended in defending both her good title to the work in question and her reputation. At the very least the outcome of the case should act as a warning to all those who attach themselves to an illegitimate claim, either wilfully in order to acquire some prospective reward, or by failing to do their own due diligence into the parties involved.

As Julian Radcliffe, Chairman of the Art Loss Register himself commented recently with regard to another title dispute: “Anyone, including lawyers, who think that they can obtain rewards for the return of stolen art without providing full information on who had them and why, should be prosecuted.”

tomflynn: Art Loss Register and Jack Solomon facing lawsuit over their part in Norman Rockwell title dispute.

June 6th, 2012

Posted In: Mailing list reports, Tom Flynn

Fancy a game of cards? The stake is $250 million

Februray 11, 2012

Cézanne’s Card Players — an acknowledged masterpiece of post-Impressionist painting (left) — has demolished all previous art market records by selling to the Qatari royal family for a reported $250 million in a private treaty sale. The price reveals the extent to which the art market now occupies a parallel universe entirely out of synch with normal economic reality.

Cézanne’s two rustic workmen are shown playing cards, but a game of dice might have been more appropriate for the price of this picture is the most graphic illustration to date of the random nature of art market pricing. (Where better to start on this than the American economist William Baumol’s 1986 paper — ‘Unnatural Value: Or Art Investment as Floating Crap Game’, American Economic Review, 76, 1986, pp10-14).

Drawing on the classical economic theory of Adam Smith, Baumol was one of the first to explain how the art market lacks the mechanisms that govern other forms economic activity in which market prices for commodities are always propelled back towards a “natural price” by the equilibrating forces of supply and demand, etc. As a non-fungible asset, art does not respond to that gravitational pull, resulting in off-the-scale prices like the Qatari Cézanne purchase.

read on:

tomflynn: Fancy a game of cards? The stake is 250 million.

February 11th, 2012

Posted In: BLOG World (from related blogs), Tom Flynn