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January 3rd, 2015

Posted In: boeken, Book reviews, books and manuscripts, library theft

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January 3rd, 2015

Posted In: boeken, Book reviews, books and manuscripts, library theft

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March 17th, 2012

Posted In: Book reviews, WWII

Disaster management has become a more widely discussed topic in recent years. It is not necessarily that there are more devastating catastrophe happening, but that it is discussed and reacted upon in a different way. Word wide connections have grown stronger and a sense of globalnes is starting to settle. It is no longer just the isolated thinking about individual states or regions, but more and more a global image is growing. 

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UrbanTick: Book – Cultural Emergency | Ton Cremers, Museumbeveiliging /Museum Security Network.

September 18th, 2011

Posted In: Book reviews

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July 17th, 2011

Posted In: Book reviews, Museum thefts

The Getty Museum and its antiquities: Collateral damage

Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum. By Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 384 pages; $28 and £16.95. Buy from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

THE admirable display of Greek and Roman antiquities at the Getty Villa in Malibu was a hit when the museum reopened in 2006 after a $275m refurbishment. The curator of the show, Marion True, was not present, however, having been forcibly retired by the Getty trustees. Ms True was facing trial in Rome on charges of acquiring for the Getty classical items illegally looted from Italian graves. She is both the villain and the victim in this slickly written and well researched detective story by two journalists associated with the Los Angeles Times.

When Ms True began working at the Getty in the mid-1980s demand for classical antiquities greatly exceeded supply. It was being met principally by a few piratical European dealers running a supply chain that started in archaeological sites in Italy and Greece, where looting was endemic, and ended in the great American museums. Ms True’s finest moment was the purchase, for $18m, of a huge limestone and marble statue of Aphrodite dating from the fifth century BC. The purchase went ahead from a London dealer named Robin Symes, even though the provenance was laughable. Gossip in the trade suggested that Aphrodite had in fact been found not long before in Sicily. It seemed that Ms True had succumbed to curatorial avarice.

By coincidence, the purchase was completed on the same day that Italian bureaucrats decided it was time to stop the exodus and initiated an international investigation into the illegal traffic, to be conducted by an unforgiving prosecutor named Paolo Ferri. Mr Ferri saw a photograph of Aphrodite, and decided that it belonged back in Italy. He targeted Ms True.

She was an unlikely villain, since she was at the time making a stir in American museum circles by demanding a significant change to acquisition policies. It should be illegal, she declared, for museums to purchase classical statuary whose provenance was unclear. Furthermore, if looted work was identified in American museums it should be returned. She returned to Italy four significant pieces bought by the Getty. Senior policemen and bureaucrats in Rome were impressed, but not Mr Ferri. He decided that Ms True had a double nature—“not Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but very similar”. He put her on trial.

Ms True pleaded not guilty, but her case suffered badly from self-inflicted wounds. She coveted a house in Greece and borrowed money to buy it from an important New York collector, who had just given and sold much of his collection to the Getty. Moreover, that collection contained a number of pieces that circumstantial evidence identified as suspect. The Getty’s trustees decided the house loan was a conflict of interest and forced out Ms True while she was on trial for transactions they had known about and approved. Her former colleagues at the Getty have nothing to learn from Pontius Pilate when it comes to washing their hands.

Ms True battled on in Rome, refusing to admit any guilt. Her case was finally dropped last November, after this book was completed. The authors, if not the court, clearly consider Ms True guilty as charged. But by then Mr Ferri’s investigation had achieved its aim: Aphrodite was back in Italy, along with dozens of other looted antiquities from American museums. Mr Ferri finally confessed that Ms True had been only a means to an end. Ms True, jobless, with her reputation destroyed, now cultivates her Greek garden. She was, Mr Ferri says, “collateral damage”. The story is well told, though perhaps sadder than the authors intended.

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The Getty Museum and its antiquities: Collateral damage | The Economist.

May 22nd, 2011

Posted In: Book reviews

Charney delivers, essentially, a biography of the altar. As his narrative plainly illustrates, he is only the latest in a long line to find himself consumed by the altar’s beauty, obscure meaning and strange history.

Charney speculates that the reproduction placed in the altar is actually a touched-up version of the stolen panel, returned by the thief. But a recent restoration of the altar, sponsored by the Getty Foundation, has allowed historians to debunk this theory.

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‘Stealing the Mystic Lamb’ by Noah Charney: Book Review – latimes.com.

January 15th, 2011

Posted In: Book reviews

CRIMINOLOGY AND ARCHAEOLOGY: STUDIES IN LOOTED ANTIQUITIES, by Simon Mackenzie and Penny Green (eds). Oxford, UK, and Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing, 2009

via CRIMINOLOGY AND ARCHAEOLOGY.

January 6th, 2011

Posted In: Book reviews

Peju Layiwola.  Benin1897.com: Art and the Restitution Question.Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria  Wy Art Editions, 2010.  Illustrations.244 pp.  $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-978-902-703-3.

Reviewed by Joseph Nevadomsky
The Art of Benin Repatriation and the Repatriation of  Benin Art
There are several features of this book that deserve review andcomment. First is the title, intriguing and open to interpretation.The “.com” suggests commercial applications in terms of sharing themarket on Benin brass castings. “Restitution,” too, suggests someform of financial liability rather than the more constrainingrepatriation. (Transfer of money and deeds is easier than movement ofproperty.) Leasing cultural identity or creating new identities ofownership and transfer are viable options as the “.com.” Maybecultural property is a loan agreement into which banks shouldventure, like sub-primes and refinancing. Everything is negotiable inmarket economies. When money talks, heritage walks.
Second, Peju Layiwola’s book is about her art, the production of it,the exhibition that displayed some of it, and the accompanyingsymposium that opened the exhibition. Layiwola, noted forinstallation art, offers an exploration of Benin art, heritage, andrepatriation as she interprets this in mixed media: clay, calabashes,and layered copper among them. The art is meant for us to reflect onthe Benin kingdom, on its downfall and removal of palace objects, andespecially on the political agenda of restitution. This is aided bythe essays of various commentators.
Layiwola is the daughter of Elizabeth Olowu, an accomplished artistand a half-sister of the present Oba (king) of Benin, Oba Erediauwa.Princess Olowu is noted for her cement civic statuary. Daughter Pejuis a studio-trained installation artist and university teacher. Thismagnificently produced book celebrates daughter Peju’s artconstructions, with essays about her and by her, and photographs ofher work and workshop, as well as photos of family, friends, andconference associates. It contains essays from the opening symposiumin Lagos (from where the exhibition traveled to Ibadan, Abuja, andBenin City).
Keenly observed accounts of her creativity permeate thistext–narratives that warmly capture a place and time with emotionalasides and that demonstrate how Layiwola’s lifelong affection forBenin has imprinted her imagination. One example of Layiwola’s workas shown here consists of gourds painted with images, each labeledwith the name of a different Benin king. They are suspended in a waythat reminds one of a roped lattice or patio divider. The onethousand terracottas mostly replicate late (ca. nineteenth century)Oba brass commemorative heads, although they are less detailed.Intended as protest art, they are not as symbolically potent orascorbic as, say, Barbara Donahue’s _Amber Waves of Grain_, anexhibit of thirty thousand ceramic nose cones that representedAmerica’s nuclear arsenal in 1986.
Several essays are a paean to her art, and suitably adulatory. Aforeword by her uncle, the_ _king of Benin, places her skills infamily surrounds; a preface by Tunde Babawale (director of the Centerfor Black and African Arts and Civilization in Lagos) highlights thecontemporary relevance of her art for education; and a note by MimiWolford (d irector of the Mbari Institute for Contemporary AfricanArt in Washington DC) describes how she and Layiwola became closefriends. There are, too, an anonymous “A Profile” about Layiwola, andan introduction by the artist that illuminates her socialization,schooling, and artistic training.
Also by Layiwola, “Resurrecting the Disappeared: ARecontextualization of 1897″_ _is a memory lane recounting of how herfamily background intersects with her art. There may be a comparisonhere to Amir Nour’s 1969 _Grazing at Shendi_, 202 stainless steelsemi-circular arches evocative of childhood memories of goats grazingin the Sudan.
Two other essays also use Layiwola’s background to explore her art.”Material Culture, Maternal Culture, Peju Layiwola’s Art and ItsObligations” by Mabel Evwierhoma (professor of theater arts at theUniversity of Abuja) takes off from the artist’s childhood as anemanation to dwell on feminism and women’s art. Inniversity ofWisconsin) takes us through the exhibition, seeing it as ametamonument that in its iconography depicts a multitude of subjectsthat synecdochically stand for Benin monarchs and subjects bothbefore and after the Punitive Expedition of 1897. For High, ameta-monument is a postmodern construction that requires ambulatoryviewing and critical reflection to comprehend how an art installationglorifies the past and connects it to the nostalgia of the present.
Interlarded among these encomia are serious examinations ofrepatriation by proponents, and this is the third feature of thebook. The essays take the path of political rectitude in declaringBenin objects in Western museums as “looted,” “stolen,” “arroganttheft,” “aggressive art imperialism,” and “pillaged culturalheritage.” The essays are variously incisive, vitriolic, andexplosive, but never petty. Beyond that, while Western museumdefenders of their loot see their domain as a “curatoreum,” which,like a crypt or mausoleum, preserves the dead, the authors here seethe Western domain as a “curatorium,” which destroys culturalidentity as a crematorium destroys the dead. Trying to fathom how toresolve such oppositions is a mug’s game.
Some of these essays are primed to “history” as fraud, andrestitution as legit payback. Sola Olorunyomi (who teachesperformance and media art at the University of Ibadan) offers “Hmmm… 1897? Or an Introduction,” hitting the reader with a discursiverebuttal of a colonial master text: what he calls the “mortifyinglingo of colonial speak,” a reference to the bug-bear “civilizingmission”–and argues that the events of Benin’s past set the textualagenda (p. xx). The reinterpretation of the 1897 British PunitiveExpedition now includes plays (e.g., Ola Rotimi’s _Ovonramwen_[produced in 1971, published in 1974])_ _and the 2009 rap musicaltrack _1897_ by Osaigbovo Agbonze (alias Monday Midnite). In “Art,Anonymity, Anger and Re-appropriation,” Benson Eluma (freelancewriter) comments on the artificial distinction between “looted” Beninart and “contemporaneous” Benin art, or between “authentic” value and”repro” ersatz.
“Negotiations for the Return of Nok Sculptures from France toNigeria: An Unrighteous Conclusion” by Folarin Shyllon (dean, Facultyof Law, University of Ibadan), an expert on cultural property, goesbeyond his knowledge about Nok terracottas to offer details about theBenin Idia ivory hip mask requested for loan by Nigeria from Britainfor the celebrated 1977 FESTAC (the Second Festival of Black andAfrican Arts and Culture). Britain refused, and an excellent replica,equally iconic, carved by a young man from the Benin Arts Councilreplaced it as the logo for the festival. Dipping into subalternstudies, Sylvester Ogbechie (associate professor of art history atUniversity of California, Santa Barbara) in “The Sword of ObaOvonramwen: 1897 and Narratives of Domination and Resistance”_ _tellsus the effects that the collapse of the Benin kingdom had on thepolitical economy of outlier groups, such as the Western Igbo,expressed in the telling phrase by one of the Ogbechie family: “Uwakpu ekpu” (the world turned upside down).
“Of Desecrated History, Memories and Values in Peju Layiwola’s RecentWorks,” by Akin Onipede (Department of Creative Arts at theUniversity of Lagos), is a travail that laments the violation of apeople’s cultural heritage and shows how Layiwola’s art excites theconscience to expose Western chicanery. Kwame Opoku is a polemiciston cultural affairs willing to take on the likes of anti-repatriationadvocates, such as James Cuno (director of the Art Institute ofChicago). Opoku is noted for positing sharp and lucid rebuttals. In”One Counter-Agenda from Africa: Would Western Museums Return LootedObjects if Nigeria and Other African States Were Ruled by Angels?” hetakes up the hoary issue of secure and suitable locations forrepatriated objects; this leads quickly to observations onobscurantist African leaders, indigenous looters, and localnonchalance. He takes head on a practical consequence ofrepatriation: what to do with returned loot and where to chamber it?
There is a lot of petrol in these contributions, a fair share ofangst and anger, retorts, and shifts in linguistic discourse from thelanguage of the managers of art to the language of putative owners.The arguments for the repatriation of Benin objects are remarkablyintelligent rather than histrionic. What remains wobbly and largelyoff stage is the fact that Nigeria’s museums are so unkempt andmismanaged as to not deserve that restitution.
Layiwola’s creations are meant to make a statement and the symposiumpapers published here are meant to highlight that. But there is adisconnect between her art and the repatriation issue. The gourds andclay busts do not have _that_ symbolic or monumental impact. What dothey evoke? Are they compelling? Layiwola’s pieces _can_ be seen asplayful or as profound, whimsical rather than channeling one’sthoughts to repatriation, and a celebration and remembrance ofdynastic continuity; nostalgia for a kingdom past its glory but stillintact in some ways. The gourds, each painted with the name of a kingare a fun garden partition, like large chimes swaying in a rainforest breeze. Other installations are incredibly thoughtful:_Chequered History III _(2009),_ _of polyester, glass, and acrylic,expresses the fragmentation of Africa as a consequence of the BerlinConference of 1884 and of colonialism. _Theatre of War_ (2009),__terracotta and copper, documents a timeline of the PunitiveExpedition and participants. Compare her installations to the Beninplaques that once graced the wall of the left staircase andconfronted visitors upon entering the British Museum, not necessarilya display of imperialism though the aggregation of plaques can besurmised that way, but arguably a glorious display of the historicart of a West African forest kingdom. Maybe Layiwola’s installationsharbor the same ambiguity and discursive complexity.
Of real value is the color catalogue that occupies the second half ofthe book. In addition to workshop photographs, the major installationpieces are described from inception and meaning to production andarrangement. Of particular importance is Layiwola’s insistence onutilizing her art as teaching aids for school children and communitygroups to bring about a level of cultural awareness of historicalpatrimony. She melds art practice and social activism without outrageor stridency.This is really where her art succeeds. While it may notgarner the international attention or allure of Christo’s _The Gates_(2005) or _Running Fence _(1976),_ _her art serves as an anthem and abeacon. Like the _AIDS Memorial Quilt Project _laid out on theWashington Mall in 1987 that commemorates and calls attention tothose who died of AIDS, Layiwola’s art exerts an educational force inits own dominion.
Citation: Joseph Nevadomsky. Review of Layiwola, Peju,_Benin1897.com: Art and the Restitution Question_. H-AfrArts, H-NetReviews. October, 2010.URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=30187
This work is licensed under a Creative CommonsAttribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United StatesLicense.

H-AfrArtsH-Net Network for African Expressive CultureE -Mail: H-AFRARTS@H-NET.MSU.EDUhttp://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~artsweb/

October 13th, 2010

Posted In: Book reviews

His Heart Is in the Art of Sleuthing
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/arts/design/07wittman.html?pagewanted=all

By RANDY KENNEDY

Published: June 6, 2010

There might be a few agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who could sit down at a piano and run through a Chopin Fantasie to calm their nerves, as Robert K. Wittman used to do. But there probably aren’t many who could also chat knowledgably about Cézanne’s influence on Soutine. Or who have studied formalism at the Barnes Foundation art museum outside of Philadelphia. Or who have found themselves in Hollywood, Fla., eating lunch with — and probably being targeted by — two large French assassins nicknamed Vanilla and Chocolate, while tantalizingly close to recovering paintings from the biggest art heist in American history, the 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

For 15 years, until his retirement in 2008, Mr. Wittman — the author of a rollicking memoir, “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the  World’s Stolen Treasures,” released last week by Crown Publishers — was the driving force behind the F.B.I.’s efforts to pursue art thieves, a fledgling program that grew into a formal Art Crime Team under his leadership, though the team is still tiny compared with its counterparts in Europe.

To this day Mr. Wittman, now a private security consultant, has a hard time visiting the places he loves the most — art museums — without starting to case them the minute he walks in. During an interview last week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he declared it one of the few museums where he can relax, because he has known the Met’s security chief for years. “It’s one of the safe ones,” he said. But standing before Duccio’s tiny “Madonna and Child” — a work the museum is believed to have paid more than $45 million for in 2004 — he spent less time admiring the painting than studying its transparent case to see how it was secured. “It’s a habit,” he said.

Mr. Wittman’s book, written with John Shiffman, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, comes at a lively time in the world of art pilfering — a thief made away just last month with a Picasso and four other paintings from a Paris museum — and imparts helpful advice to would-be thieves, chiefly that famous paintings are exceedingly dumb things to steal because they are nearly impossible to sell. The memoir made waves while still in galleys with its claims that the F.B.I. botched the job of recovering the Gardner paintings — a Vermeer, a Rembrandt seascape and possibly others — through bureaucratic infighting that caused the investigation to unravel.

Mr. Wittman, who was based in Philadelphia, worked undercover on the case for almost two years, posing as a shady art collector to try to buy the paintings from two Frenchmen with connections to the Corsican mob, which the F.B.I. and other international law-enforcement agencies suspected of holding the works.

“We were two weeks away from having the Vermeer and the Rembrandt,” Mr. Wittman said at the Met, watching early morning museumgoers filter through the Baroque galleries. “That’s only my opinion, of course, based on what I knew. But I sincerely believe that we were that close.”

Ken Hoffman, an F.B.I. spokesman, said the agency did not plan to comment on the book. “It is what it is,” he said. “We don’t really have anything to add.” The bureau reviewed the book before its publication, Mr. Wittman said, and after negotiations between lawyers for the F.B.I. and the publisher, some facts about investigations were omitted.

While he is generally admiring of the agency where he worked for 20 years, the refrain throughout his book is that the F.B.I. cares little about recovering stolen artwork, a job it is often better equipped to perform than local law-enforcement agencies.

“Most art crime investigations are run by the same local F.B.I. unit that handles routine property theft,” he writes. “Art and antiquity crime is tolerated, in part, because it is considered a victimless crime.” But in an ode to human creativity that sounds a little odd coming from a federal agent, he adds that his view was always different: “Art thieves steal more than beautiful objects; they steal memories and identity. They steal history.”

Of course pursuing art thieves also had its perks at a place where a big cocaine bust could start to feel like just another big cocaine bust. Mr. Wittman’s investigations — which he says resulted in the recovery of more than $225 million in art and antiquities, including works by Goya,  Rodin and Rembrandt, along with Geronimo’s eagle-feather war bonnet and the original manuscript of Pearl S. Buck’s “Good Earth” — took him around the world, to Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Madrid, Copenhagen. In 2003 he accompanied one of the 14 original copies of the Bill of Rights on the F.B.I. director’s jet to return it to its home in Raleigh, N.C., after it was seized in an undercover sting.

Even the local cases could be thrilling. He and his mentor, an agent in the Philadelphia office of the F.B.I., Bob Bazin, once tracked down a 50-pound crystal ball from the Forbidden City in Beijing, which they found sitting in a housekeeper’s bedroom in Trenton, beneath a baseball cap. (It had been stolen from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and later given to the housekeeper as a birthday present; she thought it was worthless.)

“When you track down something like that, you have this feeling of euphoria that I can only compare to how I felt when my kids were born,” said Mr. Wittman, a burly, soft-spoken man who carries himself with the authority of a cop, but who was able, for long stretches, to convince criminals he was one of them.

“Priceless” can read at times, not unpleasantly, as if an art history textbook got mixed up at the printer with a screenplay for “The Wire.”

Readers learn, for example, the difference between “the bump” (in which an undercover agent makes contact with a suspect by way of a seemingly accidental meeting) and “the vouch” (in which someone leads the suspect to believe the undercover agent is who he says he is). Other investigative details dazzle: a Miami yacht at the ready to entertain a group of thugs; a gym bag filled with 500,000 euros in cash to “buy” a Breughel in Spain; an unnamed Hollywood starlet who helps the bureau by pretending to “know” an undercover agent in his alter ego, cementing his reputation as a player.

Mr. Wittman, 54, was not someone who seemed destined for a cloak-and-dagger life. He grew up in a middle-class family in Baltimore. His father was an Air Force sergeant who met and married his mother in Tokyo during the Korean War. In high school he was a piano prodigy but realized he wasn’t quite good enough to make a career of it. He helped his father publish a small agricultural newspaper for several years before his wife, Donna, urged him to apply to the F.B.I., where a neighbor whom he had idolized as a child had worked.

After so many years of trying to keep his face out of the newspapers, it is still disconcerting to be seeking publicity, he said. In fact, he worked undercover on contract for the F.B.I. only a few months ago in a widely publicized case, helping to recover a stolen 1926 Juan Gris in Florida.

But all that is over now. “And frankly,” he said, “it’s a relief.” No more lunches with people who might want to shoot him. “And no more family barbecues where I’m carrying three cellphones, trying to remember who I’m supposed to be when one rings.”

But he will probably never be able to go back to being just a regular art lover. On a recent security consulting trip to Romania he visited a small museum in Constanta and found himself worrying about the paintings too much to enjoy them: no locks to fasten them to the walls, hanging wires too thin, security-camera sightlines blocked, one docent to watch three floors.

“Oh my God,” he said. “The place is a crime waiting to happen.”

June 7th, 2010

Posted In: art crime books and novels, Book reviews

Author Allison Hoover Bartlett on the curious psyche of a rare-book thief

By Matthew Battles  |  November 8, 2009

Rare books provoke passion in collectors, who expend untold time and treasure in their pursuit. Some surrender their scruples, too.

Take the case of John Charles Gilkey, who stole rare volumes, many worth thousands of dollars, from frustrated dealers around the country. In his compulsion and his scholarly commitment, Gilkey set himself apart from the other criminals with whom he shared time in jail. He took classes and visited libraries to better understand the authors and works he planned to find and steal. He built a veritable library of stolen books – first editions of children’s classics; autographed copies of great novels such as Thomas Hardy’s “Mayor of Casterbridge” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” The extent of his thefts, and the whereabouts of many books, is still not fully known.

He might never have been caught but for the diligence of Ken Sanders. A ponytailed Utah bookseller whose shop was a countercultural hangout, Sanders found a new calling as an amateur detective when he volunteered to serve as security chair for the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America. As Sanders uncovered the patterns of thievery that eventually led him to Gilkey, he became as absorbed in the the hunt for his nemesis as he would have been in pursuit of a rare 17th century withcraft tome, or a signed copy of “Finnegan’s Wake.”

His pursuit is recounted in “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession” (Riverhead), by Allison Hoover Bartlett. Her book delves into a world in which books are objects of meditation and desire, touchstones of memory, and talismans with almost magical powers. It’s both curious and moving to witness the struggles of these bibliophiles in a time when the book itself is in its season of economic, cultural, and technological turmoil.

Bartlett will appear in Boston at the Antiquarian Book Fair at Hynes Convention Center on Nov. 15. She spoke with us by phone from her home in San Francisco.

IDEAS: You’ve said you love reading but don’t share the collecting impulse yourself. Why do people dedicate their lives to hunting down rare books?

BARTLETT: The collector has this very deep appreciation for the book as a physical object that’s mixed with that other love that the rest of us have. And it seems to be almost something you’re born with. With lots of the collectors I met, it seemed like it’s an unidentified genetic trait. Because a lot of them grew up around collectors, their parents were collectors or their uncle was, and it just seems to be almost innate, like a musical ear.

IDEAS: For many collectors, you write, the goal is “to stumble upon a book whose scarcity or beauty or history or provenance is even more seductive than the story printed between its covers.” Aren’t they losing sight of something crucial?

BARTLETT: I don’t think they lose it so much. I think it just runs parallel to a love of the content. Most of the collectors I met, while they didn’t read the books they collected because they wanted to preserve the physical bodies, they were avid readers.

IDEAS: Like legitimate collectors, Gilkey’s motivated by a passion for books. What drove him to steal?

BARTLETT: I think that in many ways Gilkey is a loner, an outsider… He wanted the world to see him as a cultured erudite gentleman who revered literature. But there’s a lot of anger alongside that also; I think he’s frustrated that he’s not yet seen that way. And he has gone to prison repeatedly, I think five or six times at least for this. And what happens when he gets caught and goes to prison is, he wants revenge…. like OK, now I’m getting even, now I’m getting the book collection I deserve.

IDEAS: You write that “for Gilkey . . . having not paid for books… adds even more to their allure.”

BARTLETT: He told me at one point that he kept the books that he had stolen on a separate shelf from the ones that he had not. Although I’m not aware of very many books that he did not steal; if they were under twenty dollars at a library sale he might buy them.

IDEAS: You see movies about jewel thieves and art thieves where they’re stylish and debonair. Here, the thief becomes almost a book-world version of these characters – kind of an outsider intellectual, or a parody of a scholar.

BARTLETT: He’s so amiable and thoughtful, so soft-spoken – and there he is in his orange prison garb behind a glass partition. And it was that juxtaposition of the bookish and the criminal that made me think of “To Catch a Thief” and “Catch Me If You Can” and all those other movies where you have this character who is able to pass in a well-to-do, rarefied world, and pass as one of them, and steal them blind.

IDEAS: What made Ken Sanders such a dogged pursuer?

BARTLETT: I think he just felt very protective over his colleagues. These are people for the most part that don’t make a lot of money. They’re in this business because they love books… He would just become furious when he would hear of a theft and he was determined to figure out who this was.

IDEAS: What happens to rare books in the age of the e-book? What does the future of bibliomania look like?

BARTLETT: You know, the collectors have said, “It all comes down to this: you’ve gotta be able to smell it.” And as funny as that sounds, they’re getting to something essential, which is that reading a physical book is a sensory, intimate experience. And a lot of us don’t want to lose that, because smell is connected to memory, and memory is, as I said earlier – a book collection is a kind of memoir.

IDEAS: If you were going to start stealing books, what book would you go after?

BARTLETT: There’s a manuscript I describe in the first chapter by Flaubert, a handwritten manuscript. And I recently also saw a typed manuscript, but marked up, by Flannery O’Connor. And those are what really grab me. That’s the first time when I was working on this book that I thought, oh, now I understand what a thief feels, because I really want that and I’m sure I can’t afford it… If I could get an early draft of “In Cold Blood” with Capote’s notes all over it, that would just be gold.

IDEAS: There you go. There’s a little thief in every one of us.

BARTLETT: Oh absolutely. I’ve had several authors secretly admit to me that they’ve stolen books.

Matthew Battles is a frequent contributor to Ideas.

November 6th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews, library theft, Mailing list reports

Tags:

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures,
by Robert K. Wittman (Author), John Shiffman (Author)

pre-order this book at:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0307461475/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

Book’s release expected June 2010

October 19th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews, Mailing list reports

Tags:

During the darkest days of World War II, a ragtag band of British and American art scholars braved the battlefields of Europe to rescue thousands of cultural treasures from Nazi pillage and the collateral damage of armed conflict. These “monuments men’’ propped up collapsing buildings; repaired battle-scarred frescoes and mosaics; guided Allied bombers away from world-renowned libraries and cathedrals; and tracked down the secret hiding places of masterworks by artists such as Rembrandt, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. But today their story – one of the grandest yarns of the Greatest Generation – remains little known outside the art world.

 Two new books aim to remedy that situation. “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,’’ by writer and documentary film producer Robert Edsel, offers a stirring treatment, geared to the broadest of popular audiences. “The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy’s Art During World War II,’’ by journalist Ilaria Dagnini Brey, presents a more nuanced account – much of it based on archival research – but with a narrower focus, dealing exclusively with operations on the Italian peninsula.

 Edsel, author of “Rescuing Da Vinci,’’ a pictorial history of World War II art recovery efforts, approaches his subject with an enthusiasm that is likely all the keener for having been reached by a circuitous path. Now 53 years old, the Texas-born Edsel earned a substantial fortune at a young age in oil exploration, an industry from which he retired in 1995. Soon thereafter, he found a new purpose in life while reading Lynn Nicholas’s then-recent book “The Rape of Europa,’’ which has since become the standard work in English on Nazi art looting. Fascinated by the topic, Edsel tracked down Nicholas and offered to finance a documentary based on her research. The film, narrated by Joan Allen, appeared to wide acclaim in 2007.

 In “The Monuments Men’’ (written in collaboration with Bret Witter), Edsel strives to give his heroes the two-fisted, John Wayne treatment he feels they deserve. Structured as a series of swift cinematic scenes, the book is at times overly theatrical – there are, for instance, too many interior monologues purporting to narrate people’s thoughts – but it is nonetheless a difficult work to put down.

 Edsel is particularly adept at capturing the quirky personalities of the individual monuments men, from the moody and flamboyantly gay Lincoln Kirstein, who later founded the New York City Ballet, to the indomitable James Rorimer, subsequently director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Shortly after the invasion of Normandy, we are told, Rorimer summoned up his “bulldog determination’’ when he spotted an American wrecking detail demolishing the walls of an inconveniently situated chateau. Rorimer launched into a shouting match with the commanding officer, who agreed to relent only when the irate art historian began snapping photographs and threatening to send a report to headquarters.

 The bulk of Edsel’s book narrates the efforts of the monuments men to track down artworks stolen by the Nazis from Jewish collectors and conquered nations. When the tide of the war had begun to turn against them, Hitler’s minions hid this loot in mines, caves, and castles throughout occupied Europe. The largest cache – 6,714 paintings and sculptures, including Vermeer’s “Art of Painting’’ and Van Eyck’s Ghent altarpiece – was found in the salt mines of Altaussee in Austria. It was only by chance that these works survived: A junior SS officer had disobeyed repeated orders to blow up the horde.

 The situation in Italy, as described in meticulous detail by Brey in “The Venus Fixers,’’ was somewhat different than in other parts of the European theater. Fighting on Hitler’s side in the war, Italy did not have to contend with the Nazis’ wholesale confiscation of art – at least not until 1943. That was the year of the Allied invasion, which prompted a popular uprising that overthrew Mussolini. The Germans then installed a despotic puppet government and dug in for a protracted and destructive battle with Patton’s advancing army. Slowly forced northward, the Nazis engaged in a punitive spree of cultural vandalism, dynamiting the historic bridges of Florence and stealing any important art that they could lay their hands on.

 Brey, who is Italian by birth, makes a significant contribution by delving into previously unexplored Italian archives to flesh out the perspective of the native population amid the chaos of war. Her description of the sincere, if hapless, efforts of the Italian cultural authorities to protect their own patrimony makes for sobering reading. It also sets the stage for the warm embrace that the monuments men received when they set to work cataloging missing masterpieces and mitigating the destruction left in the wake of the Nazis.

 Brey’s curious title, “The Venus Fixers,’’ refers to an alternate sobriquet for the monuments men, bestowed upon them derisively by regular army officers who saw little need for meddlesome art historians in a war zone. Although understandable, that view was short-sighted. “While to some comrades the Venus Fixers may have looked like devoted and thorough housemaids, straightening, dusting, rearranging,’’ Brey notes sagely, “they were actually watching over a civilization’s tremendous heritage at a crucial time in its history.’’ 

http://www.boston.com/

September 6th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews, WWII

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August 14th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews

Newport-Now.com

Author to Look at Rogue’s Gallery: The Secret History of the Metropolitan Museum

by NEWPORT NOW STAFF on JULY 22, 2009

NEWPORT, R.I. – The Redwood Library and Athenæum will host an author lecture by Michael Gross on Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. in the Library’s Harrison Room at 50 Bellevue Avenue, Newport.

Michael Gross’ latest fearless title, ROGUES’ GALLERY: The Secret History Of The Moguls And The Money That Made The Metropolitan Museum (Broadway Books; May 5, 2009; $29.95; 978-0-7679-2488-7) is the first independent look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by a journalist who doesn’t hesitate to speak truth to power.  Just as 740 Park peeled the facade off the extravagant home lives of America’s wealthiest, ROGUES’ GALLERY pulls back the shades of secrecy that have long shrouded cultural and philanthropic ambitions and maneuvers to reveal the product of such impulses.

A fascinating behind-the-scenes study of America’s rich and what is perhaps their greatest creation, ROGUES’ GALLEY gives its readers an unprecedented tour of the inner sanctum of one of the most famous museums in the world. With over 5 million visitors per year, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a repository for more than two million art objects created over the course of five thousand years. Covering over two million square feet, occupying thirteen acres of New York’s Central Park, and encompassing power and fire stations, an infirmary, and an armory with a forge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere, and its glitzy history—its art, its acquisition process, its glittering, if agenda-driven, array of supporters—is sexy, fascinating, and very, very enticing.

Covering the entire 138-year history of the Met, ROGUES’ GALLERY focuses on the most colorful characters in the museum’s history, opening in the office of the just-retired director Guy-Philippe Lannes de Montebello, the longest-serving leader in the museum’s history, before flashing back to tell the larger story through commanding figures like Luigi Palma di Cesnola, a Civil War hero and epic phony, the museum’s first director; J. Pierpont Morgan, the greatest capitalist and art collector of his day, who turned the museum from a plaything of a handful of rich amateurs into a professional operation; John D. Rockefeller Jr., who never served the Met in any official capacity, but became its greatest benefactor and behind-the-scenes puppeteer; the controversial Thomas P.F. (Publicity Forever) Hoving, whose ten year term as the museum’s director revolutionized museums around the world but left the Met reeling; and Jane Engelhard and Annette de la Renta, a mother-daughter trustee tag-team whose stories will simply astonish you.

Supporting roles are played by such grandees as George Blumenthal, the former head of Lazard Freres, and the museum’s first Jewish trustee; Roland Livingston Redmond, the anti-Semitic descendent of a colonial land-grant family; Arthur Houghton, the head of Corning Glass, who once ripped apart a priceless illustrated Islamic book in order to auction off its pages piecemeal; C. Douglas Dillon, JFK’s Secretary of the Treasury, who defended Hoving’s worst excesses; Robert Lehman, the retiring head of Lehman Brothers, who insisted the museum build a monument to his ego, and Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, whose New York Times went from being the museum’s biggest detractor to its most faithful supporter. The curators are just as fascinating, including James Rorimer, the shy medievalist who created the Cloisters; Greek and Roman curator Dietrich Von Bothmer, a refugee from Nazi Germany with a Bronze Star for heroism in WWII, whose most important acquisitions turned out to be looted, and John Pope-Hennessey, the brilliant paintings expert known as The Pope, who surrounded himself with a court of gay assistants. And of course there is a supporting cast of collectors, donors, string-pullers and fundraisers: Charles Engelhard, the model for the James Bond villain Auric Goldfinger; Irwin Untermyer, whose obsession with collecting drove his wife and children to suicide; Brooke Astor, Henry Kravis, Henry Kissinger, and even Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

about the Author

Provocative cultural journalist and New York Times best-selling author Michael Gross is currently a Contributing Editor at Travel & Leisure.

He has previously held positions at the New York Times, New York Magazine, Radar, George, and Esquire. His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, Interview, Details, Elle, Architectural Digest, American Photo, Town & Country, Cosmopolitan, and he has also written for the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, the Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chicago Tribune. He has profiled subjects from John F. Kennedy, Jr. to Greta Garbo, Richard Gere to Ivana Trump, and he has written on subjects such as divorce, plastic surgery, Greenwich Village, and sex in the 90’s. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling MODEL: THE UGLY BUSINESS OF BEAUTIFUL WOMEN (1995), which was published in 8 countries; MY GENERATION (2000), a biography of the Baby Boom generation, GENUINE AUTHENTIC:

THE REAL LIFE OF RALPH LAUREN (2003), and 740 PARK (2005). He currently lives in New York City. Visit: www.mgross.com.

Advance Praise for Rogues’ Gallery

“The title alone tantalizes but once you pick up this book and start reading about the good and the great and the hijinks of high society, it becomes un-put-downable!” —Kitty Kelley, author of TheFamily

“Michael Gross has proven once again that he is a premier chronicler of the rich. Rogues’ Gallery is an insightful, entertaining look at a great institution—with all its flaws and all its greatness.”—Gay Talese, author of A Writer’s Life

“Gross’s portrait of Met politics is sharp and well-constructed, and readers will marvel at how the institution transcended the bickering and backhanded power plays to become one of the largest and most prestigious museums in the world. A deft rendering of the down -and- dirty politics of the art world.”—KirkusReviews

Reviews of Rogue’s Gallery

“A blockbuster exhibition of human achievement and flaws.” –New York Times Book Review

“Explosive.” –Vanity Fair

“Gross demonstrates he knows his stuff. It’s a terrific tale.gossipy, color-rich, fact-packed .What Gross reveals is stuff that more people should know.”–USA Today

Link: http://tinyurl.com/mttctc

July 25th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews

Book Arouses Return of Looted Relics

By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter
04-10-2009

In February, two looted Chinese relics were sold at the French house of auction giant Christie’s for 14 million euros ($17.92 million). But China had tried to dissuade Christie’s from auctioning the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bronze rabbit and rat head sculptures, because they were looted from Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace, by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.

The case has renewed debate over the jurisdiction of “stolen” relics mostly taken during the period of Western expansion.

At this point, “Cleopatra’s Needle” written by former ambassador Kim Kyeong-im is quite relevant to explore the stories of looted treasures from around the world mostly by European powers.

Numerous countries including Egypt, China, Greece and also Korea are mourning the loss of priceless heritages.

Then, why do such looters refuse to return acquired relics to the original owners? The retrieval of cultural treasures is one of the world’s most thorny issues as it involves political, economic, cultural and international relations and usually takes years of strenuous and extensive efforts.

No country, however, is free from this tough issue because almost every country might be either a looter or a victim.

Such nations as the United Kingdom and France have stuck to the policy that cultural heritages don’t belong to a specific nation but to all humanity as a universal value as shown in the Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums adopted by the world’s leading museums in 2002.

Also, they argue that it is not pillage but an attempt to protect the relics from danger and destruction. The author says this is the typical logic behind the rejection of returning such treasures.

Wartime looting has, from ancient times, been a symbol of victory. According to the book, cultural heritages mostly belong to the creators or the countries where they were first discovered. Particularly in the case of ancient relics whose origins can be ambiguous, they usually belong to the territory that holds the relics.

However, there is no set rule to legally force the return of looted antiquities to their original sites. There is now only a customary law banning the illegal traffic in archaeological, artistic and ethnic objects.

Historically, Korea was frequently plundered by foreign powers including Japan. The Joseon Kingdom’s Uigwe (Royal Protocols) seized by France is just a case in point.

The issue of retrieving these relics only surfaced around the early 1990s in Korea as then French President Francois Mitterrand made remarks over the possibility of their return during a visit to Seoul to export the French high-speed TGV train.

France won the bid and the two governments have since undertaken several rounds of negotiations on the repatriation of the royal protocols but any conclusion is still up in the air.

Kim, who has served for 30 years on the diplomatic scene, points out the Korean government’s incompetence and ill-preparedness.

“It was too naive for the government to believe the counterpart’s negotiation cards in exchange for the TGV export. It remained dubious why the government didn’t take any action to ensure the return of the property before accepting a deal,” she says.

Most of some 6,000 volumes of the books from the Ganghwa archive, called the Oegyujanggak, established by King Jeongjo in 1781, were burned when French troops attacked the island in 1866. Only about 340 volumes and some maps were carried away during their retreat.

The plundered books and documents were left unnoticed at the French National Library and erroneously classified under the Chinese collection for more than 90 years until Dr. Park Byeong-seon, a Korean librarian working for the library, found the Korean palace documents from the Joseon period in 1975.

The Korean government didn’t know the actual state of the documents and sat at the negotiation table armed with just the research by Dr. Park from the 1980s. “Without knowing what treasures our counterparts were holding, we just reiterated `Give it back.’ So failure was a foregone conclusion,” she says. An actual inspection of the ancient documents only began in 2002, which then revealed just what the relics were.

To restore the stolen artifacts, the author says the government should approach the issue with proper reasoning and logic.

The documents are treasures that should be given back to their original owners. Not only until the 1815 Congress of Vienna did countries in Europe generally agree that taking war booty was a crime. The principle has contributed to the international customary law, which bans the pillage of cultural treasures. However, there is no consensus on when this law was exactly enacted.

But there is some rationale for the return of the documents ― the reunion of dispersed relics. The return movement for the Parthenon Marbles, or the Elgin Marbles, a collection of classical Greek sculptures and inscriptions, focuses on “reuniting the Parthenon sculptures for the unity of the monument” to allow visitors to better appreciate them as a whole. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803, obtained ambiguous permission from the authorities there to remove pieces from the Acropolis.

In the same way, the Joseon Kingdom’s old documents are also an inseparable part of the royal collection. It is also necessary for other royal documents scattered around the world including Japan and the United States to be considered thus.

Another rationale is that the looted documents are only meaningful to Korean scholars. No research was conducted on the Korean royal documents in France because of the lack of bibliographical resources and no universal value placed on them.

Korea has the facilities equipped with state-of-the-art technology for the protection and preservation of the old documents, which runs counter to the French claim of keeping them under the name of “safe preservation.”

The writer also criticizes Gregory Henderson (1922-1988), a former Foreign Service Officer and a specialist on Korea, whose collection includes crucial Korean ceramics. They range from various eras ― the Three Kingdoms, and the Goryeo and Joseon Kingdoms, dating from the 1st to the 19th centuries. The collection carries significance in that they show a difference from Chinese ceramics.

“The collection is of comprehensive quality and quantity tracking through Korean history and is of the highest value. It is seen not sporadic and casual collection, but simply the removal of a certain part of Korean heritage,” she says.

Henderson stayed in Korea just for six years and bought the enormous collection at very cheap prices as the country was poor at that time, using his diplomatic privilege as was the case with the Elgin Marbles, the book says.

But UNESCO Convention Article 9 provides for import and export controls in cases where cultural patrimony is at risk of pillage.

“Sometimes, diplomats who collect artworks from the countries they stayed are respected for their love for the artworks, but excessive collection is seen as only the deeds of money,” she says.

Currently, Greece, Egypt, Nigeria and Ethiopia are stepping up their efforts to regain looted artworks. International support for the return of the Elgin Marbles is gradually heightening.

“Until recently, the return of treasures reflected the one-side positions of the nations that claimed them. But restoration is gradually gaining general international support. Therefore, they should emphasize the importance and functions of museums,” she says.

“Whoever owns the relics, the famous artworks are associated with their creators. The Rosetta Stone written in an ancient Egyptian language is a symbol of Egyptian history and culture. The fact that it is in the British Museum also shows it’s inseparable from British imperialism,” Kim says.

The author served as Korea’s ambassador to the Republic of Tunisia, the second woman ambassador in the history of Korean foreign diplomacy and also head of the Cultural Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

She was the first woman to pass the foreign diplomat examination in 1978, and served as the first woman director-general at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, setting a record in the history of female civil servants.

chungay@koreatimes.co.kr
http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/art/2009/04/135_42947.html

April 12th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews

Book Arouses Return of Looted Relics

By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter
04-10-2009

In February, two looted Chinese relics were sold at the French house of auction giant Christie’s for 14 million euros ($17.92 million). But China had tried to dissuade Christie’s from auctioning the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bronze rabbit and rat head sculptures, because they were looted from Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace, by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.

The case has renewed debate over the jurisdiction of “stolen” relics mostly taken during the period of Western expansion.

At this point, “Cleopatra’s Needle” written by former ambassador Kim Kyeong-im is quite relevant to explore the stories of looted treasures from around the world mostly by European powers.

Numerous countries including Egypt, China, Greece and also Korea are mourning the loss of priceless heritages.

Then, why do such looters refuse to return acquired relics to the original owners? The retrieval of cultural treasures is one of the world’s most thorny issues as it involves political, economic, cultural and international relations and usually takes years of strenuous and extensive efforts.

No country, however, is free from this tough issue because almost every country might be either a looter or a victim.

Such nations as the United Kingdom and France have stuck to the policy that cultural heritages don’t belong to a specific nation but to all humanity as a universal value as shown in the Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums adopted by the world’s leading museums in 2002.

Also, they argue that it is not pillage but an attempt to protect the relics from danger and destruction. The author says this is the typical logic behind the rejection of returning such treasures.

Wartime looting has, from ancient times, been a symbol of victory. According to the book, cultural heritages mostly belong to the creators or the countries where they were first discovered. Particularly in the case of ancient relics whose origins can be ambiguous, they usually belong to the territory that holds the relics.

However, there is no set rule to legally force the return of looted antiquities to their original sites. There is now only a customary law banning the illegal traffic in archaeological, artistic and ethnic objects.

Historically, Korea was frequently plundered by foreign powers including Japan. The Joseon Kingdom’s Uigwe (Royal Protocols) seized by France is just a case in point.

The issue of retrieving these relics only surfaced around the early 1990s in Korea as then French President Francois Mitterrand made remarks over the possibility of their return during a visit to Seoul to export the French high-speed TGV train.

France won the bid and the two governments have since undertaken several rounds of negotiations on the repatriation of the royal protocols but any conclusion is still up in the air.

Kim, who has served for 30 years on the diplomatic scene, points out the Korean government’s incompetence and ill-preparedness.

“It was too naive for the government to believe the counterpart’s negotiation cards in exchange for the TGV export. It remained dubious why the government didn’t take any action to ensure the return of the property before accepting a deal,” she says.

Most of some 6,000 volumes of the books from the Ganghwa archive, called the Oegyujanggak, established by King Jeongjo in 1781, were burned when French troops attacked the island in 1866. Only about 340 volumes and some maps were carried away during their retreat.

The plundered books and documents were left unnoticed at the French National Library and erroneously classified under the Chinese collection for more than 90 years until Dr. Park Byeong-seon, a Korean librarian working for the library, found the Korean palace documents from the Joseon period in 1975.

The Korean government didn’t know the actual state of the documents and sat at the negotiation table armed with just the research by Dr. Park from the 1980s. “Without knowing what treasures our counterparts were holding, we just reiterated `Give it back.’ So failure was a foregone conclusion,” she says. An actual inspection of the ancient documents only began in 2002, which then revealed just what the relics were.

To restore the stolen artifacts, the author says the government should approach the issue with proper reasoning and logic.

The documents are treasures that should be given back to their original owners. Not only until the 1815 Congress of Vienna did countries in Europe generally agree that taking war booty was a crime. The principle has contributed to the international customary law, which bans the pillage of cultural treasures. However, there is no consensus on when this law was exactly enacted.

But there is some rationale for the return of the documents ― the reunion of dispersed relics. The return movement for the Parthenon Marbles, or the Elgin Marbles, a collection of classical Greek sculptures and inscriptions, focuses on “reuniting the Parthenon sculptures for the unity of the monument” to allow visitors to better appreciate them as a whole. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803, obtained ambiguous permission from the authorities there to remove pieces from the Acropolis.

In the same way, the Joseon Kingdom’s old documents are also an inseparable part of the royal collection. It is also necessary for other royal documents scattered around the world including Japan and the United States to be considered thus.

Another rationale is that the looted documents are only meaningful to Korean scholars. No research was conducted on the Korean royal documents in France because of the lack of bibliographical resources and no universal value placed on them.

Korea has the facilities equipped with state-of-the-art technology for the protection and preservation of the old documents, which runs counter to the French claim of keeping them under the name of “safe preservation.”

The writer also criticizes Gregory Henderson (1922-1988), a former Foreign Service Officer and a specialist on Korea, whose collection includes crucial Korean ceramics. They range from various eras ― the Three Kingdoms, and the Goryeo and Joseon Kingdoms, dating from the 1st to the 19th centuries. The collection carries significance in that they show a difference from Chinese ceramics.

“The collection is of comprehensive quality and quantity tracking through Korean history and is of the highest value. It is seen not sporadic and casual collection, but simply the removal of a certain part of Korean heritage,” she says.

Henderson stayed in Korea just for six years and bought the enormous collection at very cheap prices as the country was poor at that time, using his diplomatic privilege as was the case with the Elgin Marbles, the book says.

But UNESCO Convention Article 9 provides for import and export controls in cases where cultural patrimony is at risk of pillage.

“Sometimes, diplomats who collect artworks from the countries they stayed are respected for their love for the artworks, but excessive collection is seen as only the deeds of money,” she says.

Currently, Greece, Egypt, Nigeria and Ethiopia are stepping up their efforts to regain looted artworks. International support for the return of the Elgin Marbles is gradually heightening.

“Until recently, the return of treasures reflected the one-side positions of the nations that claimed them. But restoration is gradually gaining general international support. Therefore, they should emphasize the importance and functions of museums,” she says.

“Whoever owns the relics, the famous artworks are associated with their creators. The Rosetta Stone written in an ancient Egyptian language is a symbol of Egyptian history and culture. The fact that it is in the British Museum also shows it’s inseparable from British imperialism,” Kim says.

The author served as Korea’s ambassador to the Republic of Tunisia, the second woman ambassador in the history of Korean foreign diplomacy and also head of the Cultural Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

She was the first woman to pass the foreign diplomat examination in 1978, and served as the first woman director-general at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, setting a record in the history of female civil servants.

chungay@koreatimes.co.kr
http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/art/2009/04/135_42947.html

April 12th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews

Sketching in the details of the Gardner heist

Ulrich Boser’s retelling of the greatest art theft in modern times doesn’t provide a solution but captures the dedication required to build up an art collection – and to steal it

Kriston Capps guardian.co.uk, Thursday 19 February 2009
A detail from Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt’s only seascape, and one of the 13 works of art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photograph: Barney Burstein/Corbis:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/feb/19/ulrich-boser-gardner-heist

It’s fair to say that when a criminal investigation has detectives turning to the assistance of psychics and paranormals, it has hit a rocky point. And so it goes for the investigators working the notorious Gardner heist, one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries. But it’s hardly for lack of effort. It’s just that so many of the prime suspects have wound up murdered.

The Gardner Heist
: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft
by Ulrich Boser
272,
Collins

Images:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/feb/19/ulrich-boser-gardner-heist

In The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft, journalist-turned-gumshoe Ulrich Boser gives his own account of the burglary of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. On 19 March 1990 – St Patrick’s Day, a fact that would later become a clue – two men dressed as police officers talked their way into the museum after hours, gagged and bound two night watchmen, and made off with some of the world’s most precious paintings. The 13 paintings ripped crudely from their frames, including masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Degas – a haul valued at around $500m (£347m) – have not been seen since.

The first of many obsessives to star in Boser’s tale is none other than socialite Isabella Stewart Gardner, the museum’s founder and namesake. Boser details the incredible dedication (and money) that the heiress put toward her pristine collection of Old Masters, early moderns, and other masterworks.

But it’s not long before the story plunges into the murky depths of contemporary organised crime. Following in the footsteps of detective-to-the-art-world Harold Smith, Boser follows the works through whispers in the underworld. In following the old leads collected by Smith (who died in 2005), Boser tracks the true cast of characters that surround the missing paintings and brings new facts to light in a mystery now entering its second decade.

Boser rejects the idea of a shadowy “Dr No” villain, presumed by many to have masterminded the heist for personal enjoyment. He explains that art theft is more mundane and fantastical than that: stolen art is sometimes fenced to insurance adjusters, or serves as a black-market bond.

Boser’s investigation leads him to suspects ranging from James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious Boston-based Winter Hill Gang crime lord and the FBI’s second most wanted fugitive, to Thomas “Slab” Murphy, the IRA lieutenant who organised the Warrenpoint ambush. Myles Connor – a former rockabilly and probably the greatest art thief who ever lived – is just one of the violent, colourful figures in Boser’s tale of hardnosed FBI agents, corrupt Boston police, and slimy mob lawyers.

By Boser’s accounting, every cat burglar between Boston and Dublin has a bead on the missing masterpieces. To his credit, the book is a thrill despite the frustrating nature of the investigation, in which he painstakingly tracks audacious leads from mendacious thugs only to arrive at dead ends. And a few dead suspects. And to be sure, no art.

Still, Boser does turn up some new evidence and makes a conclusive case for the identity of the thieves who did the job. The mystery remains unsolved, but the case is reinvigorated in its retelling by a man who fully appreciates the value of the masterpieces and the magnitude of the criminal conspiracy that carried them away in the night.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Another review about the same book:

Vanishing Point
As the World’s Biggest Unsolved Art Theft Fades From View, a Fresh Look

By GUY DARST
The Gardner Heist
By Ulrich Boser
Collins, 272 pages, $25.99

The theft of important art is infuriating, but it also ignites curiosity like nothing else. You can have your Brink’s stickups and bank jobs. Some money gets stolen. Big deal. But when I read of a museum burglary, I start looking — hoping, I’m ashamed to say — for something like the 1964 Jules Dassin caper movie “Topkapi,” in which thieves penetrate Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum via a rope directly over the display case housing the object of their grandiose scheme.

No heist in memory can match for interest the one pulled off by two men dressed as police officers who talked their way into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston after midnight almost 19 years ago, then took over the place and drove off with a dozen works worth about a half-billion dollars today.

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Stolen-art expert Harold Smith.

Images:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123509228766328681.html

I began “The Gardner Heist” in the hope of finding out definitively who took the Gardner paintings and drawings and what happened to them. I was disappointed on those fronts, but not by the book itself. Author Ulrich Boser, a contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report, believes that he knows the identities of the two men who manhandled the two guards, shackled them in the basement and cruised the galleries picking up five drawings by Degas, Vermeer’s “The Concert,” a Manet portrait and three paintings by Rembrandt, including his only seascape, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”

The first sub-mystery begins right there. Why were other priceless works ignored — the thieves missed the Titian Room — while the bronze eagle worth perhaps all of $10 atop a Napoleonic flag was grabbed? The thieves, or their boss, appear to have had a spotty knowledge of art. And a cavalier attitude toward their fragile treasure: The crooks simply slashed some of the canvases around the edges and left the frames behind.

“What I didn’t know—what I couldn’t have known—was that Smith would be dead within weeks of our meeting and that I would soon pick up where he left off.”
Read an excerpt from “The Gardner Heist”

The renowned collection was assembled by one of the great art patrons, Isabella Stewart Gardner, “Mrs. Jack,” the dazzling and bulldozer-like wife of Jack Gardner (1837-98), chairman of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. She died in 1924, leaving strict instructions in her will that nothing could be changed about the display of the 2,500-piece collection in the museum, which is patterned on a 15th-century Venetian palace. After the theft, curators had no choice but to keep the empty picture frames hanging on the walls, where they remain to this day, a melancholy reminder of the loss.

The Gardner Heist
One of the men fingered by Mr. Boser is serving a 38-year prison sentence for the attempted robbery of an armored-car depot in 1999. Another of the author’s prime suspects died of a cocaine overdose a year after the theft. Photos of the men are startlingly like police sketches made from the guards’ information. But that hardly settles the matter, and Mr. Boser doesn’t have anything approaching smoking-gun evidence.

And the stolen art? Over the years, rogues, con men and assorted shady characters have tried to persuade reporters, police, the FBI and even officials of the proud Gardner itself that they knew where the paintings were and how to get them back. Negotiations of various kinds took place. The museum’s offer of a $5 million reward — which is still in effect — has fired plenty of imaginations.

But despite everything, as far as anyone knows, no one not involved in the job has ever seen a single piece of the purloined art. For a while a solution to the crime seemed close. In 1997, Boston Herald reporter Tom Mashberg was escorted to a warehouse by a man who took from a heavy-duty poster tube what appeared to be Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” Mr. Mashberg’s contact, who said that he would return all of the stolen art in exchange for the $5 million reward, even provided a few paint chips, which an expert determined indeed could have come from a Rembrandt. But later the museum staff observed that “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” could not be rolled up to fit into a tube — the canvas was too stiff — and that, although the paint chips were from a 17th-century Dutch painting, they weren’t from one of the museum’s Rembrandts.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Vermeer’s “The Concert.”
Images:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123509228766328681.html

The past two decades have seen a parade of shady volunteers bragging that they knew something about the missing art, including a notorious art burglar-connoisseur who often claimed to have intimate knowledge of the Gardner theft. But by the time Mr. Boser catches up with him, he is an old man with a wobbly memory and isn’t much help.

In his search, Mr. Boser also takes the reader on an informative tour of the small world of experts in stolen art. Among them is the debonair Harold Smith, who tried to crack the Gardner case for years and whose files, after his death, aid Mr. Boser’s investigation. The first lesson from the experts: Most museum security is lousy. Lesson No. 2: Many thefts are pulled off by real bozos, like the electrician in Waterford, Conn., who swiped a valuable painting from a home in 2005 and then sold the work, which was worth $150,000 at the time, to an antiques dealer for $100. Lesson No. 3: The reclusive, Croesus-rich art fancier who commissions heists from his remote castle in a foreign land is pretty much a myth.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
Images:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123509228766328681.html

Mr. Boser even found himself in Ireland chasing down the possibility that the notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, on the lam since 1995, had been involved with the Gardner affair. But the Bulger minions who have shocked the city with revelations of his depravity — he is accused of 19 murders — have never mentioned an art theft. Still, the author puts forward a “plausible explanation” of why the Gardner art has never turned up: The criminal world being what it is, everyone with knowledge of the loot’s whereabouts has been murdered.

What about the fellow serving the 38-year sentence? That’s a long time. It would take remarkable stubbornness not to offer the Gardner works in exchange for a shorter stay — if he knew where they were or how to find out. For me, that’s reason enough to doubt that this suspect knows where the loot is. But Mr. Boser seems to want to believe: With nothing solid to clinch his case, he lapses into a flight of imagination, inventing a criminal mastermind who explains that the convict probably thought he could beat the attempted- robbery rap as he had beaten others. Just wait until 2036, the mastermind advises, when he is free — then all will be revealed. Even though Mr. Boser has produced a captivating portrait of the world’s biggest unsolved art theft, that’s a brushstroke too far.

Mr. Darst is a retired deputy editor of the editorial pages of the Boston Herald.

February 20th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews

‘Antiquity’ argues past belongs to all
By Claire McHale Milner

“Thy walls defac’d, thy mouldering shrines remov’d/ By British hands…”

With those words, Lord Byron, an ardent supporter of Greek independence, cried out against the British Museum’s acquisition of marble carvings removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin 200 years ago.

Demands for the return of the Elgin Marbles to their “rightful owners,” the Greeks, continue to this day. Although it is unlikely the British Museum will relinquish this prize, many would see nothing wrong with the return of antiquities stolen from archaeological sites.

Yet that is exactly what James Cuno, the president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago, argues should not happen.

People in many parts of the world identify strongly with ancient civilizations that ruled huge regions, created great works of art and built spectacular monuments.

Modern leaders often legitimize their claims to power by referring to a glorious but distant past.

The Baathist party of Iraq, for example, used the slogan “Yesterday Nebuchadnezzar, today Saddam Hussein.”

In such a manner, antiquities acquire meaning well beyond their significance to scholars and the museum- going public.

Despite what one might think, the issue of ownership is by no means straightforward. The boundaries of nations like Iraq with rich archaeological remains were often drawn in the 19th or 20th centuries by colonial powers.

There is often little or no historical, cultural or ethnic continuity between those who presently hold power and the civilizations of antiquity.

As the author also points out, civilizations are the products of interactions among many cultures, so choosing one modern society as the “heir to the throne” is artificial.

What Cuno finds most troubling is the spread of retentionist cultural property laws. National laws and international agreements assert that countries own antiquities found within their territories, so the international community should facilitate the return of these objects.

The author contends that these laws have not reduced looting. Furthermore, archaeologists support these laws, because they are mostly concerned with advancing their careers by cooperating with governments that control access to archaeological sites. While there is an element of truth in such a claim, he certainly overstates his case.

Instead of carving up the past to suit nationalistic agendas, Cuno argues that antiquities belong to all humanity, and they should be displayed in museums for everyone to see. Doing so promotes intercultural understanding and tolerance, so desperately needed in these times of rising sectarianism and ethnic genocide. We should return to “partage,” the practice whereby antiquities were once split between institutions funding excavations and the country of origin.

Cuno’s discussions of antiquities laws and the use of antiquities to bolster nationalism are comprehensive, and his contention that the past belongs to everyone has merit. However, the restoration of partage would wreak havoc on the integrity of archaeological collections.

For practical reasons, archaeologists do adhere to local laws. But they also take an active role in supporting archaeological site museums that generate local pride and tourist dollars and, thereby, in reducing the poverty that drives the looting of sites.

We should not empty out museums containing ancient treasures simply for the sake of nationalistic demands. As Cuno argues, museums play a positive role in promoting intercultural communication in a dangerous world.

But we also cannot forget that by removing antiquities from Third World countries, Western nations decided “who owns antiquity” long ago, and they did so with little regard for the integrity of sites or concern for what was best for all of humanity. James Cuno’s book forces the reader to reflect on the significant role that antiquities play in shaping our world, past, present and future.

Claire McHale Milner is the curator and director of exhibits at Penn State’s Matson Museum of Anthropology.

December 21st, 2008

Posted In: Book reviews, looting and illegal art traffickers