Monday, January 9, 2012

Art Theft: Athens UPDATED

Two paintings by Pablo Picasso - "Female Head" which was donated by the artist to the Greek people in recognition for their fight against the Nazis during WWII (pictured at top right) - and Piet Mondrian - "Mill," a 1905 oil painting (pictured at bottom right) - as well as a sketch of St Diego de Alcala by 16th century Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia were stolen from the National Art Gallery in Athens, Greece on Monday morning. According to the Greek newspaper Capital,
"Police said that the Gallery΄s alarm went off at 4:52 a.m. and the security guard, who was inside the building and had not been aware of anything suspicious up to that time, saw a man running out of the building. The guard immediately investigated the facilities and saw that two paintings were missing, and alerted police. An exhibition of masters was currently taking place at the Gallery, which closed to the public on Monday for restoration work. According to a police announcement later, one of the stolen paintings was a 1934 Picasso. Police said the perpetrator entered the building from the back side, breaking in through a mezzanine balcony door that he/they demolished, headed into the interior of the building and removed the two paintings from their frames. Police said the perpetrator attempted to steal a third painting (Mondrian's "Landscape"), but abandoned the effort. Police have taken footage from the museum΄s surveillance cameras for investigation."

Last November, the union that represents security guards at museums and archaeological sites very nearly shut down all Greece's monuments in a dispute with the culture and tourism ministry over overtime pay. The Culture and Tourism Ministry has seen its budget cut by 35% since 2009. Perhaps, the new austerity measures and workers' reactions to the budget cuts contributed to the ineffectiveness of the museum's security system and practices.

More information to come later in the day...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays from Art Theft Central

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to all! 

Remember that art thefts traditionally peak during the winter holidays, so please take the necessary steps to secure and protect your collections.

More on the topic can be founded here, here, and here.

Best wishes,

Mark Durney

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

RAND Misses with Art Crime Report

Recently, the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis, published a report titled "Assessing the illegal trade in cultural property from a public policy perspective." The paper's aim is to explore new ways of curtailing the illegal trade in cultural property. While it is refreshing to see a global policy think tank publish on the topic of the illicit trade in cultural property, I found that its authors could have investigated further in order to contribute new and innovative ideas to the international dialogue. Unfortunately, the paper's conclusions are really summaries of analyses that have been previously formulated by other scholars. To illustrate my point I have included comments along with RAND's conclusions in the following:
  1. (RAND) A coordinated international effort, with coherence across national legislation and policies, is necessary to combat the illegal trade. The existing differences in national policies are frequently exploited by criminals not just to transfer and eventually legitimise stolen property, but also to escape punishment and sanction. This point has been raised frequently in the past. The Conference on Organized Crime in Art and Antiquities sponsored by ISPAC, the Courmayeur Foundation and UNODC, which took place in Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy, on 12 – 14 December 2008 concluded that it is "crucial to foster high quality criminological research, economic studies devoted to the interfaces between licit and illicit markets, as well as coordination and sharing of national experiences and operational information." Also, the Conference participants called for "enhancing international cooperation in the prevention of these criminal activities, targeted attention should be devoted to judicial cooperation, money laundering and the liability of legal entities, as well as confiscation and harmonization of criminal offenses in this specific area." I raised similar points related to interagency and international coordination and cooperation in my paper titled "Art Theft Statistics: Valuable Tools in Need of Reliable Measures" in American Society of International Law's Cultural Heritage and Arts Review, Fall/Winter 2010, 56-63. From November 29 to December 2, NATO hosted an interagency Pilot Cultural Property Protection Course in Vienna, Austria with lectures by Dr Joris Kila, Chairman, International Military Cultural Resources Work Group (IMCuRWG); Karl von Habsburg, President, Association of National Committees of the BlueShield (ANCBS); and Dr. Laurie Rush, Cultural Resources Program Manager, and the CEMML Cultural Resources and ITAM Teams at Fort Drum, among other international leaders in cultural property protection.
  2. (RAND) The level of security for artworks in museums, galleries and public properties has been characterised as a major contributing factor to the existing levels of theft. This issue of security must be addressed in any reasonable response to the illegal trade. A few months ago, I reviewed a draft of an academic paper that led the reader to believe that museums were extremely vulnerable to art theft. Such a view on art theft is misinformed, unfounded, and likely perpetuated by heist films such as The Thomas Crown Affair and Entrapment. The art theft data I have compiled clearly indicates that museums, galleries, and public properties are less likely to be burglarized than private residences - when one considers how much better secured museums are than private residences (remote historic houses and local museums do tend to be more vulnerable to art theft than the well funded, urban situated museum). Museums typically have better defensive measures to protect against the risk of theft than archaeological sites and storage magazines. Looted and illicitly excavated archaeological artifacts constitute a much larger percentage of the illicit cultural property trade than objects stolen from museums. Accordingly, this policy conclusion appears to be inaccurate and misleading.
  3. (RAND) There is a pressing need for further research on the links between art crime and organised crime, terrorist groups and the drugs trade, which are all widely hypothesised in the literature but unsupported by concrete evidence beyond a small number of individual cases. The difficulties of establishing a robust empirical or theoretical basis for the connection between the illegal art trade and other illegal activity are in part due to the inadequacy of resources on and research into art crime more generally. This point has been examined and analyzed extensively by Mackenzie (2005), Tijhuis (2009), McCalister (2005), Proulx (2010), Chappell and Polk (2011), and me, among others.
  4. (RAND) In order to prevent situations whereby individuals or galleries purchase stolen art in good faith, there is a need for a legal mandate for all prospective buyers to consult a central registry of stolen art. Although a number of different databases of stolen art are in existence, there is no one central registry used by all parties in the legal art trade. By ensuring greater diligence in the maintenance and use of a central international database, the number of good faith purchases of stolen art could be reduced. This would also have the additional effect of making it more difficult for illegal traders to sell stolen works of art, making the enterprise less attractive overall. Likewise, this point has been raised by a handful of other scholars. I eagerly await the publication of an article that actually proposes a viable method for regulating the art market and implementing a central database. Someone should explain how the development and enforcement of such a system would be designed (e.g. through harmonization of national and international legislation as well as the coordination of international and national law enforcement agencies), financed (e.g. how would a taxation system be introduced and who would oversee it?), and maintained (e.g. how would the regulatory body operate?). 
In their additional "Research Conclusions," RAND's authors claim that the field of research is limited in the following ways (again I have added my comments in italics):

  • (RAND) The majority of the empirical literature dates back to the 1990s. As I stated in a recent Art Theft Central post, despite what some scholars have suggested the amount of empirical literature on the topic has grown rapidly over the past decade (refer to the post here for specific references). Currently, I am finishing an academic article that definitively debunks art crime's famous figures: the $6 billion estimate for the size of the annual illicit trade and the claim that it is the third or fourth largest illicit industry. 
  • (RAND) The majority of empirical research takes a regulatory approach to the matter, and less of a policy approach (looking, for example, at the role of training, databases, and so on). In reality, the most recent research has examined the role of training and databases (refer to my research for more information). In its annual "Attivita’ Operativa," Italy’s Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale regularly assesses its performance over the past year; examines the effectiveness of the preventive measures it took, which include training domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies, inspecting the security systems installed at museums, galleries, and archaeological sites, and monitoring the activities of the art market; and it contributes theft and recovery data. Similarly, refer to Davis, T. (2011). Supply and demand: exposing the illicit trade in Cambodian antiquities through a study of Sotheby’s auction house. Crime, Law, and Social Change, 56(2), 155-174 for an additional case study.
  • (RAND) Given the international nature of this kind of criminal activity, research data are difficult to obtain due to the difficulties of dealing with multiple jurisdictions, differing attitudes to what constitutes art and inconsistent approaches to keeping statistical evidence on art crime. I would suggest referring to the Carabinieri's annual reports, Interpol's data gathered from its yearly poll, and my quantitative research for statistical evidence on art crime. Rather than highlight the dearth of statistics for art crimes, I have often utilized the point as an opportunity to call on law enforcement agencies to maintain and report statistics.
  • (RAND) It is also hypothesised that art crime data are compromised by a lack of reporting due, for example, to the reluctance of museums and public properties to expose the vulnerability of their collections or the inadequacy of their in-house policies regarding the legitimate acquisition of cultural property. As more thorough research on the part of the authors would have indicated, this hypothesis has been made in countless publications before, including by Mackenzie, who examines how publicizing thefts can inspire more art thefts (2005). Also, I would argue that museums, galleries, and others are more likely to report art thefts today than they were in the 1970s when IFAR published its groundbreaking research on the topic and in the 1990s when Conklin published his book Art Crime.
Chappell, D. and Polk, K. (2011). Unraveling the “Cordata”: Just How Organized Is the International Traffic in Cultural Objects? In: Manacorda, S and Chappell, D (Eds). Crime in the Art and Antiquities World, New York: Springer, 99-11

Durney, M. (2010a). An examination of art theft, analysis of relevant statistics, and insights into the protection of cultural heritage. (Master’s Thesis). London, UK: University College London.

Durney, M. (2010b). Art theft statistics: a need for reliability. American Society of International Law Cultural Heritage and Arts Review Fall/Winter, 2010, 13–16.

Mackenzie, S. (2005). Criminal and Victim Profiles in Art Theft: Motive, Opportunity and Repeat Victimisation. Art Antiquity and Law, X(4), 353-370.

Manacorda, S. (2009). Organised Crime in Art and Antiquities (pp. 95–108). Milan, Italy: International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme.

McCalister, A. (2005). Organized crime and the theft of Iraqi antiquities. Trends in Organized Crime 9(1): 24-37.

Proulx, B.B. (2010). Organized criminal involvement in the illicit antiquities trade. Trends in Organized Crime, pp. 1-29.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Has Art Crime Gone Understudied?

Blythe Bowman Proulx and I co-authored the introductory article to Springer's special art crime issue of Crime, Law, Social Change titled "Art Crime: A Brief Introduction," which was recently mentioned in a blog by Noah Charney ("Why Art Crime has Gone Understudied" 4 October 2011). In the paper, we reflect on how there has not been "a paucity of academic scholarship on crimes involving art and antiquities" like some scholars suggest, but rather that it has been "a nascent area of scholarly attention" for many years. For example, in 1964 - almost a decade before the development of the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) dedicated an entire issue of its quarterly journal Museum to the topic of art crime and museum security (freely accessible in .pdf version here). Most scholars, including the legal academic Paul M. Bator identify the watershed moment for the study of art and antiquities theft as the 1969 publication of Clemency Coggins’ article in Art Journal titled, “Illicit Traffic of Pre-Columbian Antiquities” (refer to Bator, P. M. [1982]. "An essay on the international trade in art." Stanford Law Review, 34, 290). Coggins' brief article was significant to the advancement of the study of the theft and illicit trade in cultural heritage because as Bator notes it "dramatized and cast new perspectives" on an old problem. For a fantastic bibliography of art crime websites, journal articles, and books I suggest checking out "The Looting Question Bibliography" compiled by Hugh Jarvis of the University at Buffalo.

More recent criminological work has further broadened and refined the field of art crime scholarship to the point that, contrary to what Charney suggests, scholarship is in fact decidedly “catching up”; see, for example, Conklin, 1994; Bernick, 1998; Massy, 2001; McCalister, 2005; Alder & Polk, 2002, 2005; Alder, Chappell, & Polk, 2009, 2011; Mackenzie, 2005, 2009, 2011; Tijhuis, 2006; Proulx, 2010, 2011 forthcoming. The ever growing body of criminological work on art crime, discussed in our paper, makes Charney’s statement that “most of the literature on art crime consists of more journalistic or anecdotal accounts of famous heists” questionable. 

While there was a well attended conference titled "Art Theft: History, Prevention, Detection, Solution" held at Cambridge in 2006 as Charney mentions in his blog, it was not in fact "the first major conference to attempt to establish art crime as a field of study, bringing together the relatively few world scholars and art police in a joint venture." Rather over the past decade, Interpol has held an annual Meeting of the Interpol Expert Group (IEG) on Stolen Cultural Property as well as an International Symposium on the Theft of and Illicit Traffic in Works of Art, Cultural Property and Antiques every three years. The meeting and symposium bring together law enforcement officers, scholars, members of ICOM, art market representatives, and other stakeholders who share an interest in the protection, preservation, and conservation of the world's cultural property. In 2005, AXA Fine Art Insurance organized the interdisciplinary conference "Rogues Gallery: An Investigation Into Art Theft," which featured lectures by Dick Ellis, a private art investigator, Mark Dalrymple, a loss adjustor, Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Simon Mackenzie, a criminologist, who has written extensively on the topic of antiquities crime, and a few solicitors among others. Prior to AXA's conference, there were other highly successful art crime conferences including but not limited to those held by the International Foundation for Art Research, which has been involved in the field of art crime since 1969, the Australian Institute of Criminology (held in 1999 titled "Art crime: protecting art, protecting artists and protecting consumers"), and by Rutgers University (held in 1998 titled "Art, Antiquity, and the Law: Preserving Our Global Cultural Heritage"). Finally, there have been art crime-related scholarly presentations at the American Society of Criminology meetings dating back to at least 2005.

The fact that a well established, peer-reviewed journal dedicated an entire issue to art crime studies underscores the increasing popularity of the topic. And there are more to come: in November 2011, the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice will publish a similar special issue on art crime including work from the following scholars:
  • NEIL BRODIE, "Congenial Bedfellows? The Academy and the Antiquities Trade"
  • MARK DURNEY, “How an Art Theft’s Publicity and Documentation Can Impact the Stolen Object’s Recovery Rate”
  • EMILY FAY, “Virtual Artefacts: eBay, Antiquities and Authenticity”
  • AVI BRISMAN, “’Green Harms’ as Art Crime, Art Criticism as Environmental Dissent”
  • BLYTHE BOWMAN PROULX, “Drugs, Arms and Arrowheads: Theft from Archaeological Sites and the Dangers of Fieldwork”

These forthcoming works, in combination with those referenced above and the countless other art crime-related works produced in other fields, seem to me to indicate that scholars are in fact far from “shy about stepping outside of their specialization,” as Charney suggests. The art crime journal issue published in Crime, Law and Social Change, of which our paper was a part, in fact includes scholarship from criminologists, art historians, anthropologists, lawyers, and archaeologists. Blythe Bowman Proulx, for example, holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice, but actually began her career in archaeology, having taken graduate and undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and Classics, spending several summers working abroad on various archaeological projects and completing a master’s thesis project on Roman skeletal remains from Dobrodja. As an undergraduate, Avi Brisman studied French and Studio Art, took an MFA degree in Painting, completed a law degree, and is now finishing a Ph.D. in Anthropology at Emory University. Art crime is, as Charney notes in his blog, a decidedly interdisciplinary endeavor.

Blythe and I also agree with Charney that art crime is a relatively younger field of scholarship than, say, Classics or History. But we view its relative newness on the criminological radar as a distinct advantage in that it yields endless and exciting opportunities for individuals to contribute new research, develop new methodologies, and collaborate across disciplines. As I have mentioned in previous articles, many authors have the tendency to summarize well known art crimes without adding any new details or investigations to the story. There is a real need to move beyond such monotony, and to continue to carry out novel, in depth examinations of art crime topics that enhance the subject's reputation as a viable academic discipline.

Alder, C. & Polk, K. (2002). Stopping this awful business: the illicit traffic inantiquities examined as a criminal market. Art, Antiquity, & Law 7(1):35-53.(2005).
The illicit traffic in plundered antiquities. In Reichel, P (Ed.),Handbook of Transnational Crime and Justice. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Alder, C., Chappell, D., Polk, K. (2011). Frauds & fakes in the Australian Aboriginal art market. Crime, Law and Social Change 56(2): 189-207.
(2009). Perspectives on the organisation and control of the illicit traffic in antiquities in South East Asia. In (Ed. S. Manacorda), Organised Crime in Art and Antiquities (pp. 95–108). Milan, Italy: International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme.
Bernick, L. (1998). Art and antiquities theft. Transnational Organized Crime 4(2): 91-116.

Conklin, J. (1994). Art Crime. Westport CT: Praeger.

Mackenzie, S.R.M. (2005). Going, Going, Gone: Regulating the Market in Illicit Antiquities. Leicester: Institute of Art and Law.
(2009) Identifying and preventing opportunities for organized crime in the international antiquities market. In (Ed. S. Manacorda), Organised Crime in Art and Antiquities (pp. 95–108). Milan, Italy: International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of United Nations CrimePrevention and Criminal Justice Programme.
Mackenzie, S. (2011). Illicit Deals in Cultural Objects as Crimes of the Powerful. Crime, Law and Social Change 56(2): 133-53.

Mackenzie S, Green P (2009) Criminalising the market in illicit antiquities: an evaluation of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offenses) Act 2003 in England and Wales. In: Mackenzie S, Green P (eds) Criminology and Archaeology: Studies in Looted Antiquities. Hart Publishing, Oxford.

Massy, L. (2001). Le Vol D‟Oeuvres D‟Art: Une Criminalité Méconnue. Bruxelles: Bruylant.

McCalister, A. (2005). Organized crime and the theft of Iraqi antiquities. Trends in Organized Crime 9(1): 24-37.

Proulx, B.B. (2010). Organized criminal involvement in the illicit antiquities trade. Trends in Organized Crime (23 October 2010), pp. 1-29.