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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. It's about time someone set the record straight regarding Charney's claims.