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Arrest Puts Art Theft In Spotligh

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Arrest Puts Art Theft In Spotligh

Post by Mazy on Sat Mar 08 2014, 05:22

Arrest Puts Art Theft In Spotlight

By Peter Huck
3:05 PM Saturday Feb 22, 2014

Dealer's trade in antiquities prompts harsh questions of museums the world over.

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George Clooney touched a nerve when he suggested Britain ought to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece. Pictures / AP
Even by the Byzantine standards of global antiquities theft the case of Subhash Kapoor is jaw-dropping.

In January 2012 United States federal agents raided one of the Indian art dealer's storage facilities in Manhattan and seized a cache of Asian antiquities, allegedly stolen and valued at US$10 million ($12 million).

By year's end subsequent raids had netted over US$100 million worth of alleged loot.

By then Kapoor, who had run the Art of the Past Gallery in New York since 1974, had been detained in Germany on an Interpol Red Notice and extradited to India, where he is accused of trafficking illicit artifacts.

Kapoor, 65, is described by the US authorities as "one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world." He is accused of selling looted Indian and other artifacts to private collectors and museums worldwide.

Which has an ominous ring, given past scandals when stolen treasures acquired by dubious means have surfaced in prestigious institutions.

Kapoor's clients included the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute in Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore.

The feds urged the art community to "help us identify artifacts sold or donated by Subhash Kapoor so that we can ensure their legitimacy".

This month the NGA filed a US$5 million lawsuit in Manhattan, alleging Kapoor, his gallery and the gallery manager defrauded the NGA over an 11th century bronze statue of the deity Shiva, stolen from an Indian temple. Meanwhile, the NGA is negotiating with India to return the statue.

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A lawsuit has been filed over a bronze statue of the deity Shiva.

Aaron Freedman, Art of the Past's manager, pleaded guilty to six charges in New York last December.

Kapoor, the alleged mastermind, was due to go to trial in India this week, charged with stealing 26 idols from Tamil Nadu temples.

He also faces charges in New York County and could be extradited.

Under a 1972 law no art over a century old can be taken from India, to protect the nation's cultural patrimony. This phrase has been cited in numerous criminal cases during the past few decades - the 1970 Unesco Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property is the international legal benchmark - but there are few signs this illicit art trade is abating.

Which begs the question: how much stolen loot sits in museums?

This contentious issue surfaced last week when George Clooney and Bill Murray, stars from The Monuments Men - Hollywood's ripping yarn on efforts to save art treasures from the Nazis - reignited a long-festering dispute by suggesting the British Museum should return the Elgin Marbles to Greece.

The Greeks argue the friezes, removed from the Parthenon in Athens by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s and brought to London, are cultural patrimony. The British insist the artifacts are better cared for in England.

But while the marbles remain an antiquities cause célèbre, acquiring looted treasure to build museum collections is not limited to aristocrats or mass pillagers like Napoleon Bonaparte; the US also has a record of shady deals.

The Archaeological Institute of America estimates 85 to 90 per cent of "classical and certain other artifacts on the market" lack documented provenance. Such figures are hard to prove and archaeologists are usually hostile to the antiquities trade, as looters wreck sites and the historical record. But there is ample proof US museums have been embarrassed.

Last May, the Met announced it will return two large statues, looted from a temple, to Cambodia. The museum insisted such repatriations are unusual, and that "there are no claims at all to speak of in the antiquities field".

The Met has been fingered before, most sensationally with the Euphronios krater, an ancient Greek bowl which the museum acquired in 1972 from Robert Hecht, a US antiquities dealer in Rome.

Hecht said he bought the krater from a Lebanese dealer but may have acquired it from Giacomo Medici, convicted in Italy of trafficking. The krater was repatriated to Italy in 2008.

Probably the most notorious recipient of shady artifacts was the J. Paul Getty Museum, which acquired numerous treasures of dubious provenance in the swashbuckling era of modern antiquities theft, when smugglers like Medici fed a global trafficking chain that stretched from looted sites in Italy, via dealers and purchasers, to the museum's faux Roman villa in Malibu.

This phase appeared to climax in 2005 when antiquities curator Marion True was indicted by an Italian court, charged with conspiring with Medici, Hecht and others to shift looted antiquities, disguised by fake papers, through private collections.

Greece filed similar charges.

The case against True was later dismissed when the statute of limitations kicked in. But True was disgraced and hard questions were asked about exactly how the Getty, and other museums, acquired classical artifacts.
Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported the Getty still had 45,000 antiquities with unclear provenance. A now chastened Getty, which has repatriated almost 50 looted artifacts since 2007, said it would try to establish the ownership history and post the results online. It may be a daunting task.

In 2006 the Getty adopted tougher acquisition rules, requiring valid and legal title of items, rigorous due diligence and adherence to the 1970 Unesco convention. Last year the Getty returned a bust of the god Hades, dating from 400-300BC, to Sicily, "in keeping with the principle of repatriating works when compelling evidence warrants it".

The artifact had been looted from a site near Morgantina and acquired by the Getty in 1985.

The museum was keen to stress an upside, noting reparation fuelled joint conservation projects, scholarly exchange and loans with Sicily, a cooperative model increasingly cited in the museum world in cases of looted artifacts.

It might also be a solution for the Elgin Marbles if Greece and Britain can work out a compromise, such as agreeing Greek ownership of the friezes with the proviso both nations retain exhibition, scholarship and other rights.

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b]The Elgin Marbles sit in a British Museum in London.[/b]
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As for the depiction of Kapoor as a major smuggler, it is hard to gauge how important he was as a player, without knowing how much looted art is trafficked.

No one knows how much is dug up, where, when and by whom. This is especially so in artifact-rich, lawless regions like Iraq, Libya or Syria.

"There are no reliable statistics," says Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the London-based Art Loss Register. "The FBI came out years ago with a ridiculously unsubstantiated estimate which I thought was too high."

He says the legitimate trade, reported to the ALR by the International Association of Antiquity Dealers, the dominant trade group, is a "few hundred million pounds", while the huge sums fed to the media are often "pushed around by people who don't know what they're talking about".

The True scandal, plus the long saga over Holocaust art looted from Jewish owners by the Nazis, put the onus on museums to prove ownership and Radcliffe believes "every decent museum is now on the case".

As for looting, this is probably unstoppable - who can police Roman sites in, say, Syria?

But Radcliffe offers a pragmatic approach, where archaeologists sell some artifacts to the licit trade in return for a licence fee, providing money to host nations to protect sites, house the bulk of recovered items and lure tourists.

"It could be in everybody's interests," says Radcliffe, who floated the idea at a British conference.

"The archaeologists have an emotional hurdle to get over; they don't like the trade and hope it will disappear. Which it's not going to do. But no one has a better idea. It is logical and the trade would support it."
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Mazy
Achieving total Clooney-dom

Posts : 2883
Join date : 2012-11-03

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