Category Archives: Events

Letter from Fargo: Punk, Archaeology and the DIY Ethic of Cultural Heritage

Punk-Archaeology-HandbillWe recently heard about a gathering in Fargo, North Dakota that mixed beer, live punk music, spoken word, archaeology, the general public, and a do-it-yourself attitude for cultural heritage. Punk Archaeology?! We wanted to know more. Here’s a report from our correspondent Andrew Reinhard, the Director of Publications at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and a DIY punk scribe who makes music in his basement.

Nothing could be more punk rock than an archaeology unconference held at night in a bar in Fargo, North Dakota, in February. The brainchild of professor Bill Caraher of the University of North Dakota, graduate student Aaron Barth of North Dakota State University, and professor Kostis Kourelis of Franklin and Marshall College, the February 2nd event was organic as punk itself.

“The idea came up in conversation between myself and Kostis Kourelis, an archaeologist and architectural historian,” Caraher recalled. “We both observed that quite a few archaeologists had some interest in punk rock music. As we considered the causes and consequences of this coincidence, we got to think about how punk rock music – and the larger aesthetic and lifestyle associated with that musical form – influenced archaeology. We then began to document some of these musings in a blog Punk Archaeology and, from time to time, talked about turning the blog into something more.”

Aaron Barth stepped up to help, speaking with Caraher during fieldwork about Punk Archaeology, deciding to bring Punk Archaeology to reality by hosting a colloquium in Fargo. “We had a great group of scholars willing to contribute, an intriguing group of bands, and a fantastic venue for a meeting that interrogated the borders of the academy, popular culture, and loud, chaotic, and confused social critique,” Caraher said.

fargo1Punk Archaeology speakers gathered at the Hodo Lounge on the afternoon of Feb. 2nd to prepare for the evening and to discuss current projects. Caraher, Kourelis, and Richard Rothaus of Trefoil Cultural and Environmental will spend the weekend of Feb. 9-10 documenting the Man Camps of the Bakken Oil Fields with celebrated cultural photographer Kyle Cassidy. This visit continues a string of trips conducted to study life just outside of the boomtown of Williston, North Dakota. In April, Rothaus and I will also be making a 100-mile transect of the North Dakota Badlands wilderness to explore environmental and archaeological impact of oil exploration in the western half of the state.

The evening kicked off at the Sidestreet Grille and Pub promptly at 7:17 with a four-song set of my own punk songs about problems facing archaeology and cultural heritage. Barth assisted on drums.

  

On October 9th last year, Caraher emailed me to see if I’d create some music to play for the unconference. Three months and 17 songs later, the album was as finished as it was ever going to get, and I was ready to play it live. In the spirit of punk’s DIY attitude, I set some limits for myself: each song must 1) be about archaeology or cultural heritage; 2) be recorded at home in my basement by myself with instruments I already owned and without any help from anybody; 3) take three hours or less to write, record, and mix the lyrics and music for each tune; 4) have each part (guitars, drums, vocals) be recorded in three or fewer takes. These rules–musical austerity measures if you will–forced me to strip down to the basics while being as creative as possible in working with what I had. It also allowed me to consider major issues relating to Punk Archaeology ranging from repatriation of the Elgin Marbles, to austerity measures creating more art theft, to the destruction of cultural heritage by religious extremists, to the need for archaeologists to be better at sharing their data with each other and with the world.

ReinhardBarth

We played “Sand Diggers” about how war, oil exploration, and immigration enforcement often complicate proper excavation, “American Looters” criticizing popular treasure-hunting programming such as American Diggers, “Untenured” focusing on the perils of being an adjunct professor in the Humanities, and “Repatriate”, an aggressive call to museums to participate in the “Give-Back” movement. “Sand Diggers” resonated particularly deeply with the crowd, protesting the current drilling underway in the Baaken Oil Fields and the possible disturbance of archaeological sites on Killdeer Mountain and
elsewhere in North Dakota.

The spoken word part of the night followed, featuring “papers” by myself, Barth,Caraher, Kourelis, Rothaus, Kris Groberg (NDSU), Joshua Samuels (NDSU), and Peter Schultz (Concordia College). I spoke about discovering punk from a historical perspective, ultimately going native with the music and culture, exploring the punk family tree of bands and how that informed my world-view both personally and professionally. Groberg, an assistant professor of art history at North Dakota State University, recalled her earlier life as a “punk rock mom”, often sleeping bands like Fugazi in her basement when their tours brought them through Moorehead. Caraher instructed all speakers to keep their talks to “the length of a Minutemen song”, to hold the interest of the curious, drinking public, getting immediately to the point.

 

This collection of narratives was followed by a six-song set with a full-on punk band featuring Todd and Troy Reisenauer of Fargo’s Les Dirty Frenchmen on lead guitar and bass, Barth on drums, myself on vocals and rhythm guitar, and the University of North Dakota’s chair of the Music department, Michael Wittgraf on keyboard. We tore through two more originals, “Publish and Perish” which was transformed by the crowd into a ska rave-up, and “History” featuring a reading from Herodotus’ Histories. We then launched into a set of covers from the ‘60s with The Stooges’ “I Wanna be Your Dog”, heading in to The Humpers’ 1996 song “Losers Club”, a tribute to Ralph’s Corner Bar in Moorehead, Minnesota, a historic landmark in the Red River Valley punk scene that was
demolished in the late-‘00s. We finished off with “Born to Lose” by Johnny Thunders (1991, his final recording), and then destroyed the bar with the unabridged version of “My Way” by Sid Vicious to mark the anniversary of his death on Feb. 2, 1979.

Fargo punk legend June Panic followed us and played a mellow acoustic set. What’s archaeology without a nod to mythology and legend? As the final band of the night, Fargo’s What Kingswood Needs, set up, members of the audience took turns at the open mic to remember their times at Ralph’s Corner Bar. These oral histories were recorded, creating a time capsule of memory on one of the brightest and certainly most colorful eras in the Fargo-Moorehead region.

What Kingswood Needs finished the evening with two sets of original, modern punk songs, pulling from contemporary acts like Green Day, Blink 182, and Sum 41, closing the time-loop, bringing the Stooge’s proto-punk of 1969 all the way through to 2013. Thoughts on Punk Archaeology will be published post-haste by the University of North Dakota in the form of a ‘zine, the immortal DIY punk publication platform. Performances and talks were live-streamed during the event, and an edited version of these will be posted in the coming weeks. Caraher’s reflections on the event can be read on his New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World blog.

Sponsors included the North Dakota Humanities Council, the Cyprus Research Fund, Bismarck-based Laughing Sun Brewery, Tom Isern of the Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University as the Patron of Punk, as well as Rothaus who donated the gas in his truck, ferrying instruments to and from the venue, Fargo’s Sidestreet Grille and Pub.

 Join the Punk Archaeology conversation and be kept up to date on publications, audio,video, and future events on Facebook

You can follow Andrew Reinhard on Twitter at @adreinhard.


Off to Amelia: Chasing Aphrodite Honored at Art Crime Conference

We’re off to Amelia, Italy this week for the 4th annual conference of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA).

The program includes talks by some of the leading experts on the illicit antiquities trade, including Italian journalist Fabio Isman discussing the latest developments and Italian prosecutor Paolo Ferri on the use of international law to combat the trade.

There will also be panels on the display of contested antiquities at museums, strategies for combatting the illicit trade, a review of recent legal cases and a panel on forgeries and fraud.

On Saturday, Chasing Aphrodite will be honored with the Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Research. Jason will be accepting the award and discussing his latest initiative to combat the illicit trade, WikiLoot. It will be an opportunity to talk about the potential for the project, as well as the concerns some have expressed.

We’ll take good notes and will report back from Amelia soon. Ciao!

Chasing Aphrodite at Google: Jason Felch on the Illicit Antiquities Trade and WikiLoot

Google's pet T-Rex, Stan, is on the prowl at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA.

On February 10th, Jason visited the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA to talk about Chasing Aphrodite and to solicit help with a new initiative, WikiLoot.

The talk was part of the Authors@Google program, and was organized by Jason’s old friend Steve Meaney, who works in marketing there. (Thanks, Steve!) Also attending were several people from the archaeology department at nearby Stanford University.

The hour-long talk gives an overview of the role of the Getty Museum and other American museums in the illicit antiquities trade. At minute 49 the talk turns to WikiLoot, an effort to harness technology to expose the illicit trade. A Q&A follows.

At Asia Society, Antiquities Collectors Describe “Climate of Fear”

On March 18th, the Asia Society convened a discussion titled, “Collecting Ancient Art in the 21st Century.” For anyone with an interest in the ethics of collecting ancient art, it is required viewing.

The conversation touched on many of the key issues facing collectors and museums today: the AAMD’s 2008 acquisition guidelines, which were roundly denounced; recent attempts by archaeologists and museum directors to find a solution to the question of archaeological “orphans”;  WikiLoot, our recent proposal to crowd-source the analysis of the illicit trade; the need to move beyond ownership to stewardship; and the various regimes used by source countries to limit the illicit trade.

But there was one recurring theme among participants, who included collectors, museum officials, legal experts and an archaeologist: the pervasive climate of fear brought on by recent attention to the link between looting and American museums and collectors. Several said this fear had all but halted museum acquisitions and would soon bring an end to American collecting. Participants may have exaggerated those fear somewhat — just a few days later, Sotheby’s South East Asian auction took in $13 million for ancient art. Still, it is remarkable to see many of the leading advocates of collector’s rights wrestle with the core issues facing today’s art market.

The participants were Naman Ahuja, an associate professor of Ancient Indian Art at Nehru University; Kate Fitz Gibbon, a Santa Fe attorney and vice-president of the pro-collecting Cultural Policy Research InstituteKurt A. Gitter, a prominent collector of Japanese art; Arthur Houghton, coin collector, former Getty antiquities curator and president of the CPRI; James Lally, Asian art dealer;  James McAndrew, former senior special agent at the Department of Homeland Security focused on cultural property and currently an adviser to collectors; Julian Raby, director of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Sackler Gallery; and Marc Wilson, former director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. 

I’ve posted the full video below. Here are some highlights that caught our attention.

Kate Fitz Gibbon opened the session with a strident call to arms: “We are facing a crisis. What began a decade ago as a few front page legal cases highlighting the greedier and less scrupulous side of the art business and the excesses of a few museums has grown into a sea change in arts policy and museum policy. There has been, I think, an over-reaction rather than an appropriate response, and the consequences are incredibly far reaching. These new policies threaten the very future of collecting and collecting museums. That may sound like an exaggeration today, but if we continue on this path there may not be a next generation of collectors, donors and patrons of ancient art. Not in the United States of America.”

She also described the current legal regime governing looted antiquities: “Under the current legal system we inherited from Britain, stolen is stolen forever, no matter how many times an artwork changes hands. So when an art source country passes such a [national ownership] law, there are no time limits, and knowing possession can be a crime.” Under such laws, she said collectors were being “victimized by a misinformed or over-zealous [federal] agent.” She called the AAMD’s 2008 policy a “self-administered self-poison, completely illogical and not required by any law.”

Mark Wilson: “Younger people have been deliberately misled into believeing that everything in museums is stolen. This is very bad…”

Naman Ahuja said that in many countries modern development proved as serious a threat to archaeologist sites as looting. It was imperative for collectors to engage with the views of archaeologists, whose position should not be so easily dismissed. “It’s not an outrageous argument, it’s a noble argument,” he said. He challenged collector groups to find ways to help source countries stop looting, not just defend American’s right to collect.

Julian Raby spoke about the need to move beyond fights over ownership of disputed antiquities. “We’re possibly on the cusp of a new model, a model that moves away from ownership to stewardship.”

At minute 60, Arthur Houghton introduced the audience to our initiative WikiLoot, warning the audience, “We’re that far away from launching a vigilante effort that may flood the Asia Society and other American museums with people wanting to find out, Is this object looted or not? If it is unprovenanced, how do you know where it came from? And what should we all do about it?”

Houghton denounced the AAMD’s 2008 policy, saying, “Hundreds and hundreds of Americans, even thousands, have collections that are no longer available for study, protection, or exhibition or conservation.” A CPRI study suggested there were millions of objects in private collections that can no longer be donated to museums, he said.

Arthur’s provocation sparked a revealing debate about what the AAMD’s policy did and did not allow museums to acquire. “The real fact of the policy is to freeze acquisition boards,” argued one panelist. Others argued acquisitions of unprovenanced antiquities were still possible, but had to be posted on the AAMD’s object registry. Others noted that the AAMD position was merely a guideline, and museum directors and their boards were free to set their own acquisition policies.

At minute 72, the conversation moved to possible solutions.

Julian Raby said that in addition to the stated arguments for “retentionist” views — protecting archaeological context and defending the ownership rights of source countries — there was a third, more primal motive: the emotional impact of possession and control felt by both sides. “I can understand why my possessions might feel like others losses,” he said. “How can we rebalance a feeling of asymmetry between those who have and don’t have?”

Raby proposed two paths forward: advocacy for the creation of licit markets, and the development of a modern version of partage in which museums help fund excavations and participate in long-term loans and shared stewardship.

By minute 90, the panel was ready to conclude when the crowd nosily demanded that the all-but-forgotten James McAndrew be given his chance to speak. His message: “Don’t be fearful. US laws are very specific.” But his description of the law no doubt raised some concerns. All the talk about UNESCO and 1970 was irrelevant to law enforcement, he said. What they looked to instead was the source country’s date of state ownership laws, many of which go back a century or more. His advice to collectors and museums was to avoid the temptation to fudge import documents, which are the first thing federal investigators will seize on. “If you document your imports properly, you should have nothing to worry about,” he concluded.

The Q&A began at minute 102, and touched on the AAMD policy and the orphan issue, among other issues.

The session concluded with a plea for support by the event’s co-sponsor, William Perlstein of American Committee for Cultural Policy (AACP), whose mission Perlstein said was “to get US policy back to the reasonable middle ground.”

Watch the entire video here, and leave us your thoughts in a comment.

VIDEO: Chasing Aphrodite at the National Press Club in Washington DC

The National Press Club has posted the full video of our entertaining — and occasionally heated — conversation on Jan 24th with former Getty antiquities curator Arthur Houghton and Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Museum in Baltimore.

On a night when President Obama was giving the State of the Union address just a few miles away, we enjoyed a standing room only crowd of about 300 people, many of whom raised insightful questions (starting at min 56.) We’re grateful to the Press Club, to our moderator James Grimaldi, and to Keri Douglas of Nine Muses International, who organized the event.

Chasing Aphrodite in Washington DC: 1/23 @ Steptoe, 1/24 at National Press Club

We’re off to Washington DC for two great events. If you’re in the area, please join us for back-to-back evenings of lively discussion about the state of American museums and the black market in looted art.

Reminder: Both events require an RSVP via the links below. 

January 23: 6:30 pm at Steptoe and Johnson

The Society for the Preservation of Greek Heritage and the American Friends of the Acropolis Museum will host Jason for an evening lecture and book signing at the lawfirm Steptoe and Johnson.

Details: 6:30 pm at 1330 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC. RSVP by sending an email to: classic.heritage@verizon.net


January 24th: The National Press Club.

Jason (in person) and Ralph (via phone) will speak about Chasing Aphrodite, the press and transparency at American museums with former Getty antiquities curator Arthur Houghton and Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Museum of Art. Our moderator will be James Grimaldi, investigative reporter at the Washington Post. Q&A and book signing to follow. (We’ll be done in time for you to watch POTUS give the State of the Union address at 9pm.)

Details:  6pm at The National Press Club. 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor. Open to the public, $5 dollars for non-members. Tickets and details available here.

Los Angeles Readers: In you’re in Los Angeles on Monday, Jan 23, be sure to check out Getty CEO Jim Cuno’s talk at the Petersen Automotive Museum. He’ll be defending museums against those who say they are the trophy cases of imperialism and promoting his new book, Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum. Details here.

The Best of Chasing Aphrodite 2011

Happy New Year!

We want to share our profound thanks for the 24,000 visits we’ve had since we launched this site with the release of Chasing Aphrodite last May. You’ve helped make the book a success while shining a light on art world shenanigans. Thank you for reading.

We’ve got many more revelations in store for you in 2012. If you’d like to keep receiving updates, be sure to subscribe via the box on the top right. You can also follow our more frequent comments on the latest news by liking our Facebook page or following us on Twitter.

We hope to see some of you at our upcoming events, which include talks at the National Press Club in DC on January 24th and Google and UCLA in February. You can get details and find our other event listings here.

Without further ado, here are your favorite posts of 2011:

1. An Exchange with Hugh Eakin at The New York Review of Books

Our exchange with Hugh Eakin in The New York Review of Books caught a lot of attention last year. We found the review flattering in several places, but also curiously littered with contradictions. Here is Hugh’s June  review, and our response. An abbreviated version of the exchange was printed in the NYROB’s August issue here.

2. The Secret FBI File: J. Edgar Hoover vs. J. Paul Getty

Was J. Paul Getty a Nazi collaborator? That is the provocative question that J. Edgar Hoover asked in 1940, when the FBI opened a secret investigation into J. Paul Getty’s possible ties to the Nazi regime. While reporting Chasing Aphrodite, we obtained Getty’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act. We posted the annotated file online and pulled out highlights of the investigation.

3. Getty Museum Returns Two Objects to Greece, Signs Collaboration Deal

In 2011, American museums continued to return looted antiquities to their country of origin, and the Getty Museum was no exception. In September, the Getty agreed to return two objects to Greece and formalized a broad cultural agreement that will lead to loans, joint research and other collaboration with the art-rich Hellenic Republic. The agreement mirrors similar deals struck with Italy and Sicily in the wake of a negotiated settlement to claims the Getty had for years purchased ancient art looted from those countries.

4. The Becchina Dossier: A New Window into the Illicit Trade

The conviction of Italian dealer Giacamo Medici set off the whirlwind of controversy detailed in the final chapters of Chasing Aphrodite. But Medici was just the opening move of the Italian investigation of the illicit antiquities trade. In 2001, Italian authorities raided the warehouse of Medici’s main rival, Gianfranco Becchina, seizing 13,000 documents, 6,315 antiquities and 8,000 photographs of objects, many of which appeared recently excavated.  Today, it is the Becchina Dossier that forms the center of Italy’s continuing investigation of the international trade in looted antiquities. Like the Medici files, the Becchina Dossier provides a striking record of the illicit trade, showing the path of thousands of looted objects from tombs across the Mediterranean to the display cases of leading museums around the world. Stay tuned as we’ll be making public more details from the Becchina case in 2012.

5. Chasing Persephone?

When the Getty’s statue of Aphrodite was returned to Italy in May, we were there to tell the story. In this report for the LA Times, Jason described how new theories about the goddess are being considered now that she’s back home. Who is the goddess? Does her slightly awkward marble head really belong atop the massive limestone body? Where precisely was she found? And what can she tell us about the ancient Greek colonists who worshiped her some 2,400 years ago? The fact that so little is known about the marble and limestone statue — one of the few surviving sculptures from the apex of Western art — illustrates the lasting harm brought by looting and the trade in illicit antiquities.

6. Jiri Frel: Scholar, Refugee, Curator…Spy?

In the early 1980s, the antiquities department at the J. Paul Getty Museum was a hotbed of whispered political intrigue. Rumors swirled that the department’s Czech curator, Jiri Frel, was a Communist spy. And many believed the deputy curator, former State Department official Arthur Houghton, was a CIA plant tasked with keeping an eye on Frel’s activities. Frel’s once-classified FBI file, obtained by the authors under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that the US Government asked similar questions about Frel in 1971, when an investigation was conducted into his “possible intelligence connections.”

7. The Getty Fights to Keep its Bronze

A week after sending its statue of Aphrodite back to Italy, the Getty was fighting to keep another ancient masterpiece: its priceless bronze statue of an athlete, whose 1964 discovery by Italian fisherman is featured in the opening chapter of Chasing Aphrodite. Here’s our report on the latest in the fight for the Getty  bronze.

8. Houghton on The McClain Doctrine and Crimes of Knowledge

Did American museum officials violate US laws when buying looted antiquities? We attempt to answer that hypothetical using internal Getty memos written by former curator Arthur Houghton, who spelled out the risk of violating the National Stolen Property Act when buying objects with unclear provenance.

9. The Truth about Marion True

When archaeologist Malcolm Bell reviewed Chasing Aphrodite in The Wall Street Journal in July, he largely agreed with our premise — that  American museums fueled the destruction of knowledge by acquiring looted antiquities and using what Bell calls a “fabric of lies” to obscure their complicity in an illicit trade. But Bell’s review took an odd turn when he recommended that former Getty antiquities curator Marion True, who was fired after we revealed her blatant conflicts of interest, be hired “for a major museum position.” We respond.

10. Looted Antiquities at American Museums: An On-Going Crime

For those who might be tempted to think the issues raised in Chasing Aphrodite are behind us, we discuss a recent law review article that argues that continued possession of unprovenanced antiquities (ie most of those in American collections) could be an on-going crime under US law.

BONUS: Finding Loot at Your Local Museum

Marion True once told her museum colleagues: “Experience has taught me that in reality, if serious efforts to establish a clear pedigree for the object’s recent past prove futile, it is most likely — if not certain — that it is the product of the illicit trade and we must accept responsibility for this fact.” In that same spirit, we gave fellow investigative reporters from around the world a few tips on how to find looted antiquities at their local art museum during the June meeting of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE).

In 2011, we put that advice to work with revelations about objects in several museum collections. Our New Year’s resolution: to do much more of the same in 2012!

Upcoming Events: Chasing Aphrodite at the National Press Club, Google and UCLA

Here are several new events we’ve lined up in the coming months :

January 23, Washington DC: The Society for the Preservation of Greek Heritage, the American Friends of the Acropolis Museum and the lawfirm Steptoe and Johnson will host Jason for an evening lecture and book signing at Steptoe and Johnson in Washington DC. Details TBA.


January 24th: The National Press Club, Washington DC.

Jason and Ralph will speak about Chasing Aphrodite, the press and transparency at American museums with former Getty antiquities curator Arthur Houghton and Walters Museum director Gary Vikan. Our moderator will be James Grimaldi, investigative reporter at the Washington Post. Q&A, book signing and reception to follow.

Details: Open to the public. 6pm at The National Press Club. 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor. Phone: 202-662-7500 or www.press.org

February 10th, 2012: Google HQ, Mountainview CA.

Jason will talk about Chasing Aphrodite and how crowd-sourcing might be harnessed to fight the illicit antiquities trade at the Googleplex, Google’s Mountainview headquarters.

Details: Open to the public. 12- 1pm @ 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, CA.

February 15, 2012: UCLA. Details TBA.

You can find updates at our events page here.

Our past events include: The Jonathan Club; Chapman University; Central Michigan University; The Walters Art Museum; UPenn Law School; UPenn Museum; The Harvard Club of New York City; The National Arts Club; Princeton University; Villanova Law School; Rutgers University; New York University; Cardozo Law School;  Archaeological Institute of America’s New York Chapter; SAFE; The Benson Family Farm; Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle; Powell’s Book in Portland; The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco;  Loyola Law School; Barnes and Noble of Thousand Oaks; Book Soup on Hollywood Blvd.;  The LA Festival of Books.

To suggest an event near you, please contact us: ChasingAphrodite@gmail.com.

Fall Book Tour wraps up after 14 events in 15 days. VIDEO: Chasing Aphrodite at UPenn.

We’ve just wrapped up our fall book tour — 14 events in about 15 days.

Thanks to everyone who came out to learn about museums and the illicit antiquities trade. And our sincere gratitude to our hosts at Rutgers, Princeton, UPenn Museum, UPenn Law School, Villanova Law School, NYU, The National Arts Club, The Harvard Club of NYC, Cardozo Law School, AIA, SAFE, The Walters Museum of Art, Chapman University and Central Michigan University.

Keep an eye on our events page for more events coming soon. If you’re interested in hosting an event near you, please contact us at ChasingAphrodite@gmail.com.

For those who missed us, here’s a video of our presentation at the UPenn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where we were introduced by Dr. Richard Leventhal:

Looted Antiquities at the Walters Art Museum?

In anticipation of our event at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore on Sat, Oct 29th at 2pm, we took a look at the museum’s wonderful collection of ancient art. It appears to have dozens of objects purchased from dealers with ties to the black market.

Robert Hecht poses in front of the famous looted Greek vase he sold the Met in 1972 for $1 million.

Most prominent of those dealers is Robert Hecht, a 92 year-old Baltimore native and heir to the Hecht department store chain. Hecht is currently on trial in Rome on charges of trafficking in looted antiquities over his nearly six decades as a prominent dealer based in Paris and New York. He has been well-known for trafficking in looted antiquities since 1972, when he sold the Metropolitan Museum of Art its famous Euphronios krater, which was returned to Italy. In his handwritten memoir, seized by Italian authorities in 2001, Hecht recounts a long career of buying looted objects from Italian middlemen and selling them to American museums.

Among the more than a dozen pieces at the Walters purchased from Hecht is this griffin “protome,” which the Walters bought directly from the dealer in 1999. It is said to be Greek from 640 BC.

In his memoir, Hecht describes buying griffin protomes from his “faithful purveyor” Giacomo Medici, the Italian dealer who has been convicted of being a key middleman in Italy’s illicit antiquities trade. It’s not clear if the Walters’ protome is among those Hecht mentioned.

We asked Gary Vikan, museum director since 1994, about the protome and other Hecht objects in the collection.

“Most of the Hecht stuff goes back a long way,” Vikan said in an email. “The protome came from an old collection, said Bob [Hecht], and our file does not reveal the name, and the curator on hand at the time cannot fill in the name with her memory. The purchase was consistent with the AAMD code of ethics as it then existed, and Bob Hecht did not carry the baggage then that he does now.”

We’re fond of Vikan, but we find his answer on this one a bit troubling. After all, it was Vikan who a decade before the griffon acquisition had testified as a “due diligence” expert in the Peg Goldberg case involving looted Cypriot mosaics. In the case, Vikan said Goldberg had ignored “sirens blaring and red flags waving” — clear signs of looting when she purchased the mosaics. This appears to be what Vikan did in 1999 when approving the acquisition of the griffon from Hecht. The object has no documented ownership history beyond Hecht, who was known since the 1970s to invent bogus stories claiming that recently looted objects came from “old collections.”

Hecht was also the source of several remarkable Byzantine floor tiles at the Walters, including this one depicting Ignatius the Bishop of Antioch, which was purchased from Hecht in 1950s. According to the Walters’ website, Hecht acquired them directly from a man in Turkey.

Another man who regularly supplied the Walters was Nicolas Koutoulakis, a prominent dealer who owned the Paris gallery Segredakis. His named appears in the “org chart” of the illicit antiquities trade found by Italian police in the 1990s with a direct link to Hecht.

Greek drinking cup purchased from Nicolas Koutoulakis.

Many of the Hecht and Koutoulakis objects in question — though not the griffons — were purchased by the Walters before 1970, the date of the UNESCO accord on cultural patrimony which most museums and archaeologists today accept as bright ethical line. But if the Hecht and Koutoulakis objects were looted from Italy or Greece, as is reasonable to suspect, they could be considered stolen property under US law, and the Walters would not hold clear title to them.

The Walters’ policy suggests that the museum will proactively investigate such objects: “If the Museum, as a result of its continuing research, gains information that establishes another party’s right to ownership of a work, the Museum will bring this information to the attention of the party, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the work to that party, as has been done in the past.”

When we asked Vikan what he thought should be done with such objects, his answer was somewhat glib: “Put ‘em out there!” We applaud the Waters for its transparency with provenance information — many museums do not post an object’s ownership history online. But in our view, putting suspect antiquities on display is not the same as a proactive investigation or notification of Italian or Greek authorities.

There’s no easy answer for how to handle the thousands of suspect objects still in American museum collections today. But waiting for Italian authorities to knock on your door has not always worked out well for other museums.

We look forward to exploring these issues with Gary and former Getty antiquities curator Arthur Houghton on Sat at 2pm.