Tag Archives: Events

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.

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.

Fall Book Tour: Chasing Aphrodite across the East Coast

Here’s the line up for this week in New York City and beyond. Hope to see you there. To suggest an event near you, please contact us at ChasingAphrodite@gmail.com

October 26th: The National Arts Club in New York City hosts Jason for 6:30pm lecture and book signing. 15 Gramercy Park South. (Members and guests only.)

October 26th: Archaeological Institute of America The Institute’s New York Society will host Ralph for an evening talk about Chasing Aphrodite. Details here.

October 27: Harvard Club of NYC will be hosting us for a lecture, book signing and dinner. (Members only.)

October 28: Beacon Award Dinner. SAFE will host a dinner honoring Jason and Ralph for “their dedication to uncovering the truth” about the role of museums in the illicit antiquities trade. Details here.


October 29: Walters Museum of Art in 
Baltimore. Museum Director Gary Vikan will be moderating a public talk with Ralph, Jason and Arthur Houghton, the former interim Getty antiquities curator and a staunch advocate of collector’s rights. Discussion at 2pm, followed by book signing. Details here.


Chasing Aphrodite events in October: NYC, Philly, Princeton, Rutgers, Baltimore and more

Next month we’ll be heading East for several lectures and book events. Please help us spread the word:

October 17th: Rutgers University. The university’s program in Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies (CHAPS) will host us for a talk about Chasing Aphrodite. Open to the public. Details here.

October 19th: Princeton University. The Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, will host us for a discussion. Open to the public. Details here.

October 20th: University of Pennsylvania will host us for a 12:30 pm lecture at the Penn Museum’s Cultural Heritage Center.

That evening at 6pm, Penn Law and the Museum will host us for a discussion on the illicit trade with Robert Wittman, former head of the FBI’s art squad and author of “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures.” Open to the public. Details here and here.

October 24th: New York University. 

NYU’s Department of Classics will be hosting us for an evening chat. Details TBA.

October 25: The National Art Club in New York City hosts us for a lecture and book signing. Details here.

October 26th: Archaeological Institute of America The Institute’s New York Society will host us for an evening talk about Chasing Aphrodite. Details here.

October 27: Harvard Club of NYC will be hosting us for a lecture, book signing and dinner. (Members only.)

October 28: Beacon Award Dinner. SAFE will host a dinner honoring Jason and Ralph for “their dedication to uncovering the truth” about the role of museums and the illicit antiquities trade. Details here.


October 29: Walters Museum of Art in 
Baltimore. Museum Director Gary Vikan will be moderating a public talk with Ralph, Jason and Arthur Houghton, the former interim Getty antiquities curator and a staunch advocate of collector’s rights. Discussion at 2pm, followed by book signing. Details here.

We also have some exciting events in Southern California lined up for November:

November 2: Chapman University. The Department of Art and Chapman Law School will host Jason for an evening lecture and book signing. Details TBA.

November 12: An Insiders Tour of the Getty Villa. Jason will lead a tour of the Getty Villa, discussing the Getty’s origins, the highlights of its controversial antiquities collection and its recent collaboration with Italy. Organized by SAFE Tours. Details TBA.

November 18th: Jonathan Club in LA. (Private event.)

Hope to see you at one of these. To suggest an event near you, please contact us: ChasingAphrodite@gmail.com

Beacon Award for Chasing Aphrodite authors

We’re honored to announce our work has been recognized with a Beacon Award from Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE), the non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide.

In announcing the 2011 award, SAFE cited the authors “for educating the public about how museum practices affect the preservation of cultural heritage. As investigative reporters at the Los Angeles Times, their dedication to uncovering the truth was essential in breaking open the case with the J. Paul Getty Museum. Through their recent book and continued effort to raise awareness online, many will learn, some for the first time, about the devastating effects of the illicit antiquities trade.”

SAFE will be presenting the award at a dinner in New York City on October 28th. You can find details on this and our other upcoming East Coast appearances here.

We’d also like to congratulate the 2012 Beacon Award Winner David Gill, the mind behind Looting Matters and soon to be Head of Humanities and Professor of Archaeological Heritage at University Campus Suffolk. We’ve followed David’s important research closely over the years and his blog is must-read for those interested in the illicit antiquities trade.

Chasing Aphrodite debuts at the LA Festival of Books

Join us this weekend, April 30 and May 1, at the at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for the debut of Chasing Aphrodite. At 1 p.m. on Sunday we’ll be speaking on a panel moderated by LA Times editor Russ Stanton, “From the Front Page to the Book Shelf.” (The location will be SAL 101, event code 2043.) We’ll have advance copies of the book for sale and will stick around after the panel to sign copies and chat. On both Sat and Sunday you can find advance copies for sale at Skylight Books (Booth #84), near the USC Stage on Trousdale Parkway.

More info on the largest book festival in the country can be found here. See you there!