Tag Archives: Getty Museum

The Danish Connection: Holding on to Loot at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotech of Copenhagen

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It is easy to forget that American museums were not the only ones caught in Italy’s investigation of the illicit antiquities trade.

The Getty, the Met, the Boston MFA, the Cleveland Museum and Princeton received most of the attention for being linked to the network supplied by antiquities trafficker Giacamo Medici. But Medici objects were also traced to museums and collectors in Germany, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Australia, Japan.

Today, eighteen years since the raid on Medici’s warehouse, at least one European museum is still refusing to return clearly looted material: the Ny Carlsburg Glyptotek in Copenhagen.

Camilla Stockmann, an arts journalist at the Danish daily Politiken, has followed the story since 2006 and recently wrote me with an update: despite years of negotiations, the Copenhagen museum and Italy have still not reached an agreement.

What makes the Glyptotek’s foot-dragging particularly striking is the quality of evidence supporting Italy’s claims. Medici’s criminal sentence identified several objects in the museum that are shown in Polaroids seized in Medici’s warehouse: a terracotta relief depicting a chariot race; an acroterion (roof ornament) depicting a winged sphinx; and terracotta reliefs that comprise a pair of mounted warriors.

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Then there is the tomb of an Etruscan prince from the Sabine Hills outside Rome, show above. It includes the Prince’s shield, weapons, banqueting equipment and bronze incense burners. Most striking are the remains of a horse-drawn carriage. “From Etruria and Latium, which stretched south west of the River Tiber, only a limited number of similar tombs are known,” the museum boasts in its display text.

The tomb in question, archaeologists have concluded, is in the Colle del Forno necropolis. It was looted shortly before being discovered by Italian archaeologists in 1970. “Fortunately the tomb raiders didn’t do a thorough job,” Italian archaeologist Daniela Rizzo testified in Medici’s trial. Additional material from the tomb was recovered and is now on display in the archaeological museum of Fara in Sabine, waiting to be reunited with the objects in Copenhagen.

Hecht’s memoir recounts purchasing the entire set from Medici for $67,000 and selling it to the Copenhagen museum for $1.2 million Swiss francs, or about $240,000.

Finally, there are the Glyptotek’s Etruscan antefixes depicting Maenad and Silenus. They bear an uncanny resemblance to the one the Getty Museum acquired in 1996 and put on the cover of the its antiquities catalog before returning it to Italy. The Getty acquired its antefix from the Fleischmans, who purchased it from the Hunt Collection, which was largely composed of material from Medici.

Are the antefixes related? Pictures tell the story: on the left if the Getty’s, returned to Italy in 2007. On the right is one of the Copenhagen antefix, which remain at the Glyptotek.

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And here are the Polaroids seized from Medici’s warehouse showing the antefixes soon after emerging from the ground:

antefix2dirty antefix

Further evidence about the Glyptotek’s role in the illicit trade comes from Medici’s principal connection to the art market, American antiquities dealer Robert Hecht.

Mogens Gjødesen, the museum’s director from 1970 to 1978, was tight with Hecht, a frequent visitor to the museum. In in his handwritten memoir, Hecht describes sharing pickled herring and drinking akvavit with Gjødesen and his wife on several occasions.  “A former curator told me that he (Hecht) was called the ironmonger amongst the employees since he always showed up with a plastic bag with artefacts that he wanted to sell,” says Stockmann.

A 1970 letter from Hecht to Mogens Gjødesen discusses sending "the children" to Copenhagen.

A 1970 letter from Hecht to Mogens Gjødesen discusses sending “the children” to Copenhagen.

Indeed, Hecht’s handwritten memoir reveals that when he first obtained the famous Euphronios krater from Medici, he offered it first to Gjødesen, who unsuccessfully “tried to get a Danish shipman to buy it for the Glypt.”

The journal also reveals that Hecht appears to have sold the Glyptotek illicitly exported silver figures from Greece: “After my wife’s departure I went to Greece and was shown a magnificent group of geometric AE figurina* (now in coppenhagen). (*Helmeted nude rider, 2) This group was appreciated by the Carlsberg Foundation & was acquired by the Glypotech within a few months. This group has both an artistic + a cultural interest. A helmeted mounted horseman, 2 horses back to back, the upper half of a youth, a potter at work, a miniature helmet, et. Al. The patina is smooth, pea green.”

The Danish Stonewall

When confronted with this evidence, the Glyptotek initially denied any acquisitions from Medici or his associates after 1970. As evidence emerged that contradicted that, their position shifted. Stockmann says:

“Until 2007 The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek denied any wrongdoing but after substantial politic pressure the museum sent documents about the items bought from Medici and Hecht during the 1970s to Italy. In 2007 Italy asked for a great number of items returned. Since 2008, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and the Italian Ministry of Culture have tried to reach an agreement.”

In 2009, the New York Times reported that those negotiations had bogged down. While most American museums had managed to reach agreements with Italy on contested material, Italy’s top negotiator said the Glyptotek “had taken a very different attitude.”

Recently talks have restarted, Stockmann told me. Both sides agree that all items related to the tomb of the Etruscan Prince should be returned to Italy in exchange for comparable loans. But the terracotta antefixes have “been the subject of a conflict.” In particular, Italy objects to language in a draft agreement on cultural cooperation that would prevent it from bringing further claims in the future.

Usually, stonewalling is a good sign that problems go far deeper. So I’ve looked into our archives to see what else I could find.

Gjødesen and the Getty Forgeries

As it happens, Gjødesen was a visiting scholar at the Getty Museum in 1978 and 1978, just as his directorship at the Glyptotek was coming to an end. While at the Getty, he had the opportunity to weigh in on two important acquisitions being considered by the museum.

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The first was an archaic relief showing a Greek soldier binding the head of a fellow warrior. The Getty’s crooked antiquities curator Jiri Frel dubbed it The Death of a Hero. Several experts were dubious about the authenticity of the relief, noting the execution of details like the closed eye seemed off for the Archaic period. At $2.3 million dollars, it was not a decision to be made lightly.

Gjødesen’s opinion helped sway the board, Getty records show. In a letter to Frel dated December 14, 1978, he wrote:

From time to time it happens that a discovery is made which elaborates, extends or totally changes our conception of Greek art. This has happened once again. I am, of course, referring to the archaic Attic relief, dating from about 525 B.C. which you have determinedly tracked down during the past years and are now in a position to submit to the Board of Trustees of the J. Paul Getty Museum with a view to its acquisition.

You have asked my opinion. To put it bluntly, the relief is a sublime masterpiece of incredible subtlety, sentiment and expressiveness, a work of grace, intimacy and poetry, with a surprising touch of realism. It needs no letter of recommendation.

He added a key detail to clinch the objects’ authenticity:

So far the master remains anonymous, though not unknown to us, for in 1958 a relief, obviously by the same hand although of a different but for the time equally unexpected theme, was unearthed at Anavysos in Attica and brought to the Athens National Museum.

He concluded:

It is a miracle that this piece of sculpture was produced and is preserved. It is an even greater miracle that it is available. The opportunity should not be missed; it is unlikely to return. I cross my fingers for you and for the museum.

The Getty acquired the piece for $2.3 million in 1979. There are indications that Frel received a substantial kickback in the deal. Soon after, experts from around the world condemned the relief as a crude fake. The carving was incorrect, particularly the heads and hands, noted Brunhilde Ridgeway. The fragmentary image was impossible to reconstruct in a credible way, and no funerary relief of the Archaic period was known to have the same proportions.

In the 1980s, the Getty declared it a fake and returned it to the dealer.

url-1It was not the only fake whose praises Gjødesen sang while at the Getty. Soon after the archaic relief was acquired, a head attributed to the legendary master Skopas was offered to the Getty. It had been “in a private French collection since the 1830s” and considered “one of the most important pieces of ancient art in the United States,” Frel claimed.

Gjødesen was among the scholars who lent support to Frel’s claims. The Skopas head was later established to be a modern forgery.

Was Gjødesen fooled? Or was he, like Frel, part of a scheme whose depths we have not fully plumbed? And when will the Copenhagen museum come clean?

Castor and Pollux, Forgeries and Loot: Reflections on the Arnold Peter Weiss Case

original art by Elli Crocker (http://www.ellicrocker.com)

Looting and forgery are the Castor and Pollux of the antiquities trade, bound together by a love of murky origins.

That appears to be the lesson of the guilty plea earlier this month by coin dealer Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss, which came with a twist – the “looted” coins he was hawking at the Waldor Astoria were actually forgeries.

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss

But why would Weiss brag so openly – to both a confidential informant and an undercover agent posing as a buyer, according to the complaint – that the ancient coins he was trying to sell had been recently looted in Sicily? Wouldn’t that fact lower the value of the coins and made them harder to sell?

And how could the three coins – which were proved forgeries by a scanning electron microscope only after being found authentic by several experts – fool so many, including Weiss and his Nomos partners and Herbert Kreindler, Weiss’ reported source for the coins? Who was duped, and who was complicit in the fraud?

The answers may come out as the on-going investigation unfolds in the coming months. But the case of another famous fraud, the Getty Kouros, offers some interesting hints.

The outlines of the Kouros story are well known: In 1985, the Getty paid $9.5 million for a 7-foot-tall Greek marble youth with a thoroughly detailed ownership history, amid speculation that the piece was a modern forgery. There are only a dozen such intact kouroi, making the Getty’s a truly remarkable find. The question of its authenticity has been hotly debated ever since. Today most are convinced the statue is a fake, though it remains on display at the Getty Villa, labeled “Greek, about 530 B.C., or modern forgery.”

In the opening chapter of his bestselling Blink, Malcolm Gladwell suggests Getty officials were blinded by bad science in their decision to buy the statue. In Chasing Aphrodite we revealed that science was the public reason to justify the purchase, and the one given to the Getty board. But behind the scenes, museum officials concluded the Kouros was authentic because they heard from the dealer that it had been recently looted in Sicily.

As we write in Chapter 4:

Speaking in confidence, [Sicilian dealer Gianfranco] Becchina had cautioned [Met curator Dietrich] von Bothmer to ignore the cover story about the statue coming from Greece or being in the family of a Swiss doctor. He suggested instead that the statue had been found recently in Sicily, an origin that would explain many of the stylistic anomlies that had initially troubled him. It also suggested that the piece was freshly excavated and, by extension, authentic. The statue’s suspiciously voluminous ownership history must have been forged to cover the kouros’s illicit origins. Bolstered by the new information pointing to authenticity, [Getty director John] Walsh once again recommended the purchase of the kouros.”

This illustrates the first lure of loot: In a market rife with forgeries, evidence of looting is the ultimate badge of authenticity.

It is worth noting that one of the Weiss coins in question was a silver decadrachms of Akragas. Before being confiscated by authorities, it was given a record-setting estimate of $2.5 million because it was one of only 12 known such coins. That happens to be precisely as rare as an intact Kouros. When trying to explain the appearance of a rare masterpiece out of thin air, looting is the most palpable answer. The only other is forgery.

The second lure of looting is the uncanny appeal that “fresh” antiquities have long had for collectors and museums. Few have explained this better than Bruce McNall — who coincidentally used to employ Weiss’ Nomos business partner Eric McFadden.

McNall proved prescient in our January interview  about the Weiss case:

“[As a collector in the 1980s,] any time you find something brand new, it’s sexier,” he said. “Otherwise it’s been around, it’s been seen, and maybe there’s a reason someone else hasn’t bought it…Nobody wants some old broad that’s been around on the town for too long.”

Ironically, McNall thinks that may explain the case of Arnold Peter Weiss, who was allegedly recorded by a confidential informant bragging that he knew the 4th century BC silver tetradrachm from Katane he was selling was “a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago” in Italy. Such talk is common in the coin trade, said McNall, but “90% of the time it’s just a sales tool.” McNall also finds to be credible the rumor circulating in the coin world that one or more of the coins Weiss was offering for sale may have been fakes.

Perhaps another lesson from the Weiss case, then, is that in the world of ancient coins, these two lures of loot appear to be as strong today as they were in 1985.

You can find all our coverage of the Weiss case here.

The Case of the Dodgy Drachmas: Arnold Peter Weiss, Prominent Rhode Island Surgeon, Pleads Guilty; “Looted” Coins Prove Forgeries.

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss, a prominent Rhode Island hand surgeon and dealer in ancient coins, pleaded guilty in New York City Tuesday to three counts of attempted criminal possession of ancient coins he believed had been recently looted from Italy.

“Attempted” possession because the coins in the case were not actually looted — nor ancient. In Tuesday’s court hearing, the New York District Attorney’s office revealed that all three coins in the case were in fact modern forgeries.

Weiss was arrested at the Waldorf Astoria hotel on January 3rd while trying to sell ancient coins at the 40th annual New York International Numismatic Convention. According to the criminal complaint, Weiss believed at least one of the coins had been recently looted and smuggled out of Italy. “There’s no paperwork, I know this is a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago,” the complaint quotes Weiss telling a confidential informant. “This was dug up two years ago. I know where this came from.”  Weiss told an undercover investigator that he also knew the coins belonged to the government of Italy, which claims state ownership of all antiquities found since 1909.

On Tuesday, Weiss entered a guilty plea to the three misdemeanor counts and was sentenced to 70 hours of community service, which he will serve as a physician treating under-insured patients in Rhode Island. He will pay a $1,000 fine for each of the three coins in the case and forfeit another 23 ancient coins seized from him at the time of his arrest.

The court also required Weiss, the former treasurer of the American Numismatic Society, to write a detailed article in the society’s magazine detailing the widespread practice of dealing in coins with unclear ownership histories. It will describe the corresponding threat to the archaeological record and propose solutions for reforming the coin trade. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said, “Thanks to today’s disposition, the article to be written by the defendant for a coin trade magazine will raise needed awareness about unprovenanced coins, and will promote responsible collecting among numismatists.” We’ve asked Weiss’ attorney for a comment and will post anything we receive.

We were the first to report the details of the criminal complaint here, and have written about Weiss’ ties to the Rhode Island School of Design, where he was board chairman and a prominent donor;  to Harvard University Art Museums, where he was a member of the collections commitee from 2006 until his arrest in 2012; and to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where one of his partners at the Swiss coin dealership Nomos AG got his start. We also reported the case had started with federal investigators with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

We’ll have more information about the case and its implications soon.

UPDATE: The DA’s office informs us that the New York Post report that the fake coins would be destroyed is inaccurate. The coins will be preserved and the investigation is on-going.

UPDATE: Paul Barford makes a good case that the fake coins seized by the DA should be retained for future investigations rather than destroyed, as the court has ordered. [See clarification from DA's office above.] Given the facts of this case, numerous private collectors and museums that did business with Weiss must be wondering how many other ancient coins that passed through his hands could also be forgeries.

UPDATE:Rick St. Hilaire has an interesting analysis of the legal implications of the Weiss case, calling it “a breakthrough for the successful application of state criminal laws, as opposed to federal criminal laws alone, to combat international cultural property trafficking.”

NOTED: Peter Tompa, the numismatist and lobbyist for coin collectors at Cultural Property Observer, has yet to mention the Weiss verdict — or the existence of the case at all. The Ancient Coin Collector’s Guild has not mentioned the verdict either. Paul Barford has a longer list of ancient coin-oriented websites with no mention of the verdict. Why?

NOTED: Larry Rothfield has some good questions about the next steps in what the DA’s office has described as “an on-going investigation.”

Letter to Cuno: Dismissal of Educators Sparks Discord Inside Getty Museum

Last month, more than 50 Getty Museum staff members signed a letter to Getty Trust CEO James Cuno and his bosses, the Board of Trustees, objecting to recent cuts in the museum’s education department. (See below for full text.)

For those not familiar with the Getty culture, grumbling about management has long been a varsity sport there, but such open displays of dissent are more rare.

The anger is focused on Cuno’s decision to eliminate 12 of the Getty’s 17 gallery teachers — a unique position in the museum world that put the Getty in a leading role in arts education. The paid teachers, many of whom had Masters in the arts, will be replaced by volunteer docents, “educated individuals who themselves want deep experiences with art, and who will in turn seek to deepen student and visitor engagement with artworks,” according to the posted Getty job announcements. (We’ve previously written about Cuno’s cuts here and here.)

image from hyperallergic.com

The cuts will allow more visiting students to get guided tours and are aimed at saving some $4 million annually than can be used for new acquisitions of art, the Getty has said. But some from inside and outside of the Getty have questioned the wisdom of targeting educators. (Be sure to read the comments at those links, including the response from Cuno.)

Several museum staffers have contacted us in recent weeks with their concerns, calling Cuno’s less-is-more position “Orwellian.” The running joke among staff is that with Cuno’s focus on acquisitions, the Getty should change its web address from getty.edu to getty.acq. Some have suggested other areas for savings in the Getty’s $270 million a year operation. For example: Timothy Potts, who will take over as director of the Getty Museum in September, recently asked that the Getty replace the furniture in his future office. The existing furniture — which Potts referred to as “Pee Wee Herman furniture” — has been moved out and mid-century modern pieces are being sought to replace them. Also: The Skidata ticket machines being installed in the garage for the new automated parking system were recently sent back to the factory for custom painting, a museum staffer tells us. It appears they come in two standard colors, neither of which matched the Getty’s travertine. (This is not to mention the six-figure salaries of top Getty officials.)

Such examples may seem petty, but it was symbolic excesses amid belt-tightening that fueled the deep anger at Cuno’s predecessor Barry Munitz, who was ultimately driven from his job in 2006 for self-dealing with Getty funds. (Ironically, back then Getty museum officials were also upset that Munitz was too focused on hobbies like education policy, and not willing to dedicate the necessary funds to build the Getty’s collection.) It will be worth watching how these sentiments unfold in the months before the arrival of Potts.

The Getty Board

Here is the full text of the May letter from museum staff, with Cuno’s response below it:

May 4, 2012
Dear Dr. Cuno and the Board of Trustees:

We support and share your objective “to maintain the Museum’s very high standards of excellence in all areas.” While we will strive to maintain these high standards in the face of staffing reductions, the drastic and sudden changes to the Education Department’s structure and philosophy will significantly jeopardize our efforts.

The Getty Museum has been at the forefront in the museum field not only for its excellent exhibitions and collections, but also for our approach to education in both theory and practice. A key aspect of this has always been our professional and highly-trained gallery teaching positions. All of the Gallery Teachers and program staff have extensive knowledge of art history, child development theories, and teaching pedagogy, particularly as it relates to object-based and informal learning. Like all of the professionals in the museum, we stay abreast of the research which determines best practices in our field. Indeed, after 20 years of research, our colleague Elliott Kai-Kee has co-written the book on what exemplary gallery teaching can and ought to be. Across the country, colleagues in other museums have used the ideas articulated in the book as a model for the kind of transcendent experience they want their visitors to have in their own galleries. Yet, we find ourselves suddenly in the midst of deep changes to the Getty’s teaching philosophy without a rigorous analysis of how best to meet the institution’s current priorities without sacrificing quality.

The removal of the Gallery Teachers and the plan to replace them with docents with a mere four months lead time is emblematic of the nature of these changes. The Getty’s professional Gallery Teachers are unique in the museum world and have been symbolic of the institution’s deep commitment to quality educational experiences, particularly for school children. Many of the Gallery Teachers have master’s degrees in art history, fine art or classical studies, all of which result in unique perspectives that provide insight into the complex history or creation of an object. Moreover, the Gallery Teachers’ deep knowledge of the collection, in addition to their status as employees, allows for the much-needed ability to teach any tour at a moment’s notice for any type of audience—from a VIP group to students who are English language learners. We agree in holding our curatorial and conservation staff to the highest standards, and we are disappointed that the front line professionals who interact with the public will no longer be held to the same high standards.

After the staff meeting on April 4, we were optimistic that the administration’s stated support for arts education in LAUSD would translate to a commitment to the quality of students’ experience in our galleries. Instead, the sudden elimination of key staff will result in the hurried substitution of volunteers for experienced educators and an overall reduction of professional development programs for teachers. We are deeply concerned that volunteers who may not have had any prior teaching experience will have a difficult time learning about our collection and the needs of the diverse LAUSD school population within a two-month training period. Unfortunately, the students of LAUSD will once again be the victims of cuts to professional, highly trained teaching staff.

It is deeply unfortunate that the standards that make the Getty Museum a leader in the field of education have now been compromised. In the future, we hope to work together to devise effective, thoughtful strategies for teaching in the galleries that would meet our core mission while maintaining a standard of excellence.

Sincerely,
Getty Staff Members

Cuno responded on June 1 with the following email to museum department heads:

Dear Colleagues,

As you may know, I received a letter from numerous Museum staff members regarding the recent changes in Museum Education. It is very important that everyone have a chance to express their views on decisions taken by Getty administration and I very much appreciated the candor and constructive tone with which the letter was written.

Since there were no typed names and departmental affiliations to help identify the letter’s signatories with any confidence, I am asking you to share this with your colleagues if you think it is appropriate.

Our goal in transitioning from a wholly professional gallery teacher staff to a mixture of professional and volunteer teaching staff was to provide many more guided tours for our school group visitors than we currently provide.

Last years total attendance in our School Programs was 114,000. Of these, 74,000 were Title One students (a U.S. Department of Education program that provides support for school districts with the highest student concentration of poverty) and 40,000 non-Title One. Of the total attendance, only 39,000 experienced guided tours by gallery instructors; 67,000 were self-guided, or experienced the museum and its galleries with minimal assistance from us. An expanded docent teaching corps, carefully selected and expertly trained by our experienced gallery instructors, along with the development of multi-media tours, will enable us to meet our goals within the constraints of our budget.

I have the greatest confidence in our Museum educators. Under Toby’s leadership, they attract and train an excellent corps of volunteer teachers. And given that volunteer-led tours are the norm in our profession, our shift of emphasis positions us to play a leadership role in this aspect of Museum Education. We are grateful to the contributions our gallery instructors have made and will make in this regard. Having the ability to serve more of our visitors with a guided tour at a level of instruction appropriate to their needs was an important consideration as we thought about reorganizing the gallery instruction program.

Thank you again for your letter. And thank you for your good work.

Sincerely,

Jim

The Harvard List: Turkey wants Dumbarton Oaks to Return the Sion Treasure

Among the dozens of objects that the government of Turkey is asking American museums to return are 40 Byzantine relics at Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Museum.

(We’ve previously reported on Turkey’s requests in the LA Times and detailed the objects being sought from the Met, the Getty, and the Cleveland.)

The silver and gold liturgical objects known as the Sion Treasure consist of plates, candlesticks, crosses and plaques. Some 40 pieces of the treasure are at Dumbarton Oaks, while another 10 or so are at the Antalya Museum in Turkey, with a few more said to be in private collections.

There does not appear to be much doubt that the treasure was looted and smuggled out of Turkey in 1963 — decades after the nation’s patrimony law made such acts illegal. Dumbarton Oaks’ own publication of the Sion Treasure suggests as much repeatedly.

In 1986, Dumbarton Oaks organized a symposium about the treasure at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which resulted in a 1992 book, “Ecclesiastical silver plate in 6th Century Byzantium,” edited by the museum’s Byzantium curator Susan A. Boyd. That publication includes this photograph of the looter’s hole where the treasure is believed to have been found.

The treasure’s precise findspot is later detailed at length: “Late in the summer of 1963, the Sion Treasure was found in the field called Buyuk Asar (big ruin) north of the hamlet Haciveliler (2km west of Kumluca, a modern town in southeastern Lycia,)” wrote German Byzantinist Hansgerd Hellenkemper. A marking on a nearby wall identified it as the ancient Lycian polis of Korydalla. The treasure was found some 30 meters from the ruins of an early Byzantine church, Hellenkemper added, suggesting it may have been buried by church leaders in the 7th Century to hide it from invading Arabs. She goes on to note that illegal excavations have made it difficult to know more about such treasures. “In the Eastern Mediterranean, a large number of Early Byzantine church treasures have been found, but an exact of nearly exact findspot is known for very few of them.”

Dumbarton Oaks’ acquisition history says the treasure was purchased in 1963 in Switzerland from the antiquities dealer George Zakos by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, a private collector who donated it to the museum the same year. Zakos has been repeatedly tied to the illicit antiquities trade — among other things as a major supplier to Robert Hecht and the source of the Metropolitan Museum’s looted Lydian Hoard, which was returned to Turkey in 1993 after a bitter six-year legal battle.

Turkey has been seeking to reunite the Dumbarton Oaks material with the rest of the Sion Treasure for decades. Nizeh Firatli of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum first noted the missing treasure at a 1964 meeting in Athens, and soon after Turkey first requested that Dumbarton Oaks return the treasure. Several subsequent requests have been sent over the ensuing years, and Turkey’s request was recently revived.

Dumbarton Oaks director Jan Ziolkowski

Dumbarton Oaks did not respond to repeated requests for comments on Turkey’s request — a curious position for an institution that serves as a research library. We eventually contacted Harvard University’s press office, which released the following statement on behalf of director Jan M. Ziolkowski: “Dumbarton Oaks has made the Sion Treasure available for exhibition, research and study for nearly a half-century. We are confident that we have proper title to these antiquities and, while representatives from Turkey have inquired about them on occasion over the years, they haven’t responded to requests for any documentation that might raise questions about the provenance of this important part of the collection.”

We asked both Ziolkowski and Harvard for additional information about why they believe the museum has proper legal title to the treasure. Given the suspect source of the treasure and Dumbarton Oaks’ own publication of details of its looting in 1963, what further “documentation” is Harvard waiting for? So far, our follow-up questions have been met with silence.

Cuno’s Memo: 34 Positions Eliminated at Getty Museum, Mostly in Education, for “More Efficient Operations”

UPDATE 2: An interesting post on the Getty cuts at Hyperallergic ends with this provocative question: “Are museums Universities of Vision or Churches of the Eye?”

UPDATE: The website Art Museum Teaching has posted a stinging critique of the Getty cuts by Robert Sabol, president of the National Art Education Association. Sabol calls the Cuno’s decision to cut gallery educators “a significant step backward” and “out of step” with the museum field. You can read Sabol’s full letter here.

In the comments to the post, Cuno has responded (via Getty PR chief Ron Hartwig) saying, “This new approach will not reduce our educational programs or the quality of teaching available at the Museum.” Two educators have also commented, questioning the accuracy of Cuno’s statements. One notes, “At the Getty Villa alone, four out of five Gallery Teachers, the Education Specialist for Gallery Teaching, the Education Specialist for School and Teacher Programs, and the Manager of Education were all laid off. Obviously, when one considers the volume of work these seven people accomplish on a daily basis, there is no question that the quality of programs is already severely affected, and will continue to diminish!”

This morning, Getty CEO James Cuno sent out a memo to Getty Museum staff announcing the elimination of 34 staff positions. Ten positions were eliminated today, and Cuno is looking for  another 24 staffers to volunteer or face layoffs on May 7th.

Monday’s move is the latest in Cuno’s shakeup at the museum, which began in February with the dismissal of Thom Rhoads, assistant director of administration, and Guy Wheatley, a manager at the Getty Villa. At the time, Cuno said the cuts would “allow the Museum to focus more on collections and exhibitions and less on administrative matters and site-wide operations.” Some saw it as a move to concentrate power in the Getty Trust, which oversees the Museum.

Monday’s cuts target the museum’s education department, which has long been known for its use of staff gallery teachers rather than volunteer docents. That approach has been “rethought to be more cost-effective and to reach more children through a robust docent program,” Cuno told staff this morning. Volunteer docents will now be the norm it appears. Last year, the department served more than 860,000 visitors to the Getty Center and Getty Villa. Recent evaluations of the program’s activities can be found here. The Getty’s support for busing students from poor communities will not be affected.

UPDATE: I’m told of the 17 gallery teachers now employed, only five will keep their jobs. Managers positions at both the Getty Center and Villa were also cut.

UPDATE #2: The LA Times has details on the cuts here.

Here’s the full memo. We’d welcome your thoughts and comments below or anonymously via ChasingAphrodite@gmail.com.

Dear Getty colleagues,

Just a short while ago, I emailed Museum staff to let them know the outcome of the meetings I have held over the last two months with the Museum’s leadership team to ensure its resources are being deployed in the most effective manner. The objective throughout that process was to maintain the Museum’s very high standards of excellence in all areas, while at the same time determining where we can realize savings through more effective and efficient operations.

The discussions during the review process were open and candid, with many ideas developed and exchanged, and we always were guided by a commitment to preserving the museum’s core mission:

●   Building the Museum’s collection by acquiring works of art of the greatest importance;
●   Preserving its curatorial ambitions (research, exhibitions, and scholarly publications);
●   Strengthening its conservation work; and
●   Serving a large and diverse public through educational programs and online access to information about its collection, curatorial and conservation research, and curricular resources.

The actions being taken will not affect curatorial or conservation staffing.  Programming for students, families and adults will remain in place, but the program has been rethought to be more cost-effective and to reach more children through a robust docent program.  We will maintain the number and ambition of our excellent exhibitions.  We will increase our efforts to fill priority gaps in collection documentation and improve our visitor experience by providing greater access to information.  I have challenged all of our managers to leverage technology in our work to enhance the visitor experience.

Changes at the Museum will include the transition in September from the primary use of gallery teachers to docent-led gallery experiences so that more visitors, particularly students, will have a Getty-led tour.  There will be no reduction in the number of school visits, including students from Title One schools.

In addition to the reduction in gallery teachers, some administrative and project-focused staffing positions in the Education Department will be reduced, along with staffing in Exhibitions and Imaging Services.   We will also seek volunteers from among our Visitor Services staff to better align staffing requirements in that department.

The changes will result in 10 layoffs, and we will ask for volunteers for 24 additional positions that are being eliminated.  Meetings were held this morning with affected staff.

The departure of valued members of the Getty Museum’s staff is difficult, but I want to assure you that each of those leaving will receive a very generous severance package identical to those offered by the Getty in the past. All of those laid off will receive their regular pay and benefits during a 60-day non-working notice period, and  will be eligible to receive two additional weeks of pay for every year of credited service over four years.  If an employee elects to take the coverage, the Getty will pay up to three months of COBRA payments to extend health benefits.  The Getty will also provide a generous allowance for outplacement services, and of course, pay all accrued and unused vacation and personal hours.

The layoffs being announced today will be handled in two ways.  Some staff will be notified today that their position has been eliminated and they will have the option of remaining at the Getty until Wednesday to transition their responsibilities and say farewell to colleagues.  In other cases, we will ask for volunteers.  On Monday, May 7th, volunteers will be notified if their offer has been accepted.  Those individuals will have the option of remaining at the Getty until Wednesday, May 9th to transition responsibilities and say farewell to colleagues.  If we do not receive sufficient volunteers, additional layoffs will occur on May 7th.

I will be meeting with Museum staff tomorrow to further explain the review process and answer their questions.  These changes are difficult, but I am confident they will result in an institution that is more focused on its core priorities and better positioned for an uncertain economy and lower endowment returns.

Jim

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.

The Cleveland List: 21 objects Turkey wants Cleveland Museum of Art to Return

UPDATE: Steven Litt at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has published an update on the Cleveland case here, saying the case “could shake the foundations of encyclopedic museums.” The Cleveland Museum was first contacted by Turkey in 2008, and took two years to respond before refusing to allow testing on the contested objects or provide information about their provenance, Litt reports.

We noted with interest that several of the questioned objects were acquired under former Cleveland antiquities curator Arielle Kozloff, who worked closely with the Getty’s Marion True to exhibit the Fleischman Collection, went on to work for the Merrin Gallery, and now describes herself as “a private consultant and lecturer for museums and private collectors.” In this video, Kozloff expresses her admiration for former Cleveland director Sherman Lee, saying, “As soon as the glimpse of a question arose about [a contested painting], he went right after it to find the truth and made sure that the truth came out.” Times have changed at the Cleveland.

UPDATE II: David Gill notes that Kozloff has suggested previously that one of the museum’s contested bronzes came from Bubon, Turkey and was looted in the 1960s  – a claim she has now backed away from. And Paul Barford has some additional thoughts here.

On Saturday, Jason revealed in the Los Angeles Times that the government of Turkey is seeking the return of dozens of allegedly looted antiquities from American museums, including 21 objects from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

We’ve posted a complete list of the Cleveland objects below. They range from 14th Century BC Hittite objects through the Greek and Roman period and up to Ottoman period tiles and ceramic work.

The Emperor as Philosopher, probably Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161-180)(CMA 1986.5)

The most prominent piece is likely this bronze Roman statue believed to represent Marcus Aurelius, which Cleveland acquired in 1986. On its website, the museum describes its origin as “Turkey, Bubon(?) (in Lycia.)” It is unclear how the bronze got from Bubon to Cleveland, and whether the object was granted an export permit, as required since the passage of Turkey’s 1906 cultural patrimony law. The Cleveland Museum of Art declined to answer questions about Turkey’s claim.

As David Gill has noted, a series of monumental bronze statues were taken from the sebasteion, or imperial cult room, of Bubon. A similar bronze depicting Lucius Verus is in the collection of Shelby White.

In the coming days, we’ll be posting details on the requested objects at the Getty and Dumbarton Oaks. We already posted the list of contested objects at the Met  here.

Federal Investigators Behind Criminal Case Against Coin Dealer Arnold Peter Weiss

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss

[See below for updates.]

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss, the Rhode Island doctor arrested in New York City on Jan. 3 for allegedly trying to sell a looted ancient coin, had his first court appearance in a Manhattan criminal court on Wednesday. The case was adjourned until July 3rd, and no additional documents have been filed in the case, according to the District Attorney’s office.

We first reported on the case in January here, and have posted the criminal complaint in the case here. You can find our reports on Weiss’ ties to RISD and Harvard here and here; and on a link between his Swiss coin dealership Nomos AG and the Getty Museum here.

There have been few other public developments in the case since January. But we have confirmed that the investigation was initiated by federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency under the Department of Homeland Security.

“Agents with HCI’s El Dorado Task Force Cultural Property group did arrest Dr. Weiss on Jan. 3rd,” according to agency spokesman Lou Martinez, referring to ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations directorate. “This was an HSI lead investigation.”

The El Dorado Task Force is a multi-agency group formed in 1992 described as “an aggressive, multi-agency approach to target financial crimes within the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area.” It includes more than 250 law enforcement agents from 55 local, state and federal agencies in the region.

Among the members of the El Dorado Task Force are a half-dozen agents focused on the illicit trade in cultural property, Martinez said. Here’s how ICE describes their mission:

ICE takes pride in bringing to justice those who would trade in such items for personal profit and in returning to other nations these priceless items.

The theft and trafficking of cultural items is a practice that is older than history. What is new about it is how easy it is for cultural pirates to acquire valuable antiquities, artworks and artifacts, fossils, coins or textiles and move them around the globe, swiftly, easily and inexpensively without regard to laws, borders, nationalities or their value to a nation’s heritage.

Fortunately, ICE agents are better prepared than ever to combat these crimes. Our specially trained investigators and attachés in more than 40 countries not only partner with governments, agencies and experts who share our mission to protect these items, but they train the investigators of other nations and agencies on how to find, authenticate and enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.

Customs laws allow ICE to seize national treasures, especially if they have been reported lost or stolen. ICE works with experts to authenticate the items, determine their true ownership and return them to their countries of origin.

Recent ICE cases involving the illicit antiquities trade include:

  • The 2009 return of 334 Pre-Colombian artifacts to Peru. The objects were found during a 2007 raid of the Laredo, TX home of Jorge Ernesto Lanas-Ugaz, who received one-year probation and a $2,000 fine.
  • The 2008 return of 79 objects to Egypt. Edward George Johnson, an active duty Chief Warrant officer in the U.S. Army who had been assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in 2002, had used his diplomatic status to illegally ship the Ma’adi artifacts he had acquired in Egypt to the U.S., in violation of Egypt’s export laws, diplomatic protocol as outlined in the Vienna Convention, and U.S. law for smuggling the artifacts into the country. He then sold them to a dealer claiming that they were family property dating back to the early 20th century. An expert on the Ma’adi excavations later recognized the items were from an excavation. In July 2008, Johnson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession and selling of stolen antiquities. He was sentenced in September 2008 to 18 months probation and was ordered to make restitution to the antiquities dealer to whom he sold the artifacts.
  • The 2008 return of  1,044 cultural antiquities to Iraq that were seized in four separate investigations dating to 2001. The items, which included terra cotta cones inscribed in Cuneiform text, a praying goddess figurine that was once imbedded in a Sumerian temple and coins bearing the likenesses of ancient emperors, are an illustration of the long and varied history of the country now known as Iraq. Remnants of ancient Cuneiform tablets, which were seized by the Customs Service in 2001, were recovered from beneath the ruins of the World Trade Center in 2001 and will be restored in Iraq. The objects were turned over in a ceremony at the Embassy of Iraq, where Iraqi Ambassador Samir Shakir al-Sumaydi accepted on behalf of his government.
  • The 2008 return to the Colombian of 60 artifacts that were seized in a joint 2005 investigation with the Broward County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office. The artifacts, which included ancient pottery, gold pieces and emeralds, some as old as 500 B.C., were stolen from Colombia and smuggled into the United States. ICE agents arrested and charged a 66-year-old Italian national, Ugo Bagnato, with sale and receipt of stolen goods. He was convicted and served 17 months in federal prison, after which he was deported.

The New York City District Attorney’s office also has a significant background in these investigations. The Assistant District Attorney assigned to the Weiss case is Matthew Bogdanos, the Marine Corp. Colonel who led the search for antiquities looted from the Baghdad Museum, as chronicled in his 2005 book Thieves of Baghdad, co-authored with William Patrick.

UPDATES:

Rick St. Hilaire has a good analysis of the important legal precedent this case could establish: “Federal prosecutions involving international theft or trafficking of cultural objects are rare. State prosecutions [like Weiss] are novel. That is why the current case against Arnold-Peter Weiss, involving New York state law, is worth watching. with its novel use of state law.”

NY Post headline: “Doc nab in coin caper.” Weiss was released after posting  $200,000 bail.

Almagia Objects Traced to Boston MFA, San Antonio Museum, Indiana University.

We’ve heard back from more museums about objects they acquired from Edoardo Almagia, the Italian dealer at the center of an investigation into the illicit antiquities trade.

As we’ve reported previously, the Met and Princeton University museums have recently returned more than 200 Almagia objects and fragments to Italy, some of which may be used as evidence in the criminal trial of Almagia and Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett. Italian investigators have also traced the dealer’s objects to the Dallas Museum of Art, and we found one at the Getty.

We can now provide details about Almagia objects at three more American museums.

BOSTON MUSEUM OF FINE ART

The Boston Museum of Fine Art has ten objects tied to Almagia, nine of which were impasto vases acquired in 1995 as donations from Jonathan Kagan, a prominent investment manager. Prior to Almagia, the objects were “said to have been purchased in Basel.” An old Swiss collection there, no doubt. A decade before donating the Almagia objects to the Met, Kagan was reportedly behind the sale of the Elmali Treasure, a vast hoard of ancient coins allegedly looted from Turkey.

Boston 1991.534

The tenth Almagia object at the Boston MFA is a lovely Roman bust of an old man made of Carraran marble from northwest Italy. The museum purchased the bust directly from Almagia in 1991. It has no documented ownership history.

Details of all the Almagia objects in Boston can be found in the MFA’s release here.

In a statement, museum spokeswoman Amelia Kantrovitz said, “Since 2000, the provenance of these objects–like virtually all objects in the Museum’s collection–has been available at mfa.org. There have been no recent discussions with Italy or Mr. Almagià about these works. The MFA’s relationship with Italy over the last 5 years has led to important loans, several of which are on view in the current exhibition ‘Aphrodite and the Gods of Love.’”

None of the 13 objects returned by Boston in 2006 came from Almagia, Kantrovitz added, though the bust shown above was among the objects discussed during negotiations.

SAN ANTONIO MUSEUM OF ART

The San Antonio Museum of Art purchased two Greek vases from Almagia in the 1980s. The first (above) is a red-figure Oinoche depicting Dionysos and a satyr attributed to the Florence Painter.

The second vase (right) is a red-figure Attic plate depicting the head of a man. As for its provenance, the museum could only say it is “said to be from Barbarano Romano,” an Etruscan necropolis in Viterbo, Italy. (You can view a panoramic image of the tombs here.)

The museum also has 54 vase fragments — also said to be from Barbarano Romano — that were purchased from Almagia in 1986 by a local attorney, Gilbert Denman Jr., who donated them to SAMA the same year.

Carlos Picon, curator of antiquities at the Met

None of the antiquities have a documented ownership history. All were acquired under then-curator Carlos Picon, the current antiquities curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As David Gill has noted, Picon also knew Giacomo Medici and has described being touched by the generosity of the convicted antiquities trafficker. It will be interesting to know more about the relationship between Picon and Almagia as the Italian investigation unfolds.

SAMA director Katie Luber said in a statement that the museum reached out to Italian authorities about the Almagia objects on February 17th, two weeks after first being contacted by us. It has not yet heard back.

INDIANA UNIVERSITY ART MUSEUM

The museum Indiana University acquired two objects from Almagia in 1986. Mark Land, a museum spokesman, said in an email, “IU Art Museum has not been contacted by Italian authorities regarding Mr. Almagia nor has the museum been asked to return any objects associated with Mr. Almagia. The museum has had no discussions with Mr. Almagia about the objects in question.”

Land did not have details about the objects’ ownership histories but he did provide images:

A South Italian stemless kylix, 3rd century BC (UI 86-48-2)

An Apulian trozella (urn), ca. 5th-4th century BC (UI 86-48-1)

PRINCETON UPDATE: STILL STONEWALLING

Meanwhile, Princeton University is refusing to respond to questions about its own ties to Almagia, perhaps because the museum’s antiquities curator Michael Padgett remains the subject of a criminal investigation for his ties to the dealer. Since the University released a vague statement on January 25th, we have sent several follow-up requests for additional information. University spokesman Martin Mbugua has failed to respond to any of them — odd behavior for an educational institution.

Below are the questions I send to Martin on January 27th. Perhaps some of our readers will have better luck than I getting answers. Should you care to try, his email is mmbugua@Princeton.edu

Thank you for the link, Martin.

Unfortunately the release was not very helpful. It did not state the reason for the returns and did not answer my questions about the objects. I shall try again:

Can you please provide images and the ownership history for each of the returned objects?

Also, please provide a copy of the internal investigation that apparently led to the decision.

Can you clarify the release’s statement that Princeton had good title to the objects it returned? If Princeton had title, that would indicate the objects had not been illegally exported from their country of origin. If that is the case, why would the university return them?

Finally, are there additional objects in Princeton’s collection that were donated or purchased from Almagia that have not been returned? If so, please provide a list of them with information about their ownership histories.

You referred me to investigators for an update on the Padgett investigation. I have contacted them. Given that Padgett is an employee of the university, I have a few questions that only the university can answer:

– is the University paying for Dr. Padgett’s defense?

– The Met indicated it returned objects so they could be used as evidence in a possible criminal trial. Were the Princeton returns sent back for the same purpose?

– Has the University investigated the allegations against Dr. Padgett? If so, what conclusion was reached?

I understand that on-going investigations are sensitive matters. My experience is that transparency in these matters is the best way to demonstrate good faith to the public.