Tag Archives: james grimaldi

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.

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.

Five Tips for Finding Loot at Your Local Museum

Jason and Ralph will be speaking Friday, June 10 in Orlando at IRE, the annual gathering of investigative reporters. Our topic is how to find loot at your local museum.

You don’t have to be an investigative reporter to find looted antiquities. Museums around the country are home to ancient art of questionable origins. As 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.” (p. 190 of Chasing Aphrodite)

So, in that spirit, here are five things to look for at your local museum:

1. The Usual Suspects:For decades, the market in Classical antiquities

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

was controlled by a handful of shady dealers who operated much like a cartel. They were competitors, but cooperated as necessary to get the highest price for their wares. Look for their names in the ownership histories of ancient art: Robert Hecht, Frieda Tchakos, Fritz Burki, Gianfranco Becchina, Robin Symes, Christo Michaelidis.

2. Read the Labels: Many museums are frustratingly vague about an object’s origins. In the language displayed next to a piece of ancient art, you’ll find see something like “said to be from” this or that country or region. The question to ask is: who said? The answer is often dealers, middlemen and even looters. Curators often sought out this important information from their market sources, but kept it vague to hide an object’s illicit origins.

3. Accession numbers: Most museum objects are identified by an accession number, the inventory number given to an object when it enters the collection. Every museum uses a different code for their acquisitions, but they usually contain the date of acquisition. For example, the Getty’s statue of Aphrodite was 88.AA.76. “88″ is for 1988, the year the Getty acquired the statue. “AA” is the Getty’s code for ancient statues. “76″ tells you its the 76th acquisition of the year. This can be key information. For example, if you know the year an object was acquired, you can figure out the standards and policies that were in place at the time.

4. Scrutinize the donors. Museums have been getting in trouble for donations for decades. Donations of art are tax deductible, and have often been a means for tax fraud at museums. Museums have also used donors to launder recently looted art. (See Chap 2: A Perfect Scheme) Some museums have lower standards when it comes to objects donated to the museum.

5. Ask for answers: Once you see an object the sparks your curiosity, ask the museum for answers about the object’s provenance, or ownership history. Most museums should (reluctantly) provide you with what they know. If they claim to have no information, ask them why they felt it was safe to purchase. The AAMD has guidelines for museum transparency on these issues. Is your museums following them?

In our view, not all looted antiquities need be returned to the country from which they were stolen. (The Getty, for example, returned only a fraction of the hundreds of objects in their collection its former curator would consider “almost certainly looted.”) But museums should be asked to come clean about their collecting practices.

Joining us on Friday’s panel will be Lee Rosenbaum of CultureGrrl fame, and James Grimaldi, the WaPo’s lead reporter on the Smithsonian’s shenannigans.