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  • January 02, 2024 7:43 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from The Guardian

    Detectives arrested a man last night on suspicion of the theft of a Banksy Street sign worth up to £500,000 that was stolen in London less than an hour after being confirmed as a genuine installation. The Metropolitan police said they had deployed detectives to investigate after a council in south-east London asked them to help find the stolen artwork. The piece – a red stop sign with three military drones on it – appeared on the corner of Commercial Way, Peckham, on Friday morning – with Banksy confirming its credentials just after midday. However, footage on social media showed two men with a bolt cutter appearing shortly afterwards to carry out a brazen theft, making no attempt to hide their identities as witnesses filmed them. Footage shows one of them wrenching the sign off the post before running away clutching the artwork. The Met said earlier in the day: “We have received a report of theft and inquiries are ongoing. This incident is being investigated by officers from the Met’s central south CID.” Later they said that a man, arrested on suspicion of theft and criminal damage, remained in custody and investigations were ongoing. Jasmine Ali, from Southwark Council said yesterday: “I have every confidence they will get it back. We are not just talking about a street sign here, it is a work of art which was put there for the community. It is street art, and it is for the people.” It also emerged that the council had already replaced the road sign to avoid potential traffic accidents. Ulrich Blanché, a street art expert at Heidelberg University in Germany, believes the installation’s location in Commercial Way close to a funeral director, along with the drones – which appear to be military Reapers – suggests a critique of the global arms trade. 

    Many of Banksy’s Instagram followers interpreted his latest work as calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. One gallery owner has said the artwork could be worth up to £500,000. John Brandler, whose Essex gallery sells Banksy’s works, said: “It could easily be higher. The media attention has made it more valuable.” Similar drone art appeared at Banksy’s Walled Off hotel in Bethlehem in 2017, which the artist said had “the worst view of any hotel in the world” – in a reference to Israel’s controversial wall in the West Bank. The artist has installed other pieces this year including Valentine’s Day Mascara, a mural weighing 3.8 Tonnes that appeared on the side of a house in Margate, Kent. It depicted a 1950s housewife with a swollen eye and missing tooth, wearing an apron and yellow washing-up gloves, and throwing a man into a chest freezer. In September it was placed in the foyer of The Art of Banksy exhibition in central London, where it can be viewed for free.

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  • January 02, 2024 7:36 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from US Attorney's Office-District of Columbia

    A New York woman pleaded guilty today to one count of causing injury to a National Gallery of Art exhibit in the May 26, 2023, defacement of Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Age Fourteen. Joanna Smith, 54, of Brooklyn, N.Y., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington D.C., announced U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves and Acting Special Agent in Charge David Geist, of the FBI’s Washington Field Office’s Criminal and Cyber Division.  According to the government’s evidence, Smith, along with other co-conspirators, traveled to Washington D.C., to smear red and black paint on the National Gallery of Art permanent exhibition of Little Dancer, Age Fourteen, a sculpture created by Degas in 1881. Smith and a co-conspirator previously had conducted research on the piece and specifically targeted it. Before entering the National Gallery, the duo recorded video statements explaining their intent. Smith and the co-conspirator passed through security undetected with paint secreted inside water bottles. The duo approached the exhibit, removed the bottles from their bags, and began smearing paint on the case and base surrounding Little Dancer, Age Fourteen. Smith delivered statements telling onlookers why she was undertaking the action as paint dripped from the exhibit onto the surrounding floor. Following the action, the National Gallery was required to remove the sculpture from public display for 10 days. Gallery officials said it cost over $4,000 to repair the damage. Judge Berman Jackson scheduled sentencing for Apr. 3, 2024. The charge carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The maximum statutory sentence for federal offenses is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. The sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, specifically the FBI’s Art Crime Team, with assistance from National Gallery of Art Police, and U.S. Park Police. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron A. Tepfer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

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  • January 02, 2024 7:28 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from The Art Newspaper

    One story dominated the museum sector this year; the revelation that the British Museum had lost thousands of priceless artefacts in its care. “We believe we have been the victim of thefts over a long period of time,” George Osborne, the chair of the museum, said in an interview on BBC’s Radio 4 in August. As a consequence, numerous governments across the world have doubled down on their calls for the restitution of artefacts held by the British Museum.

    The first response came from the Greek government, which left Osborne’s long-negotiated “share” plan for the Parthenon Marbles in tatters. In an interview with the Greek newspaper To Vima, Greece’s culture minister Lina Mendoni said the argument that the marbles were safer in London than Greece had “collapsed”. She said: “When this happens from within, beyond any moral and criminal responsibility, a major question arises regarding the credibility of the museum organization itself.”

    The Nigerian government quickly followed suit, calling for the Benin Bronzes to be returned. “It’s shocking to hear that the countries and museums that have been telling us that the Benin Bronzes would not be secure in Nigeria have thefts happening there,” said Abba Isa Tijani, the director of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, to Sky News.

    Cultural representatives from Ghana and Ethiopia also called for the museum to return their artefacts. The art historian Nana Oforiatta Ayim, who curated Ghana’s first Venice Biennale pavilion in 2019, said the museum’s claim that it took better care of African artefacts than the states from which they came is “racist, patriarchal and patronizing” in an interview with the New York Times.

    Nations that have not traditionally confronted the museum over its artefacts also intervened. In August, an editorial in the Global Times, China’s state-run English-language newspaper, stated: “The vast majority of the British Museum’s huge collection of up to eight million items came from countries other than the UK, and a significant portion of it was acquired through improper channels, even dirty and sinful means.” In India, meanwhile, media focused on the return of the contentious Koh-i-Noor diamond, set in the crown of the Queen Mother and part of the Royal Collection at the Tower of London.

    Writing in The Art Newspaper, the Oxford academic Dan Hicks was unequivocal: “The last remaining argument against restitution has now been lost.”

    The British Museum has launched an independent investigation as it seeks a new director. Time will tell if it sticks to the plan to retain the Parthenon Marbles and its other artefacts. But it seems clear that 2023 will be remembered as the year when the pendulum definitively swung on the restitution debate and the idea that “world” museums are the rightful possessors of other nations’ priceless artefacts.

    In the wake of the October terrorist attack by Hamas on civilians in Israel, the devastating war in Gaza has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives along with the destruction of mosques and archaeological sites. Although the Russian-led war in Ukraine dropped down the news networks, cultural and heritage buildings continue to be damaged and destroyed. In June, floodwater from the breached Nova Kakhovka Dam in the Russian-occupied Kherson province of southern Ukraine is suspected to have submerged the home of the late Ukrainian artist Polina Rayko.

    UNESCO has moved to protect Ukraine by listing the historic center of Odesa, the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv and the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery complex, as well as the entire historic center of the city of Lviv, on its list of endangered World Heritage sites. Odesa, newly protected, was subject to a sustained air barrage in July. The fighting has also led to a pointed restitution debate. An investigation by The Art Newspaper raised serious concerns that works of art taken by Russian troops in occupied Ukraine may not be repatriated once the fighting ends. Hundreds of paintings were removed from the Kherson Regional Art Museum in November and dispatched to Simferopol in Crimea, a territory seized by Russia in 2014. Other Ukrainian museums have suffered similar fates. Works from the Kherson Museum are now stored in a concert hall in Simferopol’s art museum (part of the Taurida Central Museum), which is under the directorship of Andrei Malgin. The Simferopol-born Malgin is close to Russian president Vladimir Putin and has been a vocal supporter of the Russian takeover of Crimea. News emerged this year of the scale of China’s economic crisis, one that has not been matched since the global crash of 2008. The impact on the country’s burgeoning museum sector could be profound.

    The pandemic continued to play a significant role in 2023. In January, China reopened its borders to international visitors for the first time since March 2020. But President Xi Jinping’s Zero-Covid policies have had a major impact on the construction industry, leading in part to the potential defaulting of Evergrande and Country Garden, the country’s two largest property developers. What this means for China’s museum sector is not yet known, but commentators have pointed to worrying signs. The auctioning off of a significant amount of art from Shanghai’s Long Museum, one of China’s most revered private art museums, at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in October was concerning. There was also the significant downsizing of Shanghai’s Yuz Museum and the closure of the Shanghai Centre of Photography. The global rise in populist movements and authoritarian governments globally continues to impact the museum and heritage sector. In January, during the inauguration of Lula da Silva as president of Brazil, supporters of the former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the Brazilian National Congress, the Supreme Federal Court and the Presidential Palace of Planalto, leading to extensive damage to artworks. In Africa, the presidents of Niger and Gabon were toppled in coups d’état, while civil war broke out in Sudan in April between the country’s military and the populist paramilitary group the Rapid Support Forces. Protected heritage sites in each of these countries were threatened by the violence. Direct action on climate has been escalating throughout 2023, with groups like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion using museums as frequent sites of protest. In October 2022, Just Stop Oil activists threw soup at a painting by Vincent van Gogh in London’s National Gallery. But, in November, they escalated their actions at the museum by staging a hammer attack on Velázquez’s “Rokeby Venus”.

    There is no doubt that climate change continues to exert a huge impact on the world’s ability to protect its places of collective heritage. Catastrophic natural disasters included a huge earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria in February, leaving nearly 60,000 people dead and destroying many archaeological sites and ancient buildings. In September, a major 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck western Morocco, wreaking havoc on the country’s museum sector and protected heritage sites.

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  • January 02, 2024 7:08 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from The Art Newspaper

    A hack that has limited the British Library’s access to its digital systems is the latest in a series of online raids on cultural institutions. A cyber-attack on the digital systems of the British Library in London continues to affect its website, online systems and some onsite services with limited access to some publications and manuscripts. The so-called ransomware attack, which was launched on 31 October, is part of a recent pattern marking an increase in the severity of cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure. The online attacks have affected cultural institutions such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Natural History Museum in Berlin, and the data they hold, and has left others considering how best to defend themselves against future attacks.

    The British Library attack was carried out by the Rhysida ransomware group, according to the BBC. Meanwhile The Financial Times reports that the hackers, who claim to have stolen user data and employee details, have released low-res images of British Library employees’ passports and opened an auction for an undisclosed set of documents at 20 bitcoin, equivalent to about £600,000. The attackers are also demanding a ransom for the return of that data. A British Library spokesperson says the institution has confirmed this was a ransomware attack by a group known for such criminal activity. The Rhysida ransomware is offered as a service to criminal groups, which share profits with the owners. “We now have evidence that indicates the attackers might have copied some user data as part of the cyber-attack, and some additional data appears to have been published on the dark web [part of the internet accessible through a special browser]," says a British Library statement.

    Personal data theft

    Asked if the library planned to pay the ransom, the spokesperson says: “I am afraid we’re unable to share further information at this stage as it is an ongoing investigation.” The British Library is continuing to work with the Metropolitan Police and professional cybersecurity advisers to examine the stolen material. Exhibitions at the library, including Malorie Blackman: The Power of Stories (until 25 February), remain open. Users’ data has been compromised. “Our subsequent investigation showed that some personal data of library users was disclosed, which we immediately announced publicly,” the spokesperson says. “Since then, we have been in direct contact with our users to alert them and encouraged them to take sensible precautions to protect themselves from any consequences based on the advice from the National Cyber Security Centre.” In a blog post (15 December), Roly Keating, the library's chief executive, wrote: "The Library itself remains a crime scene, with a forensic investigation of our disrupted network still ongoing. In parallel, our teams are examining and analyzing the almost 600 gigabytes of leaked material that the attackers dumped online difficult and complex work that is likely to take months." He says that from early in the new year a phased return of certain key services will begin, starting with the most crucial component—the main catalogue—a reference-only version of which will be back online from 15 January, further facilitating the manual ordering which is available in the Reading Rooms. Other interim services will include increased on-site access to manuscripts and special collections. The library has also published a list of printed and online resources providing information about its ancient, medieval and early modern manuscripts.

    The Art Newspaper asked UK museums whether they were prepared for a cyber-attack. A British Museum spokesperson says the institution takes a broad range of measures to protect employees, visitors and the collection from such attacks, and would not comment on individual security arrangements. A Tate spokesperson says: “We never comment on our security systems. Charles Finlay, the founding executive director of the Rogers Cyber­secure Catalyst center at Toronto Metropolitan University, says that ransomware attacks are increasing in severity and sophistication, and that many ransomware gangs are based in Russia and Iran. He adds: “It is difficult to tell the nature of this attack [at the British Library] but it is a symptomatic of a significant challenge globally to protect critical infrastructure from cybersecurity attacks. “A ransomware attack is launched primarily for financial gain and can involve two ransom demands. The first may be demanded for the return of control of the digital systems. Another ransom may be demanded to keep secure the information [relating to the employees]. Organizations often pay the ransom. “The British Library may have activated a breach response plan, retaining third-party experts to assess the scope of the attack and attempt to mitigate it, which could be the start of a long process to retain trust with stakeholders.” Jiali Zhou, assistant professor in the Kogod School of Business at the American University, Washington DC, stresses that the attack highlights the vulnerability of public sector IT infrastructure. Public sector organizations often hold valuable data, making them very attractive targets for cybercriminals, he says.


    Zhou adds: “In the case of public libraries, it can be particularly challenging to hold someone accountable for security breaches. Public libraries may also face budget constraints and limited resources, which can make it difficult for them to invest proactively in robust security measures unless they have already experienced prior security incidents.” He says the reported British Library ransom demand falls within the average range for such attacks.

    The real mystery is perhaps why the British Library was targeted. Some commentators believe the attack to be largely symbolic. Writing for the technology news website The Register, the UK journalist Rupert Goodwins points out that as one of the world’s largest libraries, with 170 million items, the library is “emblematic” of public knowledge. He says: “Its books may contain many secrets, but they’re open to researchers to find, interpret and publish—or they would be if the IT was working. It’s those researchers who are uniquely suffering now, with PhD students unable to finish their work before deadlines, and their professors unable to publish. Bad news, but hardly fatal and with minimal economic impact. Like many state, education and healthcare attacks, the intention seems to be as much disruption and bad publicity as enrichment.” Keating added meanwhile: "Libraries, research and education institutions are being targeted, whether for monetary gain or out of sheer malice. Society more widely, and all of us as individuals need to be alert to this fast-evolving threat... The people responsible for this cyber-attack stand against everything that libraries represent openness, empowerment, and access to knowledge."

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  • January 02, 2024 6:57 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from The Guardian

    Artificial intelligence could become a crucial weapon to deter graffiti vandals from defacing churches, castles and monasteries, after historic sites experienced a dramatic increase in such attacks over the past year. Historic England is pursuing a pioneering project that could see AI identify culprits from their tags, track their movements by matching graffiti in different areas, and analyze paints to establish where they obtained their spray cans. Stopping the vandalism could not be more urgent. In the past year, heritage organizations have become a prime target, according to research published on Sunday by Ecclesiastical Insurance, a specialist in the heritage sector. Its crime survey found that as many as a third (32%) of heritage sites have been defaced by graffiti, an increase of 9% on the previous year. In April, vandals targeted historic Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian – birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots – spray-painting graffiti across walls, flagstone floors and the 16th-century fountain. In January, they hit Rochester Castle in Kent – one of the nation’s most imposing Norman fortresses, whose construction began in 1087 – spraying graffiti on the walls.

    Mark Harrison, head of heritage crime strategy at Historic England, told the Observer: “We’re at the cutting edge of tackling this problem. These are heritage settings that belong to all of us and graffiti is criminal in every sense. It’s persistent and pervasive. It causes distress and affects the public’s sense of wellbeing, which is a really key indicator of how a community feels about itself.” He is collaborating on the project with Prof Robin Bryant, director of criminal justice practice at Canterbury Christ Church University, who is an expert in artificial intelligence. The problem is that an initial case of graffiti often encourages further occurrences. Removing it from ancient stone is complex, as the paint leaches, often leaving a permanent, ghostly stain. The AI exploration extends to its potential use in identifying lead that might have been stolen from a church roof – another tool for law enforcement officials and scrap dealers, requiring only an app on a smartphone. Harrison said: “Go on to Google Play or the App Store and you can get apps that identify plants, trees and rocks. It’s exactly the same process. We’ve been having early conversations about how we can use this technique to help us identify graffiti artists, who have got a very distinct style and use certain types of colors. But the human eye and brain can only deal with a certain amount of information. “To the human eye, graffiti may look similar, but to the machine it might be quite distinctly different. If you’ve got 100 tags in a neighborhood, that could be one person in one evening. If it’s left to linger, it just shows people this is a safe place to tag.” He added: “Working with manufacturers, we might be able to get it down – using the AI imaging – to say what brand of paint it is. Working with retailers, we can see if we can reduce the source. "Bryant said that AI offers the possibility to link offences together to the same offenders: “That, in classic policing terms, is normally a very good start in terms of an investigation. ”He added: “The recording systems of the police are not geared up. There are some specific heritage crimes which are recorded, such as the illegal dealing in cultural objects. But they’re very rare. The problem is that most heritage crimes are theft or criminal damage and, while these are obviously recorded by the police, there are no specific codes for offences such as criminal damage to a historic building caused by graffiti.”

    Other historic sites blighted by graffiti include the Charterhouse Heritage Park, the nation’s only Carthusian monastery with surviving interiors. It dates from 1381 and was given to the people of Coventry in 1940. Emily Thorpe, its general manager, spoke of the distress of seeing graffiti repeatedly sprayed over its 14th-century walls: “It’s a complete and utter lack of respect for how important it is in our history.” Cleaning the graffiti costs a huge amount of money, she said: “Historic England are helping with some training for us. We have a large bank of volunteers, but you need specialist skills and equipment. It almost feels like a losing battle.” Harrison said that the “natural surveillance” of the public through Heritage Watch – a neighborhood scheme specifically for historic sites and buildings – is “a good deterrent”. “Linking traditional community measures alongside the new and emerging technologies has got to be a glimmer of hope for us, hasn’t it?”

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  • January 02, 2024 6:19 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from KATU

    The Washington County (Oregon) Sheriff’s Office says a masked man broke into the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals early Christmas Eve morning. Deputies responded to a break-in alarm at 2:21 a.m. local time and said they found a broken window leading into the building and footprints heading south from the museum. Officials say deputies immediately set up containment in the area and attempted a K9 track, but the suspect was able to escape. Museum staff along with deputies searched the building and found a significant theft from a large display case containing numerous gold items. The total value of the missing items has not been reported. Officials say they reviewed the museum’s security footage and the suspect appears to be an average build white male wearing jeans and a jacket.

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  • December 12, 2023 7:38 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from Observer

    An art museum in Autun, France, has helped restitute an Old Master painting to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, a prominent Dutch Jewish art dealer whose collection was looted by the Nazis in 1940.Entitled Adam and Eve and attributed to Dutch painter Cornelis van Haarlem, the painting in question was recently offered as a donation to Musée Rolin. But upon evaluating the work, employees found a Goudstikker label fixed to its back and discovered that it was one of the works looted from the late dealer’s collection. The donors, who were unaware of the painting’s history and have chosen to remain anonymous, worked with the museum to notify Goudstikker’s family of its discovery. "The museum really acted in the way that you want museums to be acting; they flagged it, they contacted the family, they were doing the right thing to resolve this in a fair and correct way,” said Yaél Weitz, counsel on the case and an attorney with art law firm Kaye Spiegler. “They handled it in a way that we hope other museums will going forward,” she told ObserverGoudstikker, a dealer of Old Master and 19th-century artists, was forced to flee Europe in 1940 and leave his gallery of approximately 1,400 works behind. He died in an accident while escaping across the English Channel on a cargo boat. As his widow and son traveled to North America, a majority of his collection was subsequently turned over to Hermann Göring in a forced sale. A small black notebook Goudstikker used to catalog his artwork was later used as evidence by the dealer’s heirs as they fought for decades to recover his collection. In 2006, after an eight-year-long campaign led by Marei von Saher, Goudstikker’s daughter-in-law, the Dutch government agreed to return more than 200 works it had received following WWII in what constituted one of the largest restitutions of Nazi-looted artwork. More than half of these works were sold the following year in a series of auctions in New York, London and Amsterdam that netted $20.8 million in total. Meanwhile, a selection of Goudstikker paintings were exhibited in shows at New York’s Jewish Museum and the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut. Several other works belonging to Goudstikker have since been returned by the German city of Trier and institutions like the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Cummer Museum of Arts & Gardens. To celebrate the most recent return, Musée Rolin will hold a presentation ceremony on Dec. 13 to recognize the painting and the work involved in its restitution. “I am deeply appreciative of the efforts that led to the recovery of this piece of our family’s history,” said von Saher in a statement. “It is so gratifying to see justice achieved and have this painting returned to its rightful owners.” Not all restitution attempts have been so successful. Despite a lengthy litigation battle over two Lucas Cranach the Elder paintings from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, a court ruling in 2018 found that the works rightfully belong to the museum. There are still hundreds of missing works out there, according to Weitz, who has worked on the restitution of Goudstikker artwork for years. “These restitutions are really meaningful,” she said. “They make a difference in a small way by righting some of the historical wrongs.”

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  • December 12, 2023 7:31 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from ABCnet

    Around 1,700 First Nations ancestors have been returned from overseas collecting institutions and private collections since 1990, including 139 from America. The Australian government said it continued to work closely with the National Museum to progress the repatriation of other ancestors still held in its care. Nyamba Buru Yawuru cultural coordinator Dianne Appleby said bringing home ancestors exposed the dark history that saw them taken from country in the first place. "We have to talk about the tragedy and the trauma and to make sense of these events," she said. She spoke about the massacres inflicted on Yawuru people, knowledge and stories of which were passed down by her grandmother, which led to the theft of ancestral remains. "They never understood the tragedies, why they were killed and taken away, and they took the bones away, it's like taking the children away," Ms Appleby said. "We are very sad. With an additional 36 sets of remains still held by overseas institutions — the majority in Europe — the project remains a long-term one for the Yawuru community.

    The Yawuru man's remains will be held in a specially constructed room at the WA Museum, which will act as a caretaker. Mr McKenzie said the plan was to eventually build a holding place in Broome and bring ancestors back home on Yawuru country, but there were still cultural practices that needed to be established. “We haven't structured a way of how we rebury the dead ... we only bury our dead and we have to find a way of reburying our dead," he said. Ross Chadwick, the museum's head of archaeology and anthropology, has been involved in the repatriation project for more than 20 years. "The community come to us occasionally to request that we care for their ancestors when there's not a suitable place or a suitable location for them to be taken back to on country," Dr Chadwick said. Dr Chadwick said the museum was constantly working to return ancestors to their traditional lands, while currently caring for around 120 ancestral remains. "The Western Australian Museum is privileged to be able to do this on behalf of community and it is a significant event for them," he said.

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  • December 12, 2023 7:18 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from ARTnews

    Four antiquities, valued at more than $1 million, were recently returned to Nepal by the Manhattan District Attorney Office, the office announced in a statement Monday. The pieces returned to Nepal on December 4 include a large pair of gilt bronze Bhairava masks, dating to the 16th century, that are collectively valued at $900,000. According to the Manhattan DA’s office, “the masks depict the god as Shiva, one of the Hindu trinity which also includes Brahma and Vishnu. They were used for ritual worship during the annual Indra Jātrā festival in Nepal. Both masks were stolen in the mid-1990s as part of a series of break-in robberies from the home of the family whose relatives created the masks. They were then smuggled to Hong Kong, sold at auction in New York, and subsequently entered the collections of the Rubin Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art until they were recovered earlier this year by the Office.” The items were matched using family photographs submitted to an anonymous whistleblower known online as Lost Arts of Nepal. “As far as I know, the first such match in Nepal,” Erin Thompson, a professor specializing in art crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told ARTnews. Thompson submitted the tip from Lost Arts to the DA’s office in September 2022. As part of the investigation, the DA’s office retrieved the police report filed by the family at the time of the thefts, and had it translated by a Nepali lawyer.

    According to Thompson, the Bhairava masks are also not for people, but pots for beer, which would then be served to worshipers during the Indra Jātrā festival. One of the other items repatriated to Nepal, a 10-armed Durga statue, was seized as part of the office’s investigation into convicted art trafficker Subhash Kapoor. According to the Manhattan DA’s office, the statue was allegedly smuggled out of Nepal “by the Zeeshan and Zahid Butt trafficking network, which was run by Kapoor’s alleged co-conspirators. The statue was then purchased from the Butts in Bangkok by Kapoor and subsequently trafficked into New York in the early 2000s, before it was recovered from a Kapoor-owned storage unit.” The four items were returned to Nepal during a ceremony with Nepal’s acting New York Consul General Bishnu Prasad Gautam and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Deputy Special Agent in Charge Christopher Lau on Monday. “The return of these illegally exported four masterpieces is a significant step in reclaiming Nepal’s cultural heritage and preserving its historical treasures,” Gautam said in a press statement. “This has deeply contributed to Nepal’s national efforts of recovery and reinstatement of lost cultural properties. The cooperation and collaboration between Nepal and the Manhattan District Attorney in this field, like in others, are deeply commendable and inspirations for the international community in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts.”

    On December 4, the Rubin Museum issued a press statement acknowledging that it had placed the mask under review “with its collections team as well as independent researchers” after seeing the social media posts, then removed it from public view and posted public signage in the galleries about this process. The statement also acknowledged that the Manhattan DA’s office showed the museum “corroborating evidence the mask was stolen from a site in Dolakha in March 1994.” It reviewed the documentation, deaccessioned the mask, and voluntarily agreed to turn it over to the authorities. The institution said it acquired the mask in 2005, with “no evidence of theft or unlawful removal from Nepal at the time of acquisition until evidence was provided by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office,” citing previous transactions on the art market, including a public auction at Sotheby’s in 1996. “While we have treasured this exceptional mask and enjoyed sharing it with visitors in our galleries since 2005 as well as through several scholarly publications, the evidence presented is clear, as is our decision to return the work to Nepal,” Rubin Museum executive director Jorrit Britschgi said in a press statement. “We’re deeply sorry for the loss its removal has caused community members in Dolakha. We hope the work can return to its former location, yet also understand that the return will not remedy the wrongs that were done.” The museum also announced it had committed additional resources through the appointment of Linda Colet as its new head of collections management and provenance research. Provenance research in museums and private collections often focuses on scholarly books or photography archives to determine whether or not an object was stolen. For Thompson, the successful use of family photographs as proof of the Bhairava masks’ origins also demonstrates how repatriations are handled by foreign antiquities collections. “I think that there should be a push toward museums and collectors to really think about returning things before that proof comes up, and not waiting until that happens,” Thompson said.

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  • December 12, 2023 7:12 PM | Anonymous

    Reposted from Jerusalem Post

    The president of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court sent him to involuntary hospitalization for four years, a period equal to the maximum prison sentence for the offense attributed to him. The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Sunday acquitted Stephen Edward Porth, a 40-year-old American tourist from California, accused of smashing valuable historical statues at the Israel Museum. His defense attorney, Nick Kaufman, claimed that he suffers from "Jerusalem Syndrome" and admitted on his behalf that he committed the acts attributed to him. A psychiatric opinion received in his case last Thursday found him competent to stand trial, but at the same time determined that at the time of the incident he was not responsible for his actions.

    The president of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, Judge Shmuel Herbst, who acquitted him, sent him to involuntary hospitalization for four years, a period equal to the maximum prison sentence for the offense attributed to him. The incident took place on the afternoon of Thursday, October 5. According to the indictment, Forth, who went to the classical archaeology section of the National Museum, where statues from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods are displayed, threw a Roman marble statue dated 201-211 AD to the Griffon, a mythological animal with the body, tail and hind legs of a lion, and the head and wings of an eagle. which places the foot on the wheel of fate of the goddess Nemesis, as well as a marble statue from the late Hellenistic period from the first century BC, of Athena, the goddess of war. Security cameras recorded Forth's actions. The damage he caused was estimated at $1 million. The police claimed that he acted cunningly and premeditatedly and waited until closing time so that there would be no crowd. According to the investigators, forth intended to break more art sculptures, but his actions created a noise and so he stopped. He said he did not regret his actions and had wanted to do so on previous visits to Israel and other museums. During interrogation, he confessed to the acts and claimed that these statues contradicted his faith and religion. He told investigators that these were "statues of idolatry, contrary to the laws of the Torah."

    According to the indictment, he then tried to flee the museum, but security guards detained him and called police officers who arrested him. He has been behind bars ever since because he failed to raise the amount required for bail. The Israel Museum said after the incident that "the museum's management sees this incident as a worrisome and exceptional case. The museum's management condemns violence of any kind and hopes that such incidents will not be repeated."  The same is true of the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Eli Escozido, who said that it is the head of a marble statue of the goddess Athena from the Roman period discovered in the 1960s in northern Beit Shean, and the statue of Griffon II, a symbol of a pagan deity from the Roman period, which was previously exposed in the northwestern Negev. "This is a shocking case of the destruction of cultural values," Escozido said, "We see with concern the fact that cultural values are being destroyed by religiously motivated extremists. We will speak with the management of the Israel Museum to ensure that such incidents do not recur."

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