INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FORCULTURAL PROPERTY PROTECTION
Reposted from The Washington Post
The search for the next director of the National Gallery of Art has revealed deep divisions within the federally funded institution, a palace of high art that is dogged by old-fashioned ideas about museum operations and staff claims of widespread mismanagement.
The leader chosen to succeed retiring Director Earl “Rusty” Powell III could signal a new chapter for one of the country’s premier art institutions. Established by Congress from a gift from Andrew W. Mellon, the National Gallery of Art has a patriotic heart that chooses consistency over flash and scholarship over blockbusters. With its federal charter — and sizable federal subsidy — the gallery is a Brooks Brothers suit in an Alexander McQueen world.
But with Powell’s 26-year tenure coming to an end, the museum has the opportunity to revitalize its programs and modernize its operation, according to interviews with 22 current and former employees and industry experts. The selection of its next leader — expected to be made next month — could determine whether it continues to hew to the past or emerges at the forefront of a quickly evolving museum industry.
“The National Gallery could be bigger in the sense of its national profile. I think of the era of [former director] J. Carter Brown — there was a certain amount of magic to some of the things they did,” said Kym Rice, assistant director for academic affairs at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University. “It does hold a certain place, but it could be much more.”
A new leader can revitalize an institution, said Rice, who pointed to Melissa Chiu as an example. Since Chiu was appointed director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2014, the Smithsonian museum has increased its fundraising and presented highly acclaimed exhibitions that have attracted a younger audience.
“A lot of people thought she was a risky choice, but look at what she’s done to raise their profile. She’s brought in good people, put on great exhibitions,” Rice said.
The gallery’s next leader faces significant challenges. The museum’s digital strategy is undeveloped and trails its peer institutions. Poor management across multiple departments has caused high turnover and low staff morale, resulting in missed deadlines and budgets that waste taxpayer dollars, according to staff. Long-standing problems of sexual harassment, retaliation and favoritism persist because senior executives and personnel officers ignore or cover up complaints, according to seven current and former employees, most of whom requested anonymity because of fear of reprisal.
The National Gallery, with its two buildings and sculpture garden on the northeast corner of the Mall, houses a collection of 150,000 works of mostly American and European art. Tourists come for its renowned permanent galleries with works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Matisse and Picasso, while smaller temporary exhibits highlight individual artists or themes, such as the current exhibition on marine paintings from the Dutch Golden Age and the recently closed look at Cezanne’s portraits. Its high-wire approach to balancing old masters with fresh faces comes into focus next month, when it opens three exhibitions: One spotlights contemporary British artist Rachel Whiteread, another focuses on 19th-century French painter Camille Corot’s portraits of women, and the last showcases the recent acquisitions acquisition of four large-scale photographs and a video by American photographer Dawoud Bey.
The National Gallery’s conventional approach stems from its unusual structure as a quasi-federal organization. Chartered by Congress and federally owned, the gallery is a nonprofit corporation that receives about 75 percent of its annual $190 million budget from taxpayers. Most of its 1,100 employees are federal workers and federal funds allow its 5 million annual visitors to enter free.
The pending announcement has many on the staff on edge. Officials with Phillips Oppenheim, the New York firm hired to conduct the job search, held large meetings with staff in April, at the start of the process, but the search is highly secretive and the focus of much speculation. Among the candidates rumored to be in contention are Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis in The Hague; Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth; Timothy Rub, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and C.D. Dickerson III, the National Gallery's curator of sculpture and decorative arts. Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is another name that's mentioned, perhaps because he and Powell both graduated from Williams College and he now has the job Powell held before coming to the National Gallery. Rub, Lee and Govan did not respond to messages, while Gordenker and Dickerson declined to comment.
Sharon Percy Rockefeller and Frederick W. Beinecke, two members of the gallery’s nine-member board, declined to comment through a spokeswoman. (The board has five general trustees serving staggered 10-year terms and four ex officio members: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution David J. Skorton.)
Dickerson is considered by many employees to be the front-runner, thanks to support from Powell and his senior team, and that has sparked pushback among some senior-level staff. These employees are pushing for someone with executive experience, something the 42-year-old Dickerson lacks. Dickerson was a curator at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth before Powell brought him to Washington in 2015. In department meetings and small groups, employees have discussed how to articulate to the search firm their wish for an agent of change, especially given the museum’s history of long-tenured leaders. Dickerson is Powell’s protege, and viewed as Rusty 2.0.
“There’s a moment for reinvention,” said Gail Anderson, a museum consultant, about replacing a veteran leader. “How do you change the culture of an institution, its position in the community? You have this moment to pivot.”
The job description posted in May says the museum seeks a “tested executive” but it does not specifically require candidates to have experience as a museum director. The language could be seen as an attempt to cast a wide net that might identify an outsider rather than someone in the leadership pipeline, said the Corcoran’s Rice. The posting’s stated priority of making “the National Gallery truly national . . . as broad and diverse as the country it serves” is evidence that it is open to change, she said.
Museums around the country are grappling with diversity and inclusion in staffing, especially at senior levels. A 2015 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation report found that only 16 percent of museum leaders were people of color. The American Alliance of Museums highlighted diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion as a top priority in a 2017 report titled "Facing Change."
In the National Gallery’s 77-year history, four white men have been directors. “I think it would be great if they hired a woman,” Rice said. “It would be breaking the glass ceiling and be really inspiring to other museums.”
The National Gallery’s job description also highlights the need for a digital strategy, another hot-button issue in the museum world and an area where the museum has fallen behind. The museum recorded 8.2 million visitors to its website last year, according to the Web-traffic monitor SimilarWeb. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had 38.3 million visitors, the Museum of Modern Art 27.7 million visitors and the Getty Museum 14.7 million.
Digital is the future because it can be the first interaction that people have with a museum, said Sree Sreenivasan, former chief digital officer at the Met and a social media consultant.
“It’s been set up as a contest between having visitors online . . . or serving your mission. There’s no reason you can’t do both,” Sreenivasan said. “We have an opportunity here to find leaders who want to make us relevant in a world where millennials have a different take on life. Museums should have WiFi and places to charge their phones because they’ll stay longer. They should feel like it’s a place that’s welcoming.”
The museum has lots of catching up to do. In the NGA’s 2017 annual report, it highlighted its first strategic plan for social media, a move many years behind other institutions. As a result, the museum pales in comparison to its peers. It has about 1.3 million followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, compared with MoMA’s 11 million and the Met’s 8.8 million.
Being that far behind represents missed opportunities, Sreenivasan said. “You make a funnel as big as possible to touch as many people in the world. Some will become visitors, members, trustees, or leave you their collection,” he said. “A digital transformation has to happen.”
The gallery's next director will inherit serious management problems. A Washington Post report in March detailed long-simmering issues with the museum's security force, where harassment and retaliation are common, leading to costly turnover among its staff. The same problems exist in other departments, including retail, archives, art and publications, according to interviews with current and former staff.
“I used to describe it as in need of an exorcism,” said Maria Aragon, who worked in the museum’s shops for 14 years before leaving earlier this year.
Employees describe a top-down work environment that ignores complaints by prematurely closing investigations, according to several workers who described their struggles with supervisors and personnel officials assigned to address the complaints. Whistleblowers are reprimanded and favorites are promoted to positions they are unqualified to hold. The problems result in missed deadlines, error-ridden publications, including the catalogue that accompanied the recent Michel Sittow exhibition, and over-budget exhibitions. And the cost is borne by taxpayers, who contribute three of every four dollars required to run the museum.
These problems can in turn affect visitors’ experiences.
“Have you gone into a museum where it feels electric? That’s because staff are energized, they are empowered and the visitor totally benefits,” Anderson said.
Current and former employees say the problems persist because the gallery’s haphazard handling of complaints. Colleagues in one department, for example, said they described the same problems at their exit interviews, and yet the personnel officer acted as if the complaints were new. Curator Andrew Robison was allowed to retire in 2016 following multiple sexual harassment complaints, according to three employees. The gallery spokeswoman said it cannot comment on personnel matters.
Robison said a complaint was filed after he criticized “a female staff member because of her deportment toward others.” He denied there were previous complaints.
“It had nothing to do with sexual aggressiveness or anything like that,” he said. “She was a troublemaker. This was long before the #MeToo stuff.”
Robison, who was senior curator of prints and drawings, still returns to the museum to work on his own projects. “He was allowed back in the department, around the women who accused him,” said Sarah Holley, who retired in January after 17 years in various departments, including communications. “Things like that make you feel small.”
Robison said he gets no special access but works in the library and print study room, which are open to the public by appointment.
Holley is among several insiders who say the new director must advocate for an inspector general, as is common with many federal agencies, including the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives and the National Endowment for the Arts. An inspector general would provide oversight, protect the gallery from fraud and other abuses, and ensure uniform handling of personnel issues, they say. Employees of the National Gallery have pushed for this office for decades, to no avail.
No matter who gets the nod, the next leader of Washington’s premier art museum takes the helm at a time of major change in the cultural world. Museums, even ones that have significant government support, are complex organizations that require fundraising prowess, artful management and a vision for the future. Executives must navigate changing visitor tastes and increased competition for their attention, while simultaneously preserving an institution’s mission and engaging its strongest supporters.
“There’s change coming. Who is going to set you up for the next 10 years? Who is out there who can really connect with our public? The public is who we answer to, not to other museums or other journals that seven people read. That’s not what is sparking the imagination,” Sreenivasan said.
The job is made more difficult if the staff needs a morale boost, say the experts.
“This is a healing process, and that kind of change takes time,” Anderson said. “If there is somebody who is leading the change at all levels, the payoff is the public goes, ‘Hey there is something new going on over there.’ ”
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Reposted from Greek City Times
Another ‘oil spray’ attack has occurred in a Greek museum, this time at Athens popular Benaki, with the offender spraying a greasy oil substance on pedestals and frames, as well as on two items in the collection.
The Benaki Museum was established in 1930 by Antonis Benakis and is housed in the Benakis family mansion in downtown Athens. The museum houses Greek works of art from the prehistorical to the modern times. Last month a similar incident occurred at the Byzantine and Christian Museum the previous month.
“On Sunday, August 26, 2018, traces of a scentless and transparent oil-based substance were found in locations in the Benaki Museum. They were caused by two individuals, as in a recent similar case, who were recorded by the museum’s security system cameras. The traces were found mainly on bases and frames, were reversible and have already been cleaned off. On two items of the collection traces of the same substance were found, without having caused damage,” the museum said.
The museum has reported the incident to the police and the culture ministry and is cooperating with both closely to find the culprits and prevent similar incidents, it added.
Reposted from CNN
A pair of red sequined slippers from the classic 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" has been found, 13 years after they disappeared from a Minnesota museum, law enforcement said Tuesday.
But the investigation continues into who's responsible for the 2005 theft of the cherished piece of movie memorabilia.
"We reached the first goal, the recovery, and it's a great day," North Dakota United States Attorney Christopher Myers said. "But we're not done."
The slippers are one of four known pairs that actress Judy Garland wore in her role as Dorothy in the classic film. They disappeared in August 2005 from a museum dedicated to the actress in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
The theft sparked years of rumors and dead-end leads. Finally, a tip last summer led law enforcement outside Minnesota, and the FBI got involved. This summer, the shoes were seized in an undercover operation in Minneapolis, the FBI said.
"There's a certain romance in these types of schemes, sometimes sophistication, but at the end of the day it's a theft," Myers said.
"These types of offenses not only deprive the owner of their property, but all of us," Myers said. "This type of cultural property is important to us as a society. It reflects culture, it holds our memories, it reflects our values."
The long-lost slippers were shown to reporters Tuesday at the FBI's Minneapolis headquarters in a news conference conducted in reverential tones, with repeated references to rainbows and the memorable quote "there's no place like home."
"They're more than just a pair of shoes, the slippers. They're an enduring symbol of the power of belief," Grand Rapids Police Chief Scott Johnson said.
Memorabilia collector Michael Shaw loaned the slippers to the Judy Garland Museum for Grand Rapids' annual "Wizard of Oz" festival in 2005. Shaw rejected the museum's offer to store them in a vault each night because he didn't want people handling the delicate shoes by moving them daily, he said in the 2016 documentary, "The Slippers."
"But most importantly, I was assured that the museum had security," said Shaw.
A thief broke in through the museum's back door, according to the Grand Rapids Police Department. The perpetrator smashed a glass case in the museum's gallery and stole the slippers, which were insured for $1 million. The alarm did not sound to a central dispatch station and no fingerprints were left behind, police said.
The theft was "the biggest thing that ever happened to our museum," museum co-founder Jon Miner told CNN affiliate KQDS in 2015. "We were literally crying."
Investigators had no evidence, aside from a single sequin that had fallen off one of the slippers. As the mystery deepened, museum staff became the target of rumors of an inside job, allegations they vehemently denied.
"We're the ones that want to find them because they were entrusted to us," Miner said in "The Slippers."
Ten years after the theft, the museum teamed up with the Itasca County Sheriff's Dive Team to investigate the theory that someone had thrown the slippers into a nearby lake. During the 40th Annual "Wizard of Oz" Festival, divers scoured the depths of the Tioga Mine Pit lake but came up empty-handed.
Tips flowed in over the years but they led either nowhere -- or to reproductions. One week, they were nailed to a wall in a roadside diner in Missouri, or resting at the bottom of a water-filled ore pit. Would-be tipsters reported them on display at the Smithsonian, which was true -- "Yeah, we know that, that's another pair," Johnson said.
"The thieves not only took the slippers, they took a piece of history that will be forever connected to Grand Rapids and one of our city's most famous children," Johnson said.
A break in the case came in the summer of 2017, the FBI said in a statement.
An individual approached the company that insured the slippers, saying he had information about the shoes and how they could be returned, and "it became apparent that those involved were in reality attempting to extort the owners of the slippers," Special Agent Christopher Dudley, who led the investigation from the FBI's Minneapolis Division, said in the statement.
After nearly a yearlong investigation involving the bureau's Art Crime Team, the FBI Laboratory, and field offices in Chicago, Atlanta and Miami, the slippers were recovered during an undercover operation in Minneapolis, the statement said.
Jill Sanborn, special agent in charge of the Minneapolis division of the FBI, called the shoes' recovery a "significant milestone." But law enforcement is still seeking information about the 2005 theft, she said.
"This is still a very, very active and ongoing investigation," said Sanborn.
Over the years, the mystery of the slippers' disappearance only seemed to enhance their reputation as one of the most coveted items on the Hollywood memorabilia market.
Valued at $2 million to $3 million and thought to be worth as much as $5 million at auction, they would be hard to sell on the black market -- and even harder to hide.
"Whoever has them, illicitly, has their hands full with them," journalist Rhys Thomas said in "The Slippers."
"One way or another, over the course of time, the shoes will out you."
Thomas tracked down several pairs of the famed shoes for a Los Angeles Times article published in 1988.
In the documentary, Shaw says he bought the shoes from a Hollywood costume designer who found them in MGM Studios' backlot property in Culver City, California. As the story goes, Kent Warner found several pairs on a dusty shelf and took one to the famed MGM Studios auction in 1970. He kept the rest for himself -- the exact number is not clear -- selling them off to collectors, including Shaw.
Meanwhile, a Tennessee schoolteacher won another pair in a contest in 1940. She sold them at auction in 1988 to a private collector for $165,000.
Another pair has been on display in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington since 1979. In 2016, the organization launched an online campaign to raise money to restore their luster.
In 2012, a group of actors led by Leonardo DiCaprio purchased a pair to be displayed at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, set to open this year in Los Angeles.
As Glinda the Good Witch says in the movie when she is describing the slippers' appeal to the Wicked Witch, "Their magic must be very powerful, or she wouldn't want them so badly."
Reposted from Phoenix New Times
It’s been several weeks since seven works of art went missing at Unexpected Art Gallery. So far, there’s been no progress in securing their return.
Unexpected Art reported the art theft to police in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 22. The artwork went missing during an event presented by Team Mansion, says Julie Jennings. She’s the venue director for the gallery and event space, which opened in the Grand Avenue arts and historic district in November 2015.
“We’ve never had anything like this happen before,” Jennings says. She wasn’t there at the time, but another gallery employee was on-site and notified authorities.
She discovered the theft as the event – which included loud music, lasers, and fog effects amid darkness – was coming to a close. Billed as a house party, the event ran from 10 p.m. on Saturday, July 21, until 2 a.m. the next day.
“When the lights went back on, she saw screws in certain areas with no art on the wall,” Jennings says. So, the employee called the police.
After that, things got more complicated.
While police were taking a report at Unexpected Art, a car crashed through a fence across the street and sped away, Jennings says.
The fence is located at an American Legion post where Unexpected Art patrons sometimes park. The lot was closed for the night, but that didn’t stop the car in question from leaving.
Unexpected Art identified the car as a Honda sedan in a press release issued on Friday, August 11. The release contains other details as well, and states that “police believe the two incidents are related.”
Artists weren’t immediately notified their works had gone missing. “We hoped to track the art down first,” Jennings says.
But that didn’t happen, and Jennings says they were notified on Friday, July 27. That’s the day artists were scheduled to get their work from the gallery.
“The day of pickup I went to get my work, and Julie advised me of what happened,” says an artist who goes by TK. “It’s disappointing that someone would take art from hardworking artists,” he says.
Other artists whose work was stolen include Peter Burt, Karen Gardner, Emmett Graham, Martin Mata, Audra McGrew, and Tim Soule.
“It was my first gallery show,” McGrew says. “I really didn’t know what to feel when I found out.” Her stolen piece, which features a prominent red rose, was actually painted for another exhibit set to open in early September at another art space.
“I can’t believe the audacity,” McGrew says. “I don’t know who would do something like this.”
In total, the stolen artwork was worth about $4,000, Jennings says.
Unexpected Art launched a GoFundMe crowd-sourcing campaign on August 11, asking for $10,000 in donations to cover the cost of artwork, plus fence repairs at the American Legion post. As of Wednesday night, August 15, three people had donated a total of $80.
The gallery is also offering a $500 reward, and Jennings says they'll take a "no questions asked, no repercussions" approach for anyone who returns the artwork intact.
Meanwhile, they’re exploring ways to prevent something similar from happening down the road.
“We’ve got to do a better job with security, and vet our events more effectively,” Jennings says. “We’ve beefed up security inside and outside, including the main gallery.”
Now, the focus is on spreading the word, in the hopes it will help catch the culprit.
“We will stand by our artists,” Jennings says. “We would never leave them in a lurch.”
Reposted from GQ
Strange how it keeps happening, how the greatest works of Chinese art keep getting brazenly stolen from museums around the world. Is it a conspiracy? Vengeance for treasures plundered years ago? GQ sent Alex W. Palmer to investigate the trail of theft and the stunning rumor: Is the Chinese government behind one of the boldest art-crime waves in history?
The patterns of the heists were evident only later, but their audacity was clear from the start. The spree began in Stockholm in 2010, with cars burning in the streets on a foggy summer evening. The fires had been lit as a distraction, a ploy to lure the attention of the police. As the vehicles blazed, a band of thieves raced toward the Swedish royal residence and smashed their way into the Chinese Pavilion on the grounds of Drottningholm Palace. There they grabbed what they wanted from the permanent state collection of art and antiquities. Police told the press the thieves had fled by moped to a nearby lake, ditched their bikes into the water, and escaped by speedboat. The heist took less than six minutes.
A month later, in Bergen, Norway, intruders descended from a glass ceiling and plucked 56 objects from the China Collection at the KODE Museum. Next, robbers in England hit the Oriental Museum at Durham University, followed by a museum at Cambridge University. Then, in 2013, the KODE was visited once more; crooks snatched 22 additional relics that had been missed during the first break-in.
Had they known exactly what was happening, perhaps the security officials at the Château de Fontainebleau, the sprawling former royal estate just outside Paris, could have predicted that they might be next.
With more than 1,500 rooms, the palace is a maze of opulence. But when bandits arrived before dawn on March 1, 2015, their target was unmistakable: the palace's grand Chinese Museum. Created by the last empress of France, the wife of Napoleon III, the gallery was stocked with works so rare that their value was considered incalculable.
In recent years, however, the provenance of those treasures had become an increasingly sensitive subject: The bulk of the museum's collection had been pilfered from China by French soldiers in 1860 during the sack of Beijing's Old Summer Palace.
In the low light before daybreak, the robbers raced to the southwest wing and shattered a window. They climbed inside, stepping over broken glass, and swiftly went to work dismantling the empress's trove. Within seven minutes, they were gone, along with 22 of the museum's most valuable items: porcelain vases; a mandala made of coral, gold, and turquoise; a Chimera in cloisonné enamel; and more.
The police arrived quickly, but there was little to be done. Before vanishing, the criminals had emptied a fire extinguisher, spraying its snowy foam perhaps in the hopes that it would erase their fingerprints, hide their footprints, and remove any lingering clue as to who they were. “The thieves knew what they were doing and exactly what they wanted,” the museum's president, Jean-François Hebert, told the press. They were “probably very professional.” The theft, he added, was a “terrible shock.” But maybe it shouldn't have been.
In the years since the Fontainebleau heist, the robberies have continued throughout Europe—sometimes in daring, cinematic fashion. The full scale of the criminality is impossible to pinpoint, because many heists never make the headlines. Security officials and museum boards are sometimes reluctant to publicize their own failures, both to avoid embarrassment and to save on the cost of security upgrades.
But the thefts that were made public bear striking similarities. The criminals are careful and professional. They often seem to be working from a shopping list—and appear content to leave behind high-value objects that aren't on it.
In each case, the robbers focused their efforts on art and antiquities from China, especially items that had been looted by foreign armies. Many of these objects are well documented and publicly known, making them very hard to sell and difficult to display. In most cases the pieces have not been recovered; they seem to simply vanish.
After that first robbery, in Stockholm, a police official told the press that “all experience says this is an ordered job.” As the heists mounted, so did the suspicion that they were being carried out on instructions from abroad. But if that was true, an obvious question loomed: Who was doing the ordering?
For much of the 20th century, China's leaders hardly seemed to care about the country's lost and plundered antiquities. Art was a symbol of bourgeois decadence, fit for destruction rather than preservation. By the early 2000s, however, China was growing rich and confident, and decidedly less Communist. The fate of the country's plundered art was seized upon as a focus of national concern and pride.
Suddenly a new cadre of plutocrats—members of the country's growing club of billionaires—began purchasing artifacts at a dizzying pace. For this new breed of mega-rich collector, buying up Chinese art represented a chance to flash not just incredible wealth but also exorbitant patriotism.
But less conspicuous campaigns to lure art back to China were initiated, too. One of the country's most powerful corporate conglomerates, the state-run China Poly Group, launched a shadowy program aimed at locating and recovering lost art. Poly—an industrial giant that sells everything from gemstones to missiles—was run by a Communist Party titan who staffed the project with officials connected to Chinese military intelligence.
The government, meanwhile, was sanctioning its own efforts via a web of overlapping state agencies and Communist Party–affiliated NGOs. In 2009, a year before the Stockholm heist, the efforts got more serious. Beijing announced that it planned to dispatch a “treasure hunting team” to various institutions across the U.S. and Europe. Museums were left clueless about the purpose of the mission. Were the Chinese coming to assess collections, to conduct research, or to reclaim objects on the spot? More importantly, who, exactly, were the visitors gathering information for?
When an eight-person team arrived at New York's Metropolitan Museum, it was led by an archaeologist and largely composed of employees from Chinese state media and Beijing's palace museum. As the group poked around and asked about the art on display, one participant, a researcher named Liu Yang who had gained some notoriety for his zeal in cataloging China's lost treasures, sleuthed through the museum's long corridors, looking for objects he might recognize. The visit ended without incident, but the shift in tactics was evident: China was no longer content to sit back passively and hope for the return of its art. The hunt was on.
Soon, all across Europe, thefts began.
Those looking for China's lost art have plenty of targets. According to one widely cited government estimate, more than 10 million antiquities have disappeared from China since 1840. The works that mean the most to the Chinese are the ones that left during the so-called Century of Humiliation, from 1840 to 1949, when China was repeatedly carved up by foreign powers. The modern Communist Party has declared its intent to bring China back from that period of prolonged decline, and the return of looted objects serves as undeniable proof—tangible, visible, and beautiful proof—of the country's revival.
By far the most important pieces are those that were hauled away by British and French troops in 1860 after the sacking of the Old Summer Palace. In China today, it's difficult to overstate the indignity still associated with the looting of the palace, which had served as a residence to the last Chinese dynasty. Its gardens, art, and architecture were said to be among the most beautiful in the world. The palace held an array of wonders, not the least of which was a fountain adorned with 12 bronze heads representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac.
When European troops reached the garden, the desecration of the palace became a mad frenzy. Soldiers stripped it of everything they could carry. The zodiac heads were wrenched from their bases and hauled away as trophies. When the soldiers had removed all they could, they torched what remained—retribution, they said, for the torture and murder of British envoys who'd attempted to negotiate with the Chinese. The grounds of the palace were so large and so intricate that the 4,500 troops needed three days to burn everything.
Most of the plunder was taken back to Europe and either tucked away in private collections or presented as gifts to royal families. Queen Victoria of Britain was given a pet Pekingese dog, the first of its kind ever seen in Europe. Unabashed by its provenance, she named it Looty.
In China, the memory of the Old Summer Palace's destruction remains vivid—and intentionally so. The site has been kept as ruins, the better to “stir feelings of national humiliation and patriotism,” as one Chinese academic put it. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before those feelings transformed into action.
Of course, not all of the art that's finding its way home to China is being snatched off museum walls in the dead of night or wrangled back by aggressive bureaucrats. The country's new elite are helping, too.
“The Chinese don't need a coordinating campaign,” says James Ratcliffe, the director of recoveries and general counsel at the Art Loss Register. “There are enough Chinese collectors with a huge amount of money who want the pride of acquiring this art.”
In 2016, for the first time, China had more billionaires than the United States. Many of the country's nouveau riche have taken to art collecting with a giddy enthusiasm. In 2000, China represented 1 percent of the global-art-auction market; by 2014, it accounted for 27 percent. The market for historical Chinese art is so frenzied that even seemingly mundane pieces of Chinese art can electrify the scene at auction houses.
In 2010, a 16-inch Chinese vase went up for sale at an auction house in an unremarkable suburb of London. The starting price was $800,000. Half an hour later, the final bid—reportedly from an anonymous buyer from mainland China—was $69.5 million. Though the provenance of this vase was mysterious, similar objects with traceable histories of looting have proved valuable. “Buying looted artwork has become high-street fashion among China's elite,” Zhao Xu, the director of Beijing Poly Auction, told China Daily.
Their desires adhere to a nationalistic logic: The closer an object's connection to China's ignominious defeats, the more significant its return. In recent years, vases, bronzeware, and a host of other items from the Old Summer Palace have all sold for millions. Behind these purchases is almost always a well-connected Chinese billionaire eager to demonstrate China's modern resurgence on the world stage.
In 2014, a taxi driver turned billionaire named Liu Yiqian paid $36 million for a small porcelain “chicken cup,” coveted because it was once a part of the imperial collection. (According to the Wall Street Journal, he completed his purchase by swiping his Amex card 24 times and promptly stoked controversy by drinking from the dish.) A few months later, he paid an additional $45 million for a Tibetan silk tapestry from the Ming era. “When we are young, we are indoctrinated to believe that the foreigners stole from us,” Liu once told The New Yorker. “But maybe it's out of context. Whatever of ours [the foreigners] stole, we can always snatch it back one day.” (Liu Yiqian did not respond to requests for comment.)
Huang Nubo has a similarly patriotic interest in China's art. Tall and broad-shouldered, with a ruddy complexion and close-set eyes, he's the kind of billionaire who makes other billionaires jealous: He's an accomplished adventurer, one of the few people alive to have visited both the North and South Poles and summited the world's seven tallest peaks (he's topped Everest three times). When I met him at his office in Beijing, he had just returned from an expedition in western China, where he'd reached the top of the world's sixth-tallest mountain.
Huang made his money by building one of the country's most powerful real estate conglomerates, a task he undertook after spending ten years as an official in the publicity department of the Communist Party. His passion for Chinese culture has helped make him famous, and through an effort called the National Treasures Coming Home campaign, he's focusing on the reclamation of lost relics.
After the second break-in at the KODE, Huang contacted the museum. He wanted to fly to Bergen and tour the closed China exhibit. Once there, he was shown a collection of marble columns taken from the Old Summer Palace. Huang began to weep and told the museum director that the columns had no business being displayed in Norway. He donated $1.6 million to KODE, which he says was to upgrade its security. (A spokesman for KODE said the agreement did not concern security.) Soon thereafter the museum shipped seven of the marble columns back to China to be displayed at Peking University on permanent loan. (Huang denies any connection between his donation and the return of the columns.) The looting of the columns and their open display in a European museum “were our disgrace,” he told China Daily, and their return represented “dignity returned to the Chinese people.”
In addition to visiting the KODE, Huang had toured the Château de Fontainebleau, not long before it was robbed. I asked him what he had heard about the theft and the rumor that the stolen relics had made their way back to China. He tightened his face into a small smile and laughed. “I only heard about it,” he said. “[That they might go back to China] is a good suggestion, in terms of result, but it encourages more stealing. I think it's because Chinese relics have good prices on the market nowadays.”
In the face of China's repatriation campaign—and the recent robberies—museums are now scrambling. Some have stood their ground, arguing the legitimacy of their acquisitions or touting the value to the Chinese of sharing their culture abroad. Others have quietly shipped crates of art back to China, in hopes of avoiding trouble with either the thieves or the government.
In 2013, for instance, two of the famed zodiac heads, the rabbit and the rat, from the estate of the French designer Yves Saint Laurent, were handed over after a planned auction was scuttled. Officials in China told Christie's, the auction house, that if the heads were ever sold off, there would be “serious effects” on the firm's business. (Not long after the heads were returned, Christie's became the first international fine-art auction house to receive a license to operate independently in China.)
Many institutions, though, have begun beefing up security. Certainly no museum has been more bedeviled by all of this than the KODE Museum in Bergen, Norway, on the country's rugged southwestern coast. The twice-robbed KODE may not be a household name, but it's apparently well-known to the people stealing China's lost antiquities.
Located on Bergen's picturesque central square, the museum is just three blocks from the local police headquarters. After it was robbed for a second time, in January 2013, Roald Eliassen was eventually hired as director of security. Eliassen is a former cop. He's brawny and compact, with a windburned face and messy gray hair. “I read about the thefts in the newspaper,” he told me. “I thought, ‘How could this happen?’ Once, okay. Twice…well, that's not good.”
During the KODE's first robbery, in 2010, police say the alarms never even sounded. The intruders rappelled through a glass ceiling and grabbed dozens of pieces: imperial seals, elegant vases, and more.
Three years later, the scheme was even more sophisticated. Just after 5 A.M. on a Saturday, criminals set fire to two cars far from the museum. Once the police had dispatched units to respond, two robbers entered offices adjoining the KODE and smashed through a glass wall into the museum's China exhibit. Cops sped to the scene, but the burglars were in and out in two minutes. “They were very exact,” a police official told me. They took 22 items, ignoring more valuable pieces in favor of grabbing specific ones: delicate statues, intricate vases, imperial seals.
The police managed to arrest six men but determined they were merely foot soldiers, unwilling or unable to share useful information about who had hired them. “The thieves didn't think of this themselves,” the police official said. Eliassen offered a simple explanation of what happened: “We had objects that somebody wanted, and he hired someone to take them.”
When I visited Bergen, the China exhibit was closed to the public for renovations after a security upgrade, which included the installation of an imposing series of sliding gates and metal doors. A guard stood watch nearby. Inside the gallery, the space was mostly empty. Anything light enough to be carried had been moved into storage, and the heavy items—white marble statues and pillars and big-bellied Buddhas—were covered in clear tarp.
At the KODE, there was a silver lining to that second heist. Amid all the unwanted attention, authorities got a lucky tip about a piece taken in the first break-in. They were told it had made its way back to China and was now on display at a Shanghai airport. But even this possibility came with its own frustrations: Bergen police lacked the power to follow up, and Norwegian officials, wary of upsetting a delicate relationship with China, did nothing. “If we say an item is in China, they say, ‘Prove it,’ ” said Kenneth Didriksen, the head of Norway's art-crime unit. So, he told me, they stood down. “We don't want to insult anyone.”
Eliassen believed that the best thing for the museum to do was to protect the art that remained. The pieces were probably never coming back. “The government in China doesn't think they're stolen objects,” he said. “They think they belong to them. They won't take it seriously, won't follow the trail. That's the biggest problem.”
Even art-crime experts, though, are quick to acknowledge that the situation might look different from China's perspective. Noah Charney, a professor of art history and founder of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, says that when it comes to winning back their lost art, the Chinese can't imagine how such a thing would be wrong. “It's almost like there's a fog around it from a criminological perspective,” he said. “It's like another planet, in terms of the way people think about what art is, what authenticity is, what is socially unacceptable to do.”
On a gray day in Beijing, I visited the grounds of the Old Summer Palace. Today the site is a popular destination for tourists and school field trips. It has not been rebuilt; the point of the park is its state of destruction.
I'd come to meet with Liu Yang, who'd been a member of the treasure-hunting delegation to the Met in New York City. In his office, Liu keeps a lone photo on the wall—an aerial shot of the park. In it, the site looks like a bombed-out war zone, with barren patches where statues and monuments once stood. “It was a Chinese fairy tale,” he told me, “and it was destroyed by foreign armies.”
Liu is mild-mannered and scrupulously polite. For 20 years he's been a player in China's battle to get its art back, but even today he feels his work is just beginning. He showed me a book he'd published, a comprehensive inventory of the palace's lost treasures. The pages were filled with sticky notes and handwritten notations, and as he flipped through, he pointed out photos of items held by some of the world's best-known museums.
Of course, he'd been to many of them, sometimes under odd circumstances. “My most troublesome experience was at the Metropolitan Museum in New York,” Liu said. “Everyone was very nervous. They called a Chinese lawyer and gave me the phone so she could tell me that the museum had no items from the Old Summer Palace and that all their items were held via legal means.” (A spokesman for the Met denied that any such call took place.)
Liu says curators in the UK were less defensive. “When I told them these objects were taken, they barely reacted,” Liu said. “They just showed me their records of which generals took what. They're very direct about it. They don't hide it.”
Still, he's not surprised when a museum clamps down once he begins sniffing around. After a visit to the Wallace Collection, in central London, he says, he noticed the museum's website no longer listed the objects he'd asked about. (A spokesman for the Wallace Collection said those objects were temporarily removed to be prepared for an exhibition and are now on display.)
It didn't much matter; Liu had a good idea of what was housed there. He knows the collections of foreign museums inside and out, and museum officials know him, too, even if they don't have much enthusiasm for his research. A few years ago, he had visited the Château de Fontainebleau, and his book had been published right before the sensational robbery there. After the crime, he got a panicked phone call. “I was the first person to learn the news about the robbery there, about 30 minutes after it happened,” he told me. “The museum staff contacted me in very broken Chinese. They said, ‘These items were stolen right after your book was published, and your book was the first catalog of the Old Summer Palace. Do you see a connection?’ ” He says he politely suggested that they maybe tell other museums to improve their security. (Officials at the Château de Fontainebleau did not respond to requests for comment.)
Liu seems ambivalent toward the plight of burgled museums, especially a place like the Fontainebleau, which he says holds more looted Chinese art than any other institution on earth and advertises the collection's origins as plunder from the sacking of the Old Summer Palace. “Displaying these objects in European museums is like a theft itself—they're just showing it off without concern,” Liu said. “I know that we won't get everything back in my lifetime,” he continued. “We will never give up, we will never stop—no matter the effort. We need [the Chinese] people to see that everything that belonged to us is coming back.”
The biggest prize of all, and the most elusive, is the set of zodiac heads from the fountain at the Old Summer Palace, five of which remain missing. “For 100 years we've been looking,” Liu said. Despite his persistence, it's likely that if the 12 zodiac heads are someday re-united and the glorious fountain is re-established, it would not be through the work of a researcher like him, or even thanks to the big spending of a patriotic billionaire like Huang Nubo. Instead, it would be due to the efforts of one of China's richest, most powerful, and most impenetrable entities, a corporation that's been in on the hunt since the very beginning: China Poly.
Even among China's elite class of state-controlled behemoths, the China Poly Group is unique for its power and its varied pursuits. According to Fortune, last year it had declared assets of $95.7 billion, almost twice the GDP of Croatia. Its art-repatriation campaign—begun by its former president, the military-intelligence chief He Ping—is now run by an offshoot firm called Poly Culture, which manages the company's burgeoning antiquities collection. In 2000, the same year as Poly Culture's founding, Poly managed to buy back three of the Old Summer Palace's zodiac heads. It's since added a fourth, while a fifth and sixth are housed at China's National Museum and a seventh is kept at the Capital Museum.
“The heads represent our feelings for the entire nation; we love them and we weep for them,” said Jiang Yingchun, the CEO of Poly Culture. We were sitting at a large conference table high up in the company's Beijing headquarters, with a view of the smog-drenched skyline. Jiang was reclining in a black leather chair and smoking an e-cigarette. In the corner of the room, an air filter hummed quietly.
“We can try many ways to get the heads back,” he told me without much elaboration. “The auction is just one method.” It was not the technique that mattered, he seemed to be saying, but the result: The heads must return. “We can't ignore that the art was taken illegally,” even if it was being well cared for, he said. “If you kidnapped my children and then treated them well, the crime is still not forgiven.”
Poly has long worked hand in hand with the Chinese state and the Communist Party. For decades the company operated as the commercial arm of the People's Liberation Army, peddling weapons around the world while also buying and selling art—and running a global information network to locate lost antiquities. That operation was reportedly once described by the company as a long-term “retrieve action” to reclaim treasures “robbed away from China by western powers.” (Officials for the company didn't respond to written requests to elaborate on this program or to questions about the recent spate of art crimes.)
His e-cigarette depleted, Jiang excused himself for another meeting and handed me off to a curator from the Poly Museum. She proudly offered to show me the recovered zodiac heads. At the entrance to the museum, I noticed a wooden plaque. Many items in the collection, it announced, had been “recovered from overseas and saved from being lost to the nation.”
The curator guided me toward a dark, carpeted room in the rear of the museum. Inside, each of the four revered heads—the ox, the tiger, the monkey, and the pig—had been given its own display case, in which it sat atop purple velvet cushioning.
“The first time I saw them, I was so excited,” the curator told me. She spoke in a low, reverential whisper. She was a student then and remembered how, on the day the heads were officially returned, her entire school had watched the ceremony on television. Students wept at their desks.
I asked if she thought the rest would ever be returned. There had been nothing but fakes and false leads for years, and the best guess seemed to be that the remaining five were hidden away in private collections somewhere in Europe. She paused and walked forward to admire the growling bronze tiger head. “Their return is the deepest hope of the Chinese people,” she said. “It's a very sad and hard history for us. When the heads come back, we will finally feel the power of our country.”
Reposted from Dezeen
A visitor to the Serralves museum in Porto, Portugal, has been hospitalized after falling in an art installation designed by Anish Kapoor.
British artist Kapoor's 1992 piece, Descent into Limbo, features a cube-shaped building with a 2.5-metre hole set into its floor, which is painted black to give the impression of an infinite drop.
An Italian man in his 60s fell over inside the installation at the Serralves, reported local newspaper Público. It is unclear if he fell into the hole or within the general vicinity.
"The visitor has already left the hospital and he is recovering well," a spokesperson from the museum told Dezeen.
The area of the exhibition where the work is displayed has been closed off for repairs.
The museum said all security measures had been followed, including warning signs and a member of gallery staff positioned inside the installation. When the Descent into Limbo reopens the museum plans to add additional warning signs.
Anish Kapoor: Works, Thoughts, Experiments is the first major show for the artist in Portugal, and Descent into Limbo is the oldest of his 56 work's on display in the museum's parklands.
The Serrevales museum, which opened in 1999, was designed by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. Also in the grounds is the Casa de Serralves, an art deco villa and museum designed by architects Charles Siclis with José Marques da Silva in the Streamline Moderne style.
Turner Prize-winning artist Kapoor often plays with optical illusions that create the impression of infinite depths in his work, such as the seemingly bottomless whirlpool he installed in a park in New York in 2017.
The artist, who has been outspoken about opposing Donald Trump, said the piece stood as "obvious" comment on American politics.
In 2016 he acquired exclusive rights to a the blackest black, a pigment developed by British company NanoSystems that absorbs 99.96 per cent of light. Kapoor's attempt to monopolize the color started a feud with fellow British artist Stuart Semple, who has attempted to bar Kapoor from using the "world's pinkest pink" and a color-changing pigment.
Reposted from BW People
A security and safety policy is a must in modern times for every organization. A good security system works like a series of deterrents which are connected to block all possible points of intrusion.
Workplace thrives on trust and often having a transparent policy on security helps people to understand not only the importance of securing workplace but also the critical role each employee plays in its implementation.
Therefore, while it is important to have a robust network of security solutions in place, it is equally important to have a comprehensive policy that outlines how employees can access the premises, the identification procedures for them, and even the process for visitors entering the area.
To create an effective security system an organisation should outline all these security features and detail out the equipment list that is needed while preparing to upgrade the security at the premises.
To give you a broad understanding, the security solution can be categorized into two broad segments of solutions –Premises Security Solutions (PSS) and Physical Security Products (PSP).
In the first category, consultants conduct a threat and risk assessments for clients and recommend solutions. The assessment report spells out specific security measures that can be implemented to ensure better safety. These include monitoring and surveillance systems, which are basically CCTVs, and perimeter intrusion detection systems covering the external walls. Access control is another system we offer for car parks and entrances. It also includes baggage scanners and attendance systems.
Increasingly, many organisations (including SMEs) are deploying security cameras across their establishments to ensure workplace control. They deploy CCTV cameras to prevent unauthorized access, burglaries and theft, and ensure peace of mind during operational hours – and even beyond.
A large number of organisations still have hard copies of important documents. In the wake of recent fire tragedies, the importance of fire and document protection has gained a lot of traction. In a city like Mumbai, where space is a constraint, a fire-resistant record cabinet can be an effective document-securing solution.
Another aspect of security is access to systems, electronic devices, and other sensitive equipment. Organisations following best practices, frame adequate guidelines about this and sets up necessary restrictions on access to sensitive files and information.
Organisations are increasingly realizing the need for a modern security system since a secure work environment makes for a productive one. Employees also demand safety that is seamless and, importantly, non-obtrusive.
Our experts are often asked if installing a camera tantamount to privacy violation. It is legal in most cases to use camera surveillance in public areas. Of course, if a company opts to deploy both video and audio surveillance, in the interest of transparency, it is expected to also put up signs indicating where audio is being recorded and make a mention of these in the security policy.
As security threats evolve, it is important that security systems in place are upgraded to ensure a high sense of security in the workplace environment. In the last few years, security systems have become sophisticated and innovative. Organisations now use an ecosystem of security solutions comprising fire alarm and detection solutions, monitoring and surveillance systems (including cameras and video recorders), and perimeter intrusion detection systems.
An interesting aspect about security these days is that even though it was once thought to be ‘a dead investment’, organisations have realized that it imperative to build trust and reputation, which is impossible without providing a safe and secure working environment.
Ensuring Peace of mMind
A key aspect for a company like Godrej Security Solutions (GSS) is that we constantly use technology at the core of our security solutions. These state-of-the-art systems are continuously optimized and upgraded to suit the needs of consumers while also being receptive to softer aspects such as employee sensibility and safety.
‘Neutronics’ is a new concept which uses a combination of analytics and intelligence. In case of a gun attack, the safe allows access to the unit, while simultaneously sending out silent alert messages to the authorities and owners. This feature ensures that the life of a human is not put at undue risk by raising loud caution.
In summary, comprehensive workplace security has several direct and indirect benefits, not just limited to employees. A secure work environment is one of the key aspects of better employee efficiency, which directly affects customer satisfaction and retention.
The other aspect of having robust workplace security means a reduction in liabilities, insurance, etc. to be paid to stakeholders. It comes as no surprise then that organisations are increasingly paying attention to workplace safety and security.
Reposted from CSO
ESG recently completed a research survey of 400 cybersecurity and IT professionals working at small organizations (i.e. 50 to 499 employees) in North America. As you can imagine, these firms tend to have a small staff responsible for cybersecurity and IT, reporting to business management rather than CIOs or CISOs. (Note: I am an employee of ESG.)
How are these firms doing with cybersecurity? Not so good.
Two-thirds of the organizations surveyed experienced at least one cybersecurity incident (i.e. system compromise, malware incident, DDoS, targeted phishing attack, data breach, etc.) over the past two years.
Nearly half (46%) of survey respondents said security incidents resulted in lost productivity, 37% said disruption of business applications or IT system availability, and 37% said disruption of a business process or processes (note: multiple responses were accepted).
So, small organizations are being targeted and compromised, and security incidents tend to result in a measurable financial impact.
ESG also asked survey respondents to identify the issues that represented the biggest contributors to these security incidents. The data reveals that:
In my humble opinion, it’s time SMB executives realize that small businesses represent an easy mark for cyber adversaries. Criminals target SMBs to extort money or steal valuable data, while nation states use small businesses as a beachhead for attacking connected partners. Hopefully, this ESG research will help small businesses wake up to the dangers they face every second of every day.
Reposted from Atlas Obscura
In the summer of 1980, Robert Kindred was a 35-year-old high school dropout with no plans of going to college. Despite that, scattered in the backseat of his newly leased Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham were half a dozen guides to American college and university locations, each representing a region of the United States. He also had a single volume covering the entire country in his briefcase. A former Boy Scout, he liked to be prepared.
No major American crime requires as much travelling as that of stealing rare books from libraries, a fact Kindred knew from experience. Thanks to wealthy Americans, poor Europeans, two hot wars, and one cold one, the fruits of 500 years of printing came to be scattered across the United States in the second half of the 20th century. And almost all of it could be found on the shelves of some college or university library.
Of course, by the late 1970s, the most precious books and manuscripts in American collections had been put behind locked doors, libraries having learned that lesson the hard way. So Kindred, an antique print dealer, was not in the market for big ticket items, such as a Gutenberg Bible or Shakespeare First Folio. He was interested in the low hanging fruit of the rare book field: 19th-century scientific illustrations. In publications like Ibis and Ferns of North America and Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, the greatest natural history artists of the 19th century—including J.G. Keulemans and Joseph Wolf—had done their best work, contributing hand-colored lithographs and engravings of the world’s flora and fauna for the sake of science. Even after more than a century between the pages, the illustrations were as bright and vivid as the day they were created.
Kindred knew these books and journals were nearly impossible to find for sale, and prohibitively expensive even when they could be found. So for the sake of his business he turned to the open shelves of academic libraries. The irony is that the easy access granted him by libraries that summer was heir to the spirit of scientific inquiry in which these magnificent prints were created in the first place.
In addition to the college guides, Robert Kindred had a second important reference source in his car: a road atlas. On its largest map, he had circled a series of towns starting just south of Dallas, where he had a storefront. Linked by the Interstate Highway System, the circles went across the south, up the East Coast, and back through the Midwest. It looked like an oblong chain of pearls, clasped in north Texas.
The first circle on that map was College Station, home to Texas A&M University. The Evans Library there housed a world-class collection of 19th-century prints—but not for very much longer. Kindred and his partner Richard Green spent half a day and a handful of razors there, destroying one publication after another for the sake of their illustrations. In one afternoon they destroyed what had taken decades to gather and a century to create. The only thing left behind were the ghostly impressions on the pieces of tissue paper put between pages to preserve the illustrations—and the razors the two men dropped on the floor, dulled from use. The rest went into the hot trunk of the Cadillac, which they then pointed toward Houston, and Rice University.
At Rice their destruction was even worse. That school’s collection of 19th-century scientific illustration was more robust, for one, and the stacks more secluded. From Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London alone they cut out 1,300 prints. But quite beyond their favorites, the Rice collection was so impressive Kindred managed to find dozens of publications he had never seen before. Once he took them, no one at Rice would ever see them again.
After only two days, Kindred and Green had several thousand prints in their possession—enough inventory for several years, if Kindred wanted to turn back to Dallas. But their plan was to be on the road for several weeks, and open a new store in Washington, D.C. Plus, Kindred had already made those circles on the map. So the next day, the two men headed east, toward New Orleans, and Loyola University.
In fits and starts, the pair eventually made it to the nation’s capital. They lingered there for several days, while Kindred looked for a new storefront location, hitting the illustration collections of several local libraries along the way, most notably the University of Maryland, where the pair’s focus took a turn toward the strength of the collection, 19th-century news periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly and Illustrated London News. These were a nice change from natural history, offering a host of other types of illustrations, from ballerinas to baseball to battles of the Civil War. Then they pointed their big car west, toward what they thought was home, but was actually the end of their crime spree.
The third reference source Kindred kept with him was the Union List of Serials, a monumental work detailing the periodical holdings of more than a thousand U.S. libraries. It was the Union List that was most indispensable for the trip, as it was responsible for which towns got circled on his map. Kindred would look up his favorite publications and make a list of which universities owned them. If a certain university had enough of his favorites that it warranted a stop, he found its location in a college guide, called the library to find out its summer hours, and then circled it on the map. And that’s how the two men, weathered by weeks of travel and with a trunk full of stolen prints, decided to spend several days at the end of June in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.
They would have stopped at the twin cities anyway—Kindred was from nearby, and had family in the area—but they would not have lingered. The prairie of east central Illinois has little scenic appeal in high summer, unless you’re into humidity and vistas of cash crops. But according to the Union List of Serials, the enormous University of Illinois library had nearly everything Kindred desired and a great deal more. What it did not have, however, was open stacks.
So instead of loitering in the library all day, cutting at their leisure as they had done everywhere else, Kindred and Green devised a different plan. Departing from a theretofore successful criminal formula would seem to most thieves to be a bad idea, especially if they were driving a car bursting with evidence of their prior success. But the theft of rare books from libraries has traditionally been so easy that it instills in even the least talented thief the idea that he is a criminal mastermind. So Kindred thought his plan was flawless. He broke in late at night, found a spot in the stacks with the largest concentration of books with prints, picked out his favorites, and then lowered them by rope out a window to Green below.
Unfortunately for him, the books he wanted were enormous, and located on the eighth floor. So gathering them in groups of four and lowering them down the side of the building was more heavy industry than cat burglary. Still, they made the plan work the first night and obtained some $10,000 in books. They were halfway through their second night when bad luck, for the first time in their trip, reared its head.
Once every five nights a university employee came to the large, deserted library in the middle of campus to check the air conditioning unit. Kindred had one packet of four books on the ground and another halfway down the side of the building when that employee swung his car into the parking lot, unaware he was about to put to an end the greatest theft spree of its kind in American history.
Kindred’s capture, and his subsequent prosecution, led to the creation of one more reference source, this one unique: a catalog of the stolen items he kept in the car trunk. Two librarians from the University of Illinois spent the rest of the summer of 1980 in a cramped room in the campus police station trying to make sense of the thousands of loose prints piled and packed in bags and boxes. Before web browsers and online catalogs—and without even access to a telephone to call other libraries—the two men mostly used their bibliographic instincts and a few reference sources to reverse engineer Kindred’s trip and identify the owners of some of the pieces.
Alas, all of their work amounted to nearly nothing. It aided the return of some of the prints to their rightful owners, but the state’s attorney did not use it at all. Kindred pleaded guilty to a single charge in Champaign County, and was sentenced to probation. Green was not prosecuted in Illinois at all, and neither man was prosecuted by any other state, including Texas, where they did the most damage.
Reposted from ASSA ABLOY
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