Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stolen Art October 2011

1. PARIS - Los Angeles Times October 9, 2011, 8:11 p.m.
Reporting from Paris— A man suspected of hiding precious artwork stolen from the Paris Museum of Modern Art last year claims that in a panic, he
threw the paintings into the garbage. Picasso, Braque, Modigliani, Matisse and Leger paintings stolen in May 2010, and worth about $134 million, may have
been dumped in a garbage bin on a Paris street and destroyed with the rest of that day's trash, according to testimony by one of three suspects connected to the theft. The suspect, a 34-
year-old watch repairman, was identified only as Jonathan B. by the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche. The paper broke the detailed story on the investigation Sunday.
The other suspects include a 56-year-old antique shop owner, who is accused of commissioning the break-in, and a 43-year-old Serb with the nickname "Spiderman," for allegedly scaling the walls of upscale Paris apartment buildings in search of pricey artwork and other valuables. The Serb is suspected of making off with the five paintings in the early morning of May 20, 2010. According to the Journal report, he said after being detained by police that once inside the museum he intended to take only one painting, by Fernand Leger, "Still Life With Candlestick." But the museum's
alarm didn't sound when the art was removed from the wall, so he wandered around the national museum for more than an hour, helping himself to four
more masterpieces, before driving away in a car parked nearby. Despite several security cameras, three night watchmen didn't notice the masked intruder.
The incident spurred French museums to reevaluate their security systems, amid an uproar after the revelation that the alarm had been out of order for
more than a month before the theft.The case started to crack when the Serb and the antique shop owner were detained by France's special police bandit brigade in May in connection with
other suspected crimes. The Associated Press reported that a third suspect, Jonathan B., was also questioned, but later released. After that brush with authorities he reportedly panicked and trashed the
irreplaceable works of art, Picasso's "Dove With Green Peas," Matisse's "Pastoral," Braque's "The Olive Tree Near Estaque," Modigliani's "Woman With a Fan" and the Leger still life.
The shop owner denies ordering the theft but reportedly admitted that the stolen works were delivered to him, and that he gave them to Jonathan B., whom French reports describe as an expert Parisian watch repairman. The three were questioned and then arrested in mid-September in connection with the museum theft. Investigators are not ruling out the possibility that the paintings may still be recovered.

2. Washington Post - Stolen Confederate regimental flag found By Linda Wheeler The original, battle-worn flag of the 14th Louisiana Infantry Regiment that was stolen from a New Orleans museum 30 years ago will soon be heading home. The flag was found at the home of a Civil War collector in Caroline County, Va., after a tipster’s information reached the FBI's Art Crime Team. According to
the FBI, the man had purchased it in 2004 not knowing it was stolen, and cooperated fully with agents when they contacted him. Agents from the Fredericksburg office of the FBI yesterday handed the
framed flag over to officials at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond who will see that the fragile flag gets back to the Louisiana's Civil War Museum at Confederate Hall in New Orleans.
During the war, the flag was flown in the Virginia battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsyvania Comurthouse, North Anna and Winchester, and other places. The FBI’s national art crime team was formed in 2004 and has recovered more than 2,600 items valued at over $142 million, according to its website . The FBI maintains a national stolen art file online.

3. HOUSTON, TX.- After more than two decades in Houston, the beloved Byzantine frescoes will go back to Cyprus in 2012. While this moment is bittersweet, the story of these frescoes—from their rescue, to their long-term loan to the Menil, and now to their return—very much reflects the essence of the Menil Collection, its focus on the aesthetic and the spiritual, and our responsible stewardship of works from other nations and cultures. In 1983, Dominique de Menil, founder of the Menil Collection, was presented with an extraordinary prospect: to acquire two 13th century frescoes from Cyprus. Mrs. de Menil was struck by their beauty and understood immediately their art historical significance. However, after further research Mrs. de Menil learned that the frescoes had been stolen from their home in a small votive chapel in Lysi, Cyprus. That knowledge led to an act of extraordinary generosity—in fact, a series of generous actions that eventually engaged many other people. First, the frescoes were acquired by the Menil Collection on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Then, the Menil Foundation supervised the restoration of the frescoes, which had been cut into more than 30 pieces when they were stolen. In gratitude, the Church lent the frescoes to the Menil on a long-term basis, for presentation in a consecrated chapel in Houston. The Byzantine Fresco Chapel opened to the public in 1997, with support for its construction provided by donors in Houston and across the country. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have seen the frescoes and experienced the majesty of Cypriot Byzantine art and religion. Moreover, the
Menil is exploring how best to use it in the future, in ways that carry forward the museum's mission.

4. BALTIMORE (AP).- A presidential historian charged with conspiring to steal documents from U.S. archives — including papers signed by Abraham Lincoln — is seeking court permission to sell an Andy Warhol print, other artworks and inaugural medals to cover his living expenses. Barry Landau, 63, needs cash to pay the $2,700 rent on his New York City apartment, health insurance, food and other expenses, according to a motion filed Friday in U.S. District Court by attorney Andrew White. Landau's terms of release require the court's permission before he can sell or dispose of any assets. Prosecutors expect to file a response to Landau's request soon, but had no immediate comment on the request, U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy said Monday. Landau and his 24-year-old assistant, Jason Savedoff, are charged with
stealing valuable historical documents from the Maryland Historical Society and conspiring to steal documents from other archives. Both have pleaded not guilty. About 60 of the documents involved in the case were from the Maryland Historical Society, including papers signed by Lincoln worth $300,000 and presidential inaugural ball invitations and programs worth $500,000. Other documents were from the Connecticut Historical Society, Vassar College and the National Archives, according to prosecutors. The men were indicted by a federal grand jury in late July. State prosecutors elected to not pursue theft charges the pair faced in Maryland after they were indicted in federal court. Landau has been allowed to return to his Manhattan apartment with GPS monitoring. Savedoff, who surrendered his American and Canadian passports, was released on $250,000 cash bail to his mother's custody and is staying in a Baltimore-area apartment. White writes in the motion filed last week that Landau may not have much cash to pay his living expenses, but does have items of value that can be sold. "These items were not seized by the FBI in the multiple searches of the defendant's apartment and are unquestionably not related to the charges now
pending in this case," White said. "The defendant seeks to liquidate these items because he is now without funds necessary to pay his everyday expenses." The attorney said the Warhol print "Liz," which depicts the late actress Elizabeth Taylor and was a gift from the artist, is the only piece of significant value that Landau is seeking to sell. An expert has valued it at $40,000 to $60,000, he said. Other items include artworks by Salvador Dali, Francesco Scavullo, Victor Vaserely and LeRoy Neiman, with the Scavullo and Vasarely works each worth about $5,000, White added. The other items Landau is seeking to sell include presidential inaugural medals he has collected since 1961 and political china such as commemorative plates and figurines that were mostly gifts he received since the 1960s. He also seeks permission to sell coin sets, glass vases he inherited from his mother, jewelry and a collection of letters, photographs and books addressed and inscribed to Landau from political, theatrical and Hollywood figures. White suggests that a New York attorney who has been helping with the case handle most of the sales and Christie's auction house handle the sale of the Warhol "Liz" print through a private commission sale or a commissioned
auction. Prosecutors have alleged that the historian used different routines to distract librarians and had sport jackets and overcoats altered to allow him to stash documents inside large pockets. They allege that the men had about 80 documents when they were arrested in the historical society's library in Baltimore in July. Searches of Landau's apartment in July turned up thousands of documents. Prosecutors said in early August that National Archives workers had already determined that 200 documents belong to institutions, including Swarthmore College, the Smithsonian Institution, Yale University, Columbia University, the New York Public Library, Vassar College, Cambridge University, the University of Vermont and the Library of Congress.

5. ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) - Looters stormed Ivory Coast's national museum during the country's bloody political crisis earlier this year, plundering nearly $8.5 million worth of art including the institution's entire gold collection. Five months later, the museum's gates still open and close at the posted hours, but empty display cases gather dust. A lone set of elephant tusks sits in the dark in the museum's main exposition room. And staff member Oumar Gbane now spends his days making a handwritten inventory of what was stolen since his computer was among the items taken. "No tourists can come here. There is nothing to see," he laments. The pillage was the first in the museum's 70-year history. Doran Ross, former director of the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, says the Abidjan museum used to be "one of the best maintained in Africa." Student groups and tourists once filled the museum's halls to view the corpse-like Senoufo statues depicting armless ghosts of ancestors and the dark
wooden Baoule masks with elongated eyes and narrow mouths.They saw delicate Akan pendants abstractly depicting animals in shiny gold, sacred Yohoure masks of antelopes with a human faces, and Baoule chest ornaments made of beads and golden disks etched with images of fish and crocodiles.Ivorian artist and author Veronique Tadjo, who resides in South Africa, says the collection reflected "the various areas (of the country) that now need to reconcile.""Young people will be deprived of these treasures that are part of our identity- what makes us proud, what makes us a nation," Tadjo says. Museum director Silvie Memel Kassi says the thieves knew which pieces to take: The 17th century gold was stolen but less valuable pieces were not even touched. In normal times, the museum property seems cut off from the billowing
exhaust fumes and endless blocks of high rises outside. Stepping inside the museum walls, one enters a verdant place where tropical hardwoods, palm and banana trees flourish undisturbed.
During the violence, snipers made the property their own sanctuary, using the rooftop of the museum to stage attacks. Many of the bullet-shattered windows in towers across the street have not been replaced yet. When it rains, water leaks through bullet holes in the building's rusted metal roof. In November, former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office following a contested election, and five months later the country was on the brink of civil war. Members of the military, militia men and residents picked up arms in Abidjan. On March 30, the ongoing violence that followed the election intensified around
the museum, Gbane says. Museum workers went home not knowing they wouldn't return for weeks. Like most residents of the city, they locked themselves inside their homes, unable to leave except for perilous trips to find food. No one was there to guard the museum. It was not a safe place to be, situated between the military headquarters and government buildings. When Gbane returned on April 18, he found the thick cement walls were punctured on the front of the building and there was a pile of rubble on the museum's entrance. After the looting Kassi contacted Interpol, and Ivorian customs officials have been ordered to watch for the plundered objects, Kassi says. But Ivory Coast's borders are porous and the pieces could be easily smuggled into neighboring countries without detection. Museum pillages have been a byproduct of war for centuries. In 2003, looters in Iraq plundered 15,000 priceless artifacts that dated from the Stone Age and Babylon to the Assyrians. Afghanistan's museums have been systematically stripped of ancient artifacts for decades. Often stolen art is only discovered when the thieves try to sell the pieces to museums or art collectors, says Ross, the art historian. One danger is the gold could be melted down and disguised. Kassi thinks the thieves are too smart to do such a thing. "It doesn't have the same value. They know," she says. Ross says the gold itself has low karat values and would not even be worth much melted down.
"The real value of the work is the artistic quality," he says. "This is a major loss, not just for Ivory Coast or Africa but for a much larger world," says Ross.

6. Art Theft Central  Cairo - The Curse of the Pharaohs
Posted: 22 Sep 2011 11:01 AM PDT
While Egypt's Tourism and Antiquities police continue to break up illicit antiquities smuggling rings and while its Retrieved Antiquities Department at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) continues to recover objects from foreign states, it appears that the SCA is still experiencing personnel issues since former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass's protracted departure this past summer. Ahram Online reports that Hawass's successor, Mohamed Abdel Fatah, has resigned due to limited authority and inability to put into effect any of his decisions without the approval of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. According to another Ahram Online article, demonstrators in front of the SCA premises continue to protest asking "for the council to be returned to being the Ministry of State for Antiquities, for salary raises, and the appointment of new graduate archaeologists." As Secretary General of the SCA from 2002-2010 Zahi Hawass had extensive control over the preservation, protection, conservation, and recovery of Egyptian cultural heritage. It has been said by a few sources that Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud had no decision making power when he served as interm Secretary General before Fatah's appointment. Why has Fatah not received power as broad as Hawass's? Certainly, in light of the past few decades of Mubarak rule, the Egyptian government and people must be fearful of granting such sweeping power to any single official. However, for how long will this national paranoia delay or prevent recovery programs, foreign archaeological excavation missions, and traveling exhibitions?

7. U.S. Attorney’s Office September 15, 2011
Central District of California(213) 894-2434
FBI - LOS ANGELES—A Florida man was arrested this morning pursuant to a federal indictment that alleges he sold paintings stolen from a Los Angeles art gallery, and that he had sold forged artworks to a collector with false claims that they had been painted by esteemed artists. Matthew Taylor, 43, of Vero Beach, Florida, was arrested without incident this morning by special agents with the FBI. Taylor, who formerly worked as an art dealer, is expected to make his initial court appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in Fort Pierce, Florida. A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Taylor last week on seven felony charges related to art theft and a long-running fraud that targeted a Los Angeles art collector. The indictment charges Taylor with defrauding the art collector victim out of millions of dollars by selling him forged art works. Taylor allegedly sold the collector more than 100 paintings—including paintings that he falsely claimed were by artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, and
Mark Rothko—for a total of more than $2 million. The indictment alleges that Taylor altered paintings from unknown artists to make them appear to be the products of famous artists, and then sold the bogus artwork to the victim at prices exponentially higher than their actual worth. To conceal the true nature of the paintings, Taylor allegedly put forged on the paintings and painted over or otherwise concealed signatures from the actual artists. The indictment also alleges that Taylor created and put onto the paintings fake labels which falsely represented that the artworks were once part of prestigious art collections at famous museums, including those of the Museum of Modern Art in the New York and the Guggenheim Museum. Regarding the alleged art heists, the indictment accuses Taylor of stealing a Granville Redmond painting called “Seascape at Twilight” from a gallery in Los Angeles. Taylor later sold that painting to a different gallery for $85,000, falsely claiming that his mother had owned it for several years. The indictment
also alleges that Taylor stole a separate artwork—a painting by Lucien Frank titled “Park Scene, Paris”—from the same gallery in Los Angeles. Taylor was seen several years later in possession of the stolen Lucien Frank painting at a gallery in Vero Beach. The indictment further alleges that Taylor laundered and transferred across state lines some of the proceeds from his fraud on the collector victim specifically, $105,000 that Taylor had taken from the victim by selling him  four forged paintings in September 2006. An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court. The indictment charges Taylor with three counts of wire fraud, two counts of  money laundering, one count of interstate transportation of stolen property and one count of possession of stolen property. The mail fraud charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, and the remaining counts each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years.
Therefore, if he is convicted of all seven counts in the indictment, Taylor faces a maximum possible sentence of 100 years in federal prison. Based on evidence collected throughout this case, investigators believe there are additional victims of art fraud related to Taylor’s activities. Individuals who purchased art from Taylor and believe they may have been defrauded should contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Los Angeles at (310) 477-6565 or the Los Angeles Police Department’s Art Theft Detail at (213) 486-6940.
The ongoing investigation into Taylor is being conducted by the FBI’s Art Crime Team, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Art Theft Detail, and IRS - Criminal Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney James A. Bowman
 Major Frauds Section
 (213) 894-2213
Assistant United States Attorney Heather C. Gorman
 General Crimes Section
 (213) 894-0334

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