Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A First: Tribal Art and Holocost-looted Art - A Comparison

I have been appraising, selling, buying, and authenticating tribal art for almost 40 years and have never consider comparing Holocost-looted art with the acquisition of tribal art. You make the judgment based of Ms. Algar's arguments whether the good faith purchaser is a "rightful owner". JB



When is restitution a bad thing? The case of Melanesian wood carvings

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
 by Gustav Klimt. (1907).
 Neue Galerie, New York.
Source: Verity Algar

by Verity Algar, co-posting with Plundered Art

The Holocaust Art Restitution Project and other organisations aiming to restitute Holocaust-looted art to its rightful owners justifiably propose restitution to be a positive thing in this context. However, my research has shown that not all cultural groups want to re-possess their cultural heritage.

I recently spoke at the Association of Research into Crimes Against Art’s 5th Annual Conference, where I compared these two objects: the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt. (1907) and Malanggan from Northern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea (collected in 1890).

Malanggan, from Northern New Ireland,
Papua New Guinea. Collected in 1890.
 Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology,

Source: Verity Algar
Why would I compare a twentieth-century European painting with a nineteenth-century wood carving from Melanesia, I hear you say?! Well, by comparing these different objects, I wanted to point out that their original owners take vastly different approaches to the restitution of these objects. Let me explain.

In Jewish communities, generally, the original owners of the cultural objects and/or their heirs, feel the need to re-claim their objects in order to gain a sense of closure on a traumatic past. As the following excerpts demonstrate, the language of restitution claims suggest that the Holocaust is not truly over until looted art objects have been restituted:

“The return of stolen art may be one of the last acts of the Shoah”
(Dellheim 2000 cited in Glass 2004: 117)

“museums … are dealing with the unfinished business of the Holocaust”
(editorial, Seattle Times 16 June 1999)

“Austria will move closer to closing the book on a somber chapter in 20th-century history”
(Czernin 1998 cited in Glass 2004: 118)

The people of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, do not wish for the malanggan which they themselves created, to be returned to them, despite malanggan being essential to their culture. This may initially seem puzzling because they can often take more than three months to carve (Küchler 2002: 1). Yet they are not made to be displayed, treasured and revered as much of the art confiscated by the Nazis was. Malanggan are displayed for a few hours during mortuary ceremonies, before being left to the elements to decompose (Küchler and Melion 1991: 29). As money became increasingly important in New Ireland, the sale of malanggan to Western collectors became an attractive alternative (Küchler and Melion 1991: 29). More than five thousand malanggan have been collected by Western museums (Küchler and Melion 1991: 27).  As other indigenous groups began to claim the objects that constituted their cultural memory from Western museums, the museums considered restituting the malanggan too.

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the significance of malanggan to Melanesian culture.  During the carving process, the sculpture is imbued with life force, which is “symbolically killed” when ownership of the malanggan is transferred from the deceased’s family to related kin in exchange for money (Küchler and Melion 1991: 32). The image of the malanggan, however, is preserved as cultural memory and is reproduced in future sculptures (Küchler and Melion 1991: 32). Susanne Küchler and Walter Melion refer to the conflicting status of memory surrounding malanggan practice as “strategic remembering and deliberate forgetting” (1991: 30). To restitute these objects to the people of New Ireland would be to rekindle a specific aspect of their cultural memory, thus interfering with the process of “deliberate forgetting”.

Whilst it is fundamentally important that organisations such as ARCA and HARP continue to support research into Holocaust-era looted art, it is equally important that we understand why restitution can be incredibly problematic for some groups of people. Far from interrupting or countering my pro-restitution tendency, the argument against the restitution of malanggan can run alongside this tendency. As a concept, restitution is neither good nor bad. Rather, decisions about whether or not to restitute cultural objects need to be made on a culture-specific basis.

Verity Algar is a second year BA in History of Art student at
College London, where she minors in Anthropology. She recently spoke on ‘Cultural memory and the restitution of cultural property: Comparing Nazi-looted art and Melanesian malanggan’ at the Association of Research into Crimes Against Art’s 5th Annual Conference. She is hoping to complete the ARCA Postgraduate
before working in a field relating to cultural heritage protection.

How Often Do Art Thieves Destroy Their Loot?

Basically Never.

A empty spot on the wall marks the place where the stolen Henri Matisse painting was in Rotterdam's Kunsthal art gallery in the Netherlands.
A empty spot on the wall marks the place where the stolen Henri Matisse painting was in Rotterdam's Kunsthal art gallery in the Netherlands last year.
Photo by Robin van Lonkhuijsen/Reuters
Investigators announced this week that they may have recovered the ashes of seven stolen artworks at the bottom of a stove in Romania. The art, which included works by Monet, Matisse, and Gauguin, was stolen from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum last October in a highly publicized heist and three suspects were arrested in Romania in January. One thief’s mother now claims to have burned the works, which were valued between $130 million and $260 million, when she learned police were searching for them. How often do art thieves destroy their loot?
Almost never. The vast majority of art thieves use their plunder as collateral instead, using the works as leverage to bargain down criminal charges. And some art thieves steal art specifically to use it as bargaining chip at some later date. Throughout Europe, prosecutors are generally willing to lessen a criminal’s sentence if he can offer a valuable piece of stolen art in exchange. (Such deals are rare in the U.S.) In Spain, gangs have even taken to stealing art as insurance, using the purloined pieces to reduce criminal sentences for unrelated charges like drug possession and car theft.
When an art thief does destroy his stolen works, however, he tends to draw a disproportionate amount of media attention. In the 1990s, Stéphane Breitweiser attracted international notoriety for stealing over 100 works of art, about half of which he destroyed. (His mother helped, cutting up the canvases and shredding them in the garbage disposal or disposing of them in a nearby river.) In 2011, a thief stole $150 million worth of paintings—including a Matisse, a Picasso, and a Modigliani—from the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, only to throw them into a garbage bin, where they were then compacted.
But art-theft experts agree that these instances are rare. Because most stolen art is so famous as to be unsellable many thieves become curators of their own illicit collections, keeping them safe (and secret) until they can use them as collateral. Consequently, the field of art recovery has an extremely high return rate: About 90 percent of stolen works will eventually resurface, either in private collections or offered back to law enforcement by criminals.
Had the mother of the Rotterdam thief simply held onto the paintings, she might well have helped her son bargain down to a fairly light sentence. With the works destroyed, however, the thief has no remaining bargaining chip. Both he and his mother will likely face charges for stealing and hiding the art—and, now, for destroying it.
Explainer thanks Robert Wittman, founder of the FBI’s National Art Crime Team, and Anthony Amore, art theft expert and author of Stealing Rembrandts.

Stolen Art: The UK's Telegraph's View of the 10 Most Important Missing Paintings

The 10 most-wanted missing paintings

As specialists try to establish if valuable stolen artworks have been burned in Romania, we look at the other paintings which have disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

Auvers-Sur-Oise, Cezanne
Auvers-Sur-Oise, by Cezanne, has been missing for 13 years. Photo: PA

Forensic specialists are trying to get to the bottom of a pile of ashes, thought to be the burned remnants of stolen art with an estimated value of millions.
Works by Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin and Lucian Freud were stolen from Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery in 2012. Three Romanian suspects were arrested in January, but the paintings have not been found. Instead, one of the suspect’s mothers told the police that she had burned the stolen works in a wood-burning stove in an attempt to free her son from prosecution due to lack of evidence.
These works, which include Waterloo Bridge, London, painted by Monet in 1901, are now among hundreds of valuable missing paintings. Once a painting has been stolen, it can stay underground or undiscovered for years or even decades, making the crime even harder to solve, as leads become less tangible and ownership is passed down through generations.
With help from the Art Loss Register, here are the top 10 most wanted paintings which have gone missing in mysterious circumstances.

Lucian Freud's Francis Bacon
Disappeared in: 1988
Reward offered:
300,000 German Marks (£132,000)
As art thefts go, the disappearance of Lucian Freud's portrait of Francis Bacon was unusual. For 25 years there have been no rumours or information about its location, whereas criminal gangs usually await a ransom before dropping hints. Freud designed his own 'wanted' poster for the stolen image, but even this didn't elicit a response. Instead, the portrait is thought to have been taken from Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie by a Bacon fan or student, as the gallery was full of students at the time.

Rembrandt van Rijn's Storm of the Sea of Galilee

Disappeared in: 1990
Reward offered:
£3.2 million
The Storm of the Sea of Galilee was one of the 13 artworks taken from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in America's biggest art theft. More than 20 years later, the FBI's investigation into the crime is still open, with a $5 million reward on offer for information leading to finding the paintings in good condition.
A pair of thieves stole the art after posing as police officers and museum guards allowed them entry. They managed to handcuff both guards on duty and trapped them in the basement while they robbed the gallery.

Picasso, Le Pigeon aux peitis pois
Disappeared in: 2010
Reward offered:
Unfortunately, it's fairly conclusive that this Picasso is unlikely to re-emerge. Shortly after it was stolen from the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the thief threw it in a bin which was emptied before authorities learned of its contents. If the painting hasn't been destroyed, it has a very wealthy owner out there somewhere – the painting is worth more than £20 million at auction.

Picasso's Harlequin Head

Disappeared in: October 2012
Reward offered:
This 1971 piece by Picasso was taken in the aforementioned Dutch Kunsthal Gallery theft. It is not yet clear if the remains of the paintings have been found in the ashes.

Jan Van Eyck's The Just Judges from the Ghent Altarpiece
Disappeared in: 1934
Reward offered:
Undisclosed – although one million Belgian francs (£21,300) were demanded as a ransom.
This painting was part of the Ghent Altarpiece at the Belgian city's Saint Bavo Cathedral. It was carefully removed from its panels during the night in April 1934 and replaced with a note: "Taken from Germany by the Treaty of Versaille". A ransom was demanded but the Bishop of Ghent refused to pay it, although further negotations were made through letters later in 1934. When the thief was on his deathbed a few weeks later, he insisted that he would take the secret of the masterpiece's location to his grave.

Cézanne's View of Auvers-sur-Oise

Disappeared in: 2000
Reward offered:
As Oxford's revellers were welcoming in the Millenium, a criminal used the opportunity to break into the city's Ashmolean Museum and steal Cezanne's painting, View of Auvers-sur-Oise. The painting is still unlocated, although no public reward has been offered for information.

Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man
Disappeared in: 1945
Reward offered:
The 16th-century oil painting disappeared at the end of World War II. Although the painting was rescued from the Czartoryski Museum, Kraków, in 1939, it was taken by the Gestapo to decorate Hitler's Berlin residence. In 1945, senior Nazi official Hans Frank took the paintings from the Führer's collection to the royal Wawel Castle. It has not been seen since, apart from in popular culture references: Portrait of a Young Man has popped up in The Simpsons.

Caravaggio's Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence
Disappeared in: 1969
Reward offered:
Caravaggio's Nativity hung in the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, until 1969, when it was removed from its frame and then the church. The local Mafia are the prime suspects, although the 17th-century painting's location remains unknown. There have been several theories about what happened to it, however, including being destroyed by rats and pigs after being hidden in a farmhouse. More recently, a former Mafia hitman-turned-informer said it was burned in the Eighties.

Van Gogh's Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuene

Disappeared in: 2002
Reward offered:
This painting is one of two stolen from the Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in December 2002. Two thieves broke into the building through the roof, and managed to steal Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Neunen and View of the Sea at Scheveningen in just a few minutes. Together, the works are thought to be worth £25 million. Although Dutch police convicted two men a year later, the paintings remain unrecovered.

Vermeer's The Concert
Disappeared in: 1990
Reward offered:
£3.2 million
This Vermeer painting was also a victim of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft. Valued at £130 million, it is thought to be the most valuable unrecovered stolen painting in history

Reuters View of Art Investment and What We are Really Buying


This article provides an interesting perspective on investing both in the art and business world and what we are actually buying. Social media has significantly impacted both prices and how we conduct our business

Art, venture capital, and down-round phobia

By Felix Salmon
July 16, 2013

Ben Horowitz has a great guide to the dreaded “down round” today — that unloved point in the
evolution of a venture-backed technology company when it’s forced to raise money at a lower valuation than it received in previous rounds. Certainly, such things shouldn’t be unexpected. As he explains:
The average company on the S&P 500 IT index with $10 million in annual earnings would be worth $210 million in March of 1995, $820 million in March of 2002, $310 million in March of 2004, and $155 million in March of last year. And those are big companies with real earnings, so you can imagine how a private company’s valuation might fluctuate.
Still, Horowitz likens the experience to being “the captain of the Titanic”, and he notes that it only starts looking attractive when you realize that the alternative is “suicide”: “Down rounds are bad and hit founders disproportionately hard,” he writes, “but they are not as bad as bankruptcy.” And he notes, in a clear-eyed fashion, that it would take a “miracle” for a founder to survive the process. (Startup founders are short-lived at the best of times; it’s rare they can survive a down round.)
The problem here is clear: a simple lack of honesty and transparency when it comes to funding. Valuations go up and down, but no one likes to admit it; investors, in particular, love to delude themselves that the value of the company only went up after they bought in, and that they got a spectacular deal.
Indeed, this is one of the reasons why so many startups fail: taking VC money is a deal whereby, in practice, if you don’t grow super-fast, in both size and valuation, then you will be left for dead. David Segal, on Sunday, had an intriguing piece about what you might call distressed startup opportunities, but that’s a very, very new market, and one which VCs aren’t yet interested in. For the most part, VCs all operate according to the same convention, which treats downward valuation fluctuations not as some natural occurrence but rather as a mortal threat.
When I was reading Horowitz’s piece, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Allison Schrager’s article about how “high-end art is one of the most manipulated markets in the world”. Again, the problem is that the art market isn’t allowed, by its practitioners, to be a real market, and instead operates on a series of conventions which make it deeply broken on many levels.
There are two startling data points Schrager’s piece. The first shows that it doesn’t have to be this way: in China, she says, 50% of primary sales — sales of fresh works, which have never been sold before — take place at auction. That certainly helps explain why Chinese artists are so dominant in the contemporary-art auction-volume league tables.
The second is a story which shows what happens when artworks are not sold at auction: they can sell instead for a discount of 99%.
A few years ago a young art collector from New York I know bought a painting from a New York gallery. A few weeks later she went to the Miami Basel art fair where a celebrity heard about the painting. He offered to buy it for more than 50 times what she paid for it. She refused and he raised his offer to a sum that would mean she’d never have to work again. She explained that she would not bargain with him—any resale of the painting must go through the gallery, so they’ll get a commission and select the price—not her. The young collector knew there would be consequences to making the sale. She may have owned the painting, but reselling it at a profit without the gallery’s permission would blackball her from the art industry. To her, that was not worth the millions she was offered.
There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from this story, including of course the fact that we’ve been deep in bubble territory for at least “a few years” now. But mostly, it’s one of those unfalsifiable anecdotal beauties which the small and gossipy art world requires even more than it does money. Put aside the question of whether it’s literally true — that really doesn’t matter. What matters is the art-world conventions which are revealed here.
First is the way in which social currency — whom you know — trumps actual currency. The young collector in this story made a simple calculation: the value of a good relationship with the gallery in question was higher than the millions of dollars dangled in front of her by the celebrity. And of course the value of social currency is the reason why the celebrity was in Miami in the first place, too. The monster success of global art fairs like Art Basel Miami Beach, which have pretty much eaten the entire art world at this point, is ostensibly about commerce — but in reality has just as much, if not more, to do with the fact that they’re a way of getting a far-flung crowd together in the same place at the same time. For all the financial deals which are struck at art fairs, there’s just as much value, if not more, created in the social ties found at the endless round of parties and dinners at such occasions. In many ways, the spectacle of Jay-Z performing at Pace Gallery for six hours last week was his way of buying social currency in the art world — essentially, buying himself the option to lay out huge sums of cash for work by hot young artists.
Art, then, is very similar to venture capital, insofar as who you know matters — and also insofar as both markets go to great lengths to hide natural valuation fluctuations. “Down rounds” are if anything even more harmful to an artist than they are to a startup: galleries will, as a rule, drop an artist before selling her art for less than she was charging at her previous show. The reason is entirely to protect the gallery’s own credibility: the gallery wants collectors to see it as a place where they can buy art which is going to rise in value, and as a result it will do everything in its power to make it look as though the work of all of its artists is only ever going up in price rather than down.
Horowitz concludes his piece by saying this:
The only surefire antidote to capital market climate change is positive cash flow. If you generate cash, investors mean nothing. If you do not, then your success will depend upon the kindness of strangers.
Apply that lesson to the art world, and the conclusion is clear. No art has positive cash flow; ergo, all artists are dependent upon the kindness of strangers. Schrager takes this idea to its logical conclusion, considering — and then rejecting — the idea that an old-fashioned patronage model might be better for artists than the current grinfuck model.
She’s probably right about that, although there are certainly artists who quietly do quite well for themselves on the patronage model, selling their work directly to a small number of collectors and bypassing the craziness of the gallery system. Those collectors are well aware that the artists in question aren’t going to become auction-house stars, but that’s OK: they’re buying art for the right reason, because they love it, rather than for mercenary reasons surrounding dreams of future wealth.
The question is whether a more transparently market-based system, one where people understood that prices can fluctuate, would be better for artists than the current system, where artists’ careers, a bit like startup valuations, have to always be improving lest they fall into the art-world equivalent of bankruptcy. Schrager thinks it might be:
If pricing were transparent, it would probably be lower and art more available to a wider range of collectors. This would be an unwelcome move for dealers and elite artists but it could also demystify the market and lower tier artists could earn more because the market would be less segmented. To some extent technology is naturally making it happen. Websites are cropping up that sell primary art and make it more available to the masses. Even Amazon has set its sights on the art market. It plans to partner with certain galleries to sell some of their inventory online but it’s not clear whether it will become a “market for lemons,” where the best pieces from the most promising artists are still reserved for certain collectors and prices of promising emerging artists still unknown.
I’m not holding my breath: the art market, more than ever, is controlled by a handful of large international galleries, and those galleries have no incentive whatsoever to give up their pricing power. Doing so might be good for artists, just as transparency around fluctuating valuations would probably be good for startups. But it’s not going to happen.

Inside Museums: Idaho State Historical Museum - Boise, ID

This summer, as John's travels with The Antiques Roadshow send him around the country, we'll be highlighting some findings from museums along the way.

Last month, John stopped in Boise, Idaho, home of the Boise Idaho Historical Museum. Located in the Boise Julia Davis Park, the museum was the first in Idaho and one of the first western museums to be accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1972. Collections include artifacts and interactive exhibits on Idaho’s past that prove fun for all ages. Just ask John.

How do you like your Idaho Potato? 

A darker moment in the states history is also alluded to through the inclusion of the door from the Weaver’s northern Idaho cabin on Ruby Ridge. Now infamous as the site of the deadly confrontation between US Marshalls and FBI Agents against Randy Weaver and his family.

Door from the Ruby Ridge Cabin

The museum includes other permanent exhibits including an exploration with Lewis and Clark, journey to Gold Mountain, and a walk through Pioneer Village.

Next stop on the museum trail, we’ll take you through The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Stay tuned…

Is Virtual Art In Your Home Almost Here?

The art world has seen some pretty amazing innovations in reaching out to potential consumers in both the public and private sectors of our business. The ability to communicate through all sorts of social media has informed art lovers of what is available to see or buy. Research has certainly become both easier and more complicated as we try to evaluate the sources of all this information. In the past.. maybe until has been tangible.  This app will allow you to see (sort of) what the artwork looks like in your home. How far away are we from virtual art being created in both public and private sectors to meet your needs of the moment. I submit not very far at all. We are products of what we know as we grow up and what is perceived to be cool. Instant gratification will over time undermine what we know as traditional collecting and art appreciation. Is that good or bad.. that's a debate we will have. For sure it will be different. JB

MELBOURNE.- A new start-up based in Melbourne, Australia, has recently launched an innovative iPhone/iPad app that enables art buyers to “Try Before You Buy” with barely a few taps of a finger. The app they have developed, called WALNUT, allows people to download artwork of interest from participating galleries and artists, then uses a custom algorithm to produce a high quality visualization of how it will look in their home with correct scale and perspective. And of course users can also share these with friends and family to get their opinion. Although they have just started offering this service to art galleries and artists as a sales & marketing tool, the app also gives users the capability to visualize any image on your device, perfect for home decorators, interior designers or simply anyone who’s ever considered enlarging a photo to hang on their wall.

The co-founders of Walnut Art (Vedran Arnautovic, Michael Gregorevic & Michael Joffe) have been working on the project for around 12 months, and as their first venture together it has been a big learning experience, “Like many ideas, WALNUT was born from necessity. For sure we’re interested in cool artwork, but we’re not artists. While looking around for art to hang on our walls at home, we discovered we were all frustrated by the lack of tools to help
find the right
one to suit our needs. We think this is a pretty common problem, so we decided to do something about it."

To respond quickly to user feedback the team concluded that they needed to develop the whole app themselves. They were adamant it had to have a clean and easy to use interface so anyone could use it, and knew it was important to ensure it addressed the interests of both art buyers and art sellers, so multiple iterations were needed to get it just right. And it's not just the typical art gallery the team are targeting, "We also think there is big potential for art fairs where as a buyer you have only one chance to buy something you like or miss out, so being able to instantly have that extra confidence that it will suit the environment at home is really valuable. Online-only galleries is another key area where we believe WALNUT can be really useful to art buyers, because without the ability to physically see an artwork people need something extra to convince them to buy online, and we're confident WALNUT will deliver that."

Getting from the initial concept to reality has been a huge amount of work for the team, but also extremely satisfying, "We’re really excited to see people starting to use it and hear suggestions for what features we should add next. It’s also nice to think we are helping more people find cool artwork that inspires them or speaks to them in some way, and that with WALNUT they are now able to go ahead and purchase it with the confidence that it’ll look fantastic when they see it on their wall every day.”
Having brought their idea to market, the team have now turned their focus to building the business and linking up with more artists and art galleries, but they acknowledge technologies like this move fast and in response are already planning new features to expand the app’s capabilities. "We also think this is just the beginning - right now there's no reason this app wouldn't work for other products like visualizing a TV on your wall or a rug on your floor, and moving on from there the possibilities are huge."

Want to know more? Visit their website: