Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fall 2016 Mert Simpson Estate Auction - Saturday October 1st

Date of Release: Sept. 18, 2016

Quinn’s Oct. 1 auction  showcases personal tribal art collection of noted expert, artist and NYC gallerist Merton D. Simpson

16th-century Benin palace plaque, ex British Museum, is premier artifact from estate collection – auction estimate: $800,000-$1.2 million

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – A 16th-century bronze plaque recovered in 1897 from the charred ruins of the Benin Kingdom’s Royal Palace (Benin City, Nigeria) leads the Oct. 1 auction of the late Merton D. Simpson’s private collection. Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Virginia (metro Washington, D.C.), will conduct the Oct. 1 sale, which includes artworks and rare African relics from the renowned tribal art expert’s personal collection, his Manhattan gallery, and some of his own paintings.

The plaque was one of 304 examples brought to the UK by Ralph Moor in 1897 following the Benin Expedition. Once having adorned wooden gallery roof supports around a large reception courtyard in the palace, the remarkable artworks were displayed later that year at The British Museum. Following the exhibition, the Museum acquired (as a gift from the British government) 203 plaques from the collection. The remaining 101 plaques were sold to British and Continental museums; and private collectors.

The plaque from the Simpson collection is numbered 192 on the 1898 Foreign Office list pertaining to the group acquisition. It remained a part of the institution’s collection until 1950, when the Museum de-accessioned some of its plaques.

It is believed that Merton Simpson, who began collecting African artifacts in the 1950s, may have acquired his plaque through a European dealer, as the object appears to have been expertly restored to European standards at some point in time.

The object measures 48.58 cm by 33.18 cm and is adorned with the single figure of an elaborately garbed warrior chief holding an eben – or ceremonial dance sword – indicating his participation in a palace ceremony. Other embellishments include a longhaired Portuguese man in profile, two crocodile heads and rosettes.

The plaque has been authenticated by prominent ancient art expert John A. Buxton, ISA CAPP, whom Quinn’s enlisted to oversee and supervise the Simpson auction; and Kathy Curnow, PhD and Associate Professor, African Art History, Cleveland State University. It also has undergone a rigorous forensic examination by Mark Rasmussen of Rare Collections, a respected firm that provides scientific investigation and research services to leading museums and private collectors here and abroad.

Quinn’s conducted an exhaustive search of all relevant art loss registries, including those of INTERPOL and other international sources, to confirm the plaque’s lawful status. It is similar to an example in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and previously was part of the institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It is entered in the auction with an $800,000-$1.2 million estimate.

Other top highlights include a horned plank Bedu mask with checkerboard design, Ivory Coast/Ghana, first half of 20th century, est. $10,000-$15,000; and a 15th to 17th-century seated clay figure from a cache uncovered in the 1980s in Mali, Niger Delta, est. $10,000-$15,000. It is believed that all of the figures from the Mali discovery now reside in non-U.S. museums or private collections, making Merton Simpson’s example all the more desirable.

Also estimated at $10,000-$15,000, a 20th-century Pwo mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chokwe culture, depicts a female with an elaborate fiber coiffure. Another wood mask from the Congo exhibits the type of composition and decorative style favored by the Teke people, late 19th to early 20th century. Its character’s oval-shape eyes are outlined in blue pigment. That, combined with its abstractly interpreted features, suggests the mask was likely produced by the Tsai group of the Teke tribe. Estimate: $10,000-$15,000.

A 20th-century night mask created by the Bacham culture of the Republic of Cameroon is similar to an example sold in Christie’s Amsterdam’s July 2, 2002 auction of tribal art from the Estate of Baron Freddy Rolin. Quinn’s has set an auction estimate of $5,000-$10,000.

The Ejagham people are best known for their large, skin-covered, headdress-style crest masks that often have one or more faces of known or imagined individuals. The Simpson collection includes a skin-covered headdress with curled horns from the Ejagham of Nigeria. A 20th-century piece, it could realize $3,000-$5,000.

With an acclaimed eye for spotting exceptional art and a career as an art dealer that spanned more than 50 years, Merton D. Simpson (African-American, 1928-2013) was one of the world’s most respected African and tribal art dealers. He was instrumental in helping individuals and institutions around the world to build comprehensive, historically significant collections. He was also a gifted artist in his own right and an early member of the Spiral group, a collective of African-American artists co-founded in 1963 by Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff and other notables.

“For the New York County Public Administrator – fiduciary of the Simpson estate – to have chosen Quinn’s to auction this important collection was a tremendous honor for us. But the collection will also be taking its place in history, and rightly so, when it is sold during the opening week of the new National Museum of African American History & Culture, here in the Washington, D.C. metro area,” said Quinn’s Executive Vice President Matthew Quinn. “We couldn’t be more proud.”

The Saturday, Oct. 1 auction will take place at Quinn’s Auction Galleries at 360 S. Washington St., Falls Church, VA 22046, starting at 11 a.m. Eastern time (doors open at 9 a.m). Those who cannot attend in person may bid absentee, by phone or live online via, or Items may be previewed at the gallery Sept. 23-24, and Sept. 26-29 inclusive, from 10-5:30; or from 9-11 a.m. on auction day. The gallery will be closed on Sunday, Sept. 25.

For additional information on any item, call 703-532-5632. Visit Quinn’s online at


All images courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries

Simpson Estate Auction October 1st - Bidding Information


20% Buyers Premium - Absentee Bidding Only

25% Buyers Premium - Live and Absentee Bidding

25% Buyers Premium - Live and Absentee Bidding

25% Buyers Premium - Live and Absentee Bidding

There are no reserves other than the starting bid of one half the low estimates. All lots failing to meet one half the low estimate will be re-offered at a later sale.

Contact John Buxton at 214-789-4695  for further inquiries


Antique Trader:


Quinn's Auction House

My Word Fall 2016

On Saturday October 1st the the first group of objects from the Merton D. Simpson estate will be sold at Quinn's Auction Falls Church Virginia. This sale will include the best of an inventory that included over 1500 objects. Contrary to the tribal art world in New York the inventory had not been totally "picked over". Many will be surprised to see a documented Punitive Expedition plaque that could sell into the seven figures. We expect to have over 600 lots which will also feature important private collections from New York and Springfield Missouri. Both Mark Rasmussen and I will be in Falls Church for the preview days prior to the sale. If you have any questions or need help with bidding contact Quinn's at (703) 532-5632 or me on my cell at 214-789-4695.

In this issue we also cover the US government's latest effort to  Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act (STOP). Unfortunately, the well meaning people  who are supporting this understand less about the actual situation on the ground than those individuals who will be hurt the most by this legislature. Jim Own very graciously allowed us to reprint his rebuttals for your background information. In addition I greatly respect the Committee for Cultural Policy. and their efforts to carefully analyze and then educate us all on what is happening in the field on STOP and other important issues.

Well into the new year my efforts will be directed toward auctions and their ability to reach buyers in a way that a gallery cannot do in a cost effective way. Note in this issue that Sothebys admitted that only 3.5% of their sales were online. In the coming year there will be a greater scramble for Internet dollars in online sales. A number of new auction companies are trying to find the answer to solving this problem of raising lot value returns to create confidence in both buyers and sellers in this environment. Like social media, online art participation is more now a matter of creating a solid foundation and positioning your company to reap the benefits as the markets change.JB

Art Testing and Analysis Fall 2016

1. PARIS (AFP).- Researchers used super-X-ray vision to peer beneath the surface of a portrait by impressionist Edgar Degas and gaze upon the model whose likeness he painted over nearly 140 years ago, they reported Thursday.
The woman, whose image Degas turned upside down before using it as a base for a new painting, was probably Emma Dobigny -- a favourite model of 19th century French artists, the team announced. "This has been a very exciting discovery," said David Thurrowgood, conservator at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, where the painting hangs. "It is not every day that a new Degas painting is found, in this case, hidden in front of us."  The existence of the "underpainting" has been known since about 1920. A vague, ghostly figure has been slowly emerging, spreading an increasingly dark stain over the face of the model that replaced her. But previous attempts to glean something about the jilted original yielded little more than a faint outline. The hidden image "has long been considered to be indecipherable" without damaging the surface painting, the research team wrote in the journal Scientific Reports. Enter the Australian Synchrotron in Victoria, a particle accelerator which generates radiation for high-resolution imaging in research, therapy, or forensic analysis. The light it produces "is a million times brighter than the Sun, many orders of magnitude greater in power and intensity compared to standard, hospital-like X-rays," synchrotron scientist and study co-author Daryl Howard told AFP. "Because of the brilliant light, we are able to reveal unprecedented structural detail of any material". Well, hello there! Using a technique called X-ray fluorescence, the team became the first people since Degas to gaze upon his model's face. Comparing the image to other paintings, they concluded it was likely "a previously unknown portrait of the model Emma Dobigny."  Dobigny, whose real name was Marie Emma Thuilleux, modelled for Degas in 1869 and 1870 when she was about 16. "We observe (a) strong resemblance between the revealed underpainting and several of Degas' portraits of Emma Dobigny," wrote the study authors. According to former Louvre Museum director Henri Loyrette, a recognised Degas expert, "it is entirely possible" that the face belongs to Dobigny. The name of the black-clad woman who supplanted her on the canvas, however, remains unknown.  Her portrait -- which dates to a few years after the original, about 1876-1880 -- is entitled simply "Portrait de Femme" (Portrait of a Woman). Degas had not applied a new basecoat, and used thin layers of oil-based paint which are now losing their "hiding power", said the authors, allowing Dobigny to start showing through. The researchers used the synchrotron to create eleven "maps" of the original canvas -- each of a different metallic element in the pigments Degas used, including arsenic, copper, zinc, cobalt, and mercury.
The process took about 33 hours. Put together, the elemental maps provide a detailed reconstitution, revealing even the artist's brush strokes. The colours, however, have to be inferred. Cobalt is probably present as a blue pigment, which is useful in defining flesh tones," wrote the team, while "mercury is predominant in the facial area and would most likely correspond to the red pigment vermillion, which would contribute to a pink flesh tone." A blurred section in Dobigny's hair suggests Degas had made several attempts at reshaping an overly pointy, pixie-shaped ear -- a quirk he was apparently known for at the time. "Concealed paintings, early compositions that have been hidden by subsequent work, are important insights into artworks and artists," wrote the team. In this case, comparing two portraits painted several years apart, showed Degas' "transformation of palette and technique."
The researchers said they knew of no other method that would have worked as well as synchrotron scanning, which was also used in 2008 to reveal the portrait of a peasant woman underneath Vincent van Gogh's "Patch of Grass". The technology "will significantly impact the ways cultural heritage is studied for authentication, preservation and scholarly purposes," the team concluded.

Terrorism Fall 2016

1. TAL AJAJA (AFP).- When the Islamic State group captured Tal Ajaja, one of Syria's most important Assyrian-era sites, they discovered previously unknown millennia-old statues and cuneiform tablets, and then they destroyed them.
The extremist group, which has ravaged archeological sites under its control in Syria and Iraq, was chased from Tal Ajaja in northeastern Hasakeh province in February by Kurdish fighters. But the destruction IS wrought there over two years remains. Perched on a large hill around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Iraqi border, the site is now a vision of desolation, riven with long tunnels. Fragments of broken artifacts are strewn throughout and large holes dug by looters pockmark the ground. The Assyrian empire, with its capital in Nineveh in modern-day Iraq, flourished in the first millennium BC. It produced celebrated artifacts, particularly bas-reliefs often depicting scenes of war. "Tal Ajaja, or ancient Shadikanni, was one of the main cities of Assyria," said Cheikhmous Ali of the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archeology. Most of the known treasures of Tal Ajaja, discovered in the 19th century, had long been removed and placed in museums in Syria or abroad. But the jihadists, as well as local looters, dug up artifacts that archeologists had not yet uncovered, destroying or trafficking priceless pieces. "They found items that were still buried, statues, columns. We've lost many things," lamented Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria's antiquities department.
'Barbarians' More than 40 percent of Tal Ajaja was destroyed or ravaged by IS," added Khaled Ahmo, director of the antiquities department in Hasakeh."The tunnels that were dug destroyed invaluable archeological strata" that would have revealed the economic, social and political history of the era, he told AFP. In IS's extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols and shrines amount to recognising objects of worship other than God and must be destroyed.
But the group is also believed to have benefited from the trafficking of antiquities seized from sites under its control.In 2014, photos emerged of sledgehammer-wielding jihadists destroying Assyrian statues from Tal Ajaja dating back to 2,000-1,000 BC."These barbarians have burnt pages of Mesopotamia's history," said Abdulkarim."In two or three months, they wiped out what would have required 50 years of archeological excavations," he added.In 2014, the antiquities department on its website published a series of photos of items from Tal Ajaja that had been destroyed, including cuneiform tablets and bas-relief depictions of the lamassu -- the famous winged Assyrian deity.
The lamassu is a creature from Mesopotamian mythology, often depicted with a human head, the body of a lion or bull, and the wings of an eagle.Though traditionally considered protectors and placed outside temples to guard them, the lamassu of Tal Ajaja were unable to escape IS's ravages.
'Cultural cleansing' "IS turned the hilltop into a military zone," said local resident Khaled, who spoke on condition a pseudonym be used because he still fears IS might return."No one was allowed to enter the site without authorisation," he added."Hordes of armed men came in, along with traffickers of archeological objects," added another resident, Abu Ibrahim.Tal Ajaja was also known by the name Tal Araban in the Islamic era. But "even the upper strata dating back to that era were razed," said Ahmo.Abdulkarim said numerous artifacts from the site were smuggled to neighbouring Turkey and on to Europe, adding that he had alerted Interpol in a bid to retrieve some of the items.
Since its rise in 2014, IS has ravaged numerous archaeological sites in Iraq, including the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, provoking outrage.
The UN cultural organisation has described the jihadists' actions as "cultural cleansing".
In Syria, more than 900 monuments and archeological sites have been affected, damaged or destroyed by the regime, rebels or jihadists since the conflict began in March 2011, according to the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archeology.Among the worst incidents was the destruction by IS of temples in the famed ancient city of Palmyra, which provoked international outrage.
Between 2014 and 2015, Syria's antiquities department moved some 300,000 objects and thousands of manuscripts from across Syria into storage in Damascus.
But Abdulkarim has watched in horror as sites are laid waste by war and looters.
"Our heritage is hemorrhaging."

Internet Art Market Fall 2016

1. NEW YORK - Online Sales Are 3.6% of Sotheby’s Auction Total - Below is a transcript of Tad Smith’s remarks on Online Sales during the Second Quarter Earnings call. As Smith points out, online sales was a strategic initiative for Sotheby’s. But looking at the numbers, one has to realize the market segment has a very long way to go.
For the first half of 2016, Sotheby’s aggregate auction sales were $2.5bn. At $90m, online sales represent 3.6% of total auction sales for Sotheby’s. And that is after the dramatic 27% growth of last year.
Online sales will have to grow farther and faster than that to amount to a meaningful portion of Sotheby’s sale.
Nonetheless, during the Q&A on the Q2 Earnings call Smith outlined a long-term thesis on the firm that looked toward lower customer acquisition costs through the development of a broader web video portal and an increase in online sales.
Smith went further to claim that consignors are now approaching the firm to ask about online-only sales capabilities which was not something previously seen 17 months ago.
We remain focused on online sales and continue to see them grow and play a more powerful role in our overall totals, as well as our engagement with clients:
•Online sales in excess of $90 million were achieved in the first six months of 2016, a growth rate of 27% versus the same period of 2015.
•We have seen a 54% growth in the number of lots sold online, accounting for 18% of total lots sold globally by Sotheby’s compared to the same period last year.
•The behavior is global and in nearly every category – London, Paris and New York have each held sales that sold over 25% of lots to online buyers.
As we have seen over the past year, awareness is an important part of engaging new and existing audiences:
•We continue to work with our network of e-commerce partners to access the largest audience of bidders and buyers in the market.
•We remain at the forefront of social media, with the industry’s largest audience, embracing the latest trends including Facebook Live, which has driven tens of thousands of views to live streams about our auctions.
•We also recently announced a sale curated by a major Korean pop star and collector with a short video that garnered more than 3 million views across social media channels in one week.
•As a result of our efforts, registration for our auctions on is up 57% compared to the same period last year.
•Finally, as important as these innovations are to our existing business, these new technologies will be key to securing our desired position in the middle market.
•Throughout the month of July, we presented a series of five online-only sales – at a time when historically the company, and our engagement with clients, was particularly quiet.
•We offered a range of property – from Prints to Books and Contemporary Art – and the results were encouraging: • We had nearly 1,000 clients register to bid, an average sell through rate of 79% (including two sales that were 100% sold), and 33% of the buyers new to Sotheby’s.
•The top selling work of the series was Untitled [Four Works] by Bosco Sodi that sold for $125,000 in our Contemporary Online sale to a first time buyer at Sotheby’s.
•Looking ahead, we recently announced an online-only sale of jewelry by designer Tony Duquette that closes on August 30th, and we are currently filling out a full schedule of sales for the fall season.

Art Forgery Fall 2016

1. NEW YORK Like method actors and bearded brewmasters, the best art forgers are obsessed with authenticity. But thanks to a handful of new authentication technologies, even history’s most painstaking efforts wouldn’t stump today’s art sleuths.
Take Han van Meegeren, the most successful knockoff artist of the pre-war period. Adjusted for inflation, he made $30 million selling ersatz Dutch masters. Curators weren’t fooled just because the paintings looked perfect. (In fact, his Vermeers looked decidedly imperfect.) They were fooled because the art passed a crude forensic sniff test: every detail was “period correct.” He tracked down 17th-century canvases and stretchers. He duplicated Vermeer’s badger-hair brushes. And, in a stroke of OCD genius, he hand-ground exotic raw pigments following archaic formulas—no skimping allowed. Because faking Vermeer’s gorgeous signature paint would feel like cheating.
Today’s art authenticators have enough weapons in their arsenal—infrared spectroscopy, radiometric dating, gas chromatography—to spot a van Meegeren long before it hits the auction block. Many of these lab tests, though, are decades old, ample time for forgers to study the science and incremental improvements, perfect new counter-measures, and game the system.
Here’s the good news: The balance of power in the forgery detection game is about to shift. The art world has been closely monitoring scientific breakthroughs in fields as diverse as A.I., bitcoin, and protein analysis, and the technologies born from this research have either been appropriated by authenticators or will be soon. With these extra layers of security added to the vetting process, the current generation of copycat artists will find it increasingly difficult to hoodwink museum directors and collectors. Listen carefully, art patrons: That’s the sound of badger-hair brushes being turned into kindling. 

Tracking Digital Provenance with Blockchain

Digital art is increasingly gaining traction in the contemporary art world. Phillips’s last two “Paddles ON!” auctions, which showcased digital formats ranging from GIFs to video game screenshots, have been well received. Blue-chip galleries are on board too; Pace Art + Technology, a new 20,000-square-foot space in Silicon Valley, is dedicated solely to digital media. Digital art collectives—Japan’s teamLab being the most prominent—have also sprung up.
Most importantly, prices are rising. In 2003, Cory Arcangel’s Super Mario Clouds, a wall projection birthed from a hacked Nintendo chip, sold for $3,000. Last year, an edition of that same piece went for $630,000. Still, the question remains: How can a gallery sell digital content as investment-grade art when it already exists online and can be copied like a Google Doc? The answer is blockchain, the same computer technology that serves as the public ledger for bitcoin transactions around the globe. In the same way that you can verify and track the movement of any bitcoin ever mined, you can now verify and track the movement of any artwork ever created—online and in real time—provided that all the authorship and ownership records have been uploaded to a secure distributed database.
Every event in the lifespan of an artwork becomes a block that contains a timestamp and information linking it to the previous block, enabling prospective buyers to confirm that the artwork has been licensed. This tech is ideal for digital media, where copies may be passed off as originals, and the specifics regarding limited editions and artist’s proofs are frequently vague.
Several companies are peddling this service: Verisart in Los Angeles, Ascribe in Berlin, and Everledger in London. Deloitte also sees the opportunity, having unveiled its ArtTracktive service at the ICT Spring summit in Luxembourg. But the startup that’s become a buzzword in the art world is Monegraph. That’s because the founder is an artist. “Digital art has a problem: Bits are infinitely reproducible, and people want exclusivity and verifiability,” explains media artist and Monegraph founder Kevin McCoy. “Blockchain solves that problem by providing a clear and distinct provenance.”

Anti-Forgery through “Deep Learning”

Traditionally, authentication has relied on connoisseurs. After studying things like brushstroke, texture, composition, and color, they summon forth their vast wealth of knowledge and divine the truth. But as is the case with sports officiating, bad calls are part of the game. One of the most famous examples is Dr. Abraham Bredius. In the 1930s, he was recognized as the foremost authority on Dutch Old Masters. The ex-museum director was celebrated for his scholarship and unerring eye. Today, however, he’s remembered as the guy who mistook van Meegeren’s forgery, The Supper at Emmaus, for a national treasure. Bredius’s exuberant appraisal, published in The Burlington Magazine, included the fateful line “every inch [is] a Vermeer.”
It’s only a matter of time before a robot can tell the difference between a van Meegeren and a Vermeer. Much of the research into this technology is being conducted at the Rutgers Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, an offshoot of the university’s computer science department. A paper published last year by two of the lab’s scientists, Babak Saleh and Ahmed Elgammal, shows how an algorithm they developed is able to differentiate between Picasso and Matisse drawings with over 75-percent accuracy without analyzing composition or subject matter. Just by looking at individual strokes. In addition to automatically classifying images from a database of 80,000 individual works, the algorithm can also search for stylistic connections among them. In one example, the researchers chose a group of paintings and asked the program to identify the “closest match” among paintings in other genres. The results found extraordinary similarities between examples of Russian Romanticism and French Impressionism, and between works of Pop Art and the Northern Renaissance.
Like any other computer technology, over time, this algorithm will become more sophisticated and accuracy rates will spike. In the near future, a new anti-forgery algorithm based on this scientific research will be launched. Major museums, corporate art curators, and insurance companies will see to that. “The machine has an advantage over the human eye because it can analyze hundreds of thousands of individual strokes and statistically characterize them,” says Elgammal. “If we train the machine to identify styles based on characteristics that are less intentional and unconsciously rendered by the artist, we’ll be able to detect forgeries.” Think about that for a moment: an algorithm that can detect the artist’s subconscious in brushstrokes or pencil sketches. Good luck copying that, Mr. van Meegeren. 

A More Sophisticated “Fingerprint”

The gold standard in early-20th-century authenticity cases has been an expert’s stamp of approval. Today, however, when forgery cases go to trial, provenance and connoisseurship are increasingly under scrutiny. Certificates of authenticity and bills of sale can be fabricated. In 2013, Modigliani Institute president Christian Parisot was arrested and charged with providing false certificates for almost $8.7 million worth of counterfeit—you guessed it—Modiglianis. Likewise, art historians and appraisers can be bribed, have conflicts of interest, or just screw up. This goes a long way toward explaining why the men in white lab coats wield so much clout in forgery cases.
There is no litmus test that can distinguish between art and artifice. But unlike the subjective eye, the latest spectra-matching science to hit the art forensics scene, peptide mass fingerprinting (better known as PMF), is hard to dismiss. Originally developed in 1993 and typically used in industries like biotech, PMF is a data-crunching tech that can analyze animal proteins on a molecular level. Until now, there was no scientific method to identify the type of animal tissue used in art materials like paint binders, adhesives, and coatings. A fancy machine called the Waters LDI-Time-of-Flight mass spectrometer has changed all that. After analyzing samples taken from an artwork, the LDI deconstructs the proteins and produces spectra containing markers that make up the sample’s “fingerprint.” These markers are then compared to those found in various animal tissues, like egg yolk, to find matches.
This technology, the latest toy for museum conservationists, will soon be added to the authenticator’s toolkit as well. Art conservation and art authentication are as closely aligned as the military and law enforcement. There’s a revolving door that links the two professions and it’s constantly spinning. Daniel Kirby, the scientist who pioneered art conservation PMF, is well aware of this nexus. “These are two sides of the same coin, the only difference is context,” says the former Harvard conservation scientist. “One guy’s job is preserving an artwork, the other guy’s job is determining if it’s real or fake. But they both look at the same things and use the same instruments.” Kirby is already fielding calls from insurance companies and art collectors willing to pay handsomely for his PMF magic.
Kirby’s projects have ranged from verifying that an antiquarian book was bound in human skin (affirmative) to determining the composition of Alaskan kayaks (hide: bearded seal; stitching: humpback whale sinew). He has also discovered that Mark Rothko used animal glue and egg on Panel 1 in his Harvard Murals cycle. PMF is so precise that it can even identify what kind of egg (duck, chicken, quail) and which part of the egg (yolk, white, or both) was used as a binder. For the record, Rothko used whole chicken egg to bind the paint and prime his Panel 1 canvas. With so many artworks containing animal proteins—medieval European artists favored fish glue, while Picasso prepped his canvasses with glue made from rabbit skin—insiders are studying Kirby’s research closely. Now the technology just needs to mature. “I’ve got 80 critters in the database,” says Kirby. “As that grows over time, I’ll start getting more matches.” 

Embedding Synthetic DNA

In the mid-’90s, a sketch of Eric Fischl’s notorious painting Bad Boy hit the secondary market. The oil-on-paper work was so convincing it not only fooled a major auction house—it fooled Fischl. When friend Simon de Pury congratulated him on this large, monochromatic piece being included in an upcoming Sotheby’s auction, Fischl studied the photo of the imposter lot printed in the glossy catalog, and immediately recognized his handiwork. Dredging his memory, though, he couldn’t remember ever doing this sketch. “I thought I was losing my mind,” recalls Fischl. “Whoever painted it absolutely nailed my style at that time. The only way I knew it wasn’t mine was that I had never done any preparatory drawings of that painting.”
Seeing a mediocre forgery of your work is one thing. Seeing your very soul in another artist’s brushstrokes is quite another. With that kind of backstory, it’s no wonder Fischl endorses synthetic DNA. He says that he’s “in line” to use this new anti-forgery tech, which allows artists to tag their works with tiny bits of synthetic DNA, when it launches: “Between the explosion of the art market, and countries like China that don’t recognize copyright laws and have highly skilled artisans who can knock off any artist’s style, forgeries have become common. The goal is to develop a tamper-proof coding system that will become the standard for authenticating art.” 
The Global Center for Innovation at the State University of New York at Albany is experimenting with this ingenious ID science. The project was initially funded to the tune of $2 million by ARIS Title Insurance, a company that specializes in underwriting fine art. ARIS recently purchased the technology, and spun off a company called Provenire Authentication to market it. Like other players in the industry, ARIS wants to protect its slice of the $55 billion fine art market.
The idea is for artists to authenticate their work immediately upon completion—right after the paint on a canvas has dried or a sculpture has left the foundry—by attaching a DNA sample to it the size of a postage stamp. The recurring analogy is the car industry: Think of this as a VIN number for art. Rather than using the artist’s personal DNA, which might raise privacy issues and could conceivably be stolen and embedded in forgeries, synthetic DNA is made in a laboratory. Each artwork is inconspicuously tagged with a unique strand of bioengineered material that provides an encrypted link between the artwork and a secure database containing the definitive information about the artwork.
This DNA data, retrieved by a scanner, will be available to gallery dealers, museum employees, and anyone else who needs to verify the piece. The DNA meets archival standards. It doesn’t come in contact with the art and isn’t susceptible to environmental conditions or tampering. Moreover, deciphering and copying the DNA would be virtually impossible, even if you could find a rogue scientist in Shenzhen to do your bidding. Forget about removing the tag—you’d leave a trail of microscopic evidence all over the piece.
“Synthetic DNA will be admissible evidence in court,” says Provenire Authentication CEO Sam Salman. “Let’s hope that the technology of the good guys is always ahead of the bad guys.” The projected product price is $150. For those who can’t wait to mark their artistic territory with some synthetic DNA, Tagsmart, a British company offering a similar service, is already online. Founded by London framer Mark Darbyshire and software developer Steve Cooke, Tagsmart is a “three-way product” incorporating a synthetic DNA label, a certificate of authenticity, and a digital passport (provenance history). So sleep soundly, Mr. Fischl. At last, your artistic legacy and eight-figure estate is now suitably firewalled.

Legal 2016

1. CHICAGO While everyone’s talking about the trial in Chicago that has required Peter Doig to justify his own claim that a work of art is not his own, it might be worth looking at this 2009 decision from the New York State Court of Appeals in the case of Joel Thome who had sued the Alexander Calder Foundation for its failure to respond to his request to have some stage sets included in the Foundation’s registry of works by the artist.
Here the Court of Appeals gives a succinct explanation of how the US legal system approaches authenticity:
Moreover, because of the procedures and processes by which our civil litigation is decided, courts are not equipped to deliver a meaningful declaration of authenticity. For such a pronouncement to have any validity in the marketplace or the art world, it would have to be supported by the level of justification sufficient to support a pronouncement by a recognized art expert with credentials in the relevant specialty. For example, in the French legal system, declarations of authenticity are reportedly made by courts, but they are based on more than a determination of which side’s expert is the more credible. In addition to the parties’ disputing experts, the French court appoints its own neutral expert who possesses the necessary expertise (see Van Kirk Reeves, Establishing Authenticity in French Law, in The Expert versus the Object, supra at 228). In contrast, in our legal system, courts have neither the education to appropriately weigh the experts’ opinions nor the authority to independently gather all available appropriate information; we can only base our conclusions on the evidence the parties choose to present to us, and our findings as to a party’s entitlement to relief are generally made according to a preponderance of the evidence standard. […]
This is not to say that courts do not address the issue of authenticity. Courts are often required to issue findings as to art works’ authenticity as an element of claims, such as those brought by dissatisfied buyers, seeking money damages from sellers or appraisers, or rescission of art sales. However, in these actions, the relief awarded by the court binds only the parties to the transaction, and does not attempt to affect the art market generally.
The whole opinion is worth reading though it does deal with a fairly specific set of issues, including the fact that the Thome suit is about a request for declaratory judgment. Although most of the cases dealing with authenticity involve artists’ foundations, there’s an even more significant law, the Visual Artist’s Rights Act, that would appear to be relevant in this case. VARA gives an artist the right to determine which works are their own.

Bits and Pieces Fall 2016

1. WAMENA (AFP).- Cradling the centuries-old remains of his mummified ancestor, tribe leader Eli Mabel lays bare an ancient tradition that has all but vanished among the Dani people in the Papuan central highlands.
The tiny, blackened, shrunken figure he carries was Agat Mamete Mabel, the chieftain that ruled over this remote village in Indonesian Papua some 250 years ago.
Honoured upon death with a custom reserved only for important elders and local heroes among the Dani people -- he was embalmed and preserved with smoke and animal oil.
Nine generations on and his descendent Eli Mabel is the current chieftain in Wogi village --  an isolated hamlet outside Wamena that can be reached only by hiking and canoe.
He said the exact age of Agat Mamete Mabel was not known, but told AFP this ancestor was the last of the village to receive such a funeral. Once common among his forebears, the ritual method of smoke embalming was no longer practised, he explained.
Christian missionaries and Muslim preachers encouraged the tribespeople to bury the corpses, and the tradition has faded as the centuries drifted by.
But Mabel is determined to retain the ancient rites and rituals for future generations.
"We must protect our culture, including the ceremonies for the mummy, the way we treat it, and maintain and fire for it," the Dani tribesman told AFP.
The mummy, decorated with pig tusks slung around the torso, a feathered headpiece, and traditional penis gourd rests in a hut known as a "honai".
This wide domed, thatch-roofed hut is tended year round by a select few villagers who keep a fire burning to ensure the corpse remains dry and preserved.
The duty of caring for the mummy often falls to Mabel, he said. He spends many nights sleeping alone in the honai, ensuring no harm befalls his ancestor.
Eventually, the duty of caring for the mummy will be passed to others, he said. Mabel hopes his own children will bear some responsibility for keeping their customs alive, but worries they are far away.
"I have told them they must take care of the mummy at some point in their lives," Mabel said of his four children, some living in far-off provinces in Indonesia's more populated centres.
The ancient Dani tribes in Indonesia's half of the island of New Guinea were cut off from the outside world until well into the 20th century. Their homeland in the Baliem Valley was isolated by steep, rugged valleys and dense highland forest.
Today, the region remains one of the poorest in Indonesia. Many tribes rely on tourism, their unique customs, traditional dress and rituals attracting visitors to their remote villages.

2. PARIS (AFP).- The first people to reach the Americas could not have passed through the ice sheet-cleaving inland corridor long thought to be the entry point of humans to the continents, according to a study published Wednesday.
More likely, the New World pioneers of our species -- probably some 15,000 years ago -- inched along a Pacific coastline free enough of ice to support life-sustaining flora and fauna.
The exact route and timing of this maiden migration remains conjecture, the researchers said. But what is certain, according to findings reported in the journal Nature, is that the textbook version of that passage is wrong.
For decades, scientists favoured a scenario something like this. About 14,500 years ago, a 1,500-kilometre (900-mile) north-south corridor opened up between the Cordilleran ice sheet -- which covered roughly what is today the Canadian province of British Colombia -- and the much larger Laurentide ice sheet, which smothered the rest of Canada. The Ice Age was slowly giving way, but still held the region in its grip and -- draining the oceans by dozens of metres -- forged a land-bridge between Eurasia and Alaska.  So far, so good. About a thousand years later, according to this theory, the first Ice Age humans moved through this elongated inland gateway to found new cultures to the south.
A new storyline
Among them was the Clovis people, who first show up in the archaeological record more than 13,000years ago. This storyline presumes, of course, that these path-breaking early people found sustenance along the way.
And that's where the theory falls apart, according to Mikkel Pedersen, a researcher at the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, and lead author of the study.
"The earliest point at which the corridor opens for human migration is 12,600 years ago," he told AFP. While the passage may have been free, "there was absolutely nothing before this date in the surrounding environment -- not plants, not animals." Nothing, in other words, that would have allowed humans to feed themselves during a long, hard slog between towering cliffs of ice. Other research showing that humans might have arrived in the Americas at least 14,500 years ago -- and perhaps a couple of thousand years before that -- had already begun to undermine the ice sheet corridor hypothesis, forcing experts to look more closely at the possibility of a coastal route. Pedersen and colleagues now appear to have closed the door on the inland route for good. The innovative methods they used for reconstructing the late Ice Age ecosystem was crucial. Rather than hunt for DNA traces of specific plants or animals buried in sediment -- the standard approach -- Pedersen's team used what is called a "shotgun" method, cataloguing every life form in a given sample. "Traditionally, we have been looking for specific genes from a single or several species," he explained.
"But the shotgun approach really gave us a fantastic insight into all the different trophic" -- or food-chain -- "layers, from bacteria and fungi to higher plants and mammals."
Window onto ancient worlds
The researchers chose to extract sediment cores from what would have been a bottleneck in the inland corridor, an area partly covered today by Charlie Lake in British Columbia.
The team did radiocarbon dating, and gathered samples while standing on the frozen lake's surface in winter. Up to 12,600 years ago, the environment was almost entirely bereft of life, they found. 
But the ecosystem evolved quickly, giving way within a couple of hundred years to a landscape of grass and sagebrush, soon populated by bison, woolly mammoth, jackrabbits and voles.
Fast-forward a thousand years, and it had transitioned again, this time into a "parkland ecosystem" dense with trees, moose, elk and bald-headed eagles. The findings open "a window onto ancient worlds" and are a cornerstone in a "major reevaluation" of how humans arrived in America, said Suzanne McGowan of the University of Nottingham, commenting in Nature.
They also make the coastal passage scenario much more likely, she added. Other scholars agree. "If there ever was an ice-free corridor during the Last Glacial Maximum," James Dixon of the University of New Mexico wrote in a recent study, "it was not in the interior regions of northern North America, but along the Northwest Coast."
A "biologically viable" passage stretched along that coast from the Bering Land Bridge to regions south of the glaciers starting about 16,000 years ago, he reported in the journal Quaternary International.

3. LONDON Jonathan Jones uses the pretext of The New Museum’s The Keeper show on collecting to offer his own precis of what appears to be a basic human need that can be carried to unhealthy—or sublime—extremes:
The exhibition and these reactions suggest a new chapter in the history of collecting. The psychology of the collector seems more traumatised, anxious and defensive. The type of collecting the New Museum draws attention to tends towards the repetitive, and may be hard to explain to or share with others: amassing infinite numbers of the same thing suggests not so much an interest in the meaning or history of objects or a feel for their poetry as a need to surround oneself with reassuring familiarity. “These fragments I have shored against my ruins,” wrote TS Eliot1.[…]
Collecting in modern art started as a flash of poetry, a dreamer’s compulsion. In the 1920s, André Breton and his fellow surrealists visited Paris flea markets to purchase strange objects that seemed to speak to them, to personify hitherto unrecognised longings. “Objects that can be found nowhere else,” as Breton writes in his book Nadja. “Old-fashioned, broken, useless, almost incomprehensible, even perverse …”
The surrealist art of collecting is the very opposite of hoarding. It is the special, unique, magical object that draws the surrealist collector’s eye: a strangely shaped spoon, a glove, an old book. From such found objects the surrealists assembled dreamlike images. Joan Miró’s 1936 Object in New York’s Museum of Modern Art includes a stuffed parrot, a stockinged leg, an old map, a suspended ball and a derby hat. It is a collection that suggests intimate fantasies and elusive poetry.
Hoarders or collectors? Our frightened society has forgotten the difference (The Guardian)

4. NEW YORK - Chinese Insurance Firm Buys Major Stake in Sotheby's: Taikang Life, one of the China's biggest life insurance firms, has become Sotheby's biggest shareholder after dramatically increasing its stake in June and July. The Chinese company now owns 13.5% stake in the auction house, worth around $233 million in shares. [CNN]

China Dominates Art Auction Market Worldwide: A new study from Artprice reveals that China has reemerged as the "world's largest art marketplace," accounting for one third of art auction sales worldwide in the first half of 2016. The country's sales grew 18% over the year, registering $2.3 billion dollars in total. The report also found that auction sales in Belgium, Turkey, and Sweden have grown immensely, while sales figures are down 30% in London and 49% in New York. [TAN]

5. HONOLULU - —Bishop Museum in Honolulu Recovering from Scandal: Following a recent investigation into the misuse of institutional funds, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu is facing speculation that much of the museum's collection of cultural artifacts and historical specimens from the Pacific Basin and Oceania — the greatest such collection in the world — has disappeared. According to a report by The Art Newspaper, most of the museum's research staff has left, and access to the collection has been made nearly impossible. The Bishop's director and chief executive, Blair Collis, resigned in May after it came to light that he had been using a museum credit card for questionable purposes. [TAN

NAGPRA - Repatriation - US Government

 It is important that any collector of Native American Art read this and the letters that follow.  To stay up to date one should also follow the Committee for Cultural Policy newsletter. Jim Owen gave me permission to publish his letters of response to STOP. As an attorney and collector Owen understands the law better than our legislators.

 1. COMMITTEE FOR CULTURAL POLICY Native American Art Dealers and Collectors Express Concerns Over STOP Act
Native American Art Dealers and Collectors Express Concerns Over STOP Act   
August 31, 2016.  The Antique Tribal Art Dealers’ Association, Inc (ATADA) has begun a public awareness campaign on the unforeseen consequences of enacting S. 3127, The Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2016, also known as the STOP Act.* The proposed law is currently before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. ATADA’s position is that while the proposed law has a legitimate goal of ensuring that important communally-owned cultural items should not be unlawfully sold, it will do little to further the return of objects. Instead, it will result in significant harm to tribes and other stakeholders, including US museums, art collectors, small businesses, and contemporary tribal artisans, as well as to communities that rely economically on tourism and Native American art fairs, particularly in the Southwestern US.

According to ATADA, the STOP Act “was drafted primarily in response to Hopi, Acoma, and Navajo concerns that items sacred to their culture had been sold at a series of auctions in Paris, France. The tribes felt that the auctioned items were inalienable and that no individual had a right to sell them… the French courts held that the tribes had no standing and no claim, based upon a lack of recognition of tribal or communal ownership under French law. The STOP Act’s prohibition of export is intended to halt foreign sales of Native cultural property by creating a new crime that never existed before under US law, the criminal export of US cultural property.”

ATADA identified the following issues with S. 3127:
•The STOP Act is unnecessary because export for sale of unlawfully acquired artifacts is already illegal under ARPA and NAGPRA.
•The Act does not identify the objects each tribe considers sacred or community owned.
•The  Act creates no administrative body or standards for determination of what is claimed.
•The  Act will damage businesses, cost jobs, and reduce tax revenue.
•While voluntary donation of important sacred objects should be encouraged, tribal legal claims for restitution of unlawfully possessed objects belong in the courts, not in wholesale restitution.
•The  Act will result in consumer confusion and harm Native artisans and legitimate businesses because of consumers’ assumption that all Indian artifacts are tainted by illegality.
•The  Act needs additional consultation with tribes and with other impacted US stakeholders, including collectors, art dealers, academics, and museums.
A lengthier summary of issues is available here.
The Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association, ATADA, was originally established in 1988, in order to set ethical and professional standards for the art trade and to provide education for the public. ATADA membership has grown to include hundreds of antique and contemporary Native American and ethnographic art dealers and collectors, art appraisers, and a strong representation of museums and public charities dedicated to the promotion, study and exhibition of Native American history and culture.
The ATADA Foundation is a separate, non-profit 501(c)(3) entity that advances awareness of the cultural, historical, and aesthetic importance of tribal art. The ATADA Foundation has awarded scholarships for young Native artists and endowments to museums and research institutions throughout the US.
Disclaimer: The author of this post, Kate Fitz Gibbon, is currently a consultant to the Antique Tribal Art Dealers’ Association, Inc.

2.  WASHINGTON DC - Re:  S.3127 August 25, 2016

Dear Senator Barrasso,

Thank you for your letter of Aug. 16th.  Enclosed is my response to Senator Heinrich’s email regarding S.3127 from Mr. Treply, one of his staff members.  I would request my response and the Addendum be made part of the Indian Affairs Committee record.

The underpinnings of S.3127 simply do not fit the dialog as to the Hopi masks and the Acoma shield.  NAGPRA and it’s trafficking section would not apply to either. Judge Roberts in Geronimo v. Obama was spot on: “plaintiffs cite a law (NAGPRA) that only applies to Native American cultural items excavated or discovered after 1990.” The masks and shield, along with Acoma kachina dolls, were not excavated or discovered. They are perishable items which would not survive in the ground. They were sold by tribal members long before1990.  By the Acoma’s own admission the shield “ went missing” in the 1970’s.

The most insidious portion of S.3127 is the proposed penalty provision of 10 years. Senator Heinrich’s press release states that the 10 year sentence makes cultural law penalties the same as other theft statutes. He cites the National Stolen Property Act and Theft of Government Property. Unlike someone going onto government property and stealing an army jeep, the items he alludes to are not “stolen” they are PURCHASED by a dealer or collector. His example is like comparing apples to oranges.  Dealers and collectors do not steal “cultural items“, they buy Indian art.  Further, under NSPA there is a felony threshold of $5000.  Nothing in S.3127 has any threshold amount. Neither NAGPRA nor the Antiquities Act has such language (ARPA has $501.). So if someone BUYS two $10 items, that someone else with a vested interest says is a cultural item, that buyer could go to prison for 10 years. The same holds true if I BUY an item on the Internet.  While S.3127 may be deemed politically correct by some, it is not morally or legally valid when the underlying facts and laws are known.

If for no other reason than the penalty provision, I would ask for a no vote from you regarding S.3127.

Again, many thanks for your consideration.


                                                               Jim Owens


Aug 7, 2016 
Mr. Treply:
Thank you for your response. It is appreciated.  However, I have to say that the underpinning of S.3127 and the bill (amendment) are based on invalid reasoning.  As to the cultural property being discussed: THE TRIBES ARE NOT THE VICTIMS BUT THE PERPETRATORS.  Harsh but true-let me explain. As to the Hopi masks they, up to at least the 1990’s, were sold by tribal members. The typical situation was a Hopi would go into a dealers shop in Phoenix and tell the dealer he has acquired the mask from his father, grandfather, or uncle and wanted to sell it. No NAGPRA so it and other cultural items were similarly sold. Most, if not all of the masks sold at auction, were in the market place long before 1990. If given an opportunity we can produce dealer who will attest to the above stated facts.
As to the Acoma shield: if you read the Sarracino affidavit she states as to her Grandfathers shield “My grandfather, as the shields caretaker ,kept the shield in the home of my grandmother…which is on the mesa top at Acoma…I remember the room in which the shield was kept…I believe it to have gone missing in the 1970’s when our home was broken into”. I imagine you have been to Acoma and know it was and is a fortress. The Acoma people kept the Spanish away for days just by throwing rocks down on them! No black, white or Spanish American could go up on the mesa and not be detected. They would literally stick out like a sore thumb!! Any reasonable person would conclude the shield was “stolen” by either a family member or other tribal member. We would sure like to see the lost Sheriff’s report. I think any law enforcement officer would reach the same conclusion.
So when the press releases say the masks were” stolen” that cannot mean by dealers or collectors or their agents, but has to mean by tribal members. The Hopi mesas are similar in being isolated to the general public. Why don’t the Senators and for that matter the tribes be truthful as to the original sellers?
As to the trafficking portion of NAGPRA  sec. 4(1170) it says “cultural items obtained IN VIOLATION of (NAGPRA)”. So for S.3127 to have any validity there would have to be a NAGPRA violation. There are two cases in point. The first most often cited by the feds and tribes is U.S. v. Corrow, 119 F. 3d 796(10th Cir. 1997). A close reading of Corrow will tell you the sale was in 1993. The Court when discussing trafficking specifically held “…sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony PRESENTLY ON FEDERAL AND TRIBAL LANDS.” The federal district court case in Washington DC, Geronimo v. Obama decided by Judge Roberts similarly held “ plaintiffs cite a law(NAGPRA)that only applies to native American cultural items excavated or discovered after 1990”.   Also see the act itself under the ownership section “excavated or discovered AFTER the date of enactment”. The shield we know wasn’t excavated or discovered by the Sarracino affidavit and neither could the masks be excavated or discovered because they are perishable items.
With that background let us look at the bill-S.3127. Who is going to say the item is a cultural item? Who is going to say it violates NAGPRA? Who is going to KNOW when it entered the marketplace? It’s in a package being sent out of the United States. If its shipment cannot be legally stopped the bill is meaningless. Some custom agent certainly does not possess the expertise. I can ship my property for sale anywhere  anytime . To deny one that right is a clear violation of the 5th Amendment “takings” provision. NAGPRA even recognizes the 5th Amendment in Sec. 2 (13) “right of possession”. Further read Sherry Hutt’s testimony in Ap.1999 before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. She was the head of NAGPRA for many years
I think the bill should be killed but I cannot help but comment to the ten years amendment. If I kill someone the Federal sentencing guideline for Involuntary Manslaughter is 1 year to 11/2 years. This amendment proposes a sentence 7+ times the penalty  for murder for an item someone with a vested interest in says is a cultural item that violated NAGPRA.
We are wasting a lot of time and money on something if policed by the tribes-pun intended-would go away. They have a remedy just like any other American or entity. You file a replevin action for return of property you claim is yours and go to civil court and present your case.
Thank you for your consideration.

                                                                               Jim Owens


Senator Heinrich says trafficking is increased to 10 years to have S.3127 comport to other "stolen " property statutes. He specifically cites the National Stolen Property Act. His reasoning could not be more flawed. First, there is a big difference between say going on an Army base and stealing a jeep vs. a dealer or collector PURCHASING an alleged cultural item. Such items are not stolen by us, they are purchased!! Buying an item on the Internet cannot be logically compared to stealing an item. Further, if you read the NSPA it has a $5000.00 threshold for felonies. Neither NAGPRA nor the Antiquities Act have such language (ARPA has $501.00). So if you buy two $10.00 items that someone with a vested interest says are cultural items, you could go to federal prison for 10 years. How ridiculous!! I would hope Senators would see this flawed reasoning if brought to their attention. We buy the items, we do not steal them. If anyone steals a cultural item, it is their own tribal member.

 2. THE HAGUE Faqi al-Mahdi Pleads Guilty to Destroying Timbuktu Monuments
Faqi al-Mahdi Pleads Guilty to Destroying Timbuktu Monuments   
August 25, 2016.  Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi has plead guilty to the crime of destruction of monuments International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. This is the first case in which destruction of world heritage has been treated as a war crime, and the first time a defendant has entered a guilty plea before the ICC.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, aka Abou Tourab, was accused of leading the campaign to destroy nine mausoleums in Timbuktu, as well as the famous Sidi Yahia mosque, which dated to the 15th and 16th centuries. In videos shown in the court, he was seen smashing an ancient door himself.  Prosecutors originally sought to impose a 30-year sentence; Faqi may have been willing to plead guilty in order to obtain a lesser sentence. Prosecutors have agreed not to object to a 9-11 year sentence instead.
Faqi al-Mahdi told the court, “I seek their forgiveness [of the people of Timbuktu] and I ask them to look at me as a son who has lost his way,” he said. “Those who forgive me will be rewarded by the almighty. I would like to make them a solemn promise that this was the first and the last wrongful act I will ever commit.”
Faqi al-Mahdi was the head of the Ansar Dine “Brigade des Moeurs,” the enforcers of morals under Ansar Dine’s interpretation of Islamic law in the captured city of Timbuktu in 2012. Human rights groups are not pleased that Faqi is being charged only with the destruction of cultural heritage. They have pointed out that as the chief of Islamic Police, he not only caused women to be punished for failing to adhere to strict rules of veiling and seclusion, but also encouraged Ansar Dine forces to engage in other crimes against civilians, including rape, forced marriage, and sexual slavery. A statement by FIDH (Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme), said: “Destruction of historic and religious sites is a serious affront to humanity, as it impacts our common heritage. However, a focus solely on cultural damage should not overshadow horrific violence against individuals, especially when both types of crimes were perpetrated simultaneously by the same people.” FIDH, AMDH (Association Malienne des Droits de l’Homme) and 16 other human rights organizations in Mali have also filed a complaint on behalf of 33 victims of crimes committed in Timbuktu before the High Court of the Commune 3 of Bamako. The complaint accuses Faqi al-Mahdi and 14 others of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual and gender-based crimes