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May 2019

What a Journey. In 2018, a Paul Signac painting entitled “Port de la Rochelle” (1915) was stolen from Museum of Fine Arts in Nancy, France. Ukrainian Police have recovered the painting in Kiev at the home of a Ukrainian man who is wanted on suspicion of murdering a jeweler. Ukrainian officials are working with Austrian authorities to see if there is a link between the stolen Signac and the theft of a Pierre-Auguste Renoir in Vienna in 2018.

There’s No Coming Back from the UK. The UK’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright told the Times that he believes it is more important for the UK to display cultural artifacts in one location than repatriate them to their home countries. Accordingly, he stated that the UK will not introduce any primary legislation forcing national museums to restitute cultural artifacts. This contrasts with France’s 2018 commitment to return looted objects to Africa.

International Cooperation Peak. Italy announced the return of 796 artifacts to China, representing the largest repatriation of Chinese artifacts in the past two decades. This agreement between the two countries is meant to strengthen their cultural and political alliances and was signed by Chinese Minister of Culture, Luo Shugang and the Italian Minister of Culture, Alberto Bonisoli. The works will then go on display in China to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the two countries.

An American Criminal in Paris. Last month, the Paris criminal court found American art dealer Gary Snell guilty of selling illegal Rodin reproductions. Additionally, Snell’s business associate and Parisian art dealer, Robert Crouzet, received a four-month prison sentence. Both Snell and Crouzet were also ordered to pay a fine of $5.5K, in damages and interest, to the Muséee Rodin.

Department Store Feud. The heirs of Jewish department store owner Max James Emden have been fighting for 15 years to recover two paintings purchased by Adolf Hitler during World War II. Emden was forced to flee Hamburg and his property was seized by the Nazis between 1934-35. In 1937, he sold his art collection for far below market value including two paintings by Belotto to art dealer Karl Haberstock who purchased the works for Hitler in 1938.

Book Return Past Due. Around 150 books, originally from the Bonn’s Library, were discovered when a Belgian woman tried to consign them to Sotheby’s. She had inherited some 600 books from her father, but specialists noticed that library stamps and title pages were removed, leading them to believe they had been purposefully concealed. The consignor then revealed she had 450 more books in her garage. The library is working to conserve the returned property.

Life in Prison. Mehdi Nemmouche, who shot four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014, has been sentenced to life in prison. Nacer Bendrer, the man who provided weapons to Nemmouche, received a 15-year sentence.

Life out of Prison. Kurdish Artist Zehra Dogan, who was arrested in Turkey in 2017, was released in late February 2019. Dogan was a journalist who painted a watercolor of Turkish security forces setting fire to a Kurdish district. The Turkish government claimed the watercolor linked her to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Following Dogan’s arrest, Banksy painted a tribute to the artist in New York, on Houston street.

Bottom Line: Don’t Keep Art on Your Boat. Dutch investigator and “art world Indiana Jones,” Arthur Brand, recovered Pablo Picasso’s “Buste de Femme” (1938), a portrait of Dora Maar, which was stolen in 1999 from the yacht of Saudi Prince, Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh. The painting disappeared while the boat was docked in Antibes, France. The work has been used as collateral on the black market and had changed hands many times.

What’s in Storage. The laboratories of Scientific Analysis of Fine Art (SAFA) are moving to ARCIS’s storage facilities. SAFA was founded in 2007 to answer critical questions about authentication, attribution, provenance, state of preservation, and mechanisms of degradation in works of art.

Say “Aloha” to Trademarking “Aloha”. In 2018, a string of Native Hawaiian restaurants in Hawaii and Alaska received cease-and-desist letters from a Chicago based chain-food restaurant, the Aloha Poke Co. The letters claimed the chain had trademarked “Aloha Poke” and insisted the restaurants cease their use. In response, the Hawaii legislature passed a resolution, creating a task-force which will develop legal protections for Native Hawaiian intellectual property, in order to combat the misappropriation of their cultural knowledge.

Art Market Monopoly. Larry Gagosian stretches further into the art market as he launches his first art advisory firm in New York with the help of former Christie’s employee, Laura Paulson. Gagosian also promoted his director, Andrew Fabricant to the new position of chief operating officer. Ultimately, Gagosian hopes the advisory branch will enhance client relations and extend the gallery’s global reach.

Losing Their Marbles. In a speech at the Acropolis Museum in April, the Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos called the British Museum a “murky prison,”  referencing the British Museum’s refusal to return the Parthenon marbles to Greece. Throughout the decade-long battle, Greece has maintained that it is the rightful owner and protector of this invaluable cultural heritage.

The Treasure Under the Flames. Over 30,000 artifacts have been discovered at the RioZoo in Rio de Janiero’s Quinta da Boa Vista park in São Cristóvão. The park is also the site where the National Museum caught flames in September 2018 due to a faulty air conditioning system. Archaeologists are eager to uncover more and piece together how these artifacts are related to the location. The objects will be given to the National Museum, which lost over 20,000 pieces from its collection in the 2018 fire.

A Win for the Streets. Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events has launched an official mural registry to protect street artists’ artwork, on both private and public property. The Department’s team is comprised of three people, who review applications and ensure that the murals are commissioned or sanctioned by the property owner. On the affiliated public database, visitors can learn more about the artwork and the artist. So far, 150 murals have been approved by the registry.

Freeport Troubles. Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President, rejects allegations of fraud concerning Le Freeport Luxembourg. German Member of European Parliament (MEP), Wolf Klinz, highlighted suspicious activity stemming from the storage facility, which may allow for money laundering and tax evasion. New anti-money laundering laws from 2015 require Le Freeport’s users to identify the owner of the goods, rather than allowing them to remain anonymous as they had before.

Van Gogh-ing Back. Two of Van Gogh’s paintings were returned to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on April 17th. According to Martin Bailey, “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” (1882) and “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” (1884-5) were stolenin 2002 and recovered in 2016. After the works were stolen, the broken paint fragments were flushed down a toilet and their original canvases were thrown into the canal. They were smuggled across Europe to the outskirts of Naples, where they ended up in the possession of Raffaele Imperiale, leader of the Neapolitan Camorra crime family. A story worthy of a movie…

FBI Investigation. The FBI’s art crime team is currently investigating thousands of objects seized from a farm in Indiana in 2014. More than 40,000 objects were discovered and approximately 8,000 were confiscated, including human remains. These artifacts came from various countries, including China, Colombia, Mexico, Cambodia, and Iraq.

Yemen Artifacts at Risk. In March, Yemeni officials visited Washington, D.C. and New York to ask for help from the Trump Administration in preventing looted cultural heritage from leaving the country. Specifically, they asked that the United States put an emergency order to prevent the import of Yemeni artifacts without special documentation.

Sacrebleu. The heirs of Jewish art collector and Resistance hero René Gimpel are suing the French Museum Authority to retrieve his paintings seized during the Second World War. They are arguing that the Service des Musées de France has refused to return the paintings.

Italy Seeking Missal. Italian prosecutor, Giovanni Giorgio, claims that the Morgan Library & Museum in New York is harboring an 11th-century missal that was stolen in 1925 from a church in Apiro, Italy. The missal has been in the Morgan’s collection since 1963 and was gifted to the museum in 1984 by William S. Glazier, who acquired it in good faith. Giorgio believes that if the work were to return to Italy, it would help boost tourism.

Notre-iously Injured. As the world watched the Paris Notre Dame Cathedral burst into flames, most of the cathedral’s artifacts were saved from the fire, preserving centuries of history. However, the fire also raises questions of liability, as the cathedral was under construction, and was not insured.

Priceless Garbage. Artist Gerhard Richter discovered that a man was scavenging his rejected sketches from the trash outside his home in Cologne in 2016. A judge in Cologne ruled that, even though the works were discarded, they still belonged to the artist. The man was found guilty of theft and fined. The thief had aroused suspicion when he approached the director of the Gerhard Richter Archive,  Dietmar Elger.  Elger authenticated the works but observed that the sketches were unsigned and unframed, which was uncharacteristic of Richter.

AiWeiWei Sues Volkswagen. Famous Chinese artist AiWeiWei announced on his Instagram account that he will be suing Volkswagen in Denmark for creating an advertisement using his art without his permission. AiWeiWei says he “was astonished by Volkwagens’s brazen violations of [his] intellectual property and moral rights.”