Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ivan Macquisten Soothes Dealers in Artnet News

Argument invalid...

"Let's capitalise every word in this" says Ivan Macquisten (in Artnet news, September 28, 2020): A New Report on Transnational Crime Shows That the Business of Smuggling Cultural Property Is Not as Big as People Think - yay!
Despite reports from some officials that have characterized the illicit trade in antiquities as a multi-billion-dollar industry and the third largest black market after the drugs and arms trades, the new report reveals that the scale is much more modest.
Never mind that those of us that actually study this market dismiss such puff as just that...

Mr Macquisten stumbles on with his interpretation of the 2019 World Customs Organization's annual report on transnational crime. He's great pals with the likes of Peter Tompa and the ACCP and picks for highlighting the elements of the narrative that suits the story they want him to tell, so I cant be bothered to go through this, Donna Yates has announced on Twitter she'll be doing a blog post on it which will no doubt pull his crap apart (Link here when it's ready). In fact for the last couple of years, Macquisten has been repeating this activity each time one of these reports comes out, same arguments applied, same kind of data used to support them. So it will be good to see an academic like Yates set the record straight in a place where the general public can (if they look) learn of it. 

Macquisten soothes "In fact, cultural heritage crime is so minor compared with other risk categories globally that it barely registers on Customs’ radar" - which is not the same as saying this is not a problem to be dealt with by the legitimate market (for the sake of argument lets's say such exists) and the rest of the civilised world (except the no-questions-asked collectors and dealers, for they belong to another world).

Here's his subheadings:
"A Global Picture of Relative Inactivity"
"Antiquities Are a Small Share of Crime"
"Western Europe Is Not a Hub for Smugglers"
" Not the Full Picture"

Actually hate rape with a racist motivation is also a small share of crime, about which one could say there is a global picture of relative inactivity, and perhaps western Europe is not a hub for that, and I doubt we are getting a full picture of its scale and consequences in the media. I do not see that as any kind of an "argument" for not taking the problem seriously and trying to stamp out the root causes. Do you, Mr Macquisten? 

Monday, 28 September 2020

Artefact Hunting and Gender in US


Allyson Cohen, self-styled Detecting Diva, from Berlin, CT​ (USA), has a bit about succumbing to couch-potato-dom as the years creep by (The Aging DetectoristApril 12, 2020). This caught my eye:

I started out in this hobby when women were scarce, and the men’s discrimination toward us was epic—dismissing any woman’s decent finds as being found by luck, not by skill. So I’ve paid my dues, kicked a ton of guys butts in the field, and was instrumental in opening up the hobby to women. Mission accomplished.

This is worth putting alongside my comments on the alleged 'inclusivity' of UK artefact hnting with metal detectors (' How Inclusive is Metal Detecting?', PACHI Wednesday, 24 June 2020).

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Sawn off Stupa Bit for sale in Chicago

Unprovenanced piece of Gandharan sculpture for sale, described as having "earthen encrustation". It's being offered by the same Chicago dealer Harlan J. Berk who announced a while ago that he wants to "beat archaeologists" … and not surprising, seeing as he (ostensibly just a "coin dealer") has a LOT of stuff any archaeologist and officials would like to ask a number of questions about. Mostly about the documentation of this assemblage of commodities from all over the world. 

This schisty thing is here. Here's the desccription: 

ca. 2nd-3rd Century AD. A nice example of a Gandharan panel fragment modeled in grey micaceous schist. The piece has two main registers, the lower register depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha, with the upper register depicting an architectural panel from a stupa. The piece is a wonderful combination of Asian and Classical influences, mainly in the modeling of the figures and the Corinthian columns in the top register. Earthen encrustation. Mounted. H. 8 3/4" W. 5 7/8" (22.2 cm x 15 cm) H. 10 1/4" with mount.

So it's actually quite titchy. That's probably why the people that portableised it did not just cut the figures off. Above all we can see that this "earthen encrustation" is nothing of the sort. It's a wash (calcite? Gypsum?) and more importantly evenly covers the piece from all sides, no variation where it'd have been exposed/sheltered. Now another gallery that has a lot of Gandhara is Bob Dodge's "Artemis" Galleries in suburban Boulder, Colorado, and we can see that many of those that he's sold recently have similar surfaces. Are these two dealers using the same source? At what stage is the wash applied and why? Note sawmarks on right side.

Now I think that before Mr Berk tries to beat me, I'd like to ask him to show me this "model[l]ing" he is trying to convince his buyers is worth the 2467.50 US$ that he wants for this small piece of architectural salvage.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

More Asinine Bloomsbury Guessing Games

 British Museum 


Can you imagine CERN giving the public information about its equipment like this?

So why do archaeologists feel they have to do the dumbdown? 

Now, the BM catalogue entry says this:

"[ErnstHerzfeld purchased this object in Baghdad for the sum of 10 rupees from Daud Salman in 1923 according to his Notebook 89, where it is entered as item 150 (Freer Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery archives, Smithsonian Institution)".
So, this is an ungrounded artefact removed to Prussia from Iraq during the British mandate, and the identification by the non-generic term "finial" is not based on any facts deriving from its archaeological context. It's here not because it can tell Brits about Iraq's past, but because it "looks cute".  Pathetic. Can't Bloomsbury's educators do any better than this fob-off-the-hoi-polloi upperclass twittery

Also, given the predominantly sedimentary geology of Iraq (ergo oil) and adjacent SE Syria, would it not have been a useful topic of public outreach to discuss the significance of it being (they say) of pyrophyllite [ a member of the same group as talc and serpentine] which is a metamorhic rock. There are some deposits in the Zagros region but quite sizeable ones in what is now Saudi Arabia. As well as elsewhere - on what grounds is this thing assigned a date and culture if they came from the market?


Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Fortuna has Ceased to Smile for one US Dealer?

"We are asking anyone who may have dealt 
with Mr. Dere or Mr. Khan to contact us at 
NYArtCrime@fbi.gov. You may have been 
a victim of their alleged scheme.”

FBI agents carted off boxes and bags of apparent evidence during a raid Tuesday on the home of a former Manhattan art gallery owner, Selim Dere (Jerry DeMarco 'FBI Raids Ridgewood Home Of Former Upper East Side Art Gallery Owner', Ridgewood Daily Voice 22nd Sept 2020). The former dealer's son Erdal Dere, 50, of New York City was also arrested by federal agents on Tuesday as was his longtime business associate Faisal Khan.

An indictment returned by a grand jury in Manhattan charged both men with "engaging in a years-long scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market" by using the names of dead dealers and brokers to "offer and sell antiquities." The men conducted the scheme from the now-defunct Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd gallery on East 69th Street off Madison Avenue that Selim Dere and his son owned and operated, authorities said. The younger Dere falsified sales records and then posed as dealers when meeting with clients, the Southern District of New York indictment alleges. “The integrity of the legitimate market in antiquities rests on the accuracy of the provenance provided by antiquities dealers, which prevents the sale of stolen and looted antiquities that lack any legitimate provenance," acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. Dere and Khan, she said, “compromised that integrity, and defrauded buyers and brokers of the antiquities they sold."
Audrey Strauss seems to believe one can seek integrity in such a market. The dealer had been previously involved with law enforcement when Turkish police took him and two other men into custody more than 25 years ago in connection with the alleged smuggling of a marble sarcophagus depicting the 12 labours of Hercules. The dealer is also mentioned in connection with artefacts from Turkey, a marble statue of a young man and fragment of garland smuggled from a Greco-Roman city of Aphrodisias in Turkey, and a fragment of a mosaic from Zeugma (Ozgen Acar, Zeugma's Plundered Mosaics ArtNet 29th August 2000) and also an ancient “Hare Aryballos” from Etruria circa 580-560 BCE (See ARCA Lynda Albertson, 'Seizure: An Etruscan Hare Aryballos circa 580-560 B.C.E.' ARCA). Lynda has done a very useful and full breakdown of what can be put together about the defendants:' Some background on Erdal Dere and Faisal Khan and Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd., charged in the SD/New York' (ARCA Blog September 23, 2020) including possible connections with the Garsana tablets, and I think the question that raises is 'what took them so long?'. Interestingly, the December 2015 case that is specifically mentioned in the indictment is not on her list. 

According to the indictment issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York, September 22, 2020, "Antiquities Dealers Arrested For Fraud Scheme", they are:
charging ERDAL DERE, the owner and operator of the Manhattan-based antiquities gallery Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd. (“Fortuna”), and his longtime business associate and co-conspirator, FAISAL KHAN, with engaging in a years-long scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market by using false provenances to offer and sell antiquities. DERE is also charged with aggravated identity theft for his misappropriation of the identities of deceased collectors who were falsely represented to be the prior owners of the antiquities.
That is an interesting take on top of the alleged fraudulence. This is quite an important development, because one might suspect that the practices described could be relatively frequently used in this market:
From approximately 2015 through September 2020, DERE and KHAN engaged in a scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market by providing false information regarding the provenance of antiquities they offered for sale. Specifically, DERE and KHAN falsely claimed that various deceased collectors of antiquities were the prior owners of items being sold and offered for sale, in order to conceal the true provenance of the antiquities and the sources from which Fortuna had acquired them. DERE communicated the false provenances featuring the names of deceased collectors to buyers and brokers. DERE also fabricated documents purporting to evidence the prior ownership of antiquities by the deceased collectors, and provided them to buyers and brokers, including to an auction house in New York, New York in connection with a December 2015 antiquities auction. KHAN assisted Fortuna in finding buyers for items from its pre-existing inventory and acquired new items, primarily in Asia, that KHAN worked with Fortuna to sell to collectors in the United States and internationally. With KHAN’s knowledge, DERE provided false provenance information to potential buyers of items that KHAN had personally located and acquired, listing deceased collectors as the long-time owners of items which KHAN and DERE well knew had not been owned by those collectors.
The question is, can assertions of former ownership by a "Swiss Collector" be treated in the same way? Glad to see law-enforcement getting tough with pseudo-provenances and faked collection histories.


Tuesday, 22 September 2020

US Dealers named in Money Laundering Report

Kapoor accused

Data from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the US regulatory agency for enforcing money laundering laws, provide a glimpse into the network of companies and individuals trading with antiques dealer Subhash Kapoor. The data show that dealings of stolen artefacts and transactions continued years after the arrest of the alleged kingpin (Shyamlal Yadav, 'FinCEN Files — Antiques smuggler in Tamil Nadu jail, and a trade that flourished even after his arrest' Indian Express September 23, 2020). US Antiquities dealer Nancy Wiener was named in FinCENFiles for suspect Nepal transactions worth $27 million between 2010-2017. This is the same gallery that sold a stolen 16th-century bronze from Nepal in 2010 and transferred the payment to Pantheon Worldwide in Hong Kong. Some of the transactions were linked to Subhash Kapoor [Indian national and the 'Art of the Past' Gallery owner in New York, who imported artefacts from India to the United States and was arrested by Interpol in 2011 at Frankfurt airport, was extradited to India in July 2012 and is now in a Tamil Nadu jail still awaiting trial].

According to the Suspicious Activity Report, a firm called Pantheon Worldwide Limited, with two listed addresses, one each in the UK and Hong Kong, had extensive financial links with Kapoor and his alleged business partners. Pantheon had several transactions with the Nancy Wiener Gallery, and also received a payment from Nancy Weiner. The Suspicious Activity Report stated: “It is unclear why Weiner conducted a personal remittance to Pantheon for USD 150,000, nor the purpose of the funds.” The Suspicious Activity Report stated that Pantheon utilised its three accounts at Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong for the transactions. The UK company registry data show that a company of a similar name was incorporated on July 18, 2016 and dissolved on September 4, 2018. The accounting firm that established the company said that the UK-based Pantheon had never dealt in antiquities — or anything else for that matter. “To the best of my knowledge, the company never traded at all,” a spokesperson for PRB Accountants told ICIJ.


Saturday, 12 September 2020

"Twinkly Ritual Star Figurines" and Incantation Bowl Seized

In southern Iraq, in Al Fajr District, in the north of the Dhi Qar governate the National Security authorities h ave seized artefacts that they claim were intended for smuggling
"They are (50) antique masterpieces, (162) antique coins, and (180) antique pottery pieces".
There is an incantation bowl probably from the al-Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia) region of the sixth to eighth centuries, some copper alloy items (the "masterpieces"?) but also ceramic spindlewhorls, two weights (loomweights?) and a lot of triple-pointed things. These are kiln furniture (kiln props - spurs). It is quite unusual to have indusrial material being traded as collectables, possibly artefact hunters found a cache of them on a kiln site and decided to take them not knowing what they were. One almost regrets them not reaching the market, I'd love to know what a creative dealer would market them as.

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