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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stolen Art Watch, Fitzwilliam Jade On Global Art Crime Carousel

Fifth man arrested over Fitzwilliam burglary is bailed

The fifth man to be arrested in connection with the £40 million burglary at the Fitzwilliam Museum has been bailed.

The 24-year-old, from Dartford, (Sheridan Gypsy family Territory) was arrested on suspicion of burglary but has now been bailed until June 21.

Museum thefts: Are budget cuts to blame?

A rare bronze Medieval jug, Chinese treasures and items that once belonged to Admiral Lord Nelson have all been stolen from museums in England this year.

But while the theft of ancient artefacts in Greece has been blamed on austerity measures and the recession, could the financial climate be a factor behind recent crimes in the UK?

Cuts to local authority finances have already resulted in museums across the country having their budgets slashed.

Last year the Museums Association reported 73% of museums that had seen their budgets cut had reduced staffing levels.

The report's authors interviewed staff representing 140 museum services and found many were worried about the future impact on visitors.

But are the cuts already having an effect?

Maurice Davies, head of policy and communication for the Museums Association, said it was too early to say.

"There do seem to have been an alarming number of reports of thefts but that doesn't necessarily mean there are more thefts," he said.

"It may be that museums are getting a high profile for thefts because the press reports on them."

He said many of the items stolen were un-sellable through legitimate auction houses or art dealers because they were featured on registers of stolen art.

He added a drop in staff did not necessarily mean a fall in security.

Outside opening hours

"There is far improved technology in terms of strengthened show cases and more sophisticated CCTV monitoring.

"Most museums have never had staff in every gallery all the time and a lot of these recent thefts happened outside opening hours."

But Christopher Marinello, executive director of the Art Loss Register, said 2012 was looking like a "very big year" for art thefts.

He said in 2011 there had been 283 cases opened of art thefts in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. So far in 2012, 136 cases have been opened.

"Each case could have one to 100 items so we are talking about possibly thousands of items being stolen," he said. "We've never been busier."

He added: "I don't know whether to attribute it to the current appalling economic situation but austerity measures put in place worldwide seem to have affected the security of cultural institutions."

He added that thefts of Chinese art could be down to the "flurry of publicity" around cultural items selling for high prices.

Arts Council England (ACE) provides security advice to museums, galleries and archives across the UK and guidance when cultural objects are loaned and exchanged between venues.

The council had its budget cut by almost 30% in the government's Spending Review.

A spokeswoman said they did not hold statistics on the number of items stolen from museums and galleries and could not comment on whether budget cuts had affected security.

But cuts were blamed for thefts from Norwich Castle.

Admiral Lord Nelson artefacts worth £36,800 were reported stolen from the museum in February.

George Nobbs, vice chair of the museums' board at Norfolk County Council, said interpreters that were recently axed at the museum could have prevented it.

The interpreters, not employed for security, were responsible for explaining the exhibits to visitors and their presence in the room therefore acted as a deterrent.

The director behind the museums' service said staff restructuring was done "with security in mind".

Rhino horn theft

But while museums around the country continue to work under straitened financial circumstances security remains a priority according to Vernon Rapley, former head of the Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiques Unit.

Mr Rapley, who is now the head of security and visitor services at the Victoria & Albert Museum, said he did not think cuts were having the same effect on security in England as they were in countries like Greece.

He said over the last 12 months a big concern for museums was the theft of rhino horn which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

"Most museums have heeded advice to protect rhino horn and sadly they've had to remove them from display and replace them with synthetic replicas," he said.

"Once you've addressed it and made the crime more difficult there is a shift to other Chinese items and that would suggest to us the criminals have a desire for Chinese objects and are engaged in illicit trade with China."

But he added museums tried to learn from thefts and identify which items were at risk and in need of protection.

"Museums' most primary objectives are to make objects accessible while preserving them," he said.

"I don't think museums in this country are at risk because of cuts at the moment.

"There is a real understanding of the need to preserve things for future generations and that comes first."

The man was arrested in Kent late on Tuesday (22) evening and taken to a police station in Cambridgeshire.

Stolen Art Work Including Work by Oscar Vaz is Recovered by Interpol in Argentina

Interpol recovered 29 works of art stolen in Argentina and arrested one person in six raids conducted on art galleries in Buenos Aires, authorities said Monday.

A total of 37 paintings and sculptures by outstanding national and international artists valued at an average of $400,000 had been stolen on Jan. 7 from a private home, the Argentine Security Ministry said in a communique.

One of the stolen paintings, by Argentine artist Horacio Buttler, was found in the Arroyo art gallery.

Investigators discovered that the man who had turned over the painting to the gallery was an employee of the Buenos Aires art gallery, where stolen works of art by Argentine painter Oscar Vaz were subsequently found.

Also, authorities found stolen artwork in two other galleries and two warehouses of the Zurburan art marketing firm.

The rest of the stolen artwork was recovered in a cafe near the art galleries where investigators found documentation that allowed them to identify Osvaldo Ryszelewski as the person overseeing the sale and distribution of the stolen pieces.

Investigators found that Ryszelewski had 13 arrest warrants outstanding for different crimes and they arrested him.

Police are continuing their work to recover the eight paintings that have not yet been found, the communique said.

Warhol Silkscreen Stolen in Detroit

An unnamed collector operating an unnamed business in Corktown, a Detroit neighborhood, is the victim of a rather hefty—or maybe not so much—art theft.

According the the Detroit Free Press, a silkscreen Warhol used to make the Flowers series, along with 18 works authored by other artists, were stolen sometime over the last weekend of April. Yesterday the FBI announced a $5,000 reward for "information on the hijacked collection"—information directly beneficial to their investigation, presumably.

Quite debatable, it seems, is the estimated value of the stolen works. Since the take included works by artists such as Joseph Beuys, Larry Rivers, Francesco Clemente and Philip Taaffe, some estimates place its dollar value in the millions.

A rather different estimate, namely that of Warhol historian and art dealer Richard Polsky, tops out at around $200,000. The alleged expert sees only scant value in the Warhol screen itself, referring to it as "memorabilia" worth no more than two or three thousand dollars: "The only place it would have value would be to the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh to display alongside a 'Flowers' or to a crook who would want to do something fraudulent."

He also calls the collection, all told, "minor."

Valuable or not, a further note of interest regarding the collection is how the FBI refers to the its latent state at the time of the theft as neither "on display" nor "locked up."

Objects such as artworks might certainly exist in plenty of other states between those two—leaning against a wall, in transit, in process, under restoration, in the recycling bin, etc.—but is it not strange that they weren't stored securely? Perhaps I'm foolish or missing something, but 'not locked up' seems a rather curious way to leave, or refer to, an art collection.

If you'd like to glimpse some of the works lifted therefrom, see the FBI's website.

South Africa: Constantia museum antiques recovered

SOME of the antiques stolen at Manor House Museum at Groot Constantia were recovered yesterday but the police are yet to trace the thieves.

Iziko Museum said the ceramic objects were found by workers at a nearby farm.

Police spokesman November Filander confirmed the items had been recovered but did not disclose the circumstances or the name of the farm. He did not say which items had been found.

“This office is aware that some items were recovered on Wednesday but due to the sensitive stage of the investigation we cannot release any more information at this stage,” Filander said.

“At this stage we have not arrested anyone, but we are hopeful of an arrest (yesterday evening). The officers are busy right now.”

The museum had closed its doors to visitors for two days after a burglary on Monday. The thieves gained access to the museum through a window but it was still unclear how they managed to make off with about 19 porcelain items unnoticed.

Yesterday afternoon 10 of the centuries-old Asian antiques were found by workers at a farm in Constantia, a day after Iziko Museums had released photographs of the stolen antiques.

Iziko chief executive Rooksana Omar said the museum was relieved that the items had been found so soon.

“We extend our thanks to these individuals and police service for their decisive and swift action. We remain optimistic regarding the safe return of the remainder of the items that are missing and appeal to the public to please provide any further information which could lead to their recovery and the arrest of the perpetrators,” Omar said.

The museum is yet to put a value on the items. An antique expert had previously told the Cape Times it would be difficult for the thieves to dispose of the items locally.

The museum had been burgled 10 years ago, through the roof. The burglars were arrested and items they stole recovered when they tried to sell the goods locally.

The Manor House Museum is at Groot Constantia farm, which dates from 1685 when the land was taken by the governor of the then Cape Colony, Simon van der Stel.

Items stolen during the break-in included a lidded porcelain vase decorated in famille rose enamels dating back 300 years, a mid 17th-century Japanese Arita porcelain and a pair of lidded blue-and-white Chinese porcelain vases from the 17th century.

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