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December 8, 2000


- Twists and Turns in Sotheby's-Christie's Conspiracy Case
- The Art Newspaper:
- Invaluable Newsletter No 6: Stolen art recoveries update
- Gallery fears some of its art is Nazi plunder (Suspect works posted on Web)

Twists and Turns in Sotheby's-Christie's Conspiracy Case

The clock is ticking for A. Alfred Taubman - and for the government's efforts to tie him, as the former chairman of Sotheby's auction house, to a price-fixing conspiracy with its archrival, Christie's. With the federal judge assigned to the civil and criminal cases growing out of the conspiracy voicing mounting impatience with the pace of the Justice Department's four-year-old inquiry, the contours of a battle over Mr. Taubman's fate have begun to emerge in courtroom skirmishes and out-of-court maneuverings. Much evidence remains secret, covered by grand jury confidentiality and judicial protective orders. But new glimpses into the strategies of both sides emerged in a hearing a week ago before Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in Federal Court in the Southern District of New York, and in subsequent interviews. On the prosecution's side, the court argument pointed to a government effort to build its case against Mr. Taubman with the testimony of assistants who could confirm meetings between top executives from each company. The case moved into high gear last January, after Christopher M. Davidge, the former chief executive of Christie's, came forward with documents supporting his assertion that at the behest of their bosses, he and his counterpart at Sotheby's, Diana D. Brooks, had conspired to fix customers' commission rates for much of the 90's. Mr. Davidge and Christie's have received conditional amnesty contingent on their cooperation with the investigation. Sotheby's and Ms. Brooks pleaded guilty Oct. 5. She has agreed to testify against Mr. Taubman, a Detroit shopping center magnate. Mr. Taubman has denied any wrongdoing. For their part, lawyers for Mr. Taubman, who is the remaining target to have been named, have publicly raised questions about the deal that led Christie's to cooperate with the government and receive conditional amnesty from prosecution in exchange for its help. In the court hearing last week, the Taubman lawyers suggested tantalizingly - without offering any support for their assertions - that documents were destroyed as recently as this year, although they did not describe the documents or identify the purported destroyers. And they have, by the government's account, plied prosecutors with information intended to demonstrate Mr. Taubman's innocence. Lawyers have to make difficult judgment calls, balancing the desire to bring forth strong defense evidence that could tip off prosecutors to holes in their case, against the need to hold back evidence for trial. Recently, Mr. Taubman's lawyers have given prosecutors results of an October polygraph examination that they arranged for their client. The examiner, Paul K. Minor, a former chief polygrapher for the F.B.I., said he passed without deception in denying he had any knowledge of a scheme to fix commission rates with Christie's. The report was also given to Sotheby's board. Ralph T. Giordano, chief of the Justice Department's antitrust office in New York, declined to say whether polygraph results for Mr. Taubman had been turned over. The three most pointed questions had to do with contacts Mr. Taubman may have had with Sir Alfred Tennant, former chairman of Christie's, and Ms. Brooks and Mr. Davidge: "Did you and Tennant have an agreement regarding amounts to be charged to buyers or sellers?"

The Art
This week's top stories:


Italy has sentenced a California-based food importer to prison and imposed for the first time ever, a fine for "damage to the archaeological heritage" By Cristina Ruiz
ROME. A cache of 962 Etruscan, Apulian and Roman artefacts has been handed to the Italian Ministry of Culture by the Carabinieri, Italy's military police. The works, most of which had been illicitly excavated in central Italy, and many of which had been smuggled for sale to the United States, are estimated by the Carabinieri to be worth $1.8 million.
This object was studied, photographed, and catalogued before being stolen in 1994 from the warehouses of the Ministry of Culture's local division in the Lazio region. Within a year the kylix had made it to Sotheby's where it appeared as the cover lot in an antiquities sale. At the sale it was purchased in good faith by a German collector. Italy's case for restitution was complicated because the seller who brought the kylix to Sotheby's had died in the meantime. The German buyer eventually returned the kylix to Italy and was reimbursed by Sotheby's. The recovery of the work was announced by Italy's carabinieri (military police) in October
The recovery of the artefacts is the result of a series of investigations carried out by the Carabinieri over the last eight years. With a few notable exceptions, the objects in question are unremarkable and the majority were discovered in the homes of individuals living near archaeological sites. Most of these individuals appear to have no links with the organised smuggling of artefacts for sale abroad.
In October some 700 artefacts were recovered from the homes of about ten individuals living in the Lazio region in central Italy. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, a source close to the investigation explained that officers from the Carabinieri's art protection squad began the investigation when a series of unprovenanced objects were published in Italian archaeological journals.
By contacting the authors of the articles describing these works, the Carabinieri found the homes of the people who possessed the undeclared artefacts.
According to our source, "All of the people whose homes were searched were either ignorant of the law or claimed ignorance of the law." In some cases, the police found up to 150 artefacts in one home. When asked why these individuals would choose to have the objects in their possession published, our source said: "In many cases, it was simple curiosity, a desire to know more about these objects."
"In other cases it may be that these individuals were hoping to increase the value of the objects in their possession." Some of these individuals are being investigated for the possible crime of ricettazione, receiving stolen goods. If they are eventually found guilty of this charge it will be because proof exists that they purchased the objects from tombaroli, tomb-robbers, and may be intermediaries in a larger smuggling ring. The police investigation continues.
The other major group of works presented to the Ministry of Culture was confiscated from the California home of David Holland Swingler, a food importer, by US Customs officials collaborating with the Italian police. The Swingler cache was returned to Italy in June.
The Swingler investigation was spearheaded by Mario Bondioli Osio, Chairman of Italy's interministerial commission charged with the recovery of art and other cultural objects. Speaking to The Art Newspaper he said, "The Swingler investigation started in the early 90s when the estranged wife of Swingler's Italian partner, fellow food importer Licio DiLizio, denounced her husband to the police." A search of his home yielded a cache of artefacts in his cellar.
When US Customs officials searched Swingler's home in Laguna Hills they discovered a similar hoard of artefacts.
The investigation into Swingler has revealed just how easy the business of smuggling artefacts can be. It seems that during trips to Italy, Mr Swingler made direct contact with tombaroli by visiting archaeological sites and simply asking around.
Artefacts looted from Etruscan and Apulian sites by tombaroli collaborating with Swingler were passed onto his Italian partner and shipped to the US hidden among bundles of pasta in food containers.
Swingler's advertising for the sale of these objects included the placement of fliers on car windshields in Laguna Hills. He is known to have had at least one client in Atlanta where US Customs officials confiscated and returned to Italy four artefacts.
In 1996 Swingler was sentenced in absentia by an Italian court to four years and eight months in prison and he was ordered to pay around $6,000 for damages to the archaeological heritage, the first time Italy has imposed such a fine.
The hoard of recovered artefacts is now in storage in warehouses in Rome. Most of these objects will never go on public view: the objects are simply not good enough to make it into museum collections. Ministry warehouses are already packed with works that will never see the light of day.
Although archaeologists will have access to the collection, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to reconstruct the context in which these works were discovered, so the hoard will prove to be almost worthless. Ironically, those who could have provided such information, the people from whose homes the works were confiscated are unlikely to volunteer information now that they are under investigation and have been vilified as criminals.
The involvement of those who live near archaeological sites, whether direct or indirect, in the persistent looting of Italy's heritage raises the question of whether Italy should encourage the cooperation of ordinary citizens in its efforts to protect the archaeological heritage. The vast number of unexcavated tombs at sites throughout central and Southern Italy and the limited resources available to monitor these sites makes the help of those who live nearby crucial.
Under a 1939 law passed by the Fascist regime and still in force today, any artefact excavated in Italy after 1901 is automatically State property. This antiquated legislation turns farmers and landowners into criminals if they wish to keep any artefact they may discover no matter how common, rather than turn it over to the government.
Italy's efforts to protect its archaeological heritage have largely been targeted at the top end of the trade. In September 1999, Italy presented a request to the US for import restrictions on archaeological material, under Article 9 of the Unesco Convention. The terms of the request are broad and include material in stone, metal, ceramic, bone, glass and wall paintings from the 5th Millennium BC to the 5th century AD.
A source at the Metropolitan Museum has told The Art Newspaper that the US State Department will agree to the request. The Art Newspaper could not get independent confirmation of this.


Battle for the Parthenon marbles goes underground And Greece announces a shortlist of architects for the new Acropolis museum
By Martin Bailey
ATHENS. Akropoli station, which opened last month, is the newest stop on the Athens metro line. Passengers passing by will see beside the platforms replicas of the west and north friezes of the Parthenon, positioned so that the sculptures are moving in the same direction as the trains.
The originals of these reliefs are divided between Greece and Britain, with most of the west frieze in Athens and north frieze in London. Those who alight at Akropoli are greeted in the concourse above with a replica of the east pedimental sculptures of the Birth of Athena, nearly all now in the British Museum. The elegantly-designed metro station has become the latest element in the propaganda battle over the dispersal of the greatest sculptures of the classical era.
Once above ground, the area adjacent to the metro station is an archaeological maze, temporarily roofed, with a view up towards the distant Parthenon. This is the site of the proposed new Acropolis Museum, a project which dates back to 1976. Since then there have been a series of architectural plans, but so far they have failed to materialise.
Now, however, the Greek government seems determined to push ahead with the project, and Foreign Minister George Papandreou has promised that the museum will be open in time for the 2004 Olympics. Senior Acropolis archaeologist Alexandros Mantis said, "The need for the museum to open by that year is one issue on which the archaeologists and the politicians agree".
Last month a shortlist of 15 architects for the new museum was agreed, and a decision on the final choice is expected early in the new year.
Some of the delays over the new museum have been due to the discovery of important archaeological remains on the site, as well as the adjacent metro line. Excavations were completed a few months ago, and a sample of the finds are displayed behind glass in the concourse of the new metro station. The more significant finds, some dating back nearly 4,000 years, are currently on show at the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art, in "The City beneath the City" (until December 2001).
Adjacent to the site of the new museum is the old Acropolis Study Centre, where the original 19th-century casts provided by the British Museum are housed. Until last year, the centre was open to visitors, but the building was damaged by the September 1999 earthquake and it has now been closed to the public.
The Art Newspaper was shown inside, and the building is in a run-down condition, with cracks in the walls from the tremor. The casts on the ground floor are dusty, and only poorly captioned, mostly just in Greek. The upper floor rooms which were once open to visitors are now locked. The fact that visitors are denied the opportunity to see these casts undoubtedly weakens the Greek claim for the return of the originals.
The existing Acropolis Museum on the top of the hill is also in a sorry state. The displays are now old, and the magnificent sculptures poorly shown. Many of the sculptures which have been removed from the Parthenon for conservation reasons during the past two decades are in store and not on show, including some of the east and north metopes. Little money has been spent on renewing the museum, presumably because from the 1970s a new museum had been planned.

From: Register Subject: Invaluable Newsletter No 6: Stolen art recoveries update

Stolen art recoveries update

Our crack team of detectives are currently busy working on several recovery cases, details of which will soon be revealed. However, our computers are, as always, turning out cross-matches that occur between the auction catalogues on our database and items listed on our stolen database. Of the many cross-matches received, our team has sifted out 124 items for further investigation. Don't forget that you can register your valuables through Invaluable Protector, pre-loss or post-loss

Gallery fears some of its art is Nazi plunder (Suspect works posted on Web)

Ian MacLeod The Ottawa Citizen
The National Gallery of Canada has uncovered about 100 works of art in its collection that may have been stolen from their original owners by the Nazis during the Second World War. The paintings and sculptures all have gaps in their provenance, or history of ownership, from 1933 to 1945. And that has left gallery officials wondering whether they could have been among the countless European treasures plundered from museums and private collections by invading Germans and, later, by the conquering Russians. In an unprecedented move in Canada, the National Gallery this month plans to post images of the 100 artworks on its Web site so people around the world, especially European Jews and their descendants, can easily examine and possibly lay claim to the works. "It doesn't mean that what we are listing are all subject to having been looted during the war, but there's a possibility that some of them might," gallery director Pierre Theberge said yesterday. "Let's hope there is some response. That's the whole purpose, isn't it?" The move is part of a growing worldwide effort by institutions to re-examine their acquisitions and return Nazi-looted art to its original owners and their descendants. Two weeks ago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington announced that a painting in its collection, Still Life with Fruit and Game (1615/1620) by Flemish artist Frans Snyders (1579-1657), is likely to have been confiscated by the Nazis from a Jewish family in Paris. The gallery has agreed to return the painting to the family, which learned of the painting's obscure provenance from a gallery Web site devoted to art with questionable or missing Second World War histories. Last year, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art returned Marriage Feast at Cana, an oil painting by the 16th-century Italian master Giorgio Vasari, to the government of Hungary. And in 1996, five war-loss drawings found in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario were voluntary returned to the Berlin Museum. At the National Gallery in Ottawa, the suspect art includes many European paintings, some American ones and some sculptures, all produced before 1945. None is considered a masterpiece. But until now, provenance research on them, and the rest of the gallery's extensive collection, could be done only by reviewing the gallery's catalogues. But this fall, the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization and its U.S counterpart both instituted new guidelines requiring major galleries and museums to post their collections' Holocaust-era provenance on Web sites. No deadline was set, but Mr. Theberge hopes the National Gallery's site will be operating within three weeks. The Art Gallery of Ontario, he said, is planning a similar site for early next year. The art world's move toward "full disclosure" concerning Holocaust-era art can be traced in large part to the end of the Cold War, he said. "Until the fall of the Berlin Wall many, many of these questions were frozen, like many other questions." He also believes it is "part of the reassessment of the last 50 or 60 years of the 20th century and as part of the general international movement of restitution, of reparation, of re- examination of various genocides. "In Canada, for example, even before this question arose, museums were discussing with various aboriginal tribes and authorities the return of certain sacred objects." Though the Nazis systematically raped much of Europe for its art, many other pieces are believed to have been unofficially confiscated and sold by art dealers, Gestapo and German military officers and local officials in occupied countries. And thousands of artifacts from German cultural institutions were later hauled by the Russians to Moscow as war reparations. Soon after the war ended, some of the art was returned. But much of it remains missing. If people do claim to be the rightful owners of the National Gallery's pieces, proving their claims so long after the fact could be "very complicated," said Mr. Theberge. "Generations have passed, sometimes the family is not there anymore, it's cousins or descendants. The papers may or may not be there. "But we're willing to go through it." Some European museums, he said, have returned Nazi-looted art to its owners and then bought them back. If such claims are upheld here, it's not clear how the publicly funded gallery would arrange to return art it purchased in good faith or compensate the original owners or their families. "It's an open question how one would compensate, what would one do," said Mr. Theberge. Though no art in the gallery's collection has yet been proved to have been stolen during the war, Ukraine cultural officials have identified a drawing owned by the gallery as being a piece of Ukrainian art looted by the Nazis. Gallery officials maintain Nude Woman with a Staff, an early 16th-century work by German artist Albrecht Durer, was acquired in good faith from the original owner. "I don't know how it will be resolved," Mr. Theberge said yesterday.