Sunday, September 4, 2022

Crime in Museums

Only recently have I focused on crime in museums, though I know it is nothing new. What grabbed my attention were articles that appeared some months ago about the director of, arguably, the museum with the most name recognition in the world, the Louvre. Jean-Luc Martinez, director of the Louvre from 2013-2021 was charged this year by a French court with complicity in a criminal scheme involving fraud and money laundering in which five illegally exported objects from Egypt were sold to the Louvre’s branch in Abu Dhabi. The French press inferred that he may have turned a blind eye to falsified export documents.

The Associated Press reported in 2014 that In 1999 or 2000 a Henri Matisse painting hanging on the walls of the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art was swapped out for a copy and the museum only realized it in 2002…so much for the watchful eye of the museum staff. Eventually the original was retrieved when there was an attempted sale in Miami in 2012 and repatriated to the museum in 2014. The image on the left is the original and one the right the replica.

At the end of June of this year the director of the Orlando Museum of Art was replaced after a raid by the F.B.I. where 25 works were seized after the opening of an exhibition of the life and work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. In the F.B.I.’s affidavit evidence was sited pointing to possible crimes of conspiracy and wire fraud, but no charges have yet been filed in the case. The New York Times reported that the investigation revealed “attempts to sell the paintings using false provenance and bank records show possible solicitation of investment in artwork that is not authentic”.

It is not just art museums. In 2003 during a routine audit the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, near Wichita found that objects were missing. In 2005 the Hutchinson News broke the story that Max Ary, who had been director of the museum for 27 years and in 2002 had become the director of another Space Museum, was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison for his role in stealing and selling space artifacts some of which were on loan from NASA… were they marked “Top Secret”?!

One of the most notorious alleged crimes involving another world-renowned museum, The Getty, was continuously in the news. In 2010 a decade-long investigation and trial in Rome finally ended. Marion True, former curator of antiquities at the museum had been accused of knowingly acquiring for her institution ancient works of dubious origin. The trial ended when the court noted that the statutes of limitations had expired on all charges against Dr. True. I am guessing that the Italy’s objective was to set an example forcing American Institutions to create new rules regarding more careful scrutiny of provenance in their acquisitions. The Metropolitan Museum was the first to make a deal to return 20 works of art to Italy, including the famous Euphronios Krater acquired in 1972, in exchange for some long-term loans from Italian museums. Before it went home note the label for the Euphronios Krater says “On Loan”.

I guess crime always makes news because it is titillating wherever you find it.

No comments:

Post a Comment