Friday, November 28, 2014

Due Diligence at Christie's: time for change?

Sardinian Figure from the Medici Dossier
Source: Tsirogiannis / ARCA
The decision to withdraw the Steinhardt Sardinian Figure from the 'Ancient Art' auction at Christie's in December raises some issues.

First, did the Christie's antiquities team check the collecting history of the figure for themselves? It is clear from a simple and brief search that the figure had been owned by a private individual (who appeared to be represented as a gallery) and that the gallery where the figure was exhibited did not appear to own it. Why did Christie's present the information in the way that they did?

Second, did the Christie's antiquities team contact the Italian / Sardinian authorities to check that the figure was not listed in one of the photographic archives?

Third, did Christie's use a third party to check databases of "stolen" archaeological objects? It is known that some of these agencies do have access to some of the photographic archives seized by the Italian authorities.

Fourth, have the staff at Christie's managed to learn anything from previous seizures? How have they adapted their due diligence processes? Is there enough rigour?

Is a way ahead to ask much more searching questions about objects that do not have full and documented collecting histories that lead to the period prior to 1970?

Is it time for a new approach to be adopted by the auction-house?

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Announcing news on Thanksgiving Day

Steinhardt Sardinian Figure
Source: Tsirogiannis / ARCA
The apparent removal of the Steinhardt Sardinian figure from auction at Christie's is timely. After all, today is Thanksgiving Day. Eight years ago, also in late November, the J. Paul Getty Museum announced the return of its first batch of material to Italy.

So perhaps it is a day to bury "bad news".

But what is surprising is that a major institution like Christie's has not absorbed the lessons of the last eight years in what has become known as "The Medici Conspiracy".

Academic researchers now realise that it is important to probe and investigate "collecting histories".

And we know that it is important to check the photographic archives that have been seized by the Italian authorities.

Staff in the "Ancient Art" department at Christie's need to adopt a more rigorous due diligence process to prevent this type of incident happening again. They ought to recognise that their present process is not "fit for purpose".

It is perhaps timely that my next essay in the 'Context Matters' series for the Journal of Art Crime is on this very theme.

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Steinhardt Sardinian Figure Withdrawn From Sale


Many Italian news agencies now seem to be covering the decision by Christie's to withdraw the Sardinian figure from December's auction. The vendor was Michael Steinhardt.

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Steinhardt Sardinian Figure: Update

It appears that the Steinhardt Sardinian Figure has been withdrawn from auction at Christie's next month.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Christie's and "transparency"

Sardinian figure from Medici Dossier
Source: Tsirogiannis / ARCA
Back in November 2009 (i.e. 5 years ago) some objects that passed through Christie's were seized and subsequently returned to Italy. When I contacted the press office at Christie's I was informed "the transparency of the public auction system combined with the efforts from the U.S. ICE and foreign governments, in this matter, led to the identification of two stolen artifacts". The Attic pelike and the Apulian situla have now been returned to Italy.

Five years later, a Sardinian figure due to be auctioned at Christie's appears to have been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis from Polaroids in the Medici Dossier.  The posting of the catalogue ('the transparency of the public auction system')  has prompted the identification.

If the pelike and situla can be described as "stolen" by Christie's because they appeared in the Becchina archive, how does the same auction house describe the Sardinian figure?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Press coverage of Steinhardt Sardinian Figure Growing



There seems to be growing coverage in the Sardinian and Italian press of the story that the figure identified by Dr Christios Tsirogiannis appears in the Medici Dossier.

Discussion has started to include the figure returned from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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Coverage of Steinhardt Sardinian Figure

Source: Tsirogannis / ARCA
The coverage of the story about the Sardinian figure due to be auctioned at Christie's in December  is growing. There is now a feature on Sardinian TV.

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The Steinhardt Sardinian Figure: Social Media




Comments on social media are applying pressure on the vendor of a Sardinian figure due to be sold at Christie's in December.

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Diplomatic pressure and the Steinhardt Sardinian Figure

Sardinian figure identified from the Medici Dossier
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis / ARCA
It appears that officials in Sardinia have asked US Ambassador Phillips (in Rome) that the Sardinian figure due to be auctioned at Christie's in December should be returned to Italy ("Pili: Bloccate l'asta della Dea Madre. E' refurtiva, deve tornare in Sardegna", Sassari Notizie November 25, 2014). The figure has been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis from a Polaroid that formed part of the Medici Dossier.

“Bloccate immediatamente la vendita della Dea Madre. E’ refurtiva, va restituita alla Sardegna. Il governo italiano deve intervenire immediatamente sull’amministrazione americana per bloccare l’asta dell’11 dicembre prossimo a New York. Non si tratta di un pezzo pregiato da vendere, ma è refurtiva. Rubata alla Sardegna e ai sardi. Un governo autorevole e serio deve intervenire con tutti i poteri a sua disposizione per bloccare questa vergognosa vendita che offende la storia della Sardegna e dei Sardi."
Christie's needs to respond to these claims as a matter of urgency now that a fuller collecting history has emerged.

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The Steinhardt Sardinian figure and "the transparency of our operations"

Sardinian figure from the Medici Dossier
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis / ARCA
Readers of LM will know that Max Bernheimer of Christie's made a public statement in 2010 about the 'transparency of [Chriet's] operations". He specifically said:
Provenance has always been important, and in light of recent repatriation issues, it has become paramount.
By provenance he means "collecting history".

So is the verification of the "collecting history" for the Steinhardt Sardinian figure now "paramount" for Christie's? It appears that Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has identified the figure in a polaroid from the Medici Dossier.

We can assume that Bernheimer has been in touch with the Italian authorities and sought clarification.

But while he is about it, could he confirm when and how 'Harmon Fine Arts' obtained the figure? And why not use the name of the collector behind HFA?

And what does "with the Merrin Gallery" mean anything other than HFA made a loan of the figure for an exhibition?

Potential purchasers of the figure will want to know that they will not have the Italian authorities pressing for the figure's return. After all, you would not want to spend over $1 million on a figure that could be reclaimed shortly after the auction.

Is it time for Christie's to make a public statement about the sale of the figure?

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