Monday, November 16, 2009

Gotcha Italian Style

During his testimony during the interim review of the Italian MOU, antiquities dealer representative Bill Pearlstein made a good point about the US Customs' recent seizure of two ancient vases. See The vases that were consigned to an auction were apparently identified as coming from the Medici stash of illicit artifacts, but Italy has apparently never listed the artifacts -- known from pictures- on the Art Loss Register. Italy has thus not allowed U.S. auction houses the opportunity to research these pieces before they are listed for auction. Instead of providing U.S. auction houses the means to identify such artifacts. Italian and U.S. authorities would rather lay in wait for such pieces to be listed for auction-- and then sweep in with maximum publicity to seize the artifacts.

Are the Italians and US Customs more interested in playing "gotcha" than anything else? Some might conclude, "you betcha!"


Larry Rothfield said...

Idle question:
What would an auction house do if it were able to consult this database and discovered that an artifact was in fact stolen? Just to add a little spice, let's assume that the artifact was consigned by a dealer or collector with whom the auction house does or hopes to do much business.

What does the law say auctioneers must do? And what is the track record of auction houses turning over materials to the authority and ratting out the consignor?

Cultural Property Observer said...

I was under the impression auction houses already consult this database so I assume they would do what they normally do in the ordinary course of business. I seem to recall cases of auction houses informing the authorities if they were offered something that was stolen, but I'm afraid I don't have a specific citation in mind.


Peter Tompa