“Indiana Jones is not walking through that door!” Ok, I paraphrased the quote from then Boston Celtic Coach Rick Pitino, who out of frustration with the local media and fans, blurted out at a press conference, “Larry Bird is not walking through that door.” He was describing the basketball legend coming out of retirement to resurrect a poorly performing team in need of some “divine intervention.” Fictionally, Indiana Jones may have “existed” long ago and during turbulent times when the Nazi’s over-reached the world looking for art and antiquities to sell for cash flow, or to empower their crazy cause, but that doesn’t mean a man of his talents and balanced conscience couldn’t be of service in the “real world” in modern times.
The Nazi obsession with historical artifacts, not to mention greed and flat-out theft, have been well documented in fact and fiction; be it the fun-loving Indiana Jones movies, or the newly released Monuments Men movie based on the true stories of the book by the same name.
Recently, news has come out of the Middle East; specifically Northern Syria that terrorist groups have been plundering art, culture, and antiques so as to sell them on the black market to fund their own crazy cause. As disturbing and proverbially unoriginal, not to mention morally bankrupt it all sounds, it’s not surprising. The “spoils of war” have been documented from the dawn of time.
In modern times, war and terrorism have been funded by not only the acquisition of art and artifacts, but by terrorizing and manipulating nature itself. Some have been described in this very blog. In Africa, animals, especially elephants have been slaughter to sell ivory tusks to finance war and terror. https://zuludelta45.net/2013/11/08/please-come-to-denver/ Let’s not forget the banking industry. Instead of laundering money, precious metals, and art stolen from people incarcerated and sentenced to death in concentration camps, they now move and launder drugs and cash from violent cartels, and ship it all over the world; especially to those countries that need it to finance their own war and terror. https://zuludelta45.net/2013/04/13/laundromat-lies/
For many people, it’s easy to distinguish between those who terrorized the world while stealing from others, versus those who try to live an honest life, but what happens when the lines of rightful ownership and possession of material goods; specifically art, become blurred? It is this very concept that is far more prevalent in today’s society than most would ever believe. I always wondered how a person could hang a stolen piece of art on their wall, or display a stolen sculpture, swell with the pride of ownership, and proclaim it theirs, just because they paid for it.
Let’s list a few cases, and see what additional murky waters ebb and flood our “art navigation.”
1.The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. On the morning of March 18, 1990, thieves disguised as Boston police officers broke into the museum and stole The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and 12 other works. It is considered the biggest art theft in US history and remains unsolved. The museum still displays the paintings’ empty frames in their original locations. On March 18, 2013, the FBI announced they knew who was responsible for the crime. Criminal analysis has suggested that the heist was committed by an organized crime group. There have been no conclusions made public as the investigation is ongoing. (Wikipedia). Suspects range from mass murderer Whitey Bulger to the IRA; seeking cash for gun purchases.
2. In recent years, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City have engaged in lawsuits, litigation, and test of wills with heirs who claim ownership (some stating distress sales), dating back to the Second World War. In 2007 one such dispute with the Museum of Modern Art over 2 pieces by Pablo Picasso resulted in an undisclosed settlement where no terms were reveled, and no “wrong doing” was admitted. Even the judge who precised over the case was shocked by the clandestine settlement. I guess the museum must have learned a few things from the financial sector a few blocks south near Wall Street.
3. The University of Oklahoma has a 19th century painting by Camille Pissarro entitled “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep.” A French woman is claiming the work was stolen from her father by the Nazi’s, and is suing to have it returned. In general, the University is not disclaiming the art was initially stolen, but that the statute of limitations has expired and therefore they have no obligation to return the painting. Several local Oklahoma lawmakers have stated that the return of the painting would be the “right and moral thing to do,” and yet, nothing has happened.
4. In 2011, a Belgian woman consigned an ancient statue of a Hindu warrior to Sotheby’s auction house. There was only one small problem; the Cambodian government claimed it was looted from a jungle temple years earlier. Despite the fact that the statue Sotheby’s was about to auction had its feet sheered off, and by mere coincidence, the base of the statue the Cambodian Government held had only the feet and pedestal, proving the match and the violent “snatch and grab,” It took the case 3 years to be resolved with the help of the U.S. Government. This is not to say Sotheby’s was by any means unsympathetic to the Cambodian cause; in fact, at one point in an effort to resolve the case, they suggested the Cambodian Government actually buy the statue from the Belgian woman using Sotheby’s as an agent, and oh yes, while still collecting their brokerage fee of course; those crazy art lovers!!
Years ago when watching the Indian Jones movies, by the end of the film, there was no doubt in my mind who the good guys were, and who the bad guys were. Today, when it comes to who has possession and ownership of art work, I’m not so sure anymore.