New York prosecutor pursues another stale claim based on unclear foreign law, this time of Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism... October 30, 2017. Crusade Against the Art Trade: Where Will It End?
A prosecutor from the New York County District Attorney’s office walked into the booth of English art dealer Rupert Wace at the gala opening of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) at New York’s Park Avenue Armory on October 27. He was holding a search warrant and accompanied by uniformed police officers, who seized a limestone bas relief from Persepolis in Iran. The relief was worth $1.2 million. Wace had purchased it from an insurance company, which had acquired it from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The New York District Attorney’s office, under the aggressive direction of DA Cyrus Vance and dedicated anti-art trade crusader Assistant DA Matthew Bogdanos, has made two cultural property seizures in recent weeks. Neither object was recently looted; together, they had been in museums or private collections for over 115 years. There was no evidence of wrongdoing by the collectors or dealers involved. Wace had purchased the bas relief after it was given up by the Canadian museum. The other seized object, a fragment of mosaic from Italy, was purchased in the 1960s by a journalist and his wife, an antique dealer, from an aristocratic family in Italy. According to the couple, the deal was brokered by an Italian police official “famed for his success in recovering art work looted by the Nazis.” These cases raise serious questions, impacting both private and museum collections in the US. When an artwork is well-known to scholars, published or exhibited, how long is too long for a country to make a claim? Will museums and collectors in the US that are second, third, or fourth generation owners be held to vague, ambiguous, and unenforced laws in foreign nations, when those nations have failed to make any claim for decades? At what point do US judges or law enforcement consider whether the evidence, or the terms of the foreign laws, actually provides a reasonable basis for a claim that an object is ‘stolen’?Read more here