Category: Antiquities

Greek museum robbery nets ancient Olympic artifacts

February 21, 2012 |  7:22 am

  Armed robbers hit the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, a small institution in southern Greece, stealing 77 ancient artifacts dealing with the Olympic Games
Greece apparently can't catch a break these days. In addition to its persistent economic woes, which are threatening to capsize the country, two recent high-profile art thefts have caused a great deal of head-shaking in cultural circles.

In January, the National Gallery of Art in Athens reported three works stolen, including paintings by Picasso and Mondrian. Last week, armed robbers hit the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, a small institution in southern Greece, stealing 77 ancient artifacts dealing with the Olympic Games, including priceless ceramic objects, statues, jewelry and more.

The theft is apparently so embarrassing to the government that Greece's culture minister has reportedly offered to resign.

Reports have stated that the robbery took place on Feb. 17 when two armed individuals tied up a museum guard and made off with the objects.

Dimitra Koutsoumba, president of the Greek Archaeologists' Assn., told CNN that budgetary cuts to the Culture Ministry have made it easier for such thefts to occur.


Getty Museum to return additional ancient pieces to Greece

Acropolis Museum movie won't be cut; thank you, YouTube?

-- David Ng

Photo: The Archaeological Museum of Olympia in Greece. Credit: Dimitris Papaioannou / Associated Press

Robert E. Hecht Jr., figure in antiquities case involving the Getty, is dead

February 8, 2012 |  1:55 pm

Hecht1Robert E. Hecht Jr., the American art dealer at the center of the trade in Classical antiquities for five decades, died at his home in Paris on Wednesday afternoon. He was 92.

His death comes three weeks after the ambiguous end of his criminal trial in Rome on charges of trafficking in looted antiquities.

Since the 1990s, Hecht had been at the center of a wide-ranging Italian investigation of the illicit antiquities trade. The investigation traced objects from tombs in Italy through a network of smugglers, dealers and private collectors to the display cases of museums in the United States, Europe and beyond.

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Monster Mash: Ai Weiwei film opens; Julia Roberts in 'Normal Heart'

January 23, 2012 |  7:45 am


Eagerly awaited: The new documentary on artist Ai Weiwei premiered Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival. (Los Angeles Times)

Star power: Julia Roberts has signed on to appear in the movie adaptation of Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart." Alec Baldwin and Mark Ruffalo have also joined the cast. (Hollywood Reporter)

Stepping down: Cate Blanchett and her husband, Andrew Upton, will conclude their run as the artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company at the end of the 2013 season. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Back home 1: New Zealand received 20 ancestral heads of Maori ethnic people once held in several French museums as a cultural curiosity. (Associated Press)

Back home 2: Italy has returned the head of a 2,000-year-old statue that was smuggled out of Libya in the 1960s. (Associated Press)

Coming soon: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, still reeling from last season's strike, has announced its 2012-13 season. (Detroit Free Press)

Artistic couple: Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Reynolds are expected to star in the movie "Big Eyes," a biopic of painters Margaret and Walter Keane. (Variety)

New leader: The Japanese American National Museum has appointed G.W. "Greg" Kimura as its new chief executive officer. (Los Angeles Times)

Expensive: A Stradivari cello has sold for more than $6 million. (New York Times)

Also in the L.A. Times: Music critic Mark Swed reviews the performance art programs of Pacific Standard Time; a review of Cirque du Soleil's "Ovo" at the Santa Monica Pier.

-- David Ng

Photo: Alison Klayman, center, director of the documentary "Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry,"  with the film's editor Jen Fineran, left, and composer Ilan Isakov at the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press

Italian case against antiquities dealer ends

January 19, 2012 |  1:30 pm

The trial of Robert E. Hecht Jr., the alleged mastermind of an international black market in ancient art, ended with no verdict this week when a three-judge panel in Rome found the time allotted for the trial had expired.

Hecht, a 92-year-old Baltimore native now confined to bed at his home in Paris, has cut a wide swath through the art world since the 1950s, supplying museums and collectors around the world with some of the finest examples of ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan art.

“I have no idea of where an object was excavated,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday. “It could have been excavated 100 years ago, it could have been excavated an hour ago.”

Throughout that colorful career, Hecht has been dogged by allegations that his wares had been recently looted from archaeological sites and smuggled out of their homeland. It was a claim he never directly denied while maintaining his innocence of the Italian charges, which focused on an alleged conspiracy among dealers he considers rivals.

The ruling brings an ambiguous end to a sweeping investigation that traced relics looted from tombs in Italy through a network of smugglers, dealers and private collectors before appearing on display at museums in the United States, Europe and beyond.

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Cleopatra exhibition to arrive at Cal Science Center in May

January 17, 2012 |  5:21 pm

Cleopatra Coin photo by Kenneth Garrett National Geographic
“Cleopatra” the movie is legendary in Los Angeles as the film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton whose budget spun so far out of control that it nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox in the early 1960s. Now comes Cleopatra the historical figure, starring in a touring museum exhibition that will arrive May 23 at the California Science Center in Exposition Park for a seven-month stay.

“Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt,” will offer more than 150 artifacts, the biggest being 16-foot granite statues of two of the queen’s ancestors from the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled from the 300s BC until the asp did its dirty work on Cleo in 30 BC, as Liz duly depicted on the big screen.

For those wanting to know how the real Cleopatra VII looked, the exhibition will offer gold coins with her profile (such as the one pictured). A New York Times reviewer deemed her features “less than sensuous” in critiquing the show’s 2010 premiere at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

According to the announcement of the L.A. run, likenesses of the historic Cleopatra are almost nonexistent because the Romans under Augustus “attempted to wipe her legacy from the pages of history” after he defeated the forces of the queen and her Roman lover, Marc Antony -- clearing the way for his own ascension as emperor.

The exhibition delves into archaelogical explorations that have turned up many of the artifacts being displayed, detailing underwater probes of Cleopatra’s palace and the ancient sunken cities of Canopus and Heraklion. There’s also an account of the ongoing exploration of the Egyptian desert in hopes of finding Cleopatra’s tomb.

“Mysteries of Egypt,” an Imax film starring Omar Sharif, will play concurrently at the science center with the exhibition, which is organized by National Geographic and Arts & Exhibitions International, the exhibitions subsidiary of AEG Live.


The boy shill

How 'Cleopatra' nearly sank Fox

Book review: `Cleopatra' by Stacy Schiff

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Detail from an ancient gold coin bearing the likeness of Cleopatra VII. Credit: Kenneth Garrett/National Geographic 

Monster Mash: Pompeii site faces problems; Ai Weiwei tax case

January 6, 2012 |  8:05 am

A UNESCO report has identified serious problems with Pompeii

Poor condition: A UNESCO report has identified serious problems with Pompeii, including structural damage to buildings, vandalism and a lack of qualified staff. (Art Newspaper)

Step by step: Authorities in China have agreed to artist Ai Weiwei's request to review a $2.4-million fine imposed by the tax bureau. (Los Angeles Times)

Axed: The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has canceled its planned revival of the musical "Pal Joey." (Broadway World)

Hot spot: The architecture firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro will redesign Fire Island's Pines Pavilion, which recently burned down. (New York Times)

West End-bound: "The Book of Mormon" is expected to make its London debut in 2013. (Daily Mail)

Gift: The Georgia Museum of Art is receiving 100 works from the private collection of a couple who collect African American art. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Sidelined: British dancer and choreographer Akram Khan has injured his Achilles tendon, forcing him to cancel performances. (Ottawa Citizen)

Naughty: A look at excavated brothel tokens used by people in the Roman Empire to procure sex. (Guardian)

Ripple effect: Financial woes are taking a toll on the Detroit Science Center. (Detroit Free Press)

Cost considerations: The Oregon Symphony has dropped its membership in the League of American Orchestras, citing the cost. (Oregonian)

Cultivating crowds: Opera America has awarded audience development grants to 16 opera companies across the country. (Broadway World)

Warmer than usual: The lack of snow is forcing the cancellation this month of an annual snow-sculpting event in Nevada. (Associated Press)

No Mozart: The San Antonio Opera has canceled its February production of "Don Giovanni" due to money problems. (San Antonio Express-News)

Passings: Roderick G. Robbie, the architect of the SkyDome in Toronto and the Canadian Government Pavilion at Expo '67 in Montreal, has died at 83. (Globe and Mail)

Also in the L.A. Times: Art critic Christopher Knight reviews "State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970" at the Orange County Museum of Art.

-- David Ng

Photo: A ruin from the ancient city of Pompeii, with Mt. Vesuvius in the distance. Credit: Cesare Abbate / EPA

Monster Mash: Getty Museum exit; Nicole Scherzinger and 'Phantom'

December 14, 2011 |  7:30 am


Abrupt exit: David Bomford, who has served as the Getty Museum's acting director for nearly two years, is leaving the museum Feb. 1. (Los Angeles Times)

Pop sensation: Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger will perform selections from "The Phantom of the Opera" on a telecast in Britain celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. (Broadway World)

Early closing: The Broadway revival of Noel Coward's "Private Lives," starring Kim Cattrall, will shutter Dec. 31, earlier than expected, due to sluggish ticket sales. (Entertainment Weekly)

Unconventional: A museum in Iraq is attempting to recover stolen artifacts by paying smugglers to return the items. (CNN)

Big easy: The New Orleans Jazz Festival has announced its 2012 line-up. (New York Times)

Unsigned: A painting believed to be by the street artist Banksy has appeared in Liverpool. (BBC News)

Not popular: A proposed public statue depicting a freed slave holding a flag representing the African diaspora has been withdrawn after it stirred controversy in Indianapolis. (Indianapolis Star)

Honored: Billy Joel has become the only non-classical performer to be honored with a portrait at Steinway Hall in New York. (BBC News)

Promise: The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has received a $10-million pledge from the Country Music Assn. (Los Angeles Times)

Passing: Chicago architect Gene Summers, the former dean of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, has died. (Chicago Tribune)

Also in the L.A. Times: George Clooney is joining the L.A. cast of Dustin Lance Black's Prop. 8 play.

-- David Ng

Photo: Nicole Scherzinger. Credit: Peter Kramer / Getty Images

Monster Mash: Jim Parsons returning to Broadway?; 'Finding Neverland'

November 18, 2011 |  7:50 am

Jim Parsons, who stars in TV's "The Big Bang Theory," is in talks for a Broadway revival of "Harvey"

Emmy winner: Jim Parsons, who stars in TV's "The Big Bang Theory," is in talks for a Broadway revival of "Harvey." (New York Times)

Resurrected?: "Finding Neverland," the new musical that was canceled at the La Jolla Playhouse, will have workshop productions in London. (Daily Mail)

Under the weather: Placido Domingo was unable to sing this week in Florida Grand Opera's performance of "Luisa Fernanda" due to a throat infection. (Miami Herald)

Hot topic: A look into the worldwide debate concerning the repatriation of antiquities. (The Art Newspaper)

Free money: California organizations received $4.3 million in the latest round of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. (Los Angeles Times)

Going public: Artist Ai Weiwei spoke to television journalists about his battle with Chinese officials over taxes. (Guardian)

Staying put: Conductor Leonard Slatkin has signed a new three-year deal with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, extending his tenure as music director through the 2015-16 season. (Detroit Free Press)

Nature's best: Some ancient paintings are being restored with the help of special bacteria. (Wired)

Heading home: Indiana University will return a painting depicting the flagellation of Christ to the Berlin palace from which it disappeared in 1945. (Associated Press via Chicago Tribune)

Major composers: The Salzburg Festival has commissioned new operas from Gyorgy Kurtag, Marc-Andre Dalbavie, Thomas Ades and Jorg Widmann. (Associated Press)

Maintaining dignity: The financially struggling New York City Opera has rejected offers from musicians to perform for free. (NY1)

Gray matter: Samples of Albert Einstein's brain are going on display at the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Stranger than fiction: A painting by a mythical artist has sold at auction. (Guardian)

Improvising: The Kentucky Opera has notified patrons that it will not have an orchestra for its Friday and Sunday performances of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro." (Louisville Courier-Journal)

Baring it all: A male porn star will give a master class at New York's Museum of Arts and Design. (Huffington Post)

Also in the L.A. Times: Film critic Kenneth Turan reviews "Eames: The Architect and the Painter."

-- David Ng

Photo: Jim Parsons in CBS' "The Big Bang Theory." Credit: Cliff Lipson / CBS

Art review: 'Modern Antiquity' at the Getty Villa

November 7, 2011 |  4:00 pm

Modernity -- the sharp awareness of being Modern-with-a-capital-M -- used to be a very big deal. At the start of the 20th century it didn't mean just shaking off the dusty past and all its hidebound baggage. It meant being alert to how far civilization had come from that past. It meant faith in cultural progress.

Skepticism about that progress is one reason modernity is no longer the big deal it used to be. After Auschwitz -- and more -- who can believe it? Change -- inevitable, inescapable, even relentless -- has replaced progress. Cultures become different over time, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they become better.

A quirky show at the Getty Villa looks back to the tensions between modernity and the ancient past in the work of four leading European artists of the early 20th century. Handsome and engaging, "Modern Antiquity: Picasso, De Chirico, Léger and Picabia" considers myriad ways in which ancient Greek and Roman art -- the epitome of Western tradition -- interested painters more commonly regarded as radical. Major paintings by all four are included, along with one remarkable sculpture: Pablo Picasso's 1931 bronze head of his young mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter.

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Getty loses bid to dismiss art-restitution lawsuit

November 4, 2011 |  9:09 am

The J. Paul Getty Trust lost its bid to dismiss a lawsuit by Armenian Orthodox Church over the return of illuminated manuscripts
The J. Paul Getty Trust is squaring off against the Armenian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles County Superior Court, and on Thursday the church won the first important procedural round in its bid to reclaim eight prized medieval manuscripts (a detail is pictured above) it contends were stolen goods when the Getty bought them for $950,000 in 1994.

The Getty tried to have the suit dismissed on statute-of-limitations grounds, arguing that church officials were aware of the manuscripts' whereabouts by 1952 and should have sued at that time, when they were owned by an Armenian-American family in Massachusetts -- the heirs of a man who had brought them out of the province of Cilicia as the Ottoman Turks were expelling the province's Armenian population during the World War I-era Armenian genocide.

Superior Court Judge Abraham Khan denied the Getty’s motion, saying that it was "not clear" that church officials knew what the Getty says they knew when it says they knew it. He said the statute-of-limitations law could come into play in a future hearing but that he would want to hear evidence about the complicated path the 755-year-old pages took starting in 1916, when they were separated from a larger bible known as the Zeyt'un Gospels.

The Getty’s pages are lavishly illustrated Canon Tables -– citations of parallel verses from the four New Testament gospels, which served as a kind of frontispiece for the bible created in 1256 by T’oros Roslin, considered the greatest Armenian manuscript illuminator.

The church aims to make the Zeyt’un Gospels whole again by winning back the missing pages from the Getty and sending them to the Matenadaran, a major manuscript museum in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, which has housed the rest of the Zeyt’un Gospels since the late 1960s.

Here's the full story about the decision. It includes a rarity in the controversy-shy, ultra-cautious art-museum world: Columba Stewart, executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at  Saint John's University in Minnesota and a Benedictine monk, is openly calling on the Getty to repatriate a contested masterpiece. Stewart says the issue shouldn't be decided by legalities, but by the ethical imperative of turning a fragmented artwork into one that's whole.

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