New York Antiquities Theft Task Force
July 18, 2022 12:52 PM   Subscribe

The best photos to come out of the Met Gala every year are always the ones where you feel like a voyeur. It’s a weird combination of intimacy, celebrity, modernity, and antiquity that’s hard to replicate and harder, I think, to ignore. Hannah Barbosa Cesnik writes in Anne Helen Petersen's Culture Study Guest Interviews series: Inside the Mind-Boggling World of the Antiquities Theft Task Force.
posted by RichardP (18 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Delightful. Nearly 40 years ago, I briefly worked for a dealer in maps and prints, a most important person who made no bones about his complete lack of morals when it came to acquiring and bringing in things from other countries he wasn't supposed to.

All the well-to-do people in that wealthy community where I grew up knew him personally and said his name with a dry little chuckle. Everyone knew he was a bit of a crook. The general attitude was one of mild scandalization. Wonderful what people will accept when someone's pedigree is good.

You see, the law doesn't apply to us, darling, now does it? We have money and people know us.
posted by Peach at 1:51 PM on July 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Wow - that was an incredible read. I understand why they can’t make their collection available to be viewed by the public, but as a member of the public, it’s so hard to hear him say it will never happen.
posted by Mchelly at 1:51 PM on July 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

In theory, those things will go back where they came from and potentially be available for viewing by the public there, so you'll just have to go a little further afield. It would make for a potentially fascinating art book, though, to photograph these things as they come and go and eventually publish about them.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:04 PM on July 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

This was fascinating! I have been trying to avoid copaganda shows but gosh, what an interesting TV show that office would make.
posted by sleeping bear at 2:28 PM on July 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

An incredible read. What I wouldn't give to look at the collection.
I'd also love to have a TV series based on the squad. A nice, cliche-ridden trope-fest of a crime drama with the art squad. That would be so good!!!
posted by SaharaRose at 2:34 PM on July 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

"Rescueing da Vinci" is a great book about the allies forced who recovered stolen wood of art, by the nazis.
posted by Czjewel at 2:40 PM on July 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

In the criminal justice system, rare antiquity theft is often overlooked. But not for the dedicated investigators and prosecutors who make up the Antiquities Theft Task Force. These are their stories.

Law & Order: ATTF


(seriously, I would watch this - where are you, Dick Wolf?)
posted by nubs at 2:41 PM on July 18, 2022 [7 favorites]

This has a serious Columbo vibe because the stories are about rich motherfuckers getting their comeuppance. Something we do not get enough of these days.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:19 PM on July 18, 2022 [8 favorites]

I like this part

Live honorably. Never do in secret what you wouldn't do in private. Do the right thing for the right reasons. That’s a translation, but I just quoted the Iliad to you. And so I think that if you just look to these examples of classical learning and classical history, and you read them on the first level for the fun, and then the second time for the beauty of the oral tradition, and then you read them on that other level, where you think, "Wait a second, I can do this."
posted by nestor_makhno at 6:23 PM on July 18, 2022 [6 favorites]

White Collar is more "buddy cop" than Law & Order, but it's a wonderfully trope-y show that ran from 2009 to 2014. It follows the, very fictional, cases of the New York FBI office of art crimes.

(And also steals a lot of art with a Lovable Rogue. It's almost more Pen & Teller than Turner & Hooch)

It's currently available on Hulu, Amazon, or iTunes
posted by QuixoticGambit at 7:46 PM on July 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

There's an exhibition right now in Rome of recovered antiquities being staged by the special branch of police that deals with these matters.

I saw it a couple weeks ago and it includes really beautiful pieces. Plaques tell about the journey these pieces have been on, many having been in the Met.
posted by vacapinta at 11:47 PM on July 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

This was fascinating and inspiring - thank you for sharing it!
posted by brainwane at 3:35 AM on July 19, 2022

I interviewed Matthew ages ago and we've occasionally kept in touch. He's quite the character; thanks for sharing this. Thieves of Baghdad is worth the read.
posted by cyndigo at 3:42 PM on July 21, 2022

This was an absolutely delightful and captivating piece.

Two of my favorite moments were "and we get there and the doorman says, "Oh, you can't go up." " ( ... the service entrance?!?) and the Frank Lloyd Wright quote.

Mr. Bogdanos is a thoughtful, honorable public servant with an excellent way with a story. Interviewer Hannah Barbosa Cesnik did a wonderful job of asking the right questions and then letting him talk.

Thank you SO much for posting this, RichardP - and thank you, lovely MeFites, for lauding it enough to make me go read the whole thing. I am so glad I made the time to read that, and so grateful to you for sharing it.
posted by kristi at 7:28 PM on July 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

It’s a conversation we’ve largely left to those who can actually afford the art—a rich people problem—and the art world is more than happy to keep it that way. But it’s our problem, too; the answers affect how we experience art, and what art we get to see.

Stuff like this is exactly why I keep getting sucked back into metafilter. I love it! And I love that there will be more weird interview stuff. Bookmarked.
posted by liminal_shadows at 9:04 PM on July 21, 2022

Libya sent a small delegation, and it was just one piece for them but the Libyan Ambassador was so moved, so touched. Shame on me that I ever said that in the first place. It was one of the most moving ceremonies. And I said to my team when it was over, "Never again take anything for granted, ever. Every single one of these, regardless of value or size is priceless."

I found the article surprisingly moving!

I have to say, though, that I was a bit puzzled by his comment, "And, bear in mind, Europe is a good faith purchase country. So in Europe, you can buy something in good faith.")
posted by badmoonrising at 5:25 AM on July 22, 2022

Badmoodrising, I am pretty sure he is referring to the difference in stolen property recovery between Common Law and Civil Code legal systems. If my property is stolen, can I successfully demand its return from someone who purchased it if at the time they purchased my property they had a good faith belief that the seller had the right to sell my property? In Common Law countries (such as the US), the answer is usually in "yes". On the other hand, in Civil Code systems a purchaser of stolen goods usually has greater rights to keep the stolen property if the property was purchased in "good faith." The EU favors the Civil Code position (although it varies from country to country). See Getting Back Stolen Valuable Goods: the EU Perspective.
posted by RichardP at 2:46 PM on July 22, 2022

Interesting related article from today's Washington Post (WaPo gift link): A luxury magazine photo hid relics Cambodia says could be stolen / The homes of a billionaire family, featured in Architectural Digest, provide clues to Cambodian investigators seeking the recovery of lost artifacts.

“[...] Among the other pieces that the antiquities broker recognized from the 2008 feature on the Lindemanns’ Palm Beach home were the same stone sculptures of demon and god heads photographed years later in their daughter’s San Francisco mansion.

“Another of the statues in the 2008 feature is so significant that the Cambodian national museum in Phnom Penh displays its empty pedestal.

“The sandstone work represents Dhrishtadyumna, a celebrated warrior. It was part of a nine-statue set depicting a pivotal fight scene from a Hindu epic, scholars say. Most had passed through Latchford to prominent museums and auction houses, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif., and Sotheby’s, and have been returned.

“ 'It’s hard to overstate the importance of this statue to Cambodia,' Gordon said. “It belongs in the national museum.' ”
posted by obloquy at 6:00 PM on August 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

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