Norton Winfred Simon (February 5, 1907 – June 2, 1993) was an American billionaire industrialist and philanthropist based in California. Norton, at that time, was one of the richest men in America. He was the founder of Val Vita Food Products, which later acquired Hunt's Foods. His significant art collection is housed in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. After his death in 1993, Simon's wife, actress Jennifer Jones, remained an emeritus of the Museum until her death in 2009.
My name is BRAD MONTAGUE. I will be speaking at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City this December. While there, I will be using the opportunity to put the spotlight on some of our nation's youngest artists, giving them the chance to say their work has been shown at one of the most celebrated art museums in the world. For too long, people have smuggled art out of museums. It's time to smuggle some hope in.
Pieces started filtering onto the London art market in the 1980s and a British aristocrat, the Marquess of Northampton, formed a consortium to buy 14 of them, along with the late Peter Wilson, at the time chairman of Sotheby’s. Forged documents from Lebanon were produced to give a provenance to the treasure, and it was put up for sale in New York in 1990 at a price of $50m. However immediately three countries – Hungary, Croatia and Lebanon – claimed the cache as being from their territories. The works were hurriedly withdrawn from sale.
Uncovering a stolen object offers a museum the valuable if bittersweet opportunity to examine its past collection practices. Pinpointing exactly how that object slipped through the cracks can help ensure other stolen objects will not slide by in the future. While there is no failsafe way to avoid mistakes completely, there are concrete steps that can be taken to increase diligence before an acquisition is made. In particular, museums should draw a distinction between objects that are securely documented and those that are ‘said to be’ from a particular collection. Many of the objects Wiener sold, now under investigation, supposedly came from private European owners but had no real paper trail. Some of the sculptures that both she and Kapoor handled, which are alleged to have been stolen, were accompanied by signed declarations that they were outside their countries of origin before 1970. These attestations are now believed to be false. Verbal and written statements do not carry the same weight as documentation in an exhibition catalogue, sale record, or archival material.
In August 2004, experts examined the works and found inconsistencies. Greene, who had shipped the works from his home in San Francisco, had also been unable to provide provenance and import and export documentation. The collection committee proceeded to veto the annuity deal made months prior. That same year, the de Young museum pulled out of a deal with Greene, this time in exchange for Philippine tribal art, for similar reasons.
The group’s activism has ensured the return of art works like Sripuranthan Nataraja, Vriddchachlam Ardhanari (brought back from Australia), the Sripuranthan Uma and more. These have been returned with much fanfare during the visits of heads of state/government of Australia/Germany. You can see pictures of Modi with the returned Nataraja, Angela Merkel handing over the Kashmir Valley Durga (housed in Stuttgart) below.
Bonhams and Christie’s were also forced to pull smaller objects from their March sales this year, after they were alleged to have passed through the hands of two notorious antiquities smugglers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. Both had been convicted of trafficking in looted objects, for which Medici was sentenced to 10 years in prison and paid a 10m euro fine – the largest ever imposed for such a crime by Italian prosecutors. Polaroid photos of an immense cache of objects in his Swiss warehouse apparently identified a second or first century BC jug offered for £4,000-£6,000 ($6,700-$10,000) at Christie’s, and a third century pottery pyxis (cosmetic pot) offered for £3,000-£5,000 ($5,000-$8,400) at Bonhams. Earlier this year, the US government seized a $4m (£2.4m) ancient Roman statue in a New York warehouse – it too had passed through Becchina’s hands.