Dutch police: 3 arrested in high-priced art heist (Associated Press)

By MIKE CORDER January 22, 2013 3:18 PM

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Romanian authorities have arrested three suspects in last year’s multimillion-dollar art heist from a Netherlands art gallery, Dutch police said Tuesday. But the paintings, by artists including Picasso, Matisse and Monet, have not been recovered.

The announcement marked the first breakthrough for police since thieves broke open an emergency exit and swiped the seven pieces on Oct. 16 in a late night raid at the Kunsthal gallery in Rotterdam.

It was the biggest art theft in more than a decade in the Netherlands. The stolen works have an estimated value of tens of millions of dollars if they were sold at auction, but art experts said that would be impossible following the theft.

“Three people have been arrested, but unfortunately we have not got back the paintings,” Rotterdam Police spokeswoman Yvette van den Heerik told The Associated Press.

Police later said in a statement that the suspects were arrested as part of an ongoing Romanian investigation and not at the request of Dutch authorities.

File - This photo released by the police in Rotterdam, …

Kunsthal spokeswoman Mariette Maaskant said gallery staff members are not yet breathing a sigh of relief. “There is no painting found yet,” she said. “For us, that is the most important thing.”

Romanian police spokeswoman Raluca Seucan declined to provide details of the case to the AP. Romanian news agency Mediafax reported that three Romanian suspects had been arrested Monday evening following a ruling from a Bucharest court. It gave no further details.

The heist at one of Rotterdam’s landmark buildings, designed by local architect Rem Koolhaas, was low-tech but effective.

Two thieves forced their way into the gallery through a rear emergency door and snatched the paintings. Security cameras showed the thieves breaking in and fleeing within two minutes. They were gone by the time police, alerted by an alarm, arrived less than five minutes after the break-in.

The following morning, only white spaces on the wall and broken hanging wires were left.

The stolen paintings came from the private Triton Foundation, a collection of avant-garde art put together by multimillionaire Willem Cordia, an investor and businessman, and his wife, Marijke Cordia-Van der Laan. Willem Cordia died in 2011.

The stolen paintings were: Pablo Picasso’s 1971 “Harlequin Head”; Claude Monet’s 1901 “Waterloo Bridge, London” and “Charing Cross Bridge, London”; Henri Matisse’s 1919 “Reading Girl in White and Yellow”; Paul Gauguin’s 1898 “Girl in Front of Open Window”; Meyer de Haan’s “Self-Portrait,” around 1890, and Lucian Freud’s 2002 work “Woman with Eyes Closed.”

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Associated Press writer Alison Mutler contributed from Bucharest, Romania.

American gets back art taken by Nazis during WWII (Associated Press)

By THOMAS ADAMSON March 19, 2013 5:35 PM

PARIS (AP) — Tom Selldorff was 6 years old when he saw his grandfather’s prized art collection for the last time in 1930s Vienna, before it fell into Nazi hands.

Now, he’s 84 — and in a ceremony in Paris on Tuesday, the American was finally given back a piece of his late grandfather’s memory: France has returned six of his stolen family masterpieces.

The restitution of the works — including paintings by Alessandro Longhi and Sebastiano Ricci — is part of France’s ongoing effort to return hundreds of looted artworks that Jewish owners lost during the war that still hang in the Louvre and other museums. The move ends years of struggle for Selldorff, whose claims were validated by the French government last year after years of researching the fates of the works.

“I’m extremely grateful and very moved,” said Selldorff, who flew in from Boston for the event at France’s Culture Ministry, where the oil paintings were on temporary display. “These paintings were in this fog of war. The restitution… was not easy. It took a long time.”

The artworks were stolen or sold under duress some seven decades ago as Jewish industrialist and art collector Richard Neumann — Selldorff’s grandfather — and his family fled Nazi-occupied Europe. The collection — whose original size is unknown — was his ticket out, though he sold it for a fraction of its value. The route the artworks took to show up in French museums is unclear, making their way to places like the Museum of Modern Art of Saint-Etienne, the Agen Fine Arts Museum, the Tours Fine Art Museum, and the Louvre.

“After losing most of his family assets and a good part of his collection to the Nazis in Austria in 1938, he came to Paris for several years and then had to flee again, this time with my grandmother at one point on foot over the Pyrenees, to Spain, and then eventually to Cuba,” Selldorff said.

The paintings, meanwhile, stayed behind — all six destined for display in the art gallery Adolf Hitler wanted to build in his hometown of Linz, Austria, according to a catalog for the planned museum.

“I only wish my grandfather was here to be able to be a part of all this, but I am sure he is watching from somewhere upstairs, so that’s fine,” Selldorff said.

At the end of the war, with Hitler dead and European cities rebuilding, artworks were left “unclaimed” and many thousands that were thought to have been French-owned found their ways into the country’s top museums. Many of the 100,000 possessions looted, stolen or appropriated between 1940 and 1944 in France have been returned to Jewish families, but France says that some 2,000 artworks still lie in state institutions.

With a twinkle in his eye and a youthful smile, Selldorff remembered wandering around his grandfather’s collection.

“I remember the house (in Vienna) very well. I remember the existence of these dark rooms with these paintings hanging,” he said, recalling that his grandfather also opened up the collection to the Austrian public. A remaining link with the art was a catalog left behind by his late mother — a sort of scrapbook with pictures of the paintings.

“So I knew there were some very beautiful paintings in the house,” Selldorff said.

“I ,too, hope that some of the art will go on loan to museums and be exhibited so that other people besides our family can appreciate them,” he said, adding that he has spoken to some U.S. museums about the possibility of showing the art to the American public.

Overall, Selldorff said it’s about being able to pass to his three children and five grandchildren a piece of his grandfather’s stolen history.

“His love of art is what I want to pass on,” he said. “It’s what makes us human.”

FBI focuses on recovering art stolen in Mass. (Associated Press)

By DENISE LAVOIE March 19, 2013 6:32 AM

In this Monday, March 18, 2013 copy photo of a poster …

BOSTON (AP) — Just after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men posing as police officers pulled off the single largest property heist in U.S. history, stealing 13 pieces of artwork worth as much as $500 million. For more than two decades, the FBI has chased leads around the globe. Now agents believe they know who it was.

But they still don’t know where the art is, and they’re asking for help.

On Monday, the 23rd anniversary of the theft from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, authorities announced a new campaign aimed at generating tips. Their focus has shifted from catching the thieves to bringing home the precious artwork, which includes paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Degas and Vermeer.

“The key goal here is to recover those paintings and bring them back,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said at a news conference at the FBI’s Boston headquarters.

The FBI’s Richard DesLauriers says the agency believes the thieves belonged to a criminal organization based in New England and the mid-Atlantic states. He said authorities believe the art was taken to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region in the years after the theft and offered for sale in Philadelphia about a decade ago.

After the attempted sale, the FBI does not know what happened to the artwork, DesLauriers said.

DesLauriers repeatedly rebuffed questions from reporters on the identities of the thieves, saying releasing their names could hamper the investigation. He refused to say whether the thieves are now in prison on other charges, or whether they are dead or alive.

Last year, a federal prosecutor in ConnectIn this Monday, March 18, 2013 copy photo of a poster …icut revealed that the FBI believed a reputed Connecticut mobster, Robert Gentile, had some involvement with stolen property related to the art heist.

Gentile, 76, of Manchester, Conn., was not charged in the heist but pleaded guilty in November in a weapons and prescription drugs case. Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said at the time that Gentile testified before a grand jury investigating the heist. He said Gentile knows nothing about the heist but was acquainted with people federal authorities believe may have been involved.

The FBI also searched the Worcester home of an ex-convict who has a history of art theft.

Ortiz said the investigation was “active and at times fast-moving” over the past few years.

In the meantime, empty frames hang on the walls of the museum, a reminder of the “enormous loss” and a symbol of hope that they will be recovered, said Ortiz. The stolen paintings include “The Concert” by Johannes Vermeer and three Rembrandts, “A Lady and Gentleman in Black,” Self-Portrait,” and “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” his only seascape.

Ortiz said the statute of limitations has expired on crimes associated with the actual theft. She said anyone who knowingly possesses or conceals the stolen art could still face charges, but said prosecutors are willing to discuss potential immunity deals to get the artwork back.

The new publicity campaign will include a dedicated FBI website on the theft, http://www.FBI.gov/gardner, video postings on FBI social media sites and digital billboards in Connecticut and Philadelphia.

DesLauriers said authorities believe someone not involved in the theft has seen the artwork without realizing it is stolen.

FILE - This undated file photograph released by the …

“It’s likely over the years that someone — a friend, neighbor or relative — has seen the art hanging on a wall, placed above a mantle or stored in an attic. We want that person to call us,” DesLauriers said.

The FBI said it is re-emphasizing a $5 million reward being offered by the museum for information that leads directly to the recovery of the art.

Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin meet in English field (Associated Press)

By JILL LAWLESS March 19, 2013 3:57 PM

PERRY GREEN, England (AP) — Henry Moore has company on his muddy home turf.

At the late British artist’s former home in the English countryside, swooping sculptures sit on rain-sodden fields, and sheep graze at the base of monumental bronzes. Now they have been joined by figures created by Auguste Rodin, for an exhibition that aims to tease out the connections between the French master sculptor and the English modernist.

The only problem, right now, is the weather. Britain’s long, wet winter has left the countryside a soaking mess. Unlike most art shows, this one is best approached in waterproof boots.

“You’ve got water on the fields reflecting the forms, which is beautiful — but it’s muddy,” curator Anita Feldman said during a preview of the show on Tuesday. “But the lambs are out, which is beautiful.”

The Henry Moore Foundation owns the house and farmland where the artist lived from the 1940s until his death in 1986. Set amid woods and fields about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of London, it is a gallery and sculpture park devoted to the work of Moore, whose large, fluidly curved bronzes stand in 39 countries around the world.

“Moore Rodin,” which opens March 29 and runs to Oct. 27, marks the first time the foundation has placed pieces by another artist alongside Moore’s work on the lawns and fields.

The two artists never met; Moore was a 19-year-old soldier in World War I when Rodin died in 1917. But Moore Foundation Director Richard Calvocoressi said that between then they “reinvented the language of figurative sculpture.”

Feldman acknowledged that people may not immediately see the connections between Moore — best known for massive abstracted forms — and Rodin, creator of “The Thinker” and other iconic human figures.

“The first thing people think of with Henry Moore is that it’s weighty and static and timeless,” she said Tuesday. “Whereas Rodin is all about movement and gesture.”

Rodin’s muscular nudes are more obviously classical in inspiration than Moore’s stretched and warped figures.

But Feldman said Moore admired Rodin and owned a cast of the French artist’s “Walking Man,” which he photographed in detail. And the two are both unmistakably modern artists: Inspired by antiquity and by Renaissance geniuses like Michelangelo, they studied classical art then took it apart.

Feldman said both felt that “by breaking down and condensing form you can distill it to something that’s essential.”

Conservator Rupert Harris waxes Rodin's 'The Burghers …

“They are connecting with the past to make a modern sculpture that is very humanistic,” Feldman said.

They also both thought a great deal about locating art in a landscape — and made big works that are shown off to excellent effect on the Moore Foundation’s 50 acre (20 hectare) site.

The exhibition of more than 100 works, including 12 large outdoor sculptures, includes many pieces loaned by the Musee Rodin in Paris — and one uprooted from its plinth outside the Houses of Parliament in London.

“The Burghers of Calais” — Rodin’s affecting depiction of the French city’s leaders surrendering to the English after a 14th-century siege — has stood for decades outside the seat of British government.

Moore called it the best piece of public sculpture in London. Now it stands in a field, near Moore’s bronze “Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae.” The juxtaposition makes it clear that both are kinetic sculptures that unfold as the viewer walks around them.

Nearby, Rodin’s “Jean d’Aire,” a nude figure with clenched fists from 1887, stands opposite Moore’s “The Arch,” made 80 years later — a completely different work with some of the same tense energy.

In an inside gallery are models and drawings by both artists that reveal more links. Both men often fragmented the human body, sculpting isolated torsos and hands and heads. Moore’s drawings of hunched Londoners sheltering from the Blitz in Underground stations are hung alongside Rodin’s “black drawings,” illustrations of vulnerable human figures drawn in the years after the Franco-Prussian War.

Moore’s daughter, Mary Moore, has assembled a cabinet full of objects collected by both men. Rodin’s are mostly classical antiquities; Moore’s, reflecting his fascination with found objects and art from non-Western cultures, include a Persian model of a lynx, a stone Aztec head and a piece of driftwood.

Mary Moore, who grew up in the house and watched as her father began buying more land and dotting it with his creations, said she was struck by the differences between the two artists, rather than the similarities.

“It’s a generational difference. I was amazed to hear that Rodin didn’t carve. He was a modeler, whereas my father was a consummate carver.”

But she said she welcomed the visiting artworks.

“They are human scale,” she said. “They fit perfectly in the parkland landscape.”

Pritzker Prize winner Ito seeks ideas in nature (Associated Press)

By ELAINE KURTENBACH March 18, 2013 8:29 PM

TOKYO (AP) — When he says why he especially likes Sendai Mediatheque, the public library that ranks among his most famous works, Toyo Ito, the Japanese architect awarded the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize, says he likes to see people napping and relaxing inside the transparent structure.

Ito, the sixth Japanese to win the honor likened to a Nobel Prize for architecture, said Monday that the field needs to evolve to suit changing times, to “be more open to nature.”

“Architects have made architecture too complex. We need to simplify it and use a language that everyone can understand,” Ito said at one of his offices in Tokyo, a strictly functional place whose only frills were the lavish bouquets of orchids, lilies and other blooms sent to congratulate him for the award.

Ito’s buildings, from libraries and theaters to offices and homes, have won praise for their fluid, airy beauty and balance between nature and function, the physical and virtual worlds.

Among the best-known works are the spiral White O residence in Marbella, Chile, the angular 2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London and the arch-laced, curving Tama Art University in suburban Tokyo.

This publicity photo provided courtesy of Toyo Ito …

Architecture needs to change to suit changing needs brought on by declining populations, climate change and scarce resources, he said, likening a more sustainable design approach to the growth of a tree, which expands, branch by branch, in relation to the light and its surroundings.

“We have to base architecture on the environment. Whatever age it is, people are people,” he said. “I want it to be fresh.”

The Sendai Mediatheque is a library transparent even down to the internal tubes used for its ventilation and wiring — like the tubes in a human body, he says — was lauded for withstanding the massive earthquake that struck offshore from the city in northeastern Japan in March 2011.

Ito had been working as an architect for 30 years when it opened in 2001.

“That was the time I really felt I was glad to have become an architect,” he said. “It is like a wall-less gallery space, where people are able to walk around. You often see people taking naps or couples behaving if they are on dates.”

This publicity photo provided courtesy of Toyo Ito …

Though the Sendai structure is boxy in design, many of his works are enlivened with webs, arches and curbs that enliven and deflect the traditional grid structure that underlies most modern buildings.

Ito has been involved in several projects aimed at aiding survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disasters, which killed nearly 20,000 people and left tens of thousands homeless. The aim is to create communal spaces where residents displaced to temporary housing units can chat and find connections with their neighbors, he said.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who served on the Pritzker Prize jury, praised Ito for improving the “quality of both public and private spaces.”

“His buildings are complex, yet his high degree of synthesis means that his works attain a level of calmness, which ultimately allows the inhabitants to freely develop their life and activities in them,” said another jury member, Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena.

Other recipients of the Pritzker have included masters such as Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano and Wang Shu.

This publicity photo provided courtesy of Toyo Ito …

In accepting the prize, Ito said he was determined to “never fix my architectural style and never be satisfied with my works.” Completing a work, Ito said, makes him “painfully aware of my own inadequacy, and it turns into energy to challenge the next project.”

Ito began his career at Kiyonori Kikutake & Associates after he was graduated from Tokyo University in 1965. He founded his own firm in 1971. His works have been exhibited in museums in the United States, England, Denmark, Italy, Chile and numerous cities in Japan.

He will receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion at the formal Pritzker ceremony May 29 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

Sponsored by the Hyatt Foundation, the Pritzker Prize was established in 1979 by the late entrepreneur Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, to honor “a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”

The Pritzker family founded the prize because of its involvement with developing Hyatt Hotel properties around the world and because architecture was not included in the Nobel Prizes. The Pritzker selection process is modeled after the Nobels.

This publicity photo provided courtesy of Toyo Ito …

All publicity photos provided courtesy of Toyo Ito and Associates, Architects,

Mexico demands Sotheby’s halt auction of artifacts (Associated Press)

By MARK STEVENSON March 21, 2013 3:17 PM

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government is demanding that Sotheby’s auction house halt the planned sale of 51 pre-Columbian Mexican artifacts, arguing they are protected national historical pieces.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History said Wednesday that Mexico has sent a diplomatic note to the French government seeking assistance in heading off the auction scheduled in Paris for Friday and Saturday.

It also implied that some of the artifacts offered in what is known as the 300-piece Barbier-Mueller Collection of Pre-Columbian Art are fakes or imitations.

“Of the 130 objects advertised as being from Mexico, 51 are archaeological artifacts that are (Mexican) national property, and the rest are handicrafts,” the institute said in a statement.

Still, the genuine pieces are important to Mexico.

“In light of their importance for the people of Mexico, the director of the auction company has been asked to withdraw the pieces from sale,” the institute said.

Sotheby’s issued a statement Thursday saying it “has had dialogue with several nations and given careful consideration to their concerns about this sale, and we continue to welcome discussion regarding any new information on specific issues.”

The auction house said that over six months, it “thoroughly researched the provenance of this collection and we are confident in offering these works for auction.”

Sophie Dufresne, Sotheby’s spokeswoman in Paris, said: “The sale is going forward as planned.”

A description of the pieces listed on Sotheby’s Paris website describes the collection as containing pre-Hispanic sculptures in wood and stone, ceramics, textiles and ritual objects from Mexico, Central America and South America, saying the collection is “representative of all the leading pre-Columbian cultures.”

The Sotheby’s website says the collection was started by Josef Mueller in 1920. “He became attracted by important works of pre-Columbian art, his first purchase being an Aztec ‘water goddess’ in Paris in 1920,” it says.

The description says Mueller’s son-in-law, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, augmented and broadened the collection.

While Sotheby’s described Barbier-Mueller as “a great aesthete and man of culture,” Mexico said such collections trivialize archaeological pieces.

“The Mexican government has consistently expressed its objections to the international trade in protected cultural objects, particularly archaeological artifacts, and stresses that such practices strip these unique objects of their invaluable cultural, historical and symbolic essence, converting them into mere merchandise and curios,” the institute said.

Under a 1972 law, Mexico prohibited the purchase and sale of archaeological pieces, but allowed some previously existing collections to remain in private hands if they were registered with the government.

While the French collection may have been assembled prior to that time, Mexico has had laws prohibiting the export of such artifacts since at least 1827.

Photos of the artifacts on the Sotheby’s site show two seated depictions of godlike figures carved in stone that appear to come from Mexican pre-Hispanic cultures. The description says the collection contains Aztec, Mayan and Tarascan pieces.

A French diplomatic official said that nothing in the collection up for auction is on the French database checked by the Central Office of Cultural Property. Nor are any of the items in the Interpol database or on the “red list” of the International Council of Museums for cultural property of Central America and Mexico .

The diplomatic official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named, said these objects have often been shown publicly and mentioned in various catalogues since September.

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Associated Press Writers Greg Keller and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report

Chinese teen defaces Egypt temple; sparks outcry (Associated Press)

By Gillian Wong, Associated Press May 28, 2013 11:09 PM

-Chinese teen’s defacement of ancient Egyptian temple sparks public soul-searching

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese teenager who defaced an ancient temple in Egypt with graffiti has come under fire at home where his vandalism prompted public fretting about how to cultivate a good image overseas as more newly affluent Chinese travel abroad.

The teen scratched “Ding Jinhao visited here” in Chinese on a temple wall in the ancient city Luxor, and the incident came to light when another Chinese tourist posted a photo of it on a popular microblog with the comment: “My saddest moment in Egypt. Ashamed and unable to show my face.”

The photo quickly caught the attention of the Chinese public, attracting thousands of comments, and someone was able to identify the person responsible for the graffiti as 15-year-old Ding Jinhao from the eastern city of Nanjing. Many criticized Ding’s act as an embarrassment to the country.

“Why there are so many citizens who go abroad and humiliate us? How many generations will it take to change this kind of behavior?” Xuan Kejiong, a prominent journalist with Shanghai Television, wrote on his microblog.

The sentiment was echoed by the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, the People’s Daily newspaper.

“Nowadays, people in China no longer want for food and clothing, and even in the luxury shops abroad, there are advertisement posters in Chinese,” the paper wrote in a commentary. “But many people also feel as though their ‘hands are full but hearts are empty.’ In the process of modernization, how have the people come to lack modern manners and consciousness?”

The outcry prompted Ding’s parents to publicly apologize. In an interview with a Nanjing newspaper, Ding’s father said “the child has committed a mistake and the main responsibility falls on the adults. It was because we did not supervise him well, and have not taught him well.”

The soul searching comes as Chinese tourism overseas has seen an explosion in growth over the past decade, fueled by rising incomes and the relaxation of government restrictions on citizens’ ability to travel abroad.

China has been the fastest-growing source of international tourists in the world for the past 10 years, the World Tourism Organization, a U.N. agency, said in April. The organization said the volume of international trips by Chinese tourists has grown from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million in 2012 — accompanied by a nearly eightfold increase in spending.

Last year, China surpassed Germany to become the largest spender in international tourism, with tourists’ expenditure amounting to a record $102 billion, the organization said.

But Chinese travelers, many of whom join tour groups, are frequently criticized for rude behavior. Deputy Premier Wang Yang earlier this month during the passage of a tourism law urged Chinese travelers to mind their manners.

“They make a racket in public places, carve words at scenic spots, cross the road when the light is red, spit, and do other uncivilized things,” Wang was quoted as saying. “This is detrimental to the image of the country’s people and leaves a bad impression.”

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Associated Press researcher Fu Ting contributed to this report from Shanghai.