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Secrets and lies: The role of restorers in art crime – CNN

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Written by Riah Pryor

This article was originally published by The Art Newspaper, an editorial partner of CNN Style.
The arrest of the British antiques restorer Neil Perry Smith in July is not the first instance of a restorer becoming embroiled in crime.

Smith was extradited to the US and charged on 29 counts for his alleged cleaning and repairing of 22 stolen antiquities for Subhash Kapoor, the dealer accused of leading a conspiracy to loot and offload an estimated $143 million worth of antiquities from Asia onto the New York art market. Another British restorer, Richard Salmon, was similarly accused of helping to cover the artifacts’ true origins. Neither Salmon nor Smith could be reached for comment.

“Without restorers to disguise stolen relics, there would be no laundered items for antiquities traffickers to sell,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance in a press release announcing Smith’s indictment. “Behind every antiquities trafficking ring preying upon cultural heritage for profit, there is someone reassembling and restoring these looted pieces to lend the criminal enterprise a veneer of legitimacy.”
A Shiva Nataraja statue that was among the stolen items allegedly possessed and restored by Neil Perry Smith.

A Shiva Nataraja statue that was among the stolen items allegedly possessed and restored by Neil Perry Smith. Credit: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

This latest investigation is reminiscent of the case of another now infamous British restorer, Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, who served three years of a six-year sentence in the late 1990s after being convicted of transforming genuine antiquities into garish-looking tourist goods, to enable them to be smuggled out of Egypt. And two of the best-known art forgers — Tom Keating, who died in 1984, and Eric Hebborn (pictured top), who was murdered in Rome in 1996 — also started out their careers as self-styled art restorers.

More recently, the restorer Mohamed Aman Siddique was embroiled in a fraud trial concerning the faking of paintings by one of Australia’s best-known artists, Brett Whiteley. After being found guilty alongside the art dealer Peter Stanley Gant in 2016, he was acquitted the following year, with the judge stating the court was not “equipped” to ascertain the authorship of the works in question.

Code of conduct

“The motivation for such restorers-turned-forgers is often ego, wanting to prove they are as good as the artist they are forging, and perhaps wanting ‘to get one over’ on the art world,” said Simon Gillespie, a leading art conservation and restoration expert based in London. “If they get away with this, they remain invisible and then write their memoirs and become famous.”

Such high-profile cases raise questions as to whether the conservation profession is tightly regulated enough, a question also raised when botched examples of restoration occurs. Most notably, in 2020, the Spanish “restoration” of a copy of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s “Immaculate Conception” went viral online after its attempt to recapture the original features fell comically short.

“Normally, in these (botched) examples, they are artists who participate (as) pseudo-restorers, which has very serious consequences for the heritage,” said Francisco Manuel Espejo Jiménez, the president of Spain’s association for conservators and restoration professionals, ACRE, which is pushing for increased regulation of the sector.

Artist Tom Keating standing in front of one of his works, his impression of Constable painting 'The Haywain', at a press conference in London. He admitted flooding the market with imitation paintings as a protest against art "merchants."

Artist Tom Keating standing in front of one of his works, his impression of Constable painting ‘The Haywain’, at a press conference in London. He admitted flooding the market with imitation paintings as a protest against art “merchants.” Credit: PA Images/Getty Images

While there is no regulation of such professionals in the UK, the Institute of Conservation (Icon) runs an accreditation system. 

“All of our members also have to abide by a code of conduct and therefore can be the subject of a complaint made against them which is investigated and action taken if needed,” said Sara Crofts, Icon’s chief executive, adding that this happens “very rarely.”

She says Neil Perry Smith was not Icon-accredited and emphasizes the importance of establishing the difference between conservation and restoration when choosing which to work with (the latter better understood as just one type of conservation).

On a more positive note, the role that conservators have played as expert witnesses in art crime investigations and trials is significant, including the $25 million lawsuit the defunct gallery Knoedler settled in 2016 after a couple accused them of selling a fake Mark Rothko painting, among dozens of other works. Experts including the art conservator James Martin were key to identifying inconsistencies in the alleged forgeries.

Read more stories from The Art Newspaper here.

Top image: The late Eric Hebborn

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Art show in Minto – Wellington Advertiser

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HARRISTON – The Minto Arts Council is hosting its first show of the year at the Minto Art Gallery. Showcasing the Saugeen Artist Guild, the show is entitled Reflections from the Saugeen Artists Guild.

This show features multiple works from over 20 artists and includes a variety of styles and mediums, including oil paintings, watercolours, stained glass, mixed media, encaustic, jewelry, photography and works with polymer clay.

“This is truly a very diverse show and we are so proud to be able to bring this to our community,” gallery officials state.

The show officially opened Sept. 9 and runs until Oct. 2.

The gallery, located at 88 Mill Street on the third floor of the Harriston branch of the Wellington County Library, is open:

– Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8pm;

– Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 to 4pm; and

– Saturdays, 11am to 1pm.

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Library helps kids make art – Sault Star

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A free four-week art program for children is being offered by Sault Ste. Marie Public Library.

A PDF lesson will be emailed each week. Youngsters have one week to send a photo of their artwork.

A collage will be created featuring student work.

Register by emailing lib.childdk@cityssm.on.ca. Mention online art program in the subject line. Mention the child’s name, age and parent email contact.

Lessons start Sept. 28.

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'A very fundamental question': Is this the world's oldest example of art? – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Famous cave art in France, Indonesia and Spain has long been thought to be the oldest of its kind, but a new study sheds light on Tibetan parietal art that is four times older and may have been created by children.

An international team of researchers came together to determine if the hand and footprints discovered on the Tibetan Plateau were indeed art.

To decide if the sequence of hand and footprints were art, the researchers had to first figure out how these prints got there. The series of five handprints and five footprints, the researchers reported, came from two different people, according to a press release.

Given the slope and that it would have been slippery, the research team ruled out that people would have walked or run across the plateau, which in turn ruled out that these sets of prints may have been a result of people falling.

“It would have been a slippery, sloped surface. You wouldn’t really run across it. Somebody didn’t fall like that. So why create this arrangement of prints?” Thomas Urban, research scientist in the College of Arts and Sciences and with the Cornell Tree Ring Laboratory, said in a press release.

Urban assisted the research team led by David Zhang of Guangzhou University and co-authored the study.

The team of researchers used uranium-series dating to date the artwork. They believe that the footprints were created by a seven-year-old, while the handprints were by a 12-year-old. They also suspect that these kids were ancient relatives of Neanderthals known as Denisovans.

But what really determines if these handprints and footprints are art?

“These young kids saw this medium and intentionally altered it. We can only speculate beyond that,” Urban said. “This could be a kind of performance, a live show, like, somebody says, ‘hey, look at me, I’ve made my handprints over these footprints.’”

For this reason, Urban calls for a broader definition of what is considered art in this context, even if it does rub some the wrong way.

“I think we can make a solid case that this is not utilitarian behaviour. There’s something playful, creative, possibly symbolic about this,” said Urban. “This gets at a very fundamental question of what it actually means to be human.”

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