Raiders of the Looted Artifacts

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They got a rude awakening Thursday morning at four museums in southern California — federal agents on their doorsteps with search warrants. The agents who swarmed the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego were looking for objects and records related to an investigation into an alleged art smuggler, Robert Olson, and Jonathan Markell, the owner of an L.A. gallery that specializes in Asian art, and whose gallery was also raided. The Art Museum of the University of California at Berkeley was also implicated. Jason Felch, the L.A. Times reporter who was one of their specialists on the various travails of the Getty in recent years, has a very speedy story on the Times website.

According to that story, more than four years ago an agent with the National Park Service presented himself to Olson and Markell in the guise of a new collector of Asian art. The warrants claim that the two men admitted that they dealt in objects looted from archeological digs and public sites and sold some to him.

The story goes on to say:

The warrants claim the men also introduced the agent to museum officials who, in dozens of secretly tape-recorded meetings, accepted donations of looted art with values inflated to help the sellers obtain tax write-offs. In the case of the Bowers and the Pacific Asia museums, the warrants clearly suggest that museum officials were aware that the objects were looted and overvalued and accepted them anyway.

LACMA, the Mingei and the UC Berkeley Art Museum all received similar donations from Markell or Olson over several years, the warrants say, but the documents are unclear about the extent to which museum officials knew of alleged theft or tax evasion.

Actually, according to the warrant, Markell told the agent that LACMA was “a stickler” for insisting on proper documentation of items that came into its collection, but according to the Times, Markell “also suggested that the museum had found a loophole to import restrictions on some items.”

But I would say this is the money quote:

The alleged crimes described in the warrants continued amid and after the Getty scandal became public, suggesting some American museums have not changed collecting habits known to be illegal or at least questionable. The new allegations could also carry much more serious consequences for those implicated because they are being investigated by U.S. authorities on American soil.

Which may be another way of saying that the former Getty curator Marion True may not be the last American museum professional who has to do a kind of perp walk.

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