Illegal activity involving cultural property has spiked during the global Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new survey by the international police organization Interpol.
In 2020, the rate of illegal excavations of cultural heritage increased across the world beyond pre-pandemic levels, according to Interpol’s “Assessing Crimes Against Cultural Property” report. Africa saw an increase in offenses related to digs, up from 44 incidents in 2019 to 153 in 2020. The starkest increase occurred in Asia and the South Pacific, from 42 to 1,563.
In total, more than 35,000 items were reported stolen across the world—the majority of them classified as numismatic pieces, which include coins and other currencies. Interpol said that archeological sites are given less official protection than other heritage sites such as museums. The report also suggests that sites located in conflict zones are especially vulnerable to illicit excavations.
In a statement, Corrado Catesi, coordinator of Interpol’s art-theft unit, said, “The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on criminals involved in the illicit traffic of cultural property, but did not in any way diminish the demand for these items or the occurrence of such crimes. As countries implemented travel restrictions and other restrictive measures, criminals were forced to find other ways to steal, illegally excavate and smuggle cultural property.”
Art heists at museums accounted for a smaller portion of the illegal activity than usual, the survey found. Crimes involving museum property decreased from 2019 to 2020 in every region except for North and South America.
Interpol’s survey suggested that restrictions placed on institutions, as well as an increase in working from home, may have made for unusually limited opportunities to stage heists. But, according to Interpol, there’s still reason for concern over organized groups that carry out cultural property offenses.
The survey said that such syndicates remain at the ready to steal in troves when opportunity strikes, sometimes even on commission by collectors seeking specific objects. In May, Europol, the European Union’s law-enforcement agency, and the World Customs Organization joined forces during Operations Athena II and Pandora IV to target networks of art and antiquity traffickers. The operations, which involved 103 countries spanning Afghanistan to Spain to Italy, have so far recovered over 19,000 objects.
Post-Conquest Aztec Altar Found in Mexico on 500th Anniversary of Spain’s Invasion
When Hernan Cortes invaded Mexico in 1521, it heralded the end of an era for the Aztec people. But that empire was not finished all at once, and according to the BBC, a new archaeological find shows that some Aztecs managed to continue living after the Spanish arrived. Earlier this week, Mexican officials announced that…
When Hernan Cortes invaded Mexico in 1521, it heralded the end of an era for the Aztec people. But that empire was not finished all at once, and according to the BBC, a new archaeological find shows that some Aztecs managed to continue living after the Spanish arrived.
Earlier this week, Mexican officials announced that they found an altar formed by a family that survived the initial Spanish invasion. The altar was discovered quite deep underground. Archaeologist Mara Becerra told the BBC that she believes the altar was purposefully buried to hide it from the Spanish. Becerra also believes that the family who made this altar were Mexica, the Indigenous people who ruled the Aztec empire.
Archaeologists spent three months studying an old Indigenous house, particularly the courtyard where the ritual offerings were made. There, the archaeologists found 13 incense burners, five bowls, a cup, a plate and a pot with cremated skeletal remains.
A statement by Mexico’s culture ministry said that the altar was made “to bear witness to the ending of a cycle of their lives and of their civilization.” The announcement of these findings comes on the 500th anniversary of Spain’s invasion.
Mexico is a treasure trove of potential archaeological sites that have not yet been excavated. Even Teotihuacán, one of the most famous Mexican archaeological sites, is only 5 percent excavated. Late this past October, 500 potential archaeological sites were discovered in Mexico using Light Detection and Ranging technology.
However, in recent years there have been exciting discoveries all around the country. In 2020, a newly discovered Aztec tower of skulls, found in Mexico city, drew substantial media attention. But, due to the pandemic, progress made in the archaeological field in Mexico has faced some setbacks.
Simone Leigh, Who Departed Hauser & Wirth After Less Than Two Years, Joins Matthew Marks Gallery
Simone Leigh, who departed the mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth last October after just 21 months, has joined Matthew Marks gallery. The artist, who is preparing to represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale, joins a roster that includes Alex Da Corte, Martin Puryear, and Jasper Johns. She made her debut with Matthew Marks…
Simone Leigh, who departed the mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth last October after just 21 months, has joined Matthew Marks gallery. The artist, who is preparing to represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale, joins a roster that includes Alex Da Corte, Martin Puryear, and Jasper Johns. She made her debut with Matthew Marks at Art Basel Miami Beach, which opened this week.
The sought-after sculptor’s departure from Hauser & Wirth spurred speculation over whether she had found new representation. Leigh joined the gallery, which has 15 locations worldwide, in 2020 after leaving New York’s Luhring Augustine and Los Angeles’s David Kordansky Gallery, the latter of which had represented her for half a year.
In mid-October, Hauser & Wirth had prominently featured Leigh’s sculptures in Frieze London. A major exhibition at the gallery’s location in Zurich, her first presentation in Switzerland, was ongoing amid the split. The details surrounding her departure have remained under wraps, and both parties issued gracious statements at the time.
“I love and respect the people I worked with at Hauser and Wirth,” Leigh said. “But I do not feel the gallery is the right fit for me in the wider sense. I’m still figuring out what I want from a primary gallery relationship.” The decision came amid a career-high for the New York-based artist, who will be the first Black woman to represent the U.S. in Venice.
In 2017 she was awarded the Studio Museum in Harlem’s $50,000 Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize, and the following year she won the Hugo Boss Prize, which comes with $100,000 and a solo exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Her work was chosen by the prize’s jury for its “longstanding and unwavering commitment to addressing black women as both the subject of and audience for her work, a focus which imagines a recalibration of the outmoded power structures that shape contemporary society.”
Leigh was included in the critically acclaimed 2021 survey “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America” at the New Museum in New York; she was also featured in the Prospect New Orleans triennial. Her work is currently on view in the group show “Black American Portraits” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Met Museum Receives Landmark $125 M. from Longtime Trustee Oscar Tang
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced its largest capital gift in its 151-year history: $125 million pledged by the museum’s long-time trustee Oscar Tang and his wife, Agnes Hsu-Tang. The funds will go towards a renovation project centered around the museum’s presentation of modern and contemporary art, to include 80,000 square-feet of galleries…
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced its largest capital gift in its 151-year history: $125 million pledged by the museum’s long-time trustee Oscar Tang and his wife, Agnes Hsu-Tang. The funds will go towards a renovation project centered around the museum’s presentation of modern and contemporary art, to include 80,000 square-feet of galleries and public space to be named the Oscar L. Tang and H.M. Agnes Hsu-Tang Wing.
The long-postponed “re-envisioning” of the Met’s modern and contemporary galleries, first proposed more than a decade ago, has been delayed due to a lack of funding. The project is currently estimated to cost a total of $500 million.
Oscar Tang, the octogenarian retired financier, founded the investment management firm Reich & Tang. Having served on the Met’s board for three decades, it is not the first transformative gift he’s bestowed on the New York institution. In 1997, he gave $14 million to fund the Met’s purchase of rare Chinese paintings, and in 2015 gave $15 million to establish new curatorial positions and to support programming for the centennial of the museum’s department of Asian art.
Tang is the son of Tang Ping-yuan, a Chinese textile mogul who founded a successful manufacturing company in Hong Kong in the post-Communist era. In the Met’s press release, he attributed his philanthropic activities in part to having been displaced by conflict in his home region and being subsequently educated in the U.S. Tang’s previous philanthropic gifts also include money given to the New York Philharmonic, Yale University, and the Gordon Parks Foundation. Agnes Hsu-Tang, an archaeologist and researcher at Columbia University, has served as a cultural heritage advisor at UNESCO and for the Obama administration.
“Their generosity—while breathtaking in its scope and vision—is no surprise, as it is an extension of their decades-long support of our Museum,” Daniel H. Weiss, the Met’s president and CEO, said in a statement. Max Hollein, the museum’s director, added, “The reimagining of these galleries will allow the Museum to approach 20th- and 21st-century art from a global, encyclopedic, bold, and surprising perspective—all values that reflect the legacy of Oscar and Agnes.”
The couple, whom the Met called “activist collectors” in its press release, described the museum as “an exemplary guardian and presenter of artistic heritages across cultures and time.” They alluded to their longtime support of transcultural and anti-racism initiatives as a driving factor in backing the Modern wing project, saying, “Contemporary art transcends entrenched notions of borders and identities.”