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ArtCrime2018: The Symposium

Issue date: 
Saturday, 22 September 2018
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, CVO, QSO

Rau rangatira mā, e Kui  mā, e Koro mā e huihui nei,

tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.

Kia ora tātou katoa.

Thank you for inviting me to here today to speak at ArtCrime 2018.

I have long been interested in art crime, and indeed David and I have been avid listeners of Judge Tompkin’s occasional Saturday morning discussions with Kim Hill on National Radio.

However I  must confess that prior to this invitation, I was not aware of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust.  Having now learnt a little about your work, I am very much a supporter of what you are doing, and I am delighted to speak at your fourth Symposium.

In many ways, art crime has been romanticised – whether by the Hollywood depiction of the recovery of masterpieces plundered by the Nazis in WW2, in movies like The Woman in Gold and The Monument Men – or in heist movies like  the Thomas Crown Affair, where the thieves and their exploits are portrayed as clever, glamorous and exotic.

However, as a proud supporter of arts and culture,  I recognise that art crime – whether theft, forgery or vandalism, is in fact a serious economic and cultural violation and invasion of property.

All collections – whether public, or private – are taonga of great significance to the owners.  Our own artworks are part of our family, and it seems to me that art becomes part of the story of an individual, a family, a community, and indeed, part of the shared heritage of humankind.

To take, desecrate, forge, or destroy an artwork is to strike at the heart of a culture, and what that culture holds dear.

We all feel a terrible sense of collective loss when we see news reports of priceless pieces of cultural heritage being defaced or destroyed beyond repair – and hope that international efforts to protect cultural heritage from damage during conflict will gain wider support.

When artworks are stolen, we share an anxiety about their fate – why has it been stolen? Will the thieves know how to care for the work? Will it ever resurface or has it been lost forever?

When we learn that an artwork is forged, it is a travesty that provokes in us a deep sense of betrayal, because it besmirches the talent and skill of the artist, and sows the seeds of doubt about other previously authenticated works. 

David and I have our own experience of this.  Many years ago we bought a limited edition print by the Spanish artist Miro from a well known Californian Dealer Gallery.  Number 43 out of an edition of 100. We received a certificate of authenticity and it certainly looked the real thing. 

A few years later, we read of a large US sting operation which uncovered sophisticated wholesale forgery of prints by Miro, Chagall and Dali, among others.  A publisher who was once authorised to produce prints by these artists had simply continued and extended the business for many years after the editions had been completed.   His forgery business had been continued by his daughters and grand daughter after his death. 

An estimated $500 million of fraudulent art sales had been made.  Several other forgery rings specialising in these artists were uncovered and consequently the market for these artists works on paper, collapsed.

As you can imagine, we are rather wary of the authenticity of our own work, which we haven’t tested.  Fortunately we still like it.   We now tend to stick to acquisition of works by New Zealand artists, where we know the provenance of the works, as well as the artists and their dealers.  And importantly, we know where the proceeds of the transactions will go.

So I very much appreciate the impetus to research art crime in all its forms and commend the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust for bringing that research into a New Zealand context.

I understand that when you held your inaugural Symposium in 2015, few thought that there would be great interest in the topic.

But how wrong they were!   Clearly, the number of people who attended, indicated a real enthusiasm to know more about the prevention of art crime.

The Trust has carved out a unique role and I am sure that delegates appreciate this opportunity to get together to increase awareness, to network, and share your knowledge.

It must be invaluable to museum and gallery professionals to keep up with the evolving trends and the tools at their disposal, and to learn from people with disparate areas of interest and skills, including local and international art buyers, consumers, gallery owners, academics, lawyers, researchers, commentators, police, and historians.

They no doubt all have valuable perspectives that can be brought to bear in efforts to counter art crime.

The range of topics to date sounds fascinating:

 from looted art works,

to prosecution as war crimes for the destruction of culturally significant historic and religious buildings,

the repatriation of Māori and Moriori ancestral remains to New Zealand, and

fake Lindauers.

This year’s Symposium, with its theme ‘Provenance Matters, builds on previous successful Symposia and again brings together many disciplines to pool expertise, share experiences, highlight research, and plan future collaborations.

Establishing provenance is a vital tool in countering art crime, so I expect there will be a useful exchange of ideas, and suggestions for future action.

My congratulations to the Trust for encouraging art crime research in New Zealand and to the City Gallery for hosting and  recognising the importance of these annual symposia.

Best wishes for another successful Event.

Kia ora hui hui tatou katoa.


Last updated: 
Saturday, 22 September 2018

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