What’s going on with the Art Raids in California and Chicago?

February 1st, 2008

Bowers Museum

Federal Agents raiding the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana via Los Angeles Times

Federal agents raided the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and Mingei International Museum in San Diego, as well as two unidentified individuals in Chicago last week. The raids were a result of a fve year long smuggling investigation.

Since looting accusations from Italy and Greece have been found to be true of many works in major American museums, most notably at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the authenticity and legal ownership of many foreign antiquities collections has come into question. The investigation in California centers on an alleged art smuggler, Robert Olson, and Jonathan Markell, the owner of a Los Angeles Asian art gallery. Markell’s Silk Roads Gallery on La Brea Avenue was also searched during the raids. Olson is also most likely one of the unidentified individuals targeted in Chicago, the other is supposedly Barry Maclean, collector and trustee of the Art Insitute of Chicago. The individuals in Chicago are described as a major collector and his primary supplier. Neither Olson nor Maclean have commented on the Chicago raids.

The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art via The Bowers Museum

Concerning the California raids, Olsen and Markell reportedly sold Thai artifacts and illegally imported Burmese antiquities to an undercover agent from the Park Service posing as a collector. Then, Olsen and Markell allegedly aided the agent in claiming fake charitable tax deductions by donating artifacts to museums with fraudulent appraisal papers. More than the dealers, the warrants served allege that museum staffers could have been complicit in the looting schemes, specifically the employees at Bowers and the Pacific Asia Museum. However, The Bowers’ current director, Peter Keller denies any wrongdoing. No arrests have been made.

Raids Suggest a deeper network of looted art [Los Angeles Times via C-monster]
Chicago raids linked to California art raids [Bloomberg]
The Bowers Museum [The Bowers Museum]
Asian Art Inquiry Will Be `Headache’ for All Museums [Bloomberg]