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These Days Show on Southern California Museum Investigation

Today I produced an hour on the Southern California museum investigation. You can listen to it here . Our guests were Jason Felch, the investigative reporter for the LA Times who's been providing most of their coverage. In fact, based on his piece yesterday on Robert Olson, it seems Olson is talking with abandon to the press. & It's quite a pathetic portrayal of Olson, talking to Felch in a stained undershirt, bare feet, and basically broken in spirit. &

Other guests on the show were Heath Fox, a former museum administrator (SDMA, MOPA) and now assistant dean at UCSD, Terressa Davis, Project Director for Heritage Watch , and Judith Bresler, an attorney and expert in cultural heritage law. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to include Lee Rosenbaum of CultureGrrl - only because I didn't have enough time in the hour. & She would have been great because she's been writing about the museum industry for so long and is well aquainted with investigations of this kind. & You should follow her coverage. &

Anyway, we covered a lot of ground this morning, providing the basic facts of the story, exploring what happens in museums when a donation is made, the difficulties of establishing provenance, how a looted item moves illegally from the excavation site across the border to a museum, and the international law governing the movement of antiquities.


We also talked appraisals. & Remember, there are two important aspects to this investigation. & One is the theft of art from source countries which ends up in museums or collections. & The other aspect is really about tax fraud: dealers who sell a piece to a collector or donor at one price - say $1,000 - but then connects that buyer to a shady apprasier who will inflate the appraisal to something like $5,000. & When the donor then donates the piece to a museum, with the inflated appraisal, he or she can report a $5,000 donation to the IRS and get a bigger tax write-off. & &

Jason Felch says we've only begun to see the fall-out of this investigation. & Terressa Davis said the same thing when she and I talked yesterday. Terressa also sent the following pictures from different raided temples and sites in Cambodia. & Though the pieces under investigation are from Thailand, she said the look of raided historical sites is pretty similar.

Above is the looted aftermath of Bronze Age cemetaries in northwestern Cambodia. & It looks looks like the moon.

Above is a looted Cambodian temple called Preah Khan.


This is a looted Cambodian temple called Phnom Banan. &

You get the idea.