AC’s Helena Arose: “The Art World Must Change or Risk Losing Young Art Collectors”

A recent article from the New York Times questioned the current state of young art collectors and museum donors. In response, AC’s Director of Programs, Helena Arose, poses this question: Are the traditional values and old-school practices of the art world, long accepted as the norm, giving future collectors and donors cause for concern? 

The art market’s exemption from legal oversight has made it vulnerable to a wide range of financial crimes, threatening not just national security and economic integrity, but the vast majority of legitimate collectors, dealers, auction houses, and museums. Current practices risk turning away young art collectors and museum donors who may be uncomfortable with the blurred and opaque practices.

With eyes from the art world on young collectors,  Arose recommends they take action through the following:

  • Support museums, auction houses, and galleries that uphold the highest standards of ethics and transparency
  • Advocate for regulation of the American art market to safeguard against risk
  • Ensure acquisitions are not just legal, but ethical 
  • Champion contemporary local artists and buy art that is meant for sale while also supporting the community

With increased pressure from the public, collectors, and donors, the art market must change for the better or risk losing the next generation of buyers and supporters. From our buyer beware campaign to the Financial Crimes Task Force, the AC is committed to holding all those involved in the illicit trade of antiquities accountable for their role in cultural racketeering as we continue to lead the call for a responsible art market and trade practices.

“And to the art world – let this be another warning that urgent change is needed. If not – beware.” – Helena Arose, Director of Programs

Read Arose’s full article on LinkedIn and below, and follow Helena and the AC for more.

The Garden of Time: Met Gala Looks vs. Loot 2024 Edition

On May 6, the elite of the fashion and artistic world graced the red carpet for the annual Met Gala, held, as customary at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). The Antiquities Coalition marked the occasion with the second annual Looks vs. Loot – an ongoing initiative highlighting the rampant illicit trade in antiquities. This is an homage to cultural masterpieces returned from America’s largest art collection – the Met –  which are symbolically represented through the fashion on display at the Gala.

This year’s Gala theme, “The Garden of Time” is based on a short story by JG Ballard and believed to be a metaphor for the evolution of time. As an angry mob gathers to storm their home, Count Axel and his wife try to delay the inevitable with “time flowers” to turn back the clock. When the “disorganized tide” finally arrives, the Count and his wife are found as elegant statues gracing their beautiful garden for all time. 

The story ends at this point. Time does evolve, as Mr. Ballard points out, as does the ethics of society. Just imagine, in the period of Count Axel, the mob’s actions when they discovered the statues.

Would they destroy them, as did the Taliban with the Bamiyan Buddhas, to erase a part of history with which they disagreed? 

Or would they loot them and sell them to museums or collectors as we have seen in recent years, including after the Egyptian Revolution?

The Met Gala is all about art and style. And while the Met Museum is a fitting venue for hosting this glamourous evening, it should take note of the underlying message in the evening’s theme of the inevitability of change.

Today’s museums are responsible for setting legal and ethical standards for all who operate within the art market. In recent months, institutions like the Met have taken strides to improve policies and practices on ancient art and artifacts, increasing transparency and due diligence surrounding its collection. 

These important steps came after the Met was implicated in a series of scandals, disputes, law enforcement investigations, and even criminal prosecutions regarding its collection. A 2023 exposé from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that at least 1,109 pieces in the museum’s catalog have close ties to individuals indicted or convicted of antiquities crimes—309 of which remained on display. 

Institutions like the Met, with an endowment of $3.3 billion and an annual budget of around $300 million, should be the gold standard in the United States and even the world. Last May, the Met signaled a major shift in its approach to contested antiquities. Max Hollein, the Director of the Met, publicly committed to new policies to enhance transparency via a new provenance research team. This is a step in the right direction and part of the AC’s specific recommendations on how museums can stay vigilant against the illicit trafficking of antiquities.  

As the art market strives for greater transparency, the Antiquities Coalition celebrates these recent steps taken by the Met and looks forward to future steps the institution will take to right past actions.

Click through our favorite looks vs. loot from past Met Galas, comparing celebrity fashion statements with contested objects seized and returned from the Met’s collection.

AC Hosts Roundtable Discussion on Collaboration in the Fight Against Cultural Racketeering

At the 89th Society for American Archeology Annual Meeting, the AC’s Executive Director, Tess Davis, and Director of Programs, Helena Arose, hosted a luncheon roundtable with experts and law enforcement on cultural heritage preservation efforts. 

The event recognized that New Orleans has an important role to play in this fight. The city is home to several major museums, as well as some of the nation’s oldest antiques and antiquities galleries. But just as importantly, New Orleans is in the middle of the world’s largest port complex, which stretches 290 miles along the Mississippi River. While no longer the smugglers’ paradise of Jean Lafitte, all in the New Orleans’ legal, law enforcement, and arts communities should be on alert about the illicit antiquities trade.

With that goal in mind, the Antiquities Coalition brought together archaeologists, academics, and other subject matter experts with local law enforcement representatives to discuss methods of collaboration.

This meeting built on the forum hosted by the AC at the SAA Annual Meeting, which discussed  specific ways that American archaeologists can protect cultural heritage. Archeologists often have first-hand knowledge of any crimes against culture, as well as deep subject matter expertise on types of heritage, which can assist law enforcement in investigating and developing cases. Likewise, while archaeologists are cultural experts, they are not experts on fighting crime – therefore, law enforcement plays a critical role in addressing the criminal aspects of cultural racketeering.

The Antiquities Coalition thanks those who participated in the roundtable and looks forward to collaborating with experts across all disciplines and industries to preserve and protect cultural heritage. Learn how the AC is making strides to combat cultural racketeering.

AC Shares How Archeologists Can Help Combat Cultural Racketeering at the Society for American Archeology Annual Meeting

Since the AC’s founding, a key priority has been shutting American markets to illicit antiquities, while increasing responsible cultural exchange. At the 89th Society for American Archeology Annual Meeting, the AC’s Executive Director, Tess Davis, and Director of Programs, Helena Arose, hosted a forum discussion on a specific way that American archaeologists can support this effort.

The forum brought together speakers with experience from the fields of law, archaeology, and government to discuss the importance of Cultural Property Agreements (CPAs). CPAs between the United States and foreign governments help to stop criminal activity at U.S. borders by keeping looted and stolen art and artifacts out of American markets. Under U.S. and international law, the U.S. can join CPAs to prevent looted and stolen antiquities and artifacts from entering the American art market, fighting the illicit trade while allowing the legal trade to continue and even thrive. 

These agreements aim to lessen global demand for illicitly-obtained or looted objects—especially since the U.S. makes up some 42% of the global art market—while increasing responsible cultural exchange. The U.S. has signed CPAs with a growing number of countries around the world generating mutual respect, strengthening global law enforcement, and protecting archaeological heritage in situ.

Before a Cultural Property Advisory Committee meeting at which a new CPA or the renewal of an existing CPA is considered, members of the public may submit comments on the proposed CPA via and/or request time to give testimony during a CPAC public session. Archeologists have first-hand knowledge of any crimes related to cultural racketeering, and their knowledge can become powerful testimonies to the committee. 

The panelists discussed tips for archaeologists interested in submitted comments or providing testimony: 

  • Write or speak from your own personal knowledge or experience as an archaeologist. 
  • Focus on addressing the four determinations a requesting country must satisfy to achieve a CPA. It is not necessary to address all four. 
  • If providing testimony, be prepared to answer questions from the Committee.

To learn more about CPAs, the process, and how to get involved, check out the AC’s FAQ here


Antiquities Coalition Partners with FACT Coalition to Combat Corruption

The American art market is the largest unregulated market in the world, making it vulnerable to a wide range of financial crimes. To fight back, the Antiquities Coalition is proud to announce that we have joined the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition

Founded in 2011, the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition is a non-partisan alliance of more than 100 state, national, and international organizations working toward a fair tax system that addresses the challenges of a global economy and promotes policies to combat the harmful impacts of corrupt financial practices. As experts on financial crimes within the art market, the AC is proud to deepen our partnership with the FACT Coalition.

The AC recognizes that ongoing exemption from standard financial regulatory laws and oversight, which now cover all industries of comparable risk and size, is a documented and growing threat to our national security and integrity, as well as the vast majority of legitimate collectors, dealers, auction houses, and museums. 

Criminals, including blacklisted Russian oligarchs and Hezbollah financiers, are exploiting the art market’s vulnerabilities to commit a wide range of offenses from fraud to forgery, tax evasion, money laundering, and sanctions violations. By joining the FACT Coalition, the AC looks forward to partnering and expanding our work to strengthen, standardize, and enforce anti-money laundering practices and laws. 

“To best protect art, cultural heritage, and responsible market actors, we must strengthen rules surrounding art and anti-money laundering (AML), counter-terrorist financing (CFT), and sanctions. By joining the FACT Coalition, we are committed to combating these challenges head-on and will continue to champion the principles of accountability and integrity.” -Tess Davis, Executive Director

This announcement is the latest in an ongoing partnership between the Antiquities Coalition and the FACT Coalition. In September 2023, the FACT Coalition recognized AC’s Director of Programs, Helena Arose, as an anti-money laundering expert. The AC looks forward to future joint efforts to combat cultural racketeering. 

For additional information, visit the FACT Coalition’s website.

Careers in Cultural Heritage: A Conversation with the AC

In April, the Antiquities Coalition’s Director of Programs Helena Arose, and Legal Consultant Liz Fraccaro shared their career experience and advice in a webinar hosted by the American Society of Overseas Research (ASOR)’s Early Career Scholars Committee. 

In their discussion, both Arose and Fraccaro shared their journey, noting how their backgrounds in archaeology and museums reaffirmed their passion for the cultural heritage field. They also shared key takeaways for those interested in cultural heritage careers:

  • No two careers look alike in this field—each individual must carve out their own unique path. Regardless of your position within an organization, you’ll need to proactively shape your career trajectory and find ways to focus on cultural heritage.
  • When considering job opportunities, it’s crucial to weigh factors like the size of the organization or company and the nature of your day-to-day tasks. Think about what aspects of work you enjoy most—whether it’s being out in the field, engaging in interpersonal interactions, writing, or other activities. Larger organizations may offer more structured roles with specialized tasks, while smaller ones might provide greater flexibility and opportunities to wear multiple hats.
  • In this field, you’ll often encounter positions within nonprofits, whether you find yourself working in a museum, advocacy group, or think tank. Therefore, honing skills such as grant writing, effective communication, and proficient project management will prove invaluable irrespective of your specific career path.

As the AC’s Director of Programs, Arose collaborates with representatives from the U.S. and international governments, law enforcement agencies, international partners, academics, and other key stakeholder groups to develop and implement programs to fight the illicit trade in ancient art and antiquities. Arose is a recognized expert on cultural racketeering, antiquities looting and trafficking, cultural heritage diplomacy and protection, financial crimes, and the art market. 

Fraccaro, as the AC’s Legal Consultant, is a trained archaeologist and attorney, admitted to the Illinois State Bar and New York State Bar and is a Certified Money Laundering Specialist. Utilizing her extensive background in museum collections and field archaeology, Fraccaro strives to preserve and protect cultural heritage worldwide. In her work at the AC, she uses her expertise in the legal dimensions of cultural heritage management and money laundering to develop concrete recommendations for combating money laundering, forgery, fraud, and terrorist financing via art and antiquities. 

While Arose and Fraccaro acknowledged that entering this field can be challenging, they highlighted that new needs and opportunities are developing in areas such as provenance research, art market compliance, and foreign affairs, which all contribute to the fight against cultural racketeering. 

The AC thanks the ASOR’s Early Career Scholars Committee for spotlighting our leaders and giving them a platform to share their work experiences and inspire the next generation of professionals interested in a career in cultural heritage. Watch the discussion here

Want to get more involved with the Antiquities Coalition? Consider supporting our efforts to end cultural racketeering or apply to our internship program to get first-hand experience in the fight against looting. 


Antiquities Coalition’s Tess Davis Highlights the Illicit Trade of Cambodian Antiquities in Politico

The Kingdom of Cambodia is home to a rich archaeological heritage, but decades of unrest left its ancient sites and antiquities vulnerable to looters and traffickers. One of the most infamous was British expatriate Douglas Latchford. Latchford’s network sourced countless masterpieces (including a Top Ten Most Wanted artifact) from then-wartorn Cambodia, smuggled them across the border, and then laundered them onto the global art market. He then hid his substantial proceeds using a complex network of shell companies and offshore accounts. To this day, the breadth of Latchford’s crimes are still being exposed, while repatriations of his loot have included some of the biggest stolen art recoveries since after the Second World War. 

But the scale of Latchford’s story—which has been extensively reported on in the New York Times, Washington Post, and beyond—has obscured other dealers and collectors of Cambodian art. 

A recent Politico article sought to even this coverage, by exploring István Zelnik, a former Hungarian diplomat with a passion for Asian antiquities. Zelnik ventured into the art market following his retirement from the diplomatic service and, according to Politico, used his connections to sell Cambodian and other Southeast Asian antiquities to private collectors.   

The AC’s Executive Director, Tess Davis, has long worked to expose Latchford’s dealings and draw more attention to the massive scale of the looting in Cambodia. Davis reaffirmed this in Politico, stating “there is no legal supply of ancient Khmer art, that’s like saying it’s legal to sell a gargoyle hacked off of Notre Dame.”

The Antiquities Coalition will continue to fight to safeguard heritage from cultural racketeering and work with our domestic and international partners to support repatriation efforts of stolen artifacts. 

Learn about Zelnik in Politico here and check out the AC’s Top Ten Most Wanted, including Cambodia’s missing Uma, the Consort of Shiva.

AC Gives Key Takeaways from the Art Market Report 2024

This month, Art Basel and UBS released their annual global art market analysis: The Art Market Report 2024. As in years past, the United States remained by far the largest art market in the world in 2023. As a result, U.S. law and policy that affects the American art market has a significant impact on the entire global industry.

In an article for LinkedIn, AC Executive Director Tess Davis and AC Director of Programs Helena Arose give their key takeaways from the report for policy makers and the wider public.

Check out the article below or on LinkedIn, and follow TessHelena, and the AC on LinkedIn for more.

Antiquities Coalition Warns U.S. Art Market Is a “Sanctions Black Hole” in Financial Times Op-Ed

Art and antiquities have financed some of the last century’s worst actors, yet for too long, public policy has treated cultural racketeering as a white collar and victimless crime. Since its founding in 2014, the Antiquities Coalition has worked to correct this false narrative: The art market’s avoidance from what are now standard laws and regulations is allowing a thriving illicit trade, as well as money laundering and sanctions evasion by some of the United States’ top adversaries—including those behind the war in Ukraine.

On February 28, 2024, in an op-ed for the Financial Times, Chair and Founder Deborah Lehr warned that even as President Joe Biden continues to crack down on Russia, “the U.S. art market is a sanctions black hole.” Reports from the Senate and Treasury Department have extensively documented how “key allies of the Russian state,” Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, have utilized the art market to launder tens of millions of dollars in full evasion of the sanctions regime. The reports also emphasized the need for anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF) protections in the American art market, the largest unregulated market in the world. 

As Lehr states in her op-ed, until these steps are taken, “there is a real likelihood that collectors, dealers, and auction houses in the US may unknowingly continue to help further crime, armed conflict and even terrorism through the apparently legal purchase of art. This is too high a price to pay, even for a masterpiece.” Lehr’s call has been further justified by recent developments in the case of Hezbollah-financier Nazem Ahmad, who was indicted in April 2023 for using art and luxury goods to bypass terrorism-related sanctions, enabling transactions of over $160 million in the U.S.

The art market’s exemption from legal oversight has made it vulnerable to a wide range of financial crimes, threatening not just national security and economic integrity, but the vast majority of legitimate collectors, dealers, auction houses, and museums. Unless and until the U.S. public and private sectors close these loopholes, they will leave the world’s largest economy wide open to oligarchs, money launderers, terrorists, drug smugglers, artifact traffickers, and the many other criminals proven to have exploited the art market’s weaknesses. The Antiquities Coalition has led a charge to fight back with its Financial Task Force, which brings together a diverse group of experts to support law and policymakers. 

Read Lehr’s full op-ed here

Read Lehr’s previous 2020 op-ed on the Rotenberg brothers in the Hill here.

At Council on Foreign Relations Meeting on Sanctions Strategy, Antiquities Coalition Calls on U.S. Treasury to Close Art Market Loopholes

February 2024 marked two years since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, destroying lives, communities, and cultural heritage. During that time, we have also seen the exploitation of heritage and historical propaganda become one of the Kremlin’s most effective weapons for its information warfare program targeting the West, a scenario the AC’s Think Tank warned would happen, as well as the organized plunder of Ukraine’s art and antiquities by invading forces. While priceless to the Ukrainian people, these treasures have the potential to be a valuable commodity to the cash-strapped Russian state, and thus may greatly undermine the U.S.-led sanctions regime. The lack of regulation of the American art market is additionally providing another—now well documented—route for Russia to evade sanctions.

At a recent meeting held by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on February 23, 2024, the U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo spoke on challenges facing the U.S. sanctions strategy. Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition and Term Member of the CFR, had the opportunity to ask the Secretary about a sanctions black hole: the American art market.

“Russia is isolated from the global economy, but there remains an easy backdoor through the $30 billion American art market, which is arguably the largest unregulated market in the world, period. And the U.S. government has proven in great detail how art’s providing a lucrative, and unfortunately untraceable, funding source for blacklisted individuals and entities. We’re talking tens of millions to Putin’s top enablers, the Rotenberg brothers, but also 160 million (dollars) to Hezbollah,” Davis noted. She then asked what Treasury is doing to fight back against these risks.

Adeyemo disclosed how his colleagues at the Office of Foreign Asset Control are focused on the art market and pursuing both wealthy Russian oligarchs and those close to the Kremlin. He also shared details on how the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force, which was founded in March of 2022 and is made up of the G7 and other allies, is working to ensure the U.S. and allies can track assets, including art, that may be used to move money around the world. 

“Ultimately, the thing that we know is that wealthy Russians have spent decades learning to evade not only our sanctions, but Russian taxes, frankly. So they are very good at this. But what we—by setting up the task force—the Repo Task Force, it’s put us in a position where we’re able to share more information not only in the United States, not only with the U.K., but with a number of our allies and partners to be able to go after their ability to move wealth in ways like this,” he added.

The Antiquities Coalition thanks the CFR and U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo for facilitating this important conversation. While there is much more to be done, open collaboration and consideration of all markets will ensure maximum effectiveness of the U.S. sanctions strategy.

Watch the full session here and learn more about how the Antiquities Coalition is encouraging responsible art markets and trade practices.

AC’s Tess Davis Joins AIA to Discuss the Fight Against Cultural Racketeering

Cultural racketeering isn’t just a threat to our past. It’s a threat to our future, to human rights, national economies, and global security. It is also a threat to the legitimate art market, to good faith collectors, dealers, galleries, and museums, who themselves can also be victims of looters and traffickers. To fight back, governments, law enforcement, and citizens should join forces to hold criminals accountable and close loopholes that leave our collective history vulnerable to this illicit trade.

On February 25, Antiquities Coalition Executive Director, Tess Davis, joined the Archeological Institute of America to discuss “Blood Antiquities: Tomb Raiders, Art Smugglers And The Black Market In Cultural Treasures.” These conversations help raise awareness of the scale of the illicit antiquities market, an important step in incentivizing action from leaders and policymakers. 

The AIA, the world’s oldest and largest archaeological organization, is a valuable champion in the fight to increase public knowledge of the cultural racketeering crisis through efforts like International Archaeology Day, a Site Preservation Grant program, Archaeology Magazine, their lecture program, and more. The AC is a proud supporter of these efforts, and Davis has previously participated in the AIA Archaeology Hour as the Virtual Lecturer of the Month. These collaborations strengthen our joint efforts. 

The AC has long worked closely with the AIA. AC Chair and Founder Deborah Lehr served as an AIA General Trustee from 2013-19, while co-founder Peter Herdrich was a Board Member and later CEO of the organization. Executive Director, Tess Davis, also started her career there as a program assistant in 2001.

The AC thanks the AIA for their continued partnership and looks forward to future collaborative efforts to ensure cultural relics are kept out of the hands of bad actors.

Learn more about Davis’ recent lecture here.

AC’s Tess Davis and Helena Arose: Museum transparency and ethical conduct regarding stolen cultural property necessary in maintaining public trust

In an article for LinkedIn, AC Executive Director Tess Davis and AC Director of Programs Helena Arose consider the question: Is the Rubin Museum’s closure in 2024 connected to its past involvement with the illicit trade in antiquities? 

Despite the museum’s answer that it is not, Davis and Arose examine the institution’s track record of collecting and transparency, and conclude that “Whether directly related or not, this situation underscores the power of public perception in shaping the actions of cultural institutions in the United States. In any case, it serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the importance of transparency and ethical conduct in maintaining public trust.”

As institutions that serve the public, museums must begin to face the reality of reputational and financial risks associated with unlawful or unethical behavior. The AC is committed to holding all those involved in the illicit trade of antiquities accountable for their role in cultural racketeering.

Check out the article below or on LinkedIn, and follow Tess, Helena, and the AC on LinkedIn for more.