March 17, 2014: Today I learn that Jason Felch has been fired from the LA Times, allegedly for an inappropriate relationship with a source. The story gets LA noir, because Felch was writing about accusations of sexual abuse at a local college. Jason was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his writings on the chiaroschuro world of museums and had co-written a book on that topic titled Chasing Aphrodite. He and I had a few exchanges about this a few years back; Jason liked to screw his sources, but I hasten to add that he has always conducted himself as a gentleman toward me...

Jason, you can keep the Pulitzer. I want the movie rights. You do the hard investigating, I’ll sell the plot and keep the money. What a team!

Jason Felch—Felch of the LA Times—has been closing in on that monster art scam I mentioned a few WOIDs back: overvaluation. It’s good to read his latest, in the LA Times for March 2; Good for the following passage, about the recent raids on several California art museums, ostensibly to look for evidence of illegally imported tchotchkes in their collections:

But the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles is investigating whether museum officials furthered the scheme by knowingly accepting donations of overvalued art from suspect dealers and collectors over a decade, according to affidavits filed in January.

That's nice to read, because I recently got slammed for suggesting the same thing: that the raids weren’t just about museums accepting looted art, they were about museums colluding in the evaluation, as well. There’s something deeper going on than mere looting.

And there still is. So Jason, you keep investigating, and I’ll keep speculating and—who knows? We might match up again. In that case I want to share your Pulitzer, and I’ll thank you with tears in my eyes when I step up to get my Oscar.


Movie begins with scenes of the occupation of Baghdad—it’s not a movie without Iraq these days. The camera cuts from scenes of the looting of the Iraqi National Museum to a quiet executive boardroom in which a shadowy group called the American Council for Cultural Properties is meeting.

[Note: legal informs me “shadowy” is inaccurate. The American Council for Cultural Properties was a perfectly above-board organization whose mission was to “liberalize” those pesky laws that impeded the free flow of artworks—including looted artworks, of course. For “shadowy,” substitute “sleazy.” ]

Camera travels down the boardroom table to Huffington Puffington III. Huffy (as his friends from Skull-and-Bones call him), is loosely patterned after any number of members of the ACCP. Actually, we could be talking about any number of high-powered art lawyers who’ve been pushing the concept that international laws on cultural property don’t apply or can’t apply, or if they do apply they can always be made to not apply, given the proper connections and interpretations. Also, we need a stand-in for all those museum directors who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the ACCP. The point is to establish the existence of an ongoing partnership between museum directors and art collectors with law degrees—you know, one of those Ross MacDonald multi-generation plot developments.

Dissolve and fade to today. Police in riot gear are raiding the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Camera pans to CultureGrrl, spunky girl reporter—no, that’s too Hollywood; besides, Jennifer Connelly's not available.

[For spunky girl reporter, substitute clueless reporter who, like clueless reporters everywhere, carries water for the boss. Maybe we could borrow CultureGrrl’s technique of using bits of second-hand legalese to counter those who raise the concept of a museum accepting looted objects it knows to be overvalued. Maybe we can spring a twist in the plot line where the clueless reporter knows too much after all, and gets herself in trouble. The audience will love it.]

Of course the fact that certain members of ACCP might actually be connected to certain directors of certain museums of art in Los Angeles is unimportant. The issue is if and when those chummy ties between legal eagle art advisers and art museum directors brought the lawyers beyond merely supporting the legalization of illegal looting, to developing legal arguments to favor the acquisition of looted art by museums with which they might have been connected. Did certain such partners move into profiting from illegal looting while arguing (as CultureGrrl has argued, and as real lawyers are actually paid to do), that there was nothing illegal going on? To end, finally, eventually, perhaps, involved in the kind of thing that gets you and your art world buddies busted under the RICO Act?

[Ah, Hollywood. The Dream Factory.]

January 30, 2008


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