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Thefts were an ‘inside job’, British Museum chair tells Parliament

20 October 2023

George Osborne, the chair of trustees for the British Museum, has stated that the BM was ‘the victim of an inside job’. On 18 October, Osborne told the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee: ‘There are lots of lessons to be learnt as a result of that, the member of staff has been dismissed by us’. He did not mention Peter Higgs, the BM’s former curator of Greek and Roman art who is suspected of stealing some 2,000 items, by name. Interim director Mark Jones said that a decision to digitise one million as-yet uncatalogued objects from its collection would improve security. Cataloguing will take an estimated five years and cost £10m. Osborne stated that the government has not been approached for financial support; no further details were given regarding funding for the digitisation project.

A wave of bomb threats in France has prompted four evacuations of the Palace of Versailles and one of the Louvre Museum. The threats follow the fatal stabbing of a teacher by an alleged jihadist last week at a school in the northern city of Arras; France was subsequently placed on its the highest state tier of counter-terrorism alert. The threats have been made by phone or email, via through a website launched in 2020 which that allows users to message police officers directly, and via the police’s official police social media accounts. On Thursday, Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, announced that 18 people, mainly minors, had been arrested; if found guilty, they could face up to three years in prison and a €45,000 (£39,000) fine.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is suing the Manhattan District Attorney’s office over the seizure of a headless bronze statue, which it claims to have lawfully purchased from the art gallery Edward H. Merrin in 1986. The statue, dating from 150 to 200 BC, is considered to be one of the most significant works in the museum’s collection and is worth an estimated $20m. It was seized by the DA’s office in August this year, as part of an ongoing investigation into antiquities trafficked from Turkey. The lawsuit, filed on 19 October, states that the museum ‘does not question that the New York district attorney sometimes gets it right and returns true stolen items to foreign nations. Based on the evidence adduced thus far and the opinions of experts available to the museum, this is not one of those times.’

The South Korean artist Park Seo-Bo has died at the age of 91. Park came of age during the Korean War and was forcibly enlisted by first North Korea and then South Korea; to avoid being drafted again after graduating from university, he changed his name from Jae-hong to Seo-Bo and lived in hiding. Nevertheless, he became a leading figure of the Art Informel movement – often viewed as the Korean counterpart to Abstract Expressionism – after joining the Contemporary Artists Association (Hyeondae Misul Hyeohoe) in 1957 and came out of hiding after winning a case against the military in 1961. Today, Park is often described as the father of the Dansaekhwa (or ‘monochrome painting’) movement, thanks to the minimalist abstract works he created from the late 1960s onwards – most famously, his Écriture series of neutral-tones canvases with repetitive lines drawn in pencil. A museum dedicated to his work is due to open in Seogwipo on Jeju Island in the summer of 2024.