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Alleged head of Egyptian antiquities trafficking ring extradited to Paris

5 November 2023

The art dealer Serop Simonian has been arrested and extradited from Hamburg to Paris, as part of an ongoing investigation into Egyptian antiquities worth $60m sold to the Met and the Louvre Abu Dhabi in recent years. The Art Newspaper reports that the arrest and extradition of the 80-year-old dealer took place in September after an European arrest warrant was issued by the French authorities. This follows the arrest in March 2022 of Roben Dib, the head of Simonian’s gallery in Hamburg. Like Dib, Simonian has denied all wrongdoing, claiming that the artefacts belong to his family and left Egypt in the 1970s, when it would have been legal for them to do so. Two dealers, Christophe Kunicki and Richard Semper, have already admitted to providing forged provenance documents for some of the objects in question. Other figures still under indictment include the French curator Jean-François Charnier and Jean-Luc Martinez, former head of the Louvre, who are both appealing against the charges.

The Frick Pittsburgh museum has postponed an exhibition of Islamic art, citing concerns regarding the ongoing war in Gaza. Elizabeth Barker, the museum’s executive director, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: ‘We realised that we were about to open an exhibition that a forgiving person would call insensitive, but for many people, especially in our community, would be traumatic.’ The museum’s original press release described the show as demonstrating the ‘rich history of the Islamic world and the shared human experiences that bind us’. The decision has been criticised by local Muslim and Jewish organisations alike. The Pittsburgh chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Pittsburgh) called for the museum to reconsider its decision. A spokesperson for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said that equating Islamic art and Muslims with Hamas was wrong.

A retired couple who sold a rare African mask for €150 to a secondhand goods dealer are taking the dealer to court after the mask made €4.2m at auction. The unnamed French couple are seeking a share of the proceeds from the sale, which took place in Montpellier in March 2022. The rare Ngil mask was made by the Fang people of Gabon during the 19th century, and had previously belonged to the man’s grandfather, a French colonial governor. There have also been calls for the mask’s restitution from local members of the Gabonese community, who protested outside of the auction house. A court decision on the case is expected in December.

A federal judge in California dismissed most of the copyright infringement claims in a lawsuit brought by artists against artificial intelligence (AI) image generator on Monday (30 October). The artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz accused the companies Stability AI, Midjourney and DeviantArt of using their copyrighted images to train AI software without permission. Both Midjourney and DeviantArt use Stable Diffusion, a text-to-image software tool created by Stability AI. The judge ruled that only a direct infringement claim could proceed against Stability AI, while the claims against the two companies that use its software were dropped.