21 February 2016


by Marc Masurovsky

Clothing stores are lined up side by side, seeking our attention, with their fabrics, hues and colors. Restaurants beckon to satisfy our taste buds with their offerings, presumably reflecting cultural preferences from around the world. That is the commercial and social world in which we live. The same should hold true for commercial databases collecting information about art stolen decades ago or yesterday. Their field of advertising lies in the virtual world far from our prying eyes. If you seek that kind of service, you must search for it in cyberspace. Your search brings up at least two proprietary (private, for-profit) art databases and a small clutch of freely accessible sites that cover specific geographic areas.

The universe of proprietary stolen art databases, strangely enough, emanates from London, UK—the Art Loss Register (ALR) whose CEO is Julian Ratcliffe, and Art Claim, which is part of the Art Recovery Group, launched last year, headed by Christopher Marinello, former executive at ALR.

Although ruthless in its manifold expressions, competition can be “healthy."  Right now, having two proprietary, for-profit, stolen art databases is better than leaving the market of commercial stolen art due diligence to a single outfit. Comparative shopping, which consumers prefer and are accustomed to, is an integral part of due diligence, checking multiple sources as long as your budget allows it. Still, searches for objects through ALR and Art Claim can be costly and therefore are largely confined to businesses involved directly or indirectly with art and cultural institutions than individuals engaging in personal or academic research.

In order to thrive, both companies have a duty to offer what’s best for the art world and for those who have been victimized by art thefts, whether motivated by anti-Semitism, civil unrest, or plain greed and criminal self-interest. It is in the best interest of the consumer to encourage a multi-source approach to due diligence. The more resources are available, the theory goes, the more likely a consumer of art and culture can exercise her due diligence in ascertaining that an object carries with it no taint, no trace of illicit activity that could jeopardize its ownership or display.

Live long and prosper!

Julian Ratcliffe, CEO, ALR
Chris Marinello, CEO, ARG