news real, july 19, 2007
feature, july 12, 2007
Objection, objection!: I would like to thank Riverfront Times for Kathleen McLaughlin's story about the Vogtherr drawings ["Steal Das Book"]. I have a few significant objections, however, to what details Ms. McLaughlin chose not to report. My lawyer John Cahill and I stressed to her the credible idea that the bitter escalation of this case has much to do with Germany's recent and perhaps hypocritical (ever seen the Pergamon Altar so proudly on display in Berlin?) attempts to retrieve the art still held by Russia as war booty. In reply, Russia has pointed to a landmark American case involving the Quedlinburg treasures, for the return of which Germany paid the GI who took the items a king's ransom. When the German state made a noisy, righteous request for the return of the perhaps billions of dollars' worth of paintings, drawings, icons, rare books and manuscripts taken by Stalin's armies, Russia pointed to this confidential settlement. In other words: Pay us you paid the American thief handsomely.
Early offers I made to go to mediation with the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart were bluntly declined. In addition, I had offered to let the Staatsgalerie either pay for the drawings over a period of years or take as much time as necessary to find a benefactor to underwrite the purchase. That was then, this is now.
I've accumulated a bone-crushing legal debt of nearly $200,000. The German state, with its team of well-connected lawyers and globetrotting investigators, has certainly run up a much higher bill. But as German investigator Willi Korte said to the Christian Science Monitor in 2005, "If you want to sue, you sue in this country." Apparently, it's easier and more advantageous to take the moral high ground here in America, however suspect the foothold. Added Korte: "At the least, you can cause the other side considerable financial pain." Remember, all this for a book no one ever looked for.
Perhaps such high stakes explain the possibility that the lawyers for the Staatsgalerie may have tried to influence testimony. I will be the first to admit that I do not know what conversations took place between St. Louis book dealer Michael Hirschfeld and the many lawyers at Andrews Kurth. In time, the courts will determine where truth and responsibility lie and whether what Thomas Kline calls "an inconsequential error in drafting the document" was actually something more calculated or criminal. And the fully fleshed-out story will finally have an ending.
The title riff on Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book is cute, if not teasingly naughty. But the rebel spirit of Abbie Hoffman would have been aptly honored if Ms. McLaughlin had investigated more thoroughly the German government's goon squad of soapbox bureaucrats and cynical Washington lawyers.
Rod Shene, Clayton
Thou doth protest: I am writing to correct certain errors and misconceptions in Kathleen McLaughlin's recent lead article. A novice or neutral person would receive an unjustified, negative impression about what antiquarian booksellers, antique stores and art galleries do given the tone of that article. I am the last of four generations in my family in the antique field in St. Louis. Since 1930, we have been appraisers of all fine objects and creators of collections. In addition, we are consultants to museums and collectors, purchasers and vendors of fine books and antiques. We promote culture, fine art and education in the community, and we try to preserve what little remains of culture in the onslaught of the soulless corporate body and the mechanical dream with its many horrid cardboard castles on Clayton Road in Ladue and beyond.
Thus, we protest that we merely flip merchandise on eBay. "Flip" is a vulgar term used more properly in reference to real estate, stock swindles and/or hustles it's not appropriate for what we do in the book world. We purchase valid items and, in the case of the rare incunabula in question, were required to advertise overseas through eBay or Web sites as ads for our affairs. I attend book fairs in California, New York and London on a regular basis and major antique shows around the world.
We are open by appointment and display many of our wares in fine rooms at Ladue Galleries, where the photos were taken for this article. Our warehouse offices have darkly stained floors which are covered by attractive oriental carpets and area carpets, and our shelves are lined with many wonderful books, so the appearance of chaos in our case was a bit overrated.
Michael Julian Hirschfeld, St. Louis
Riverfront Times seeks freelance contributors to render riveting written reflections of St. Louis' visual arts landscape. Applicants should possess a strong background in arts and feature writing, familiarity with the local art scene and the ability to submit in-depth, thought-provoking copy while adhering to unforgiving deadlines. Treatises steeped in impenetrable academic jargon will be transported to Art Hill in Forest Park and set ablaze. Please e-mail résumé and writing samples to email@example.com or send to:
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