Journal of Art Crime Double Interview

Marc Balcells & Christos Tsirogiannis

/ by Marc Balcells and Christos Tsirogiannis

The Journal of Art Crime is a twice-yearly, peer-reviewed academic journal in the interdisciplinary study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Having run since 2009, it was the first, and remains the only, dedicated academic journal in the field, and is the go-to place for the latest scholarship. Published by ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes Against Art), last week it was cited in a New York Times article, dramatically increasing its popular profile overnight, as well as that of one of its three co-editors, Christos Tsirogiannis, whose research has been instrumental in identifying looted archaeological objects in major museums and for sale at auction houses and galleries. What follows is a double-interview between two of the three editors of the Journal of Art Crime (the third being Noah Charney), Marc Balcells and Christos Tsirogiannis. For more information on The Journal of Art Crime and how to subscribe, click here.


Marc Balcells on Christos Tsirogiannis

I would like to introduce you my colleague at ARCA, the new co-editor of the Journal of Art Crime, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.


Christos owes his passion for fighting looting to his parents, Perikles and Athena. They were the ones who, as early as 1977, presented him with images from the discovery of Phillip II tomb, Alexander’s the Great father, in Northern Greece, Macedonia. They were the first who indicated to young Christos the scale of the destruction that could have been made if the looters had come first…


Since that day, Christos has known that he would become an archaeologist. Working as a specialised excavation technician throughout his undergraduate years at the University of Athens, he first acquired a B.A. in Archaeology and History of Art. With several years of excavation experience, he started working as an archaeologist at the ancient Agora of Athens, before becoming a reserve officer for the Greek Army. Even there, archaeology continued to be part of his life, as he discovered two ancient settlements (in Crete and on the Greek-Albanian borders) and an ancient cemetery in Macedonia. Delivering the antiquities and indicating their find spots to the Greek Archaeological Service, Christos Tsirogiannis was awarded with a medal from the Greek Army and a contract to continue his career as an archaeologist, after the completion of his army service.


In August 2004, his world changed, as he got a phone call from the headquarters of the Greek Police Art Squad, asking him to accompany the police officers on a raid of a monastery outside Athens, where eventually antiquities without documented collecting history were found. From that day forward, and for more than 4 years, Christos worked daily for the police as an unpaid volunteer, escorting the police on raids throughout Greece and identifying looted antiquities, while keeping his day job at the Ministry of Culture.  He became a forensic archaeologist with vast experience and, after assisting the police with the internationally-famous raids related to an international illicit antiquities network, at the villa of the former Getty Museum curator, Marion True, in Paros and on Schinousa, Greece, he was offered a post with the Ministry of Justice. He participated in all the major cases regarding the repatriation of looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from Greece during the period 2006-2008 (e.g. Getty Museum, Shelby White private collection, Jean David Cahn Gallery, etc) and, since 2007, he has been notifying foreign governments whenever he identifies illicit antiquities in galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, internationally. Over the last few years, the Italian authorities have repatriated and continue to claim several antiquities following Tsirogiannis’ successful research.


In 2009, Christos Tsirogiannis was invited by the eminent archaeologist Professor Lord Colin Renfrew to come to the University of Cambridge to deepen his knowledge of the dark side of the international antiquities market. Under the supervision of two of the world’s leading authorities on the trade in antiquities without documented collecting histories, Dr Christopher Chippindale (Cambridge) and Professor David Gill (University Campus Suffolk), Christos completed his PhD on the international illicit antiquities network, at Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology.


Through his regular column entitled Nekyia (after Homer Odyssey 11) in the Journal of Art Crime, Christos Tsirogiannis brings to the surface new cases from the underworld of illicit antiquities trading, hoping not only that the object will soon afterwards be repatriated, but also that the reconstruction of its true collecting history will broaden our knowledge about our heritage and our past. Currently, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis is a lecturer for the Association for Research into Crimes against Art summer course


Christos Tsirogiannis Interviews Marc Balcells

Marc started paying attention to art and cultural heritage crimes in 2009, when he moved to New York City, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship. Never, in his wildest dreams, he would have imagined that, as a criminologist, his research interests would have led him there. However, the more Marc reflects about how things unfolded in his career, the more he realizes it were meant to happen.


First of all, Marc studied Law in his city, Barcelona. In the several Criminal Law courses he took there was no mention to art crimes whatsoever, even though the Spanish Criminal Code punishes this form of crime in several of its articles. By 2001, after four years of law school, and being twenty-one, he specialized in Criminal Law, but again, there was no mention of cultural heritage crimes in that Masters program. No art thieves in his list of prosecutions, either.


Marc’s first academic goal was always Criminology (law was just a detour), and by 2005, when he had founded his own law firm, he had the time to go back to the University and get his second degree. This is the moment when academia starts to enter Marc’s genes and he participates in several research projects: on prosecutorial powers along European countries, on children at risk of exclusion, on the evolution of child pornography... Yet art crimes are still missing in the picture.


However, when he moved to New York to embark on a PhD program, Marc decided to start it with a blank research slate. And finally, art crimes found him, precisely with ARCA’s book Art and Crime. A librarian from Rutgers University showed Marc the book, when he explained her that he was traveling to Philadelphia to present at the American Society of Criminology, and he wanted to attend the two art crime panels scheduled there. No need for more. After purchasing the book, attending the panels and meeting the presenters, there was no turning back.


Four years later, Marc joined ARCA and many other organizations and projects devoted to cultural heritage protection; he has taken ARCA’s Postgraduate Certificate Program; he has read and written and published about it; he has presented and taught on the topic, and tried to be a relevant voice and an advocate in the media; he has met a myriad of important players and colleagues in the field. And of course, Marc hopes to keep working on it, always from a criminological perspective, which is the one he knows best. Luckily for him, ARCA has considered Marc worthy of their confidence, as his recent charges of associate editor and trustee (that he has proudly incorporated into his resume) prove. And to be a little more knowledgeable on what he writes and talks about regularly, he has finished a third degree, on Human Sciences, where he focused in classical culture.


His main research revolves around archaeological looting, and more precisely, on its supply side. More precisely, Marc is interested in tomb raiding in the Mediterranean basin, even though nowadays he is mostly studying Italian tombaroli. When he is not researching in this topic, he is reading about willful destruction of art, whether it is perpetrated individually (vandalism) or in armed conflicts.



This interview was originally published in The Journal of Art Crime. For more information on The Journal of Art Crime and how to subscribe, click here.

Marc Balcells

is a lecturer for the Association for Research into Crimes against Art summer course and is co-editor of The Journal of Art Crime.

Christos Tsirogiannis

is a lecturer for the Association for Research into Crimes against Art summer course and is co-editor of The Journal of Art Crime.