Letter to Anna Kisluk of Art Research International
As I told you on the phone last week, I'm sending you the catalogue of those mosaics from ancient civilizations, which were for sale at Vive la France, an Art-Deco furniture business on the fourth floor at 104 West 14th Street, in August of 1989.
I came across these mosaics as I was answering and ad for lodging put in the French Press by the company.
I am a French musician, photographer and writer, and my aesthetic quest is all-encompassing. So when I saw these mosaics for sale in a loft on 14th Street, I was so shocked I was near fainting. I knew that a priceless cultural heritage had been ripped off, leaving the present and future generations aimless without the genius of their forefathers.
Besides, having myself suffered numerous thefts and destruction of my creative efforts and equipment (manuscripts, photographs, cameras, musical instruments) I couldn't help but feel empathy.
I made a deposit to reserve a room but during the following week I changed my mind and returned to get my deposit back. I had an urgent need to relocate, but the rooms advertised seemed to have been built hastily within the fifth floor loft. I'm not even sure the walls reached to the ceiling. The rooms were of bare plaster and the doors and locks were new and flimsy. There was a common area for cooking and living, a large table for eating, and for bathroom, only one shower, sink and toilet, also new. A group of about ten young men was in the living area. They stopped talking when I entered and looked at me in an unfriendly manner. An atmosphere of secrecy surrounded the place, and the people I talked to seemed to be holding something back.
I felt it would be too easy to break into my room while I was at work, and the prospect of sharing the kitchen and dining table with these persons was unappealing. Besides, I was told that tenants were not authorized to use the only elevator, a manned service- elevator. It was used exclusively by the antiques business.
On the same floor a corridor led to an exhibition area where I saw the mosaics for the first time. While looking at these works I had a feeling of pure horror, knowing what crime had been committed to bring them there.
Around the same time the enclosed article appeared in the New York Times.
On my second visit I got my deposit back less forty dollars. While I was there, I went to see the mosaics again. Four young men were just bringing one in. It was about 6 x 4 feet. The young men could hardly lift it off the floor and they had to lift it higher to lay it on a wooden cube where it would be displayed.
When the two young men in the front rested the mosaic on the edge of the cube, a deep crack started to form from the lower left to the upper right of the work. I felt like art was being raped. I didn't want to believe my eyes. The young men looked totally amateurish, unaware of the value of the work. They were utterly careless, not even carrying the mosaic parallel to the cube but at a weird angle. They looked like European students on a summer job that promised travel. They seemed to have not one single speck of respect for the object they were handling, as if this and a slab of meat were all the same to them. Without a word I picked up a catalogue and left. On the lower floor, where Art-Deco furniture was sold, I pickep up the enclosed postcard.
You'll note I'm sure the cavalier attitude of the catalogue. "beautiful mosaics" is a revolting understatement, as well as the absence of capital letters anywhere you would expect them. Another detail I noted is the mention of swastikas as ornamental motifs, when in fact not a single one can be seen in the catalogue. And I might add, as I read again the catalogue, that the writing is very poor, as if it had been done by a foreign ignoramus. I would say a French one.
I have decided to send you the original catalogue and not photocopies of it as I said. As I hope an investigator will promptly be sent out on this tip I'm providing you, I want to make his job easier, and make it possible for him to pretend that he saw the mosaics back in 1989. So I'm keeping the photocopies.
Miss Little, you said that you hoped the mosaics could be retrieved and I agree with you totally. But I think it is also of capital importance that the art thieves be stopped, before they do more damage to the soul of future generations worldwide, leaving them with nothing to contemplate but rubble.
I have only given an occasional thought to the affair but every time I looked at this catalogue I felt guilty for not doing anything, because I had promised myself to report what I saw. So finally last week I quieted my consciense by calling you and since then I have been remembering the events in as much detail as possible, and I have attempted to understand their meaning.
Based on eye-witness experience, I offer you my own train of thoughts as follows:
If the young men stopped talking as soon as I entered the living room on my first vist, wasn't it because they didn't want me to know that they were French?
By personally seing the young men bring in the mosaic and let it crack, I infer that the concrete it was imbedded in was still fresh. Hard concrete wouldn't have cracked that way. The lack of concern shown by the young men when the crack formed further indicates that they were accustomed to this occurrence and that it was not unusual.
They might indeed have been deliberate in leaning the mosaics sideways against the edge of the cube, and in putting the mosaics on display before the concrete had hardened. That way any crack occurring during handling would not be visible and irreparable. It was also necessary to make room in the workshop for the next frame to be filled in.
If the cement were fresh, it meant that the mosaics had just been embedded in cement, right there on the 5th floor.
If the mosaics had been newly re-constituted, how had they gotten there?
Has the modus operandi been established? Do the thieves take detailed notes and photographs of the mosaics before tearing them down, then code and sort the tessera by colors and ship them as unrelated, innocuous looking merchandise?
My impression is that Vive La France is a steady Art-Deco business, and that it has rented-out space to the mosaics operators for a limited time, long enough to reassemble the works and sell some of them.
The catalogue of mosaics doesn't list any name, address or telephone number, which seems to indicate that the mosaics sale was astonishingly a fly-by-night deal. Just like Ms. Goldberg who couldn't find a home for her loot and surely spent a lot of money shipping it back and forth across the Atlantic. She should have been prosecuted for possession of stolen property.
How fragile yet cumbersome these mosaics are! Obviously they were never meant to travel. May they weigh, in their bed of concrete, like a curse on whoever seeks personal gain from them. Now maybe the unsold ones are piled upon each other in some secluded place for nobody to see.
Isn't there a likelihood that the Cyprus mosaics and those in the catalogue might have been stolen by the same team? After all it's a highly specialized type of work, a niche in the market, and once you master the technique it gets easier and more profitable each time (unless potential buyers in New York got scared by the New York Times article).
When I called you last week to report about these mosaics, I thought I had no personal connection with the affair and that I was acting only for art's sake. But in the past few days I have come to think that there might be a connection between the mosaics thefts and the thefts I suffered myself.
I have come to think that the ad offering a room to rent in the France-Amerique weekly was specifically intended for me, so that if I moved to this place, it would be an easy inside job to steal my artistic property (which is actually what happened three months later). And the only person I know who has such a sinister interest in my creative output is my own sister.
Here is her identification, as well as her husband's and her son's: - Agn�s Marie Anne PICART, who sometimes keeps her former married name ECH�NE and is presently married to Mr. GIROT, and was born in Paris (14eme) on September 16, 1948; - Michel Philippe Charles GIROT, a.k.a. Valentin or Val (he signs his paintings "Val") is in his forties.
Both have an address at Clausevigne house, city of Valady, in the department of Aveyron, in France, and an "atelier" in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Another possible address is 3 rue Fran- �aise in Paris, 1st arrondissement. Mr Girot is an artist-mosaicist. When I met him in Paris in 1976, he was doing interior renovation and decoration. His specialty was to decorate kitchens and bathrooms with original mosaic work.
- Mathias ECHENE, Mrs. Picart's son by her first marriage, born around March 11, 1970. I have been told that he was in Turkey in the summer of 1989.
Agnes Picart is my elder sister. She is four years older than I and there are two sisters between us. When I was a child, it was not unusual to find my toys destroyed, like just the day after Christmas: inflatable animals punctured with a tiny needle prick, records scratched etc. She would also force me to give her my favorite stuffed animals so she could "give them to poor children", and play countless dirty tricks at my expense. My three older sisters terrorized me so that I never dared to complain to my parents. When I was around 8 or 9 years old, Agnes took me apart and told me that if anything happened to me, it wasn't she who did it, but a secret society called "La Main Noire" (the Black Hand).
During my teens, twenties and thirties, my works of photography and writing were stolen or destroyed, as well as my cameras and guitars. In general any evidence of my creative spirit was annihilated, which drove me repeatedly close to suicide over the years.
Agnes and Mr. Girot visited me in New York in June 1989 and their behavior towards me is in direct line with the mental frame of the mosaics thieves. As I just said, hardly three months after I had moved to my present address, the collection of photographs (negatives and prints) I had taken during my first five years in New York disappeared from my apartment, when my sister had shown such an unnatural interest in them during her June visit.
Since we have the same parents, I know for a fact that she, unlike me, has access to vast amounts of cash which I think she uses to wrong ends, including bribing her way around, in the general pursuit of spiting and de-secrating Art.
We and our other siblings were raised in postwar France in a Nazi-Catholic household and this might further explain why my elder sister, like the arrow-head for the whole family, is so intent on thwarting my efforts at self expression:
Nazi ideology glorifies motherhood, but unmarried women have a right to work, albeit in strictly "pink-collar" jobs. Free-thinkers and artists are undesirable elements. Therefore, since I am a childless woman-artist, my sister, a mother of three, feels justified in showing me what it costs to disobey the "rules", although she only does it in a covert manner. I am an easy victim, since she has known me from birth. But the mother that she is enrolls her own son to aid and abet in her criminal activities.
I want to add to her psychological portrait, that she has strong leadership abilities and is an organizational wizard.
I have written a detailed account of my sister's behavior when she visited me in June 89, and the circumstances that made it necessary for me to move. This account shows how my visit to the 14th Street location was only one more episode in my life of hardships, but an episode that she had planned. It has an indirect bearing on the mosaics proper, because it shows my sister's passion for deceit, victimization and lawlessness.
In case you wonder, I always held the detective story in some contempt as a literary genre, unlike Agn�s who was an avid consumer. But circumstances force me to sleuth on and around my own life, and become knowledgeable in matters of intelligence and conspiracy, however loathsome the subject to me. I would rather play music.
That's why I have long resisted the necessity of taking steps to solve the problem of systematic art theft and destruction I have suffered all my life (I'm forty). Another reason is that when your whole family gangs up against you with a lot of money, you don't always know what to do. So I plainly hope that if you wield power for the benefit of humanity, I, as an artist, will benefit from it in a particular way.
I would like very much to know the result of your ID check and would appreciate a message left on my machine to contact you. If the check is positive, then I have a lot more information.
I called Mr. Thomas Kline this morning, the Washington lawyer who represents the Church of Cyprus, and I am sending him a copy of this letter and of the catalogue. Sincerely, Brigitte Picart.
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