Noah Charney

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Noah's Latest News

Bled Film Festival

Noah has been recruited as "Selector of Feature Films" for the first annual Bled Film Festival, which will be held in Bled, Slovenia June 17-21.  This new festival features high-profile stars among its founders, from Hollywood and the Balkans.  Noah will be choosing eight films to be screened and contend for juried prizes, plus four films shown for free in an open air theater on the shores of Lake Bled, often called the most beautiful place on earth.  For more information, visit

Cultural Heritage Research Prize

Noah is one of a select number of jury members for a brand new prize, established by the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy and former Italian Minister of Culture, Francesco Rutelli.  The Cultural Heritage Research Prize will be awarded annually to someone who distinguishes themselves in the field of cultural heritage protection and recovery.  The prestigious prize includes a substantial cash award as well.  Noah's fellow jurors include  Rutelli, Mounir Bouchenaki, Bonnie Burnham, Jack Lang, Giovanni Nistri, Peter Watson, Hanna Pennock, Ismail Serageldin, and Stefano de Caro.  More information is available here.

Noah's BBC and National Geographic Documentaries

Noah appears as a guest expert and presenter on two TV documentaries this winter.  "The World's Most Expensive Stolen Paintings" appears on BBC2 on December 21, 2013 and "Hunting Hitler's Stolen Art Treasures" appears on Nat Geo Channel on February 5, 2014.

Invited to Consult to UN on Art Crime
Noah has been invited to participate in this year's ISPAC meeting on art crime. ISPAC is the International Scientific and Professional Advisory Committee to the United Nations' Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Program.

The History of Art in 12 Paintings
Noah has been chosen by The Teaching Company to prepare a featured course for their prestigious Great Courses series. He will film a course of his design, called "The History of Art in 12 Paintings," which will be published in the summer of 2015. Noah is the youngest professor ever to be featured in the Great Courses series.

Art Crime Conference at the V&A Museum in London (7 November)
Through ARCA, Noah is organizing a day-long symposium on art crime, hosted by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The symposium will be held on 7 November 2013 and will consist of two sessions, one on "Art Forgery and Provenance," the other on "Art Recovery and Rewards." Speakers include Noah, Vernon Rapley, Richard Ellis, Charlie Hill, Claire Hutcheon, and Jonathan Jones. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance.

TED 2014 Finalist
Noah is a finalist to be one of the twenty annual TED Fellows at the main TED event in 2014. Fingers crossed!

Writing for Esquire
Noah is thrilled to announce that he has begun to write for his favorite magazine, Esquire. You can find links to his articles on his Articles page or on his blog.

Noah in The New Yorker
Noah is quoted as an expert on art forgery in a recent New Yorker feature article about Mark Landis.

Noah's "The Secret History of Art" Blog

  • Esquire’s 5 Craziest Art Investments Ever (and Why They are Kinda Great)

    The Secret History of Art’s latest article for Esquire magazine looks at 5 crazy art investments, following quick on the big sale of Tracey Emin’s My Bed.  Take a look at the article here.

  • A Match Made in Heaven — an Introduction to Rioja Wines

    The Secret History of Art’s latest food article is on Rioja wines, and appears in Honest Cooking:

    There are certain words that bring out the oenophile in all of us. Whether or not you have studied wine, or simply love to drink it, certain regions or grape varietals trigger a Pavlovian reaction, prompting us, if not to salivate on cue, then to fantasize about drinking a wine. “Rioja” is one of them. But aside from professionals in the wine industry, few people know precisely what that word means, beyond having something to do with Spanish wine. Before we get down to some serious drinking, let us examine the history of Rioja—for it is always nice to get to know the subject of an enriching, long-term relationship. And you can enjoy a lifetime of drinking fine Rioja.

    To begin with, Rioja is a region in Spain, divided into three zones (Alta, Baja and Alavesa). Those unfamiliar with wine tend to confuse regions (Rioja, Bordeaux, Chianti) with grape varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Refosco), when the two must be kept distinct. Rioja is a protected term (D.O.C.) because it has international name-recognition, but it can be applied to any wine produced in this region of Spain. The grapes from which Rioja wines are made, however, may come from other regions (such as the Basque Country or Navarre), and may also come from any of the three zones with La Rioja. The region benefits from its geography, located just south of the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain, along the fertile basin of the Ebro and Oja rivers. The river provides nutrients to a region that might otherwise be arid, and the mountains act as a cushion to keep the climate mild and prevent the strong winds that can strike throughout northern Spain. But even within a single, narrow region the three Rioja zones produce variant wines. Rioja Alavesa wines tend to have a higher level of acid, which is in part due to the poorer soil conditions (compared to the two other zones), meaning fewer vines per hectare, as each vine needs more soil from which to draw nutrients. Rioja Baja, the lower region, has a more Mediterranean climate, warmer and drier than elsewhere in La Rioja, with drought as a regular threat. The intense red and high alcohol content distinguishes Rioja Baja from its neighbors. Finally, Rioja Alta, the highest elevation vineyards in the area, feature a shorter season for growth, meaning a lighter wine (the longer the growing season, normally the richer and deeper the wine) with fruitier notes to its palate.

    Wine has been grown in the Rioja region since the pre-Roman times, when ancient Phoenicians enjoyed a lively merchant trade throughout the Mediterranean, and needed a nice beverage over which to haggle and deal. Rioja can boast a rich documented history dating back to at least 873, when an archive notes a donation to the Monastery of San Andres de Trepeana in which Rioja wine is specifically named, suggesting that it was already noteworthy some thirteen-hundred years ago. Monks produced much of the wine in the region, and drank a good deal of it. In 1063, we find the first documented mention of wine development in La Rioja, followed by the legalized status of Rioja wines by King Peter I of Aragon and Navarra, in 1102. The earliest known Spanish poet, Gonzalo de Berceo, who was a 13th century monk at the Susa Monastery in the Rioja region, mentions the wine, which surely helped the flow of his pen. The quality of Rioja wine was so carefully maintained that, in 1635, the mayor of a Rioja town called Logrono made it illegal for carts to travel streets that ran alongside wine cellars, for fear of vibrations that would disturb the wine below. In 1790 things got more serious and organized, with the first meeting of the Royal Economic Society of Rioja Winegrowers, who were powerful enough to push through policies to improve roads and rails, in order to facilitate the transport of wine, which had become a key industry for the region. The 19th century saw techniques imported from Bordeaux, with further measures taken both to maintain a high level of quality and to limit the territory in which Rioja wines could be produced—for Rioja had, by this time, already been a symbol of quality in wine for many centuries, and it was important to protect that brand.

    But what about the tasting, you say? History and theory is all well and good, but it only comes to life, and truly sinks in, when it is combined with practical experience. There are many ways to introduce yourself to Rioja. There is nothing wrong with choosing a bottle at random, but it can be more instructive, and entertaining, to arrange an organized tasting. Because budgets do not always permit the purchase of historical wines, a vertical tasting can be tricky to arrange: these tastings would typically feature a single wine from a single vineyard, but with bottles from a number of different years, to taste the subtleties of one harvest to another. Horizontal tastings are easier to organize. These involve choosing a single wine, all from the same year (and it is fine to choose a recent year), but all from different producers within the same region. First we must choose either white (blanco), rose (Rosado) or red (tinto). Most people associate Rioja with red wine, and a good 85% of the wine from the region is indeed tinto. Reds consist of a mixture of grapes, including the most commonly found varietal, Tempranillo, or some of the other grapes used: Graciano, Mazuelo or Garnacha Tinta—in practice most Riojas combine these grapes with the majority of Tempranillo.

    I recommend one of two types of horizontal tasting. One option is to buy a bottle of wine, from the same year, from each of the three Rioja regions (Alta, Baja and Alavesa). The other would be to choose three vineyards from the same region, and the same year, to taste and compare. Take notes, enjoy with friends, and eat slices of Manchego cheese and jamon. You can’t go wrong, for whichever wines you choose, if it is a true Rioja, you’ll have a match made in Heaven.

    Stay connected to your favorite wine region by joining the Rioja Wine mailing list . Its fast and simple! Just click the banner ad, fill out the form, and you will be automatically be entered into the festive wine dinner. Good luck! #riojabuzz

  • Mariano Pensotti: Writing as Performance Art

    On August 28-30, at Preseren Square in Ljubljana, The Secret History of Art will be one of four writers appearing in a performance art piece entitled “Sometimes I Think, I Can See You” by Argentine director and artist Mariano Pensotti.  It is part of the Mladi Levi (Young Lions) annual festival of contemporary art and dance in Ljubljana, run by Bunker.

    The piece, which has been performed in numerous world cities, features four writers seated somewhere in a large, busy public space (often train stations).  Each has a laptop linked to a giant screen, which projects the words that they write.  The writers can write anything they like, live, for three hours per day, but it must be inspired by or about the people they see passing before them.  In this way the passers-by become part of the writing and, through it, part of the performance.  If you’d like to attend and will be in Ljubljana those days, come to Preseren Square in the city center between 11am and 2pm.  I will be joined by the excellent Slovenian writers Goran Vojnovic, Gabriela Babnik, and Dijana Matkovic.  I will later write about the experience for a magazine.  This will be my first appearance in an art piece, so very excited indeed.

    For more click here.

  • San Francisco Art Talk “Art Lost: The Search for Moshe Rynecki”

    Art Lost: The Search for Moshe Rynecki
    A talk by Elizabeth Rynecki at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

    Thursday, September 4th, 2014
    5:00 – 8:00 PM

    FEE | Members $15
    General Public $20
    Fee includes admission to the Contemporary Jewish Museum

    Directions | Contemporary Jewish Museum
    736 Mission Street (between 3rd and 4th Streets)
    San Francisco, CA 94103

    Join ArtTable as Elizabeth Rynecki talks about her great-grandfather’s work as an artist and her ongoing search and struggles to locate and document his artwork.
    In 1939, Polish artist Moshe Rynecki set about to safeguard his oeuvre of nearly 800 paintings and sculptures. He carefully divided his artwork—documents of everyday life in Poland—into eight bundles that he entrusted with friends in and around Warsaw. He gave lists of the hiding places to family members, hoping to reunite his works after the war.
    Rynecki perished in the Majdanek concentration camp. In the aftermath of the war, his family was able to recover only one bundle of approximately 100 paintings. For years they believed that these were the only surviving works. Over the last decade, however, Elizabeth Rynecki, Moshe’s great-granddaughter, has successfully located works in institutions and private collections in Poland, Israel, the United States, and Canada.
    She will share his story, images of his work, and describe the results of her search in this evening’s program.
    Check-in begins at 5:00pm with self-guided tours of the museum.
    Talk begins at 6:00pm.

    Local contact: Kathy Kenyon

    ArtTable Members and General Public

  • The Art of the Heist: Interview with Matthew Quirk

    The Secret History of Art loves a good heist, whether it comes in the form of a novel or a film.  And the rest of the world seems to agree, as we’ve got a new best-seller from Daniel Silva called “The Heist,” and an art theft movie, “The Art of the Steal,” and those are just within the last week.  In the shameless self-promotion department, you might also refer to the author’s own heist novel, “The Art Thief,” for his thoughts on the matter.

    Few know how to script a heist plot as well as Matthew Quirk.  The New York Times best-selling author of The 500 has a new book out, The Directive, which will surely hit the list as well.  The Secret History of Art and Matthew Quirk talked heists, what makes for great ones, and the difference between filmic and literary heists.

    1.      What are three of your favorite heist books, and three of your favorite heist films?  And what isconsistent about them that you particularly like and feel works well?

    The list is always changing, but for books I’ll say Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton, and I just started The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, and that’s a contender for a top spot. For films: Le Cercle Rouge, Heat, and Reservoir Dogs. I tend to like heist fictions at the extremes: realistic and gritty or smart and stylized. I’m always looking for stories that break out of the genre’s clichés with hard-won new details of how criminals really operate (like Hogan and Hamilton’s books) or a true sense of place. You can also do a great, sensational caper plot that riffs on the clichés. In my own books, I try to split the difference, and map out a fantastic plot that’s firmly rooted in reality, place, and character.

    2.      Why do you think we so often find bad guys, or flawed good guys, to be more interesting than your standard heroic protagonist?  We tend to cheer for thieves in heist stories…

    The villains have always been more compelling than heroes. William Blake claimed that John Milton was rooting for the devil without knowing it when he wrote Paradise Lost. We read thrillers to safely get a taste of danger and excitement. That’s the bad guy’s job, so he tends to steal the show. The standard advice when writing a book is that your villain and his or her designs are the most important part of your story. It seems like the big hits of the past decade or so have caught on to that and the cultural standard may have shifted from a troubled hero to a borderline villainous one (e.g. Tony Soprano and Walter White). I dug into that theme with my main character in The Directive: the temptations of returning to his criminal past, and the pleasures of breaking the rules.

    Heist stories are a special case, because it is typically a much less bloody crime than others, so you can root for the crooks in a way you couldn’t with, say, a serial killer story (though Dexter put a great Robin Hood twist on that rule). It’s a tricky balance in fiction between the attractiveness of fictional outlaws and the real-life repulsiveness of crime. You want to be true to life, but actual crime is typically sad and seedy and violent and futile. I like to play with that tension and show both aspects of the criminal world.

    3.      How did you go about mapping the plot for your latest novel?  The clockwork crime-procedural requires a great deal of preparation on the part of the author.  And it always strikes me as necessary to come up with a plot that “works” without cheating—without a deus ex machina and with “honest” surprises, plot twists, and so on.

    I was a reporter for a long time and research is the best way to procrastinate on writing. I approached The Directive as if I were actually robbing the New York Fed. I learned to pick locks, which has come in handy in real life. To plot the heist, I worked with lock-pickers, hackers, former and current Fed employees, and “penetration testers”—experts who are hired to break into secure facilities in order to find security weaknesses. The most interesting part was learning how different a real 21st-century heist is from the old Hollywood tropes. The modern break-in depends less on brute force and stealth and more on social engineering techniques—similar to con games—that use deception and the abuse of trust to get inside. That was a nice find, because con games are already deeply entwined in the books and my main character’s past. Armed with that research, I went to New York Fed and cased the place. I was very surprised by how easy it was when I sneaked off and accessed a high floor. At first I thought, “Cool, this stuff works,” and then I thought, “What the hell am I doing? I could get arrested. This isn’t a novel.”

    I completely agree with you on cheating. Logic is more important than trickiness in a thriller. Look at Day of the Jackal. The suspense comes from watching it all unfold in plain sight with a growing sense of dread. I like to have a few surprises, but you can get into trouble when you hope a big reveal is the main payoff of your book. Then you are writing a thriller and a mystery. Tackling one genre is hard enough.

    4.      How important is plausibility for you, when reading or watching a movie?  Do you prefer realism or are you happy with a plot twist that is a bit out there, but provides good spectacle.

    I like both realism and a stylized spectacle, as long as the tone is consistent throughout a book or film. With a couple of exceptions, the Steven Soderbergh crime movies are terrific, over-the-top capers. But if a writer has something nonsensical happen because he’s showing off or needs to fix a plot hole, it often feels like laziness, or a lack of a respect for the reader who has given up very precious time and trust to believe in the world of this book or film. What kills me is when a jokey movie suddenly goes dark and ultra-violent, or a tense, realistic plot does something loopy to please the crowd at the end.

    5.      What has to happen for you on page one, and in chapter one, of a good thriller to make you want to read on, and convince you that this is a book you’ll really enjoy?

    It’s hard to pull off, but those first pages have to make it impossible to put the book down without finding out not only what happens next, but also how the book ends. In a well-built thriller, the first pages will establish everything the reader needs to understand the sort of climax the book is racing toward. Not the specifics necessarily, but the main contours: this hero will face this killer by the end and justice will be served or denied. It helps if I have characters that I’m dying to learn more about and can stand to be around for five or six hours.

    6.      Does the advent of computing take anything away from heist plots?  So much stealing goes on by computer hacking, and less by stealthy on-site burglars.  Have we lost anything, in terms of entertainment value, because of this?

    I have a friend who only writes historicals because he thinks cell phones have made suspense impossible. Computers make it harder to write a good heist, for sure. How many times have you seen the same scene, with a pale young hacker lit only by a bank of monitors as he listens to electronica, taps at the keyboard, and tries to make code sound exciting? How about the guy in the second season of House of Cards who kept stroking the pet gerbil like a Bond Villain? I love the show, but that was a real Fonz-over-the-shark moment for me.

    For The Directive, I used a few tech elements, because it’s what real thieves would use, and it was more accurate than the usual hand-waving “and then we crack the system and can do anything” depictions of hacking. But the technological tricks in the book require Mike to be on-site and at-risk. I did track down the technical details of the Federal Reserve System’s secure document network, but I deviated from reality in the book in order to make for a big-time cinematic climax.

    I don’t know if we’ve necessarily lost entertainment value because of new technologies. Hopefully we’ll come out ahead. It ups the ante for authors to do their research and rack their brains for even more crafty ways to create suspense in the world as we know it.

    Learn more about Matthew Quirk by clicking here.

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