RIAH PRYOR

Riah Pryor has tra­versed the dark un­der­belly of art crime in or­der to bring her pas­sion and ex­per­tise to the gen­teel Re­gency town of Chel­tenham

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - WORDS BY: CANDIA MCKORMACK, PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: ANTONY THOMP­SON

Pla­gia­rism [pley-juh-riz-uh m] noun 1. an act or in­stance of us­ing or closely im­i­tat­ing the lan­guage and thoughts of an­other with­out au­tho­ri­sa­tion.

We’ve all been there. The hand-carved scarab be­ing sold for small change in the shadow of the Great Pyra­mid, or the pri­apic fig­urine of­fered with ut­ter­ances of “an­cient” and “price­less” un­der the blis­ter­ing sun atop the Acrop­o­lis. Of course, we know these ob­jects are mass pro­duced – as soon as one is bought, an­other is pro­duced for the next tourist look­ing for a me­mento to take home – so there’s no harm done, is there? But what of the sk­il­ful forg­ers of our great works of art who can fool even the ex­pert eye, and of the gen­uine an­tiq­ui­ties that are be­ing lib­er­ated from their coun­tries and smug­gled in to the line the pock­ets of the al­ready wealthy? Sud­denly the world of in­no­cent tourist tat takes on a much darker air.

It takes a steady nerve and a trained eye to ad­dress the is­sues of art crime; most po­lice de­tec­tives wouldn’t know where to start when iden­ti­fy­ing such ob­jects. This is where ex­perts such as Riah Pryor come in: in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist spe­cial­is­ing in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween art and law, crim­i­nal re­searcher for New Scot­land Yard’s Art and An­tiques Unit… and now Head of Con­tent and Pro­grammes for Chel­tenham Trust.

I meet with her in the con­vivial sur­rounds of The Wilson’s café, with cof­fee ma­chines froth­ing in the back­ground and mums with bug­gies meet­ing over tea and cake, and won­der how she came to work in the shady world of art crime?

“It wasn’t the plan,” she laughs. “To be hon­est, it wasn’t un­til I got to the sixth form that I heard of Art His­tory as a sub­ject. I heard that you got a free trip to Rome if you did the course, and I thought ‘this sounds ex­cel­lent’.”

Riah had al­ways been in­ter­ested in her­itage and art gal­leries, but had never con­sid­ered it as a ca­reer op­tion. She in­stantly fell in love with the sub­ject at A-level, though, aided by hav­ing an “amazing” tu­tor, and couldn’t quite be­lieve her luck in hav­ing dis­cov­ered some­thing that suited her so per­fectly.

“No-one in my fam­ily had an artis­tic back­ground,” she says, “and so I didn’t think it would be an op­tion as a ca­reer… but any­one who loves art his­tory and cul­ture will understand that it takes over your life. You just live for it.”

Fol­low­ing a year out in Florence study­ing art – “I didn’t get any­thing par­tic­u­larly con­struc­tive out of it, but it was amazing be­ing around art” – she went on to UCL and got her BA. What par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested her was our re­la­tion­ship with art in so­ci­ety – the life it has ahead of it af­ter it leaves the artist’s stu­dio. What place will it have in some­one’s home? In the art mar­ket place? What sort of le­gal is­sues might arise? This led to her writ­ing a dis­ser­ta­tion on copy­right and con­tem­po­rary art, work­ing with the Tate to help re­search it.

Hav­ing read The Medici Con­spir­acy by Peter Watson and Ce­cilia Tode­s­chini – “It

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