Dec 18, 2008

Financial Innovations and the Antiquities Trade

Earlier this year I was asked to participate in a gathering of lawyers, archaeologists, antiquities dealers, economists, and members of the museum community at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica California: "Financial Innovations to Curb Looting and Preserve Cultural Resources"

The institute has published a report available here (registration required). From the press release:

Participants examined how market-based financial innovations could help stem the black market on antiquities by changing incentives that would create cultural and economic value to all stakeholders.

“An open, more efficient market can help address many of the problems that plague the antiquities trade, including poverty, corruption and environmental and cultural degradation,” said Glenn Yago, director of capital markets at the Milken Institute. “The whole chain of events, from country of origin to museum or personal collector, needs a new set of legal market-based rewards.”



I gave a few comments on the intersection of the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales, which I expanded and developed into a longer article.

I've read the report, and it offers three potential ways we might use these "financial innovations" to reform the antiquities trade:
  • long-term leases for museums and exhibitions
  • museum/collector partnership-sponsored digs
  • the design and development of archaeological development bonds
The first is already taking place with increasing regularity. The latter two will likely be met with more controversy, but they do have a lot of merit I think if they are implemented carefully and thoughtfully. Any reform will have to have the support of nations of origin, and they have to be confident that their efforts are producing a good deal for them, and aren't just a continuation of the taking of recent centuries.

The event itself was great, and it brought together a number of stakeholders -- including archaeologists and antiquities dealers. It was clear that they have deep-seated disagreements, but there was a core of things upon which they did agree, which is the foundation of any effort at reform.

I strongly encourage those interested in the antiquities trade to give the report a read.

Dec 11, 2008

Deacessioning, Art and the Bottom Line

NAgifford.jpg
NAchurch.jpg
There's been a great deal written about the National Academy's decision to sell these two works Scene on the Magdalene  by Frederic Edwin Church (1854) and Mt. Mansfield, by Sanford Robinsons Gifford (1859). 

Lee Rosenbaum was the first to report the story (though she seems a little too fond of criticizing conventional news outlets for not linking her in -- despite a paucity of links to other blogs by Lee herself).  As regular readers of Lee will know she has been very critical of deacessioning generally and this one in particular: 

I have never credited the deaccession-or-die argument and I still don't. That was Fisk University's justification for its attempt to monetize its Stieglitz Collection. When it was instructed by a judge not only to keep the collection but to get it back up on public view, it somehow managed to raise funds the old-fashioned way, allowing it both to display the collection and to keep the university afloat. I believe that deaccessioning is the easy way out, even more tempting today as museums grapple with Dow-ravaged endowments and distressed donors.
 But she notes:

 The National Academy is an honorary association of artists ... who are responsible for its governance. The artist/members voted 181 to 1 ... in favor of selling the works. An alternative that was considered but rejected was selling the Academy's swank Fifth Avenue mansion and moving to less pricey quarters.
 Donn Zaretsky at the invaluable art law blog responds to this argument:
 So let me get this straight. The museum runs a "chronic operating deficit." Its $10-million endowment is "restricted to specific purposes and cannot be used for general operating funds." Its artist board members voted 181 to 1 in favor of the sale. The purchase agreement "stipulated that the paintings were to be hung publicly." There's a good chance they'll end up on view at the Crystal Bridges Museum.

And we're supposed to be outraged by this . . . why?
I think Zaretsky makes the more compelling argument here.  Is art really this static?  He notes yesterday as well that:

Another question worth exploring is whether it's sensible to draw such a sharp distinction between the acquisition of art, on the one hand, and other ways museums spend money, on the other. Take, for example, Whitechapel Gallery, only because it was just in the news earlier this week. It recently completed a $20 million renovation and expansion -- a "desperately needed" makeover. "The added space will allow the gallery to remain open continuously, whereas before it had to close about 10 weeks a year when installing new art. Its educational space was too small to accommodate even an average-size school class, and the former library had no wheelchair access." Is it not possible to see those things as every bit as important to the institution's mission as the acquisition of additional artwork? Is keeping the museum open an extra 10 weeks a year not a good art-related reason? Does expanding space for education not count either? Why should we automatically assume that buying art always justifies a deaccessioning, but that no other use of proceeds -- no matter how important to an institution's mission -- ever can?

The argument against deaccessioning is essentially that funding should be found from private donors somehow, and its better for a museum to shutter its doors, and close up shop temporarily and move across town than to sell  a work.  Let's compare the National Academy's decision with the difficulties at Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art.  MOCA pencilled itself into a financial corner.  The institution is in dire financial straights, but according to the LA Times' Tim Rutten:

[T]he curatorial staff was busy putting on exhibitions that won acclaim around the world, nobody bothered about the cost. Year after year, as expenses outstripped revenue, the board let the professional managers dip into capital -- the endowment -- to cover the shortfall in operating expenses. More recently, they've also been borrowing from restricted gifts to the museum, including those for new acquisitions. While other institutions were pinching pennies and cutting back, Strick actually increased the size of MOCA's professional staff by at least 50 people.As one trustee, who also asked to remain anonymous, said this week, "All this happened without anybody on the board screaming -- and somebody should have screamed."
 We might point to the financial mismanagement, but how much of this financial difficulty can be focused on the decision to focus on the art itself, on the acclaimed exhibitions.   MOCA seems to have focused entirely on the art, and now needs the art world equivalent of a financial bailout.  The National Academy has instead chosen to deaccession works, which has produced a dramatic reaction from the Association of Art Museum Directors essentially ostracizing the New York institution from the American Art community.  Are the two related? 

I find it very interesting how swiftly the AAMD responded to the National Academy, especially given the downright glacial pace with which it responds to instances of antiquities looting or illegal export.  But might the AAMD be also sending a message to MOCA here, and other institutions in looming financial difficulty that in the current economic climate deaccessioning is not a viable option?  (As I was writing I notice that  Christopher Knight has picked up on the same possibility).  That seems the most likely reason for the dramatic and swift response.  Fund raising and arts funding is going to be tighter in the coming years and months.  The United States has largely been immune from these kinds of painfull art departures, in large part because it has been the buyer.  But as American dominance may be waning, perhaps there will be some tension between America's expansive art buying policy and the loss of works of art from museums and instituions.  I think there are a lot of complicated questions to resolve here, as art moves from the historical financial and economic centers of America in cities like Philadelphia or Boston to Bentonville Arkansas or even abroad.  Perhaps America's laws will have to shift and become more 'retentionist' as this art loss becomes more common. 

Limiting Art and Antiquities Restitution?

So argues Norman Rosenthal in the Art Newspaper today.  The former Exhibitions Secretary at the Royal Academy does not see the merit in the current expansion of restitution and repatriation.  He draws parallels between antiquities restitution cases and the claims involving Nazi looted artworks. 

Since the late 1990s there has been a strong push towards provenance research of collections and museums, and restitution of items that were looted or taken by the Nazis during their period of power in Europe from 1933 to 1945. This process has been ongoing for ten years, and the items in question have often been claimed by people distanced by two or more generations from their original owners.
I have, perhaps, an idiosyncratic, non-politically-correct view that many people will disagree with, but I believe history is history and that you can’t turn the clock back, or make things good again through art.

History has always looked after works of art in strange ways. Ever since the beginning of recorded history, because of its value, art has been looted and as a result arbitrarily distributed and disseminated throughout the world. Of course, what happened in the Nazi period was unspeakable in its awfulness. I lost many relatives, whom I never knew personally, and who died in concentration camps in the most horrible of circumstances. I believe, however, that grandchildren or distant relations of people who had works of art or property taken away by the Nazis do not now have an inalienable right to ownership, at the beginning of the 21st century. If valuable objects have ended up in the public sphere, even on account of the terrible facts of history, then that is the way it is.

If, because of provenance research, works of art are taken from museums, whether in Russia, Germany, France, the US or the UK, and are then sold on for profit or passed around for political expediency, it is nearly always the rich who are making themselves richer. The vast majority of individuals, who were beaten up or killed during the Nazi period—or indeed by other oppressors in different parts of Europe—did not have art treasures that their children and grandchildren can now claim as compensation. The concept of the “universal museum” is also, in certain circumstances, a politically useful euphemism. Nonetheless, it has to be good that important works of art should be available to all through public ownership. Restitution claims from museums go against this idea and result in the general culture being impoverished.

He makes a good point that much of the restitution litigation has been very profitable for both attornies and auction houses.  But these claims are in response to very clear violations of the law.  Perhaps we need to be more careful about what circumstances an art or antiquity claim should be made, but when laws are broken claimants should have a right to justice.  He concludes by arguing for a statute of limitations on these claims.  However such limitations periods currently exist.  The difficulty is not the amoutn of time we might choose for a period, but rather what circumstances trigger the running of that limitations period. 

Dec 10, 2008

Ninth Circuit Hears Nazi Restitution Appeal

It's not often works of art are implicated by both World Wars, but these paintings present a conflict between successors of claimants from the First World War and claimants from the Second World War.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday heard an appeal over these 500-year-old works of art seized by the Bolsheviks and the Nazis, Saher v. Norton Simon Art Museum, 07-5669. Pictured here are Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1520. The claimant, Marei Von Saher is the successor in interest to Jacques Goudstikker who bought the works in a 1931 auction in Berlin. The works remained there in Amsterdam until 1940 when the Nazis instituted a forced sale.

After the war, Desiree Goudstikker reached a settlement with the Dutch government. She received some of her husband's inventory, but did not claim another set of works because that would have ment returning the purchase price received from the Germans.

The Dutch government transferred those works to George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, the heir of a noble Russian family who was thought to have lost the paintings to the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.

The issue here is the timeliness of the action, which may have implications for other claimants -- including antiquities. Kenneth Ofgang, Staff Writer for Metropolitan New-Enterprise has more:


"This has nothing to do with foreign policy,” Kaye told the judges. U.S. District Judge John Walter of the Central District of California had ruled that Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 354.3 is preempted because it conflicts with federal primacy in foreign affairs. Fred A. Rowley Jr. of Munger, Tolles and Olson, representing Pasadena’s Norton Simon Art Museum and its supporting foundation said the district judge was correct and the dismissal of Marei Von Saher’s action should be affirmed. Von Saher, a Connecticut resident, sued last year following the collapse of mediation over her claim that she and her family have lawful title to Adam and Eve, a diptych painted by famed German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder in the 16th Century.Von Saher’s late husband, Eduard “Edo” Von Saher, was the son of Jacques Goudstikker, a Dutch Jew who was one of Europe’s leading art dealers in the years leading up to World War II. Goudstikker fled Holland when the Nazis invaded in 1940, but was killed in an accidental fall aboard ship. His widow, Desiree Goudstikker, and their son eventually came to the United States and became citizens, having left behind their gallery; hundreds of art works, many of them by famous painters; and valuable real estate. Young Edo Goodstikker became Edo Von Saher after his mother remarried. The parties agree that Jacques Goudstikker purchased the wood panels at an auction in Berlin in the 1930s. But while Von Saher claims that her father-in-law acquired good title from the Soviet government, the foundation charges that he knew that Cranach’s work had been wrongfully expropriated from the wealthy and powerful Stroganoff family after it fled the Russian Revolution. The museum and foundation say museum benefactor Norton Simon lawfully acquired the panels for $800,000 from Commander George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, who renounced his hereditary title, became a U.S. citizen, and served in the Navy during World War II.

The primary issue is whether California's special limitations rule for works looted during the Holocauset era, Sec. 354.3 conflicts with an Executive Order issued by President Truman.

See here for more on Jacques Goudstikker.

Dec 9, 2008

Peru Files Suit Against Yale

Last Friday, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Peru quietly filed suit against Yale University seeking the return of a number of objects from in and around Machu Picchu. The objects were excavated and removed to the United States by Hiram Bingam in the early part of the 20th Century. This is the culmination of a long process between Peru and Yale, in which the parties had seemingly agreed to a beneficial compromise for both. The suit will of course be interesting to unfold, as it would seem to push the boundaries for a court resolution of a dispute over objects which were removed from Peru in the waning years of the imperial age.

The suit was expected, as Peru had made the tentative decision last month to bring suit. This after what had appeared to be a happy resolution to the dispute, with Yale offering a very substantial settlement including an international traveling exhibition and the construction of a new museum and research center in Peru in exchange for a new 99-year lease on the objects.

That deal fell through, and now Peru has decided to seek redress in Federal Court.

I've had a chance to quickly read over the complaint and I see a number of interesting issues:
  • The degree to which the 1970 UNESCO Convention may apply -- as an international instrument and policy imperative.
  • If there will be further development of the requirements neeeded to establish national ownership over an object. The complaint cites an 1893 Decree which prohibited removal of objects absent special permission from the government. A potential issue may be what kind of special permission --if any -- Hiram Bingham had from Peruvian authorities at the time.
  • Also, there will likely be an interesting back and forth over whether Peru's suit is timely. The complaint argues that there has only recently been a demand and refusal of the objects, though there appears to be the possibility of a strong laches defense for Yale given the time which has passed since the objects left Peru. Yale may have a strong defense by arguing it has held the objects in a transparent way, and Peru has impinged Yale's rights by waiting so long to bring a claim.
  • Finally, there may be interesting conflicts of law issues which arise.
A win for Peru in court may set a precedent for other future claims from the imperial age, and may extend further the window for nations of origin to seek the repatriation and restitution of objects. This would be a powerful legal option going forward, in which the pendulum has seemingly already swung back to favor nations of origin already.

However even if the court dispute is unsuccessful, Peru may still have a good outcome if they can sway public opinion at home or abroad. I have more questions than answers at this point. I wonder to what extent Peru may be seeking a public shaming of Yale in the hopes of punishing them or forcing them to apologize for taking these objects away. It should be noted that the objects themselves are primarily interesting for their intellectual value. They are not prized for their inherent beauty or value. Their primary purpose would seem to be to assist in research and other pursuits. One wonders if Peru would be able to perform this research function as well as Yale University? Or, if those intellectual pursuits might have been best advanced if Peru had been able to reach an agreement with Yale which would have resulted in the construction of a research center in Peru. Isn't the 'star' of the ancient city the well-preserved ruins themselves?

The initial complaint is here ($).

Hat Tip: Peter Tompa.

Dec 8, 2008

Recovery in Odessa

This work titled Caravaggio's Taking of Christ or Kiss of Judas (though it might in fact just be a copy of another Caravaggio) has been recovered after it was taken from the Museum of Western and Eastern Art in Odessa.  No deatils on the recovery yet.  The work was stolen in July.

Dec 5, 2008

"Christies takes disputed earrings off auction block"

From today's Christian Science Monitor:
The gold neo-Assyrian earrings were claimed by Iraq but awaiting the highest bidder Monday in New York. Just days before the sale of ancient art and antiquities, however, Christie's took the jewelry, believed to be from the treasure of Nimrud, off the auction block. 
Christie's says it is cooperating with an investigation into whether the earrings were in fact stolen from Iraq.
"When Christie's learned that there might be an issue with the provenance of the earrings they withdrew the lot from the sale," says Sung-Hee Park, a spokeswoman for the auction house in New York. "The lot is still with Christie's in New York, but we are cooperating in the investigation." 
As of Wednesday night, when a Monitor story detailed an Iraqi petition to stop the sale, the earrings were still part of the Dec. 9 auction. On Thursday morning, the auction house website said Lot 215 – a pair of neo-Assyrian earrings believed to be between 9,000 to 10,000 years old – had been withdrawn. 
US officials say they have been involved for at least several weeks in trying to prevent the earrings from being sold after they were alerted that the ancient jewelry might have been part of the treasures of Nimrud, one of Iraq's greatest archaeological finds. 
"This is an issue we have been aware of for quite some time," says Adam Ereli, spokesman for the US Embassy in Baghdad.
The Christie's spokeswoman said she did not know why they were publicly withdrawn from sale only Thursday.
The treasures of Nimrud are considered one of the most important finds of the last century – the hundreds of pieces of gold jewelry, bowls, and ornaments compare in lavishness to the jewelry from King Tut's tomb. A prominent Iraqi archaeologist, who photographed the hundreds of pieces excavated from the ancient Assyrian capital in 1989, says the earrings are unique. 
"I'm sure it is from the collection. I've been there during the excavations, I know the pieces," says Donny George, former director of the Iraq museum and now a professor at Long Island's Stony Brook University.

The interesting issue now is whether there's going to be enough evidence or a fruitful investigation.  Who consigned the earrings to Christie's?  Removing the earrings from auction is great, and Christie's should be commended, however that is just the first step.  Iraq protested the sale earlier, but this earlier CSM article may have helped prod Christie's along. 

Are we able to investigate back up the stream of commerce to discover who stole or looted these earrings?   There are very strong import restrictions in place to prevent these objects from being imported into the US.  The difficulty is the efficacy of those restrictions, given the massive amount of objects which flood America's ports. 

Dec 4, 2008

Stolen Antiquities Returned to Egypt


From the AP:
Dozens of ancient artifacts stolen by a former U.S. Army officer were returned Wednesday to the Egyptian government.
Officials said the items, such as small urns, came from the Ma'adi archaeological site outside Cairo and date to 3600 B.C. or earlier.
Army helicopter pilot Edward George Johnson, a chief warrant officer from Fayetteville, N.C., was arrested in February in Alabama on charges of transporting stolen property and wire fraud. He pleaded guilty in July to possessing and selling stolen antiquities and was sentenced to 19 months of probation.
"When (Johnson) stole these items from Egypt, he robbed a nation of part of its history," said Peter J. Smith, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's New York office. "The repatriation of the Ma'adi artifacts reunites the people of Egypt with an important piece of their cultural heritage."
Johnson was deployed to Cairo in September 2002 when about 370 artifacts were stolen from the Ma'adi Museum. He sold about 80 pieces to an art dealer for $20,000.
The government said experts had determined a majority of the items he sold had been stolen from the museum. The pieces had been excavated from the Ma'adi site in the 1920s and 1930s. 

I discussed the arrest of "Dutch" back in February.  

"Iraq bids to stop Christie's sale of ancient earrings"

It is imperative, given the current state of regulation of the antiquities trade, for nations of origin to document their existing collections.  Unfortunately they are not always willing or able to do that.

From the Christian Science Monitor:


Baghdad - They were earrings that literally could have been worn by a queen. The neo-Assyrian jewelry, 9,000 to 10,000 years old, is Lot 215 in an auction of ancient art and antiquities to be held at Christie's in New York next week. They are expected to fetch up to $65,000. 
But Iraqi authorities say they might have belonged to the treasures of Nimrud, excavated by an Iraqi team in 1989, just after the devastating Iran-Iraq War. They have been publicly exhibited only twice – the second time for just one day under the US coalition authorities. 
"I am 100 percent sure they are from the same tombs from Nimrud,” says Donny George, the former director of the Iraq Museum and now a professor of archaeology at Stony Brook University in New York. “Nothing of this nature has been excavated from it before – I witnessed the excavation. I would say it is 100 percent from there.”
Iraqi authorities have petitioned to stop the sale. "We're hoping to get them back," says one official.
The auction listing says the elaborate gold hoops were acquired from their previous owner before 1969. As of Tuesday evening, the auction house said they had not been withdrawn from sale. On Wednesday, they were still listed on Christie's website, which refers potential buyers to a German archaeological text "for a similar pair from a royal tomb at Nimrud." A UNESCO convention enacted in 1970 made it more difficult to trade in illegal antiquities.
The difficulty here is the amount of evidence Iraqi officials can muster to show the objects were once in an Iraqi state collection.  These objects might be 10,000 years old.  Where did they come from?   Can something like this really be purchased in 'good faith'?  Indications are that the objects came from the excavation of Nimrud by Iraqi archaeologists.

Dec 3, 2008

"Sotheby's Withdraws Fake Belt Buckle"

From the Art Newspaper (via):

Sotheby’s has withdrawn an important “13th century” belt buckle from its 2 December old master sculpture and works of art sale after questions were raised by The Art Newspaper. The intricately-designed silver and enamel buckle had recently been owned by Paul Ruddock, now chairman of the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum.

We were contacted by Claude Blair, retired head of the V&A’s metalwork department, who told us that the buckle is a modern fake. Following our queries, Sotheby’s issued a statement, saying that “due to questions raised since the publication of the catalogue, we—in consultation with the US consignor—have decided to withdraw lot 2 from our sale.” It had an estimate of £20,000-£30,000.

Dr Blair, who left the V&A in 1982, is convinced that the buckle is one of the notorious Marcy fakes, marketed by Louis Marcy in the 1890s. Marcy worked as a dealer in both Paris and London, selling “medieval” metalwork.

The buckle surfaced in the collection of Dacre Kenrick Edwards, whose estate was sold at Christie’s in 1961. It then passed to distinguished New York collector Germain Seligman, who lent it for an exhibition at The Cloisters (Metropolitan Museum, New York) in 1968. The buckle was offered at Sotheby’s in 1995 (estimate £15,000-£20,000), but went unsold. It passed through two specialist dealers in New York and in 2004 was sold to an English collector via the London dealer Sam Fogg.

Though this object was discovered before its sale, how many are not?  The possibility of buying a forgery is one of the enduring consequences of the structure of the art and antiquities trade.

"Architecture as Propaganda"

So notes Peter Aspden in a long discussion of the New Acropolis Museum in the Financial Times:


Next spring, visitors will set foot inside Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi’s glass-and-concrete edifice, all sharp edges and skewed angles, and address for themselves one of the the most intractable cultural disputes of modern times. When they travel to the museum’s top floor, they will see marble panels from the famous frieze that used to encircle the Parthenon, the symbol of Athenian democracy that stands like a staid, elderly relative, looking wearily across at the upstart building from its incomparable vantage point on top of the Acropolis a few hundred metres away. 

Only about half of the original panels will be on view, of course. The remainder famously, or infamously, line the walls of the Duveen gallery in London’s British Museum, to which they were transported in the early 19th century by the Scottish aristocrat Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin. 

The Greeks have long wanted their Marbles back, but the building of the new Acropolis Museum finally gives them the physical authority to buttress an argument that has too often relied on shrill sentimentalism and unsubtle jingoism. The museum is a provocation, an enticement, a tease. Tschumi has done everything other than daub slogans on the exterior walls to say to the world at large: “The Parthenon Marbles belong here, next to the building from which they were taken.”

The glass rectangle on top of the building is designed in the same proportions and at the same angle to the Acropolis as the Parthenon itself. It is flooded with natural light, and supported by concrete columns that, again, echo the architectural features of the ancient monument. The frieze looks proudly outward, as it did for centuries on its parent building, rather than brooding inwardly as it does in Bloomsbury. This, be sure of it, is architecture as propaganda. 
It's no accident I think that the entrance and exit of the museum feature archaeological excavations. Setting aside questions of ownership and historical taking, which space seems more appropriate for the display of the objects?  Which space would be more enjoyable or enlightening for the visitor?  Will it only be a matter of time before the Greeks build the necessary consensus for the return of the sculptures?



Greece held a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the voluntary return of a fragment from the Parthenon taken by a German soldier in 1943.  Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis noted "The request for the return of the Parthenon Marbles has exceeded the borders of our country. It has become the request and the vision of the global cultural community". 

Germany a Haven for Cypriot Antiquities?

According to German professor Klaus Gallas at a gathering in Dortmund as reported by the Financial Mirror of Cyprus:
Organised international art smugglers, in cooperation or with the tolerance of the Turkish occupation army, have virtually flooded international black markets with stolen icons and other religious and architectural artifacts stolen from the occupied areas of Cyprus, said German professor Klaus Gallas.

Speaking at a gathering at Dortmund, Germany on the destruction of the cultural heritage in the occupied north, Gallas made an extensive reference to the case of Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen in Munich and criticized the German authorities for not giving the go ahead for the return of artifacts which have proved to be of Cypriot origin...
 The event was organized by the Cypriot embassy in cooperation with the Greek Academics of North Rhine-Westphalia and was held at the Municipal Art Museum. It included a presentation of a documentary prepared by the Press and Information Office of the Republic of Cyprus on the destruction of the cultural heritage in the occupied areas...

According to the church of Cyprus, some 500 churches have been either destroyed or pillaged since the 1974 Turkish invasion. Some religious relics have been bought back, others were returned to the church after lengthy legal proceedings and others are still at large.

The PIO states that thousands of antiquities illegally excavated in the occupied part of Cyprus have found their way to foreign markets. The channels through which the works of art are sent to the West remain basically the same. Frankfurt has become the main destination for 'hot merchandise', from there it reaches antiquities lovers with purchasing power in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Spain, Switzerland, Great Britain, the United States and Canada.

Germany has a large Turkish population, and the problems with Cypriot antiquities can be traced to the armed conflict on the island between Turkish and Greek Cypriots and the armed conflict which escalated in 1974.  Both sides have accused the other of destruction of heritage on the island.

The limited reporting here is an anecdotal account, and I'd be interested to learn more about the specific objects at issue.   I have very little knowledge of German law, though I do know the relevant EU regulations enforce export restrictions of other member states.  Perhaps the difficulty is that these objects may be 'orphaned' objects, where German authorities are unsure of their nation of origin? Or perhaps because of the different governments on the island -- the Turkish occupied North or the Republic of Cyprus to the South? Or perhaps its bureaucratic red tape delaying the repatriation?  Or perhaps Turkey is pressuring Germany in some way?  Are the disputes over these antiquities a proxy-fight between Turks and Greeks?  

Dec 2, 2008

A Response to my PAS Article

Alun Salt recently had a very long reaction to my article on England and Wales' Portable Antiquity Scheme:


By and large my archaeological training has been on community projects. My first dig was on a community project excavating a Gallo-Roman villa, organised by a society based in the local village in Nospelt. In the UK I was in the local village archaeology group and did a bit of excavation and geophysics and a lot of fieldwalking. All the projects I’ve worked on have been poorly funded, even by archaeological standards, or more often not funded at all. My experience then with archaeology outside of academia is of knowledgable, enthusiastic people with relatively little access to expertise, equipment and information.

The great attraction of the PAS from my point of view is the outreach aspect. All sorts of little bits of information are being gathered by amateurs and rather than being centrally hoarded they’re being made available to anyone with an internet connection. It’s not that there’s been a lack of will in any of the museum services I’ve seen when it comes to public engagement, but there hasn’t really been the institutional framework to help it happen. The PAS is built around engaging with the public and it’s in the bones of the system. For example below is some data uploaded to Swivel. To be honest I cannot see myself using that particular dataset, but that’s not the point. I’m used to being told there are strict limitations on what I can do with photos from museums. Here someone is actively encouraging the public to take away data and do something interesting with it.
 It's a thoughtful response, and one of the reasons I included some of Salt's blog posts in the article itself. 

As an aside, I'm continued to be surprised and excited by how these new means of writing via blogs can inform and shape traditional avenues of scholarship like peer-reviewed articles.  When done well, I think both can shape and inform each other.  

Alderman on the Black Swan Litigation

Kimberley Alderman, over at the Cultural Property & Archaeology Law Blog updates the ongoing dispute between Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spain, with a helpful copy of Odyssey's response, without exhibits:

 
Spain asks to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction in that they are a sovereign entity.  They argue that the coins were theirs, so the coins are sovereign immune under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.  This is usually used when a shipwreck is a military ship, because until a State has disclaimed their property, they still own it.  So Spain asserts that Odyssey got the coins from the shipwreck is of Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, that its a sovereign ship, and that the U.S. District Court court doesn’t have jurisdiction over them or their coins (e.g., Odyssey needs to get their mitts off of the treasure.)

Enter Odyssey, stage right, who has some pretty good attorneys by the way. They argue, (1) that there is no ship, and no proof that the Mercedes is where the coins originated. There were just a bunch of coins scattered about on the ocean floor. (In another part of the motion, Odyssey points out the coins were salvaged in an archaeologically-sound manner).  Therefore, sovereign immunity doesn’t apply.

They back it up with (2) even if the coins came from the Mercedes, they aren’t sovereign immune for a couple reasons.  First, the Mercedes is not sovereign immune because it was not exclusively noncommercial at the time of its sinking (was carrying commercial cargo and passengers).  Second, the specific journey the Mercedes was on at the time of its sinking was primarily commercial.  Finally, most of the Mercedes cargo was commercially owned and therefore wouldn’t be sovereign immune.

The parties are still at the Summary Judgment stage, in which Spain is essentially arguing the dispute cannot continue because Odyssey cannot win, even if the judge were to adopt Odyssey's view of the evidence.  The dispute may hinge on Spain's ownership of a long-sunk vessel, and what activities it was engaged in hundreds of years ago when she went under.  One policy to note, Odyssey has a vested interest in not undertaking a serious archaeological exploration of the vessel, as the more information they have destroyed, the harder it will be for Spain to establish its claim.  Regardless of who wins the dispute, that is not a helpful policy.  

Bob Mondello on "The Memory of Mankind"

NPR's Bob Mondello has a highly recommended segment on museums as big businesses grappling with their conflicting roles in research and entertainment.  He notes that combined attendance at all major league sports events was about 140 million, while American museums will attract 850 million visitors. 

Peale's collection and others were bought up in the 1840s by Phineas T. Barnum, who added some showmanship to the enterprise. In the pre-photography era, when a painting of the Grand Canyon could draw block-long lines. P.T. Barnum took the static curiosities in the collections he'd acquired and added "live" curiosities — industrious fleas, a hippo that he told audiences was "The Great Behemoth of the Scriptures" and assorted bearded ladies.

"The earliest museums really were, for lack of a better term, they were kind of freak shows," historian Stephen Asma, author of Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads, told NPR in 2002. "The bizarre was collected together with sober specimens with no real order or organization."

Though Asma says curators didn't have the "scientific agenda" that they do today, that agenda wasn't being neglected. Around the time Barnum was turning his museums into carnivals, a somewhat startled U.S. Congress was dealing with an unexpected bequest from an Englishman named James Smithson. His will asked for the establishment of a Smithsonian Institution for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge."

Dec 1, 2008

From Saddam's Palace to Museum

Interesting plans to convert a palace built by Saddam Hussein into a museum near Basra:


John Curtis, head of the British Museum's Department of the Ancient Near East - the first foreign museum expert in the world to visit Iraq - said: "The building ... has the advantage of a rather wonderful setting, where you could one day have a beautiful garden with fountains."

He added: "This is terribly important in the regeneration of Basra and the wider region. While all kinds of infrastructural projects like electricity, water, hospitals and schools are being tackled, cultural resources are almost entirely lacking ... not just a museum but even a public library."

The original museum recording the region's 5,000-year-old history, which includes some of the richest archaeological sites in the world, was ransacked by looters during the Gulf war in 1991. The city was also the legendary home of Sinbad the sailor, an association that fuelled a flourishing tourist trade which has been destroyed by the wars.

What remained of the museum's collection, which included beautiful vases, terracotta and stone figures, bronze weapons, jewellery, thousands of cuneiform inscribed clay tablets and carved seals, was transferred for safekeeping to the national museum in Baghdad, just before the start of the allied attack in 2003. Ironically, the Baghdad museum's own collection was one of the worst casualties of the war, with hundreds of pieces still missing, but the Basra collection, with those of other provincial museums, remained safe in a sealed store which was not discovered by the looters.

Waxman in NYT Op-Ed Urges the Met to Come Clean about Acquisitions

Both the recent purchases and the acquisitions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In so doing she continues to conflate historical taking founded on imperialism with modern concepts like looting and smuggling.  Both imperial taking and the illicit purchase of these objects can be criticized, but for very different reasons.  She does have a point though, institutions will likely face continued pressure to admit how and why objects came to these institutions:


The Met’s galleries and Web site are mysteriously devoid of recent facts about the provenance of many artifacts. Most visitors have no idea how the treasures on display in the Greek and Roman rooms, the Egyptian antiquities department, or the Byzantine, African, Asian and Oceanic collections came to be housed in the museum.

Who among them knows that Louis Palma di Cesnola, the Italian-born collector and Civil War veteran who was the first director of the museum, appropriated a huge number of antiquities for more than a decade? As the American consul in Cyprus in the 1860s, Cesnola kept 100 diggers busy in Larnaca; his house became a kind of museum. Cesnola smuggled out no fewer than 35,573 artifacts — passing them off as the property of the Russian consul — for which the Met paid $60,000. 

The Met doesn’t tell this story. Even many people who work at the Met don’t seem to know it. Plunder is also the provenance of one of the museum’s most imposing artifacts in the Greek and Roman collection — an Ionic capital from the Temple of Artemis at Sardis. Massive and graceful, it sits prominently in a gallery on the first floor of the Met.

How did it get here? In 1922, as the Greeks and Turks warred over the port of Izmir, the column was spirited away by American archaeologists along with hundreds of other pieces and sent to the Met. When the hostilities ended, the Turks protested and the theft (or rescue, depending on one’s perspective) became an international incident, recorded in State Department archives. After much negotiation, the Turks ceded ownership of the column in exchange for the return of 53 cases of antiquities, also stolen from Sardis.

Commemorating Nazi Restitution

Yonat Shimron has the story of this work, Madonna and Child in a Landscape in the News and Observer:


Apart from its origin as an object of religious devotion and a prized piece of German Renaissance art, the "Madonna and Child in a Landscape" is now famous because it was seized by the Nazis as loot. That's why curators at the Austrian Museum of Applied and Contemporary Art, known as MAK, asked to borrow the painting to round out the exhibit "Recollecting: Looted Art and Restitution," which opens Wednesday and runs though Feb. 15.
"It's a great poetic conclusion to the story," said John Coffey, deputy director of art at the N.C. Museum of Art. "It furthers the conversation of cultural property, who owns it and how it should be managed."  In 1984, the painting came to the N.C. Museum of Art as a bequest by a California couple. It was mounted in the European art gallery as part of the museum's permanent collection.
But in 1999, the Commission for Art Recovery of the World Jewish Congress notified the museum that it had a piece of looted Nazi art. Two elderly Austrian sisters -- Marianne and Cornelia Hainisch of Vienna -- claimed the painting belonged to their great-uncle, Philipp von Gomperz, a wealthy Viennese Jew.
As various documents attested, Gomperz was forced to turn over his art collection to Nazi police at the outbreak of World War II. His Madonna and Child landed in the palace of Vienna's Nazi governor.  After a months-long investigation, the museum concluded that the sisters were right -- and relinquished its claim to the painting. But then, under the terms of a unique agreement, the sisters sold the painting back to the museum for $600,000, half its estimated value.

Archaeology on Trial in Israel

And it is losing.  So notes Nina Burleigh in an Op-Ed in the LA Times:

Prosecutors have been hamstrung. A craftsman based in Cairo's Khan al Khalili souk told police he made some objects for the collector, but he wasn't inclined to testify and they cannot compel him to come to Israel. So prosecutors instead called a long list of archaeologists and epigraphers, experts in the minutia of ancient Christian and Jewish artifacts. These men and women, accustomed to working on dusty digs or answering questions from somnambulant students, were no match for nimble, expensive attorneys, among the best in Israel, working for the defense.

One by one, they either contradicted themselves on various scientific technicalities or had their conclusions ripped apart by the defense's expert witnesses. One veteran Israeli archaeologist, Meyer Ben Dov, was so disheartened by what was happening that he told me "archaeology is on trial" -- and it did not appear to be winning.

The case isn't over, but after the judge's comments last month, the American publisher Shanks issued a news release calling the James ossuary "vindicated," a claim religious bloggers have since disseminated worldwide.

Pictured here is the James Ossuary, the most notable object at issue in the trial.   Is it real or a modern forgery?  The Israeli Antiquities Authority thinks it is a fake. 

The difficulty in providing sufficient evidence is a foundational problem with heritage law.  The antiquities trade as it is currently structured is too focused on hiding the history of objects.  Even Lord Colin Renfrew, a passionate campaigner for a reformed antiquities trade noted recently:

I’m much in favour of collecting, so long as it doesn’t involve objects recently taken from the ground. In my opinion all too many collections are scandalous for this very reason. I don’t mind so much people buying antiquities looted a century ago, but not if the items in question entered the market post-1970 when the convention on the illegal trade in antiquities was signed.

Buying and selling established objects may still have violation national patrimony laws though.  Even collecting antiquities which surfaced pre-1970 produces powerful incentives for dealers and buyers to either fabricate a pre-1970 surface date, or even lead to very superficial investigation of an object's history.  The current legal framework does not guarantee an object's history is authentic or clean of looting, whether it occurred in 1970 or 1870. 

Burleigh is the author of the recent work "Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in The Holy Land."

Nov 26, 2008

Looted Matisse Handed Over to Charity

The AP reports this work, Le Mur Rose, a work by Matisse which was stolen from a Jewish family some time after 1937 by a Nazi officer has been given to a charity:




The story of how "Le Mur Rose," or "The Pink Wall," made its way through the war to France is as surprising as the colorful painting itself, and steeped with death, mystery and injustice. Stolen from Jews, proceeds from the expected sale of the painting will go toward the Magen David Adom network of ambulances, paramedics and emergency treatment centers in Israel.  "It's a remarkable and in some ways slightly creepy story," said Stuart Glyn, chairman of the British charity Magen David Adom UK. He will take delivery of the artwork at the French Culture Ministry in Paris.  The painting belonged to Harry Fuld, a German Jew who made his fortune in telephones, founding the H. Fuld & Co. Telefon und Telegraphenwerke AG in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1899, the charity says.
"The Fuld family were almost manic collectors, with the broadest of tastes," Glyn said in a phone interview...
Harry Fuld Jr. died in 1963 and for reasons unknown willed his estate to Gisela Martin, a woman who has remained something of a mystery in this saga. She in turn left her estate to the British charity when she died in Switzerland in 1992, which explains why Magen David Adom UK is now getting the Matisse.  Glyn said they have not been able to determine the nature of the relationship between Fuld and Martin, why he left her his estate or why Martin in turn made Magen David Adom the beneficiary of her will.  The Matisse is worth a "a good six-figure sum," but will first be displayed in a museum, said Glyn. He said he's in discussions with museums in Germany and Israel.  The charity is also trying to recover other parts of the Fuld collection, which included 12th-century Buddha statues, 16th-century Italian masters, furniture and other art, Glyn said."There are pieces in the Hermitage (museum in Russia), there are pieces in museums in Germany, there are pieces believe it or not in Israel," he said.
 The work had been displayed in France since 1949. 

Terrorism and Antiquities

Last week Lee Rosenbaum noted the Met's "Beyond Babylon" show was unable to exhibit 55 planned objects from Syria because of the possibility that victims of terrorism might attempt to seize the objects to satisfy judgments. This is the predicted outflow of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provision and another ongoing dispute over the Persepolis Fortification Tablets, briefly discussed here. A group of plaintiffs has sued Iran for a terrorist bombing which took place in Jerusalem in 1997. Iran did not defend the suit, so the defendants have attempted to satisfy the judgment by using

Judith Weingarten, an archaeologist, has a very good extended discussion of the Met's difficulty, and a great rundown with links of the ongoing tablets dispute over at IntLawGrrls:

The tablets are not commercial assets like oil wells, tankers, or houses. Instead, these types of culturally unique and important materials fall within a special protected category and are not subject to seizure. This trove of tablets has never been a commercial item to be bought or sold. The tablets have never been a source of profit either to Iran or to the Oriental Institute. They are non-commercial items of cultural heritage, every bit as unique and important as the original document of the Constitution of the United States. (Imagine if a future Iraqi government were to put a lien on that document.) The stakes are enormous. If the lawsuit prevails, this would do irrevocable harm to scholarly cooperation and cultural exchanges throughout the world.
That is already starting to happen. The Syrian government had offered to lend the Met invaluable parts of their cultural heritage: many of these objects that had never left the country before. Of American institutions, only the Met has the resources to pull off such a project, which depends as much on personal contacts as on cash. That little card on the wall doesn’t say it all.
The Met submitted applications for immunity from seizure for all the borrowed foreign works — including pieces from Armenia, Georgia, Greece, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as Syria — but finally decided that the FSIA amendment jeopardized the Syrian loans. Though not on display, the 55 Syrian objects are in the catalog. There you can see how important a role they played in the internationalist narrative conceived by Joan Aruz (right), the curator in charge of the Met’s department of ancient Near Eastern art.
Interesting points. As museums continue to find it harder and harder to acquire new objects, loans are a great substitute which alleviates pressure on the existing regulatory framework. When leases become difficult as well, American courts and lawmakers ought to seriously consider whether the attachment of these antiquities really is the best way to proceed.

Hawass Elevates Rhetoric

Earlier this week Zahi Hawass made some really over-the-top statements with respect to this object, the Ka-nefer-nefer mask which was purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art in 1998.  Some have noted this is an attempt to "Marion True-ize" Benjamin.    I've discussed in-depth the history of this mask before.  Neither Egypt nor the St. Louis Art Museum have been able to give us a complete and definite story of the mask, but I certainly don't think it is a case where repatriation is called for, even if we accept Egypt's version of events.  Part of the reason for that, is the Egyptian government is either unable or unwilling to adequately document its existing stores of antiquities.  If we adopt Egypt's version of events, the mask was stolen from a storehouse.  If so, a properly documented collection register could have been submitted to the Art Loss Register, and when the SLAM considered purchasing the object in 1998, the acquisition wouyld have been halted.  

Some commenters have even labelled the SLAM director, Brent Benjamin "controversial" because of the dispute.  I think those accusations are over the line, and very unhelpful.  Benjamin has done the right thing in this case, and it should be noted the mask was acquired before he took his post at SLAM.  Earlier  this week in an AP article Hawass called him a "stupid man" who "doesn't understand the rules here".  I'd like to suggest that Hawass -- who perhaps does a lot of great things for Egyptian heritage -- has a clouded view of the legal rules in this case.  An unhelpful mistake made worse by a proposed Egyptian law which may "give [Egypt] the power to take people to court in Egypt ... (Benjamin) will be wanted in Egypt."  Is this the way to conduct international negotiations?  What's more, if the mask had been in an Egyptian storehouse, and it is so important as to warrant this level of rhetoric, why wasn't it documented by Egypt? 

Nov 20, 2008

First Circuit Court Swats Away "Cardboard Sword"

A de facto confiscation of a work of art that arose out of a notorious exercise of man's inhumanity to man now ends with the righting of that wrong through the mundane application of common law principles. The mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

So concluded the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Vineberg v. Bissonnette.  It affirmed summary judgment for successors of an art dealer who lost this work to Nazi Spoliation.  The dispute was an appeal of Vineberg v. Bissonnette, 529 F. Supp. 2d 300 (D.R.I. 2007).  I briefly commented on the earlier district court ruling here

The work is a 19th-century painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter titled Girl from the Sabine Mountains.  It is valued at roughly $70,000 - $94,000 USD according to Ray Henry in brief AP story.  Katie Mulvaney also has a very fine overview for the Providence Journal

The current possessor based her defense on laches, an equitable doctrine which essentially posits that it wouldn't be fair to allow the claimant to regain title to the work.  No luck for the current possessor however.  The opinion was not particularly kind to Bissonnette, perhaps because the appeal seemed thin on the merits.  In one passage Senior Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya admonished the appellant "Proving prejudice requires more than the frenzied brandishing of a cardboard sword; it requires at least a hint of what witnesses or evidence a timeous investigation might have yielded" (emphasis added).  I must find a way to use that in conversation soon.   

Greek Icon Returned

This 14th century icon was returned to Greece this week, 30 years after it was stolen from a monastary in Serres, Northern Greece.  The work was recovered by the Art and Antiques Squad in 2002. 

From Helena Smith's piece in the Guardian:


It emerged in London in 1980 when a British Byzantinist, Professor Robin Cormack, spotted it in a suitcase in a restorer's atelier. It had been touched up by the looters to make it more saleable in the underground art market.
"It had been cut in two by the looters. Seeing what it was, Robin realised it must have been stolen and advised them to return it to Greece," said the cultural attache at the Greek embassy in London, Victoria Solomonides, who travelled with the icon to Greece.
"That did not happen and 10 years later the plot thickened when he was called by the British Museum to value an icon. It was the same one."
On the advice of Cormack, curator of the Byzantium exhibition currently on at the Royal Academy of Arts, the British Museum decided not to buy the icon.

It seems then in 2002 a Greek art dealer offered to sell the work to the Benakis Museum in Athens for  £500,000.  It seems the High Court has ordered the return of the work in a proceeding "Six weeks ago".  I've attempted to track donw the ruling this morning on baili.org, but I suspect the ruling is unpublished.  If any of my kind UK readers could confirm this, I would be most grateful. 

Nov 19, 2008

Cleveland Museum of Art and Italy Reach Repatriation Agreement

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) and the Italian Culture Ministry announced today an agreement which will return 14 objects to Italy in exchange for loans of "a similar number of works of equal aesthetic and historical significance". The loans will be for a "renewable" 25-year period. The objects are going back to Italy because they have been looted, stolen or illegally exported.

David Gill has compiled a list of the objects, and provided links to their description on the CMA website.


Here is the list:

1) Pig-shaped Feeding Vessel/Vaso plastico a porcellino.
2) Mule Head Rhyton/Rython a testa di mulo. (Pictured here).
3) Sardinian Warrior/Bronzetto nuragico.
4) Apulian Volute Krater by the Darius Painter; Departure of Anphiaros/Cratere a volute a figure rosse.
5) Etruscan Red-figure Duck Askos/Askos ad anatra a figure rosse.
6) Bird Askos/Askos campano ad uccello.
7) Dog “Lekanis” Bowl with Lid/Coppa e coperchio a figure rosse.
8) Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
9) Apulian Gnathia Round-Bellied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
10) Apulian Gnathia Lekythos/Lekythos tipo Gnathia.
11) Acorn Lekythos: An Eros Serving a Lady/Lekythos campana a figure rosse.
12) Corinthian Krater/Cratere a colonnette corinzio.
13) Pair of Bracelets/Due coppie di armille in argento.
14) 14th Century Italian Processional Cross/croce processionale in rame dorato del sec. XIV.

The announcement is not really a surprise. The former Culture Minister, Francesco Rutelli, had hinted at this deal for months. The deal is the result of a "friendly and collaborative 18-month negotiation" as reported by Steven Litt, the Cleveland Plain Dealer Art Critic. That's the way both sides are describing the negotiations. Timothy Rub, director of the CMA told Litt "I think it's always difficult when adverse claims are made against an object or objects in a museum's collection, but the most important thing to do is to first of all determine if these claims have any merit, and if they do, to deal with them as transparently and as thoroughly as possible. This has been a very open and thoughtful discussion."

Likewise, Maurizio Fiorilli, said "The director is an exquisite person, this was a negotiation among gentlemen. They always collaborated and exhibited great openness, therefore, I am content." High praise indeed.

The crucial point to pick up on here is these objects were connected with Giacomo de Medici, which Italian and Swiss authorities raided in 1995. The polaroids they seized are the engine driving nearly all of these repatriations. Without that solid evidence, the chances are that these objects would not be returned. The restitution of these works is a positive developmetn to be sure, but will they continue? Has the antiquities trade learned its lesson? What about institutions who want to make further acquisitions? Are further acquisitions possible? Can we be sure they are legally excavated? Are the fundamental legal mechanics of the purchase and sale of antiquities different now than they were in the 70s, 80s and 90s? I don't think so. The underlying problems persist, though at least public perception has changed markedly. On that front, perhaps judges will be more inclined to adopt more encompassing views of the foundational international legal agreements such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention, but the antiquities trade can still effectively evade legal safeguards.

To see how let's contrast these returns with the CMA's recently-acquired bronze Apollo, pictured here. Not being an art historian nor an archaeologist, I still think this Apollo is a much more interesting and valuable antiquity than most of the objects being returned. In fact it is slated to be the centerpiece of the CMA's renovated classical exhibition. Litt reported today that there will be a joint scientific study of the statute which was acquired by the museum in 2004. The Apollo was the subject of another article by Litt in the Plain Dealer back in February. Evidence suggests the sculpture has been excavated for perhaps 100 years, though Italy has argued it was salvaged from the Adriatic in the 1990s and then illegally sold. The publicly-released provenance of the object seems a bit suspect. Its recent history stems from Ernst-Ulrich Walter, a retired German lawyer who said he foudn the statue lying in pieces when he recovered his family's estate in the former East Germany.

It was then sold to a Dutch art dealer (Michael van Rijn perhaps?), then sold to the Phoenix Ancient art gallery. We have no idea where or how this stunning statue was found. There is no contextual information. Was it really in pieces for 100 years? The discussion and feeling from the CMA and Italy definitely don't seem to indicate there will be a much in the way of a continued dispute over the object. And that's because there is no evidence it was stolen, looted or illegally exported. Rather, there exists a paucity of information about its origins. That is not enough to base a legal claim.

Portable Antiquities Scheme Review and Treasure Report

A flurry of new information on the Portable Antiquities Scheme has been released today. The PAS is the voluntary program which records objects found by members of the public in England and Wales, some of these objects may qualify as treasure as defined under the Treasure Act, in which case finders are entitled to the full market price of the object while the Crown holds title.

First, the Review of the Portable Antiquities Scheme was released today (commissioned by the Museums Library and Archives Council with the British Museum and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport). The very positive review notes the PAS is under-resourced and yet "still well-liked, delivering genuine partnership and good value for money. Having reviewed budgets and operations, it is clear that with no increase in resources, posts must be cut and the scheme will not deliver regional equity." The report recommends an increase in funding of just over 9% next year. This appears to be very good news for the scheme in the short-term as the cuts made this year can be reversed.

Second, the Treasure Annual Report was released today. A few highlights:
  • "Treasure" reporting increased again, with 749 objects qualifying as treasure reported, up from 665 in 2006. One of which was this Iron Age torc, made of gold and silver and found near Newark in 2005.
  • In 2007, 77,606 objects were recorded on the PAS database, now totaling 360,000 objects.
  • Since 2003, the date at which the PAS was extended throughout England and Wales, treasure reporting has increased nearly 200%.
The release is featured in a brief BBC story today "Treasure Hunters Boost Gold Finds". To read my thoughts on the PAS, and what it means for other nations of origin, see here; Kimberley Alderman has a kind summary of it today. The biggest success of the PAS has been its inclusion of a variety of disparate interests from coin collectors to archaeologists. Such compromise is exceedingly rare in heritage policy.

It has also included social groups which aren't always typical museum-visitors -- a very good thing in my view. This happens in two ways. First, finders are encouraged to report and record the objects they find. Second, anyone can access the database and use the data. This may include people ranging from schoolchildren to doctoral candidates to established academics.


The images of the finds are stunning. Below is a slideshow from the PAS on flickr.




Nov 18, 2008

Antiquities Looting in the West Bank

Karen Lange reports on the problem of antiquities looting in the West Bank for the December issue of National Geographic (via). Preventing looting of sites is a pressing problem everywhere, but these difficulties are more acute on the West Bank because of the ragged borders, dueling legal regimes of Israel and Palestine, and the lack of economic opportunity. Morag Kersel argues the demand for artifacts in Israel have helped fuel the demand for looting as well.

One Palestinian, Abu Mohrez, decried the damage done to Khirbet Tawas a Byzantine basilica "They wrecked the place, and it used to be beautiful." Lange reports:

With ruthless efficiency the looters dug beneath each foundation and into every well and cistern, searching for anything they could sell: Byzantine coins, clay lamps, glass bracelets. In the process they toppled columns and riddled the site with holes, erasing the outlines of walls and doorways—and the only surviving record of thousands of ancient lives.
The scene is a familiar one. Looters use backhoes, bulldozers and metal detectors to find coins and other metal objects. Graves are desecrated as well. How can these looters do such damage? One anonymous looter argues "We need to feed our families." The legal framework does not appear to be the problem. Palestinian law forbids looting, as well as the possession and trade of antiquities. As one might imagine, Israeli soldiers aren't a popular bunch in the Palestinian territories, and are unable to effectively police the ancient sites.

Once again there are a number of familiar culprits. The inability to police and guard sites, economic hardship, an antiquities trade which avoids detailed provenance, and a paucity of licitly excavated objects on the market.

Nov 17, 2008

The Long Shadow of Ancient Cultures

Two stories caught my eye today, both of which examine the interplay between ancient heritage and modern identity.

First is an article in the Guardian which details the plans to build a new "Colossus" in Rhodes. The new Colossus will cost an estimated 200 million euros, and will be designed by Gert Hof. It has been imagined as "a highly innovative light sculpture, a work of art that will allow visitors to physically inspect it by day as well as enjoy - through light shows - a variety of stories it will "tell" by night." In a nod to history, there are plans that at least part of the new project will be created from melted down weapons.

There have been periodic plans to rebuild the Colossus since 1970 which have been delayed by "Greece's powerful lobby of archaeologists". I can see arguments both for and against the new Colossus. The new projects seems aimed squarely at passing Mediterranean cruise ships. But a new project like this will surely boost tourism and provide a powerful national symbol for Greeks as well as the inhabitants of the island. Dr. Dimitris Koutoulas who is heading the project in Greece argues "We are talking about a highly, highly innovative light sculpture, one that will stand between 60 and 100 metres tall so that people can physically enter it".  The original Colossus (imagined here in a 16th-century engraving by Martin Heemskrerck) was completed in 280 BC, financed in part by salvaging abandoned siege equipment left behind by failed invaders. Students of history will remember the Colossus stood for only 56 years. It is amazing that a monument which stood for only a short time has captured imagination for centuries. One wonders how much the island's ancient past means to present inhabitants of the island. The new project seems an effort to recapture the magnificence of the ancient monument.

Michael Slackman in an article in the New York Times explores this issue in Egypt. He quotes Ahmed Sayed Baghali a man selling tourist trinkets outside the Egyptian Museum, "Can you believe our government can do nothing for us, and this thing that was built thousands of years ago is still helping me feed my family? Who would buy my things if they were not about the pharaohs? People come here from very far to see the pyramids, not to see Cairo." Slackman notes that many modern-day Egyptians may not be invested in the remains of this ancient culture, unless they work in the tourism industry. It's easy to see why, when "40 percent of the population lives on $2 a day." This begs the question, is heritage and preservation a luxury? I certainly hope not, but given this tremendous hardship where the men who cart debris away from Egypt's newest discovered pyramid are payed $2 -- and grateful for the work. Can we blame them if they might be tempted to sell antiquities on the black market?

The challenge is to preserve this heritage, safeguard it, and ensure our cultural institutions, universities and museums are working cooperatively with these nations of origin to offer these locals the best chance at economic growth and a respect and appreciation for their cultural heritage.

UK Government Loses Art

Roya Nikkhah has an article in the Telegraph which details five works of art which have gone missing from the UK Government art collection in the past year:

Details of the missing artworks came from a response to a parliamentary question from Andrew Rosindell, the shadow home affairs minister.

Originally the Government said it had lost eight works between 1 November 2007 and 31 October 2008.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that three of the missing works, by the British artists Julian Trevelyan and John Brunsdon, had since been recovered, but that the whereabouts of five were still unknown.

Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, said: "It looks like the Government's inability to keep things safe is catching. We've had missing computer discs and missing laptops – now we've got missing art.

"It is staggering that eight works can go missing and that five are still lost. Given that the DCMS spends nearly £1 million a year on this collection the least they could do was keep it safe."


This would seem to be a fairly common occurrence. Is the loss of 5 works out of a total of 13,500 a 'good' year? Any missing art is unfortunate, but I wonder how common these losses are, especially given a government collection partially displayed in embassies all over the world. I suppose the Government should at least get some credit for owning up to the losses. Here is a list of the missing works:

  • Horse Guards from the Old Entrance, Scotland Yard, 1768, print by Michael Angelo Rooker, In British Embassy, Washington DC, reported missing November 2007
  • Monument to Balance print by Ernest Alfred Dunn, In British Consulate-General, Sao Paulo, reported missing July 2008
  • The Wording of Police Charges, 1970, print by R. B. Kitaj and Plague, 1970, print by R. B. Kitaj, In British Embassy, Baku, reported missing July 2008
  • Yellow Square plus Quarter Blue, 1972, print by William Scott, In Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London, reported missing September 2008

Nov 14, 2008

An Unkind Response to my PAS Article (LATE UPDATE)

I have just noticed that Paul Barford has produced a very long response to my article on the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Initially I was pleased that my article had gained some notice. Imagine my dismay then when Barford accuses me of producing, 'glib spin', bad writing, claims I'm ignorant, and even hints that I've committed plagiarism. And he didn't even do me the courtesy of sending an email.

I hope there might be a serious scholarly response to the article at some point, and I look forward to reading it. At present I'm not aware of any thoughtful scholarly work (peer-reviewed for example) which criticizes the PAS. Perhaps Barford would be inclined to produce something like this? Given the tenor of his blog though, I wonder if he is capable of passing peer-review.

I don't really have a lot to say about the points he raises, because there aren't any intellectually honest arguments. Rather he's displayed an unfortunate tendency to produce Rovian and Hannity-style discourse. He takes my arguments out of context, wilfully twisting them in a way which indicates an inability to conduct any kind of meaningful discourse.

To take one example, he writes:

[T]he PAS allegedly represents a policy that: “sharply contrasts with the context-focused narrative found in most culture heritage scholarship”. This gives a totally false impression of the PAS and its aims… It is all about context of the finds in its database.


Right, well here's what the article states:

The PAS is the voluntary system created to record and document objects that are not encompassed by the Treasure Act and are unearthed legally. The PAS is a novel approach to undiscovered antiquities, which rests on a legal framework that essentially allows amateur and unprofessional digging. This policy cuts against the overriding policy choices of most nations of origin and sharply contrasts with the context-focused narrative found in most cultural heritage scholarship.

He also accuses me of stating the PAS pays finders and detectorists. No. I state very clearly "If the object is deemed treasure, the finder is entitled to a reward based on the market price of the object." One of the main reasons I wrote the piece was to make clear that the PAS does not pay finders of non-treasure objects! Finders of treasure recieve a reward, and have since the 19th century; the PAS works in conjunction with this legal framework to encourage voluntary reporting of objects the Crown has no legal claim to.

I don't expect everyone will agree with my perspective, but at the very least an individual who claims to be an academic would be able to respond in an honest and thoughtful way. I'd encourage Barford to adopt the perspective of Kimberley Alderman, who has recently started a very nice blog:

Here are the things I think would promote more meaningful discourse:

1. Less polarization between what have been characterized as competing "sides" of the argument.

2. Less emphasis on doctrinal positions (on both sides) and more emphasis on solving the mutual goal of cultural preservation.

3. More emphasis on what is working as opposed to what is not.

4. Less emphasis on what positions people have espoused in the past (too often used as a means to unproductively attack).

5. More precision in language used ...
That's very good advice I think. It's a brief statement of a similar kind of argument made by Alexander Bauer recently. A. A. Bauer (2008). "New Ways of Thinking About Cultural Property," Fordham International Law Journal 31:690-724.

I'm happy to accept legitimate criticism. Petty attacks aren't doing anyone any favors though. Barford is not a fan of the PAS. He's entitled to that opinion, but give me some clear reasons why the current system is harmful, and provide a better legal or policy framework. If you've got a better 'mousetrap', tell us about it -- if you can do so respectfully.

LATE UPDATE:

I see Barford has responded here. Regrettably the newer post is only slightly less strident.

As he rightly points out, I neglected to include a link to his extended response to the article which is here. He claims to have pointed out "serious problems" with the article. I'm afraid we will have to agree to disagree on that point. I'm happy to have a spirited debate on the PAS, but mis-characterizing my position and taking statements out of context makes such a productive discussion impossible, and he has yet to correct these errors. When my first year law students make these kind of analytical mistakes its an indication of weak analysis and insufficient research.

At its core, I argue in the article that a national ownership declaration is an important legal strategy; but this declaration in isolation does not necessarily create the best cultural heritage policy. In fact there's legal precedent which makes this very point (see US v. Johnson 720 F.Supp. 810, 811 (C.D.Cal.1989)) and the US accession to the UNESCO Convention via the CPIA takes the efforts of nations of origin into account when the CPAC considers export restriction requests.

I assume that effectively guarding every archaeological site is impossible given limited resources. Even in the US, a wealthy nation, there is widespread looting of Native American sites. A nation like Peru has even more difficulty given its developing economy and the remote location of many sites. The looting of these sites in North and South America is a travesty. This is a foudational problem with heritage policy. One potential solution is a policy framework and network of PAS-style liason officers. But that's not to say that these states should encourage metal-detecting or the like.

Rather I think outreach and education is badly needed. Barford argues this exists in many nations of origin already. Perhaps he is right, but we are merely talking speculatively. Where is the evidence? I'd be delighted to read some thoughts on this. The PAS works in conjunction with the law, which was of course a compromise postion between heritage advocates and landowners. A very strong legal regime may in a perfect world be the best policy. But what good are they if they aren't meaningfully enforced? These laws can be compared with abstinence only sex education or America's ill-advised "War on Drugs". When it comes to practice, they aren't producing the desired results -- less teen pregnancy or drug abuse for example. In the heritage context, the PAS and metal detectorists are producing contextual information. It's a different kind of information, which we can characterize as shallow but extremely broad; rather than a thorough documentation of sites which might be narrow but very deep.

This more permissive legal regime has actually produced important contextual information, which historians, researchers and archaeologists are using to write scholarship. Research is being produced with the PAS and its database, and it is including the broader public in heritage and archaeology, which will ideally bring more attention to heritage issues generally. Did Hiram Bingham include locals in his efforts to excavate Macchu Picchu? Modern-day Peruvians think not, which has led to a host of very public disagreements between Yale and Peru.

The PAS policy unquestionably sacrifices some archaeological context, but is there any nation of origin which is able to ensure all of its sites are professionally excavated or remain untouched? Is some contextual information better than none?

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