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."

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