Dec 28, 2009

The Year in Cultural Policy

2009 saw a number of interesting trends in cultural heritage law and policy.  Below are a few of the year's prominent stories.  On a personal note, I am still enjoying the fellowship at Loyola in New Orleans; but still looking for a permanent position that will allow me to continue writing and thinking about cultural heritage.  But in the mean time your interest and support continues to enrich and support my work.  There is a need for people to continue thinking and writing about culture.  The blog saw a lot of  interest this year, with nearly 80,000 visitors.  I'd like to thank you all for your interest, comments, and helpful notes and conversations. 

The Four Corners Antiquities Investigation


A large federal investigation into the illegal trade in Native American Artifacts signaled a growing commitment of federal authorities into policing Native American artifacts.  A June 10th raid which searched the homes and businesses of over 20 people lead to arrests, and even two suicides.  So far charges have emerged in Utah, but charges may emerge in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and perhaps even Colorado.

Ongoing Repatriation Efforts

Repatriation continued to dominate headlines this year.  Peru, Egypt, Greece and other nations brought suits and made charges in the press.  One of the most interesting stories which emerged early in 2009 were the efforts by China to secure the return of objects  taken during the period of colonialism.  Many of the prominent details emerged in the press.  In February an auction of many works of art from the Yve Saint Laurent auction became the proving ground for China's cultural diplomacy.  These two bronzes were slated for sale at the auction, having been looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860.  China first threatened suit against Christie's, but that suit was denied. At the auction, Cai Mingchao, the general manager of Xiamen Harmony Art International Auction Co. was the winning bidder on these bronzes.  Yet he refused to pay, essentially sabotaging the auction.  This was another indication of the increasing role that nations of origin are playing in the heritage marketplace.  I'm not sure how many wealthy bidders would be willing to stake their reputation or future ability to bid on such a move in the future, but this was a cunningly simple, very shrewd strategic move by Mingchao and the Chinese.  They wanted to disrupt the market in these objects which had been looted, and did a brilliant job doing so.  

Deaccession

The decision by museums to sell works of art generated considerable controversy this year, and no dispute better encapsulates the difficulties which arise than the decision by Brandeis University to close the Rose Museum of Art.  The University has shifted its position  since the initial announcement.  It has announced its intention to maintain the Rose in some form, but given the University's financial difficulty the decision was not made lightly.  One of the difficulties with deaccession stems from its connection to our fundamental view of art and museum governance.  What is the nature of art?  An art museum?  Are either permanent?  Can we trust the governing structures in our museums?  Our inability to find common ground in crafting answers to these questions accounts for the continued difficulty.  But if the arts community cannot come together and craft viable solutions to these difficulties, we are going to be left with weaker cultural institutions and risk losing more works as a result of financial difficulty. 


Treasure Seekers in the United Kingdom

Earlier this year Oxford Archaeology released a report on the management of undiscovered antiquities in England and Wales.  The conclusion?  Illegal metal detecting in England has declined since the United Kingdom amended the Treasure Act and created the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This has led to the amateur discovery of some beautiful objects, including this Anglo-Saxon hoard discovered by a detectorist this summer.


And of course art theft continued to occur with alarming regularity.

 

Dec 23, 2009

Odyssey/Spain Dispute Headed to 11th Circuit Appeal

The dispute between Odyssey Marine Exploration and Spain over a shipwreck which was sunk in the early 19th Century will now likely be headed for appeal.  Federal District Court Judge Steven Merryday has issued an order that has adopted the Federal Magistrate's Report and Recommendation.  In his order Judge Merryday stated a separate opinion would "add only length and neither depth nor clarity (and certainly not finality) to this dispute."  Though this is a win for Spain, it also means the 11th circuit will now hear an appeal.   Back in the Spring, federal Magistrate Pizzo held the Federal District Court lacked jurisdiction over the dispute and the property should be returned to Spain. 


As I wrote then, though Odyssey Marine attempted to hide the true identity of the wreck, initially code-naming the wreck the Black Swan, there was enough information to conclude the coins came from the "Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes", a warship which was carrying treasure back from Peru when it was sunk by the British off the Spanish coast in 1804. Spain, soon declared war on Great Britain, a point which may be lost in all this talk of the treasure. This treasure was an important piece of heritage, and all the talk of Odyssey's share prices, and the rich treasure haul shouldn't distract us from why these objects are protected, and why Spain fought so vigorously to have them declared the owner.This latest development then is not terribly surprising.  The case involves some complex issues of international admiralty law, and half a billion dollars in gold and silver coins.  It should be a fascinating appeal, as the 11th Circuit will set a precedent governing how these salvors can explore and remove historical objects from the ocean floor.

Odyssey Marine has a press release here.

James Thorner, Odyssey Marine's treasure tangle with Spain moves to appeals court,  St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 23, 2009.

Richard Mullins, Sunken treasure case headed to federal appeals courtTampa Tribune, Dec. 23, 2009.  

Dec 17, 2009

China's Repatriation Team Visits the Met

File:Yuanmingyuan zuoshi.jpg"That wasn't so bad after all"

So said James C.Y. Watt, the head of Asian art at the Met after a team of Chinese experts visited the institution looking for objects which had once been at the Chinese Old Summer Palace in Beijing.  China has been looking to buy or repatriate objects from the Old Summer Palace. 

The looting of the palace during the Second Opium War in 1860 holds great historical significance for many in China.  In response to the execution of twenty European and Indian prisoners, Lord Elgin (son of the the Elgin who removed the sculptures from the Parthenon) ordered the destruction of the palace.  As a 27 year-old captain in the Royal Engineers wrote:

We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property which [could] not be replaced for four millions. We got upward of £48 apiece prize money...I have done well. The [local] people are very civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did the Palace. You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.
This destruction continues to shape how China views its relationship with the West.  Chinese experts have conducted a campaign to seek the return of many of the objects looted from the palace.  This includes the "guerilla bidding" last year which effectively prevented the auction of two bronzes from the palace last year. 

Andrew Jacobs account of the visit calls into question the motives of the Chinese delegation.  He throws quotations around the phrase "treasure hunting team", but the tenor in his piece echoes the pejorative of the phrase.  Many in the West still fail to engage with the fundamental issue.  Had the White House been burned and sacked in 1860, wouldn't a powerful America be doing everything it could to seek the return of these objects? 

Jacobs references the criticism of Chinese destruction of historical sites.  But nearly every nation can be accused of the same.  What about the Native American burial mound which was decimated to create fill-dirt for a Sam's Club in Alabama this year?  Does that mean America is an unsuitable steward for cultural treasures? 

  1. Andrew Jacobs, China Hunts for Art Treasures in U.S. Museums, The New York Times, December 17, 2009.

Leonardo's Stolen 'Yarnwinder' in Edinburgh

Image courtesy INTERPOL
Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna with the Yarnwinder has been put on display at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.  The work was stolen in 2003 from the Duke of Buccleuch's home at Drumlanrig Castle in Scotland.  The work was recovered in 2007, and eight men (including some once-prominent solicitors) are facing criminal trial for their involvement in the theft.  It is a rare good outcome for an art theft like this. 

  1. Stolen da Vinci back on display, BBC, December 17, 2009.

Dec 15, 2009

Workshop on the Human Dimension of Cultural Heritage

A colleague in Florence has passed along this event at the European University Institute in Florence, this Friday December 18th. Looks to be a terrific event this week:

The Human Dimension of Cultural Heritage
Workshop organized by Professor Francioni
in cooperation with Professors T. Scovazzi and L. Pineschi
European University Institute, Florence
18 December 2009, Sala Europa (Villa Schifanoia)

  • 10.00 Welcome to the participants and introduction to the workshop by Professors Francesco Francioni, Laura Pineschi, and Tullio Scovazzi
  • 10.10-11.00
    • Francesco Francioni (European University Institute), The Contribution of International Law to the Development of a Human Dimension of Cultural Heritage
    • Tullio Scovazzi (Università di Milano-Bicocca), Recent Developments in the Fields of Intangible and Underwater Cultural Heritage
    • Ana Vrdoljak (University of Western Australia), Illicit Traffic of Cultural Objects and Human Rights
  • Coffee break
  • 11.15-12.00
    • Federico Lenzerini (Università di Siena), Indigenous Peoples Cultural Rights vs. Cultural Heritage”: A Hard-to-Settle Tension?
    • Alessandro Chechi (European University Institute), Cultural Cooperation: A Revolutionary Tool for the Safeguarding of the Common Heritage of Humankind?
    • Uladzislau Belavusau (European University Institute), Freedom of Expression, Art and Pornography
    • General discussion
  • 12.15-13.00
    • Patrizia Vigni (Università di Siena), Claims To Discovered Shipwrecks: Restitution, Return or Something Else?
    • Valentina S. Vadi (Maastricht University), The Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage and International Investment Law
    • Nicola Ferri (Università di Milano-Bicocca), The Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage According to the General Assembly Resolution
    • General Discussion
  • Lunch Break
  • 14.30-15.15
    • Adriana Bessa Rodrigues (European University Institute), No Culture, NoHeritage: The International Regime on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing and Potential Threats to the Preservation of Local Cultures
    • Sabrina Urbinati (Università di Milano-Bicocca), (on intangibile heritage)
    • Mery Ciacci (European University Institute), The EU Ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions: New Challenges and New Implications for the EU
    • General discussion
  • 15.30-16.30
    • Riccardo Pavoni (Università di Siena), Developing Individual Criminal Responsibility for Wartime Offences against Cultural Property: The Italian Measures Implementing the Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention
    • Micaela Frulli (Università di Firenze), International Criminal Law to the Protection of Cultural Heritage
    • Robert Peters (European University Institute), Defining Common Grounds in the Trophy Art Debate between Germany and Russia
    • Andrzej Jakubowski (European University Institute), Human and Cultural Heritage Aspects of State Succession: The Case of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
  • General discussion and final remarks by Professors Francesco Francioni, Laura Pineschi, and Tullio Scovazzi

Dec 14, 2009

Ceremony for Egyptian Relics

Pictured here are French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak during a ceremony today.  The French returned some relics taken from Egypt in recent years which were purchased by the Louvre in 2000 and 2003.  Egypt had made a dramatic call for the immediate return of the objects, ordering the removal of all French archaeologists from Egyptian sites if the objects were not returned.  They were returned quickly.





Egypt demanded the return of the stolen fragments in October and broke off relations with the Louvre. Afterwards, France agreed to hand back the works, which are from Luxor's Valley of the Kings.  "France is particularly committed to fighting the illegal trafficking of works of art," Sarkozy said, in a statement.  The other four artefacts were to be given to the Egyptian embassy in Paris during Mubarak's visit to Paris, French officials said.  The French president emphasized that the Louvre museum had acted in good faith when it purchased the artefacts and said that doubts were only raised in November during archaeological work at the site.  Egypt had produced photographs from the mid-1970s showing the fragments in place on the tomb's wall.


  1. AFP: France returns stolen Louvre relics to Egypt, December 14, 2009.

Dec 12, 2009

Italy Recovers 1,700 Looted Antiquities

The AP is reporting that Italian authorities have uncovered a looting network which raided tombs outside Naples and Venice.  The objects were then illegally exported to market nations like the United States.




During more than a year of investigations, authorities recovered nearly 1,700 statues, vases and other artifacts dating from pre-Roman times to the heyday of the empire. Police flagged 19 people for possible investigation by prosecutors.  The artifacts were mainly dug out from tombs in the areas around Naples and Venice and included a bronze bust of the emperor Augustus, customs police in Rome said.  Part of the loot had been smuggled to the United States to be sold to collectors, they said.  The Italians said they worked with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New Haven, Connecticut, to recover 47 ceramic and bronze statutes that had been looted from a tomb in southern Italy dating between the 6th and 5th centuries B.C.


  1. The Associated Press: Italian police recover hoard of looted artifacts, Associated Press, December 11, 2009.

Dec 8, 2009

Hawass Wants Rosetta Stone Loan

"We are not pirates of the Caribbean - we are a civilised country"

So says Zahi Hawass in calling for the British Museum to loan the Rosetta Stone to Egypt. The British Museum has said the museum's trustees will consider the request. Hawass wants the loan in contemplation of the opening of Egypt's Grand Museum at Giza, in 2013. Other prominent objects Hawass would like returned on loan:
  • a statue of Hemiunu, the architect of the Great Pyramid at Giza (Germany);
  • the bust of Anchhaf, builder of the Chepren Pyramid (Boston);
  • a painted Zodiac from the Dendera temple (Louvre); ann a statue of Ramesses II (Turin).
The requests are part of a series of prominent requests by Hawass in recent months.


  1. Rosetta row 'would end with loan', BBC, December 8, 2009.

Update on the Drouot Arrests

The AP reported yesterday that charges have been filed against nine employees of the Drouot auction house. French authorities last week found a stolen work by Gustave Courbet.

An auctioneer and eight commission agents were given preliminary charges, including ''organized theft,'' the prosecutor's office said.
Three others detained last week in the police raids on Drouot, its warehouses and homes of employees were released with no charges filed against them.
When the bust was announced last week, there was initial confusion about which Courbet work had been recovered. The painting -- stolen several years ago from a collection whose owner had recently died -- was not clearly identified, and the heir had confused it with another work, an official close to the inquiry said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing.
Police initially identified the recovered Courbet work as ''La Vague'' (The Wave), worth euro900,000 ($1.3 million), but officials said Monday it was actually ''Paysage marin sous un ciel d'orage'' (Marine Landscape Under a Stormy Sky), worth about euro100,000.
The stolen Courbet -- one of several paintings by the convention-smashing realist master with a stormy ocean theme -- was found at the home of one of the commission agents being investigated. Other pieces recovered in the sweep included artworks, frames and furniture.
Under French law, preliminary charges give the judge more time to investigate and determine whether to send the case to trial. Three commission agents were jailed in the case, with the prosecutor's office accusing them of deep involvement in thefts dating back to 2001.
The auctioneer was released pending the investigation with the stipulation that he stop hosting sales.

  1. The Associated Press, Preliminary Charges vs 9 in Paris Auction Sweep, The New York Times, December 7, 2009.

Dec 3, 2009

César Baldaccini and the Definition of Art


One of the ways criminal defendants can often try to evade "art crime" offenses is by challenging the definitions of art.  The most recent example is the Piedoie brothers.  The two are accused of pawning off 130 of their own creations as genuine works by César Baldaccini Baldaccini.  Baldaccini died in 1998, and was known for his sculptures which were made by compressing consumer goods like cars or refrigerators into metallic blocks, like this one.

During a trial this week, the brothers will attempt to argue that made these César works as a kind of imitation, but not fakes.  In a report by a French magistrate, the "lack of seriousness" of several auction houses was blamed, and the French prosecutor has expressed dismay that the French art market has been "flooded" with these kinds of fakes since the artist's death in 1998. 

The investigation into these forgeries began in 2001 by mistake:

Police in the south of France searching for stolen art works, including a Chagall and a Magritte, bugged several suspects in a world of high-living, cocaine-taking art lovers and dealers. They stumbled on evidence that Eric Piedoie was flooding the Côte d'Azur with fake Césars.
The appearance of so many unknown works enflamed feelings within César's family and entourage. The artist's wife Rosine Baldaccini and daughter Anna Puységur Baldaccini were disputing his inheritance with his mistress Stéphanie Busuttil. Each side accused the other of selling off works before the dispute was settled in court.
Mme Busuttil was allegedly approached by the Piedoie brothers to sign certificates of authentification for some of their works. She says she did so in good faith: a claim accepted by the prosecution.
In other words, both César's own mistress and the art critic who catalogued his work could not tell authentic "compression" sculptures from fake ones knocked off in a garage. Awkward questions therefore arise. Were César's "compression sculptures" really art? Are the Piedoie brothers con-artists or true, accidental artists themselves?
 
  1. On trial: the question of what is modern art, The Independent, December 1, 2009.

Dec 2, 2009

The FBI Returns pre-Columbian Antiquities

Pre-Colombian pieces found in retirement community head homeOn Tuesday the FBI announced it was returning 150 pre-Columbian artifacts which had been smuggled out of Peru and Ecuador.  The objects were found in the home of a recently deceased man, who had apparently been a collector of the antiquities. 


The 153 pieces of jewelry as well as pottery, baskets, sculptures and figurines were found last April in the home of a man after he died in his retirement community in Avon Park, Florida, according to the bureau's Miami field office.
Experts indicated that the artifacts, presented in a Miami ceremony to representatives of the Peru and Ecuador governments, were between 500 and 3,200 years old, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said.
The FBI teamed up with specialists from Florida International University who determined that 141 of the pieces originated in what is present-day Peru, and the other 12 came from neighboring Ecuador.
"These artifacts represent the cultural heritage of Peru and Ecuador. They can never be replaced and should be on display for many to see, not locked away," said the FBI's chief agent in Miami, John Gillies.
"We are honored to return these items to their rightful owners," Gillies added.

These announcements have become almost routine, with an estimated 2,600 items recovered just since 2004.  

  1. AFP: FBI returns smuggled artifacts to Peru, Ecuador, Dec. 1, 2009.

Paris Auction House Searched


In more news which seems to reflect poorly on the French art trade, the AP is reporting that 12 people have been "detained" from the Hotel Druout auction house in Paris.  Police found a stolen Courbet painting, the Wave, which was stolen in 2004. 

Dec 1, 2009

First British Repatriation after Nazi-Era Law

The British Library will be returning the Benevento Missal, which was stolen from a cathedral during World War II.  The British Library has possessed the book since 1947.  This is the first repatriation of an actual object under the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act which applies only to claims during the Holocaust era, 1933-45.  The Spoliation Advisory Panel recommended the missal should be returned four years ago to the cathedral.

It was brought to Britain by an intelligence officer, Captain Douglas Ash, who bought it in Naples in 1944 and later auctioned it in London.
Captain Ash wrote in a letter: “I bought an old book in Naples in April 1944, knowing nothing about it, except that it was very old, being described by the second-hand bookseller as molto antico ... I am interested in anything old and have a collection of swords and armour, but this book is completely beyond me.”
How the book reached Naples is unknown, but the cathedral argued successfully that it vanished from its library after it was bombed in September 1943, directly relating the loss to “circumstances of the mayhem of war”. Jeremy Scott, of the law firm Withers, who represented the cathedral on a pro bono basis, welcomed the new law. “I will be submitting a renewed claim [on the cathedral’s behalf] after it comes into force,” he said.

By all accounts this was the right thing to do with the missal.  Yet the wrongful purchase here had little connection with the holocaust, only during the "holocaust era".  It was a sale which occurred in the wake of armed conflict, and presumably the missal was appropriated in an effort to remove valuable objects from the cathedral in anticipation of allied military action. 

Will this signal a creep toward increased repatriation for objects in other institutions, and for other historical periods?  This law has a limited scope, and will expire in 10 years.  In the United States much of the legal groundwork for repatriation first came in the context of holocaust-era claims via repatriation lawsuits.  It will be interesting to see whether a similar development may take hold in the U.K. in the wake of this law and the coming claims.   
  1. Ben Hoyle, British Library to return Benevento Missal under Nazi loot law - Times Online, The Times, December 1, 2009.

Nov 30, 2009

A Profile of the Art Market

The Economist discusses the current state of the art market:


The current downturn in the art market is the worst since the Japanese stopped buying Impressionists at the end of 1989, a move that started the most serious contraction in the market since the second world war. This time experts reckon that prices are about 40% down on their peak on average, though some have been far more volatile. But Edward Dolman, Christie’s chief executive, says: “I’m pretty confident we’re at the bottom.”
What makes this slump different from the last, he says, is that there are still buyers in the market, whereas in the early 1990s, when interest rates were high, there was no demand even though many collectors wanted to sell. Christie’s revenues in the first half of 2009 were still higher than in the first half of 2006. Almost everyone who was interviewed for this special report said that the biggest problem at the moment is not a lack of demand but a lack of good work to sell. The three Ds—death, debt and divorce—still deliver works of art to the market. But anyone who does not have to sell is keeping away, waiting for confidence to return.
Good thing then that other buyers have appeared in Russia, the Middle East, and China.  In fact China has increasingly used the art market to seek repatriation:


The sensitivity of the subject was shown up in February this year when the collection built up by the late Yves St Laurent, a French fashion designer, and his partner Pierre Berge was put up for sale. The auction included bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit, two pieces that had been looted from the imperial palace of Yuanmingyuan by French and British soldiers in the opium wars in 1860. The heads, part of a series of 12 figures which dominated a zodiac fountain in the palace garden, had not even been designed by a Chinese artist but by a Jesuit priest from Venice who lived in the imperial capital. All the same, their provenance and history made their sale controversial.
The government let it be known that it did not approve of a public sale of the precious bronze heads in the West and did not want its citizens to take part. Even so, both the winning bidder and several underbidders turned out to be Chinese. One, a London-based businessman, had been planning to present the bronzes to the Chinese government as a gift. The buyer, Cai Mingchao, who secured the two pieces for EURO 31m ($46m), turned out to be an adviser to a Chinese foundation which seeks to retrieve plundered treasures. He announced very publicly soon afterwards that he would not pay up. The heads were quietly returned to Mr Berge. The government has since announced that it wants to catalogue all the pieces looted from Yuanmingyuan, which some believe is the first step in a campaign to reclaim them.

Google to Create Digital Archive of Iraq's National Museum

A detail from one of the exhibitsGoogle has announced it will create a digital record of the Baghdad museum's collection, and will make the images available online by early next year.  As Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive announced last week, "The history of the beginning of - literally - civilization... is preserved in this museum."  Over 14,000 images have been taken, allowing the Iraqi public, and the rest of the world to see the images. 

Rod Norland notes in an article for the New York Times that the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already digitized part of the collection, and created a website, the virtual Museum of Iraq.  So there is some duplication here.  A few things to take away from the announcement.

First, it seems like a good idea to digitize these objects, and make the images available to to public generally.  However many other museums are unlikely to take this step, at least in the short term.  We don't know how expensive an undertaking this was, as the costs are born by the US State Department and Google.  But museums also will fear the loss of revenue from their own publications.  As many museums prohibit photography, often the only way to take home a photographic souvenir of the visit is to purchase the shiny museum publications.  Of course part of the impetus for this digitization project is to make these work accessible—at least in a digital way—to members of the public who are unable to visit the Baghdad museum.

Secondly, I wonder what procedures google followed with the project.  Are these high-resolution images which will be useful for scholars?  Will these images contain information on the history of the objects? When they were excavated? Where they were unearthed?  And finally, will these images be made available to the various stolen art databases.  If another tragedy were to befall this important museum, will these images be useful to help prevent the sale of artifacts? 

  1. Rod Nordland, Google Chief Announces Plan in Baghdad to Put Iraqi Artifacts Online, The New York Times, November 25, 2009.
  2. Google to digitise Iraq artefacts, BBC, November 24, 2009.

Nov 21, 2009

Monuments Men on the NewsHour

NewsHour last week devoted a segment to Robert Edsel's new book, "The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History."  Here's the video:


German Court Orders Repatriation of Gold vessel to Iraq

Lucian Harris, for the Art Newspaper, reports on the claims by Iraq to a miniature gold vessel:


The case, which has focused attention on the sale of smuggled Iraqi artifacts in Germany, began late in 2004 when the slightly dented six-centimetre-high gold vessel was included in a sale at Munich auction house Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger, described as being of Mediterranean origin, possibly from Troy and dated to the Roman Iron-age period (1st century AD). However, the vessel was spotted by an unnamed expert who believed that it was in fact much older and of Sumerian origin.

 . . .
The case has been something of a personal mission on the part of Iraqi ambassador to Berlin Alaa Al-Hashimy, whose interest in cultural affairs stems from his background as an architect . In 2007 legislation was passed in Iraq requiring envoys in foreign countries to monitor the appearance of any Mesopotamian artifacts on the commercial market. Furthermore, this August a letter of understanding was signed between the two governments to ensure cooperation in cases where Iraqi artifacts appear on the German market. A recent report on Azzaman news agency claimed that since the court's ruling Iraqi diplomats in Germany have stopped the sale of 28 Mesopotamian artifacts believed to have been smuggled out of Iraq in the past five years.

Nov 18, 2009

Reactions to the Culture Forum at LSE

I recommend Tom Flynn's comprehensive overview of the cultural panel which took place Tuesday at LSE. It sounds like it was much of the same kinds of polite disagreements which these kinds of events typically produce.  Here's a flavor of Tom's reaction:


Cuno's highly political presentation — which, paradoxically, sought to criticize what he saw as the politicisation of culture by source nations — was followed by a few short comments from Tatiana Flessas. 
Professor Flessas sought to point out that many encyclopedic museums are themselves national creations and are thus also instruments of nationalist agendas — actors taking up nationalistic positions by claiming the power to interpret, contextualise and assign meanings to the objects in their collections. "That building up the road is not a branch of museums UK plc, it is The British Museum", she said, drawing one the few ripples of laughter in an otherwise rather po-faced evening. 

Nov 16, 2009

Terrific Event on Culture at LSE on Tuesday

Those of you in and around London should strongly consider attending "Who owns culture?" on Tuesday Nov. 17th. The strong panel will include Dr James Cuno, Dr Maurice Davies, Dr Tatiana Flessas, and Dr Tiffany Jenkins.  These are some prominent folks, and they should present some interesting different opinions.  I'd be very keen if any folks who attend would send me any impressions of the event.

Here are the details:

Who owns culture?
Tuesday 17 November, 6.30pm until 8.00pm, London School of Economics Satellite Events
Venue: Thai Theatre, London School of Economics, New Academic Building, 54 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3LJ
Tickets: £7.50 (£5 concessions) per person. Tickets are available from the Institute of Ideas website.

For the past two centuries, the West has acquired treasures of the ancient world to fill its museums, so that visitors to the British Museum in London for example can see historic artefacts from all over the world. In recent years, though, various countries and even ethnic communities within countries have begun to demand the return of artefacts. Several North American museums were recently rocked by claims from countries including Italy that objects in their collections had been acquired illicitly. In response they returned over a hundred objects. Meanwhile a former curator of antiquities from the prestigious Getty Museum is currently on trial for conspiracy to traffic in illicit antiquities. In response to this controversy, UNESCO has encouraged the development of policies and laws which state that artefacts excavated after 1970 belong to the nation states in which they were found.

Where do treasures from the past rightly belong, and why? Should they be housed in the country of origin where locals as well as visitors can see them in their historic context, or in an institution with objects from everywhere? Often it is not clear what it means to say something belongs to a particular country. The Parthenon Marbles pre-date by millennia the formation of the Greek state, for example, while terracotta Nok sculptures found in Nigeria have little to do with that country’s culture today. Some argue the policy of repatriating such objects, along with ‘nationalist retentionist’ policies, promote divisive identity politics over a universalist appreciation of objects of art as part of world history. But is this just a self-serving argument on the part of Western institutions who already have much of the best ‘stuff’ from world history? Some argue museums should return objects or at least consult with the relevant communities as a form of reparations for colonialism. But does this unhelpfully politicise museums in the here and now? Others argue contentious artefacts should be entrusted to an international nongovernmental agency. But who might sit on this suggested nongovernmental agency and what power should they have? So are things best left where they are, or returned whence they came in the interests of fairness?

Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act takes effect

New legislation which took effect on Friday will allow national museums in England and Scotland to act to return works of art, based on the recommendations of the Spoliation Advisory Panel.  The panel resolves claims arising from the loss of objects to the Nazis.  There have been nine instances of wrongful takings in which claimants were compensated, yet the national institutions have been forbidden from returning objects outright.  The only remedy was payment.  This is a welcome change, and allows UK museums to do the just thing.  Andrew Dismore, MP sponsored the act, and said:

It shows what could be achieved by a determined backbencher: by rolling out my sleeping bag and sleeping on the floor of the Public Bill Office overnight, I was able to become the first in the queue to apply for Second Readings after the balloted Bills, and this tactic paid off.

While I do not envisage the Act having to be used very frequently, this is an important moral step, to ensure that we can close yet a further chapter on the appalling crimes of the Holocaust.

  1. UK museums can return looted art, BBC, November 13, 2009.

Nov 13, 2009

Another Munch Theft



Art thieves must love Edvard Munch.  In yet another theft of his works, Historien, a lithograph by Munch has been stolen.  A man smashed the window of the Nyborg Kunst gallery in Oslo late Thursday and stole the work.  Police are speculating that this may have been a theft by order, as the thief's vehicle had been reported stolen 10 days earlier, and this unique work will be impossible to sell on the open market.  AFP reminds us of some of the recent Munch thefts:
In 2004, two armed masked men burst into the Munch museum in Oslo in broad daylight and stole the "Scream" and the "Madonna" paintings before making off in a getaway car.
Ten years earlier, another version of the "Scream" was stolen from Oslo's national gallery on the same day as the opening of the Lillehammer Winter Olympics.


AFP: Munch artwork stolen from Oslo gallery, November 13, 2009.

Nov 12, 2009

5,000 and Counting

The BBC reports on the increasingly-aggressive efforts by Egypt to secure the return of objects from the British Museum and Germany's Neues Museum.  Zahi Hawass claims to have arranged for the return of some 5,000 artifacts:

Later this month Egyptian archaeologists will travel to the Louvre Museum in Paris to collect five ancient fresco fragments stolen from a tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the 1980s, but there are many other "stolen" antiquities which they also want back, reports the BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo.
One of the first artefacts that visitors see on entering the pink neoclassical facade of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is a fake.
"This is a replica of the Rosetta Stone. It is the only object in the museum that is not real," announces a tour guide, his voice echoing through the high-domed hall."The original is kept in the British Museum." Before leading his group on to the lines of old-fashioned cabinets filled with ancient treasures, he explains the significance of the basalt slab, which dates back to 196BC and was key to the modern decipherment of hieroglyphics.

The Rosetta Stone presents an interesting case.  Would we think much of the stone if it hadn't been for Thomas Young and Jean-François Champollion who managed to decipher the hieroglyphic writing?  If so, doesn't the British Museum have a closer connection to the stone, where it has been almost-continually displayed since 1802.  Of course it was discovered by the French in 1799, and there is certainly a compelling case that those kinds of removals were wrongful.

The quest to regain Egypts antiquities, BBC, Nov. 11, 2009.

Nov 4, 2009

Light Posting

Apologies for the light posting of late, I hope to resume early next week.  I've been finalizing my preparations for the AALS Hiring Conference in Washington DC this weekend.  Joni will be joining me as well, and if any readers or former students are up for dinner or drinks, drop me a line:  derek.fincham "at" gmail.com.

Nov 2, 2009

Museums and Restitution Conference at the University of Manchester

Call for papers for a conference on Museums and Restitution in July:

Museums and Restitution
International Conference
8-9 July 2010, University of Manchester
http://www.manchester.ac.uk/museumsandrestitution/

Museums and Restitution is a two-day international conference organised by the
Centre for Museology and The Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester.
The conference examines the issue of restitution in relation to the changing
role and authority of the museum, focussing on new ways in which these
institutions are addressing the subject.

Restitution is one of the most emotive and complex issues facing the museum
world in the twenty first century. Its current high profile reflects changing
global power relations and the increasingly vocal criticisms of the historical
concentration of the world's heritage in the museums of the West. The 2002
Declaration of the Importance and Value of Universal Museums, which was signed
by the directors of eighteen of the world's most powerful museums, pushed the
subject to the forefront of debate as never before.

Over recent years, the issue of restitution has taken on a new complexion with
different processes emerging. We have seen an increasing emphasis on museums
working with source communities, and with new forms of restitution other than
object restitution - such as visual and knowledge restitution. The language of
discussion too has changed, with the term 'reunification', for example, rather
than 'repatriation' now often being used in relation to the Parthenon Marbles.
The opening of New Acropolis Museum in Athens in June 2009 has added a further
dimension to the debates. We are also seeing new countries gaining increasing
prominence in restitution debates: for example, the official response from the
government of the People's Republic of China to the Yves Saint Laurent auction
of Chinese looted bronzes at Christie's in Paris in March 2009. This is a trend
clearly set to continue.

This conference will bring together museum professionals and academics from a
wide range of fields (including museology, archaeology, anthropology, art
history and cultural policy) to share ideas on contemporary approaches to
restitution from the viewpoint of museums.

Possible themes


  • New museums, new developments
  • Visual, knowledge and digital repatriation
  • Authority and power: voices listened to, voices heard
  • Beyond ownership? Loans, travelling exhibitions, exchanges
  • Reflections on returns


Please send a title and a short proposal of no more than 300 words and
biographical details to Louise Tythacott louise.tythacott@manchester.ac.uk and
Kostas Arvanitis kostas.arvanitis@manchester.ac.uk

Deadline for Abstracts: Friday 11th December 2009

Oct 28, 2009

Update on Yale's Cultural Heritage Lawsuits

 The Yale Daily News updates two disputes involving Yale University.  The first is a dispute involving the Night Cafe by Vincent Van Gogh:


 Pierre Konowaloff, the descendant of a Russian aristocrat who once owned the painting, claims it is rightfully his because the Soviet government expropriated it from his family in 1918.
The Soviet government seized “The Night Café” from Konowaloff’s great-grandfather Ivan Morozov as part of the government’s mass nationalization of private property in the early 20th century. Konowaloff claims this constitutes a theft, delegitimizing any subsequent sale or purchase. Therefore, Konowaloff claims, Stephen Clark 1903, who bequeathed the painting to Yale in 1960, never actually owned it.
Clark was a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the early 1930s, he acquired the painting from the Knoedler Gallery in New York City, which had purchased it from the Matthiesen Gallery in Berlin, Germany; it was the Matthiesen Gallery that originally bought the painting from the Soviets.
Yale first responded to Konowaloff’s claims of ownership in May 2009, filing a lawsuit to assert the University’s ownership. Konowaloff responded with a counterclaim in March 2009, requesting the return of the painting and over $75,000 in damages.
Yale’s Oct. 5 motion argues that “it is well-established that a foreign nation’s taking of its own national’s property within its own borders does not violate international law,” and that the Soviet government’s original acquisition — and also Yale’s subsequent acquisition — of the painting was legal.
The motion also argues that Konowaloff’s claim came too late, since the statute of limitations for a dispute of ownership of this nature would have expired in the 1960s, three years after Yale publicized its acquisition of the painting.
The second is a dispute involving objects removed by Hiram Bingham from Machu Picchu:

 
In the case of the Inca artifacts, Yale is arguing it first gained control of the items when they arrived in New Haven in the 1920s, describing them in several Yale publications as part of the museum’s permanent collection.
“Decade after decade, Peru was content to let Yale hold itself out to the world as the owner of the objects,” the Oct. 16 motion reads. “[Peru] disregarded the reasonable time limits imposed by law for bringing its claims.”
  1. Nora Caplan-Bricker, Yale moves to drop museum suits, Yale Daily News, October 27, 2009.

Oct 27, 2009

The Met Returns Object to Egypt

Curious story involving the Met and Egypt. It seems the museum will return a fragment of a red granite shrine purchased from an antiquities collector in New York last October "so that it could be returned." It seems the Met purchased the object specifically to return it to Egypt. Curious to say the least, why couldn't ICE agents or the NYPD have gotten involved? Perhaps because it was a prominent unnamed collector? There are more questions than answers at this point.

Here's a part of the AP story:


The piece arrives in Egypt Thursday, the statement said. Egle Zygas, senior press officer for the Met, confirmed the museum's decision.
SCA head Zahi Hawass hailed the Met's move as a "great deed," singling it out as the first time a museum has bought an item for the sole purpose of repatriating it.
The fragment belongs to the naos honoring the 12th Dynasty King Amenemhat I, who ruled 4,000 years ago, which is now in the Ptah temple of Karnak in Luxor.
It's the latest coup for Hawass, Egypt's assertive and media-savvy archaeologist, who has been on an international lobbying campaign to reclaim what he says are stolen Egyptian artifacts from the world's most prestigious museums.
He says so far he has recovered 5,000 artifacts since becoming antiquities head in 2002.
  1. Joseph Freeman, The Met returns Egyptian artifact, The Associated Press Oct. 27, 2009.

Banks as Art Museums?

Interesting piece from the New York Times on banks and their art collections:


Deutsche Bank is believed to own the largest corporate collection in the world, with some 60,000 pieces of contemporary art. UBS owns 40,000 pieces, and JPMorgan Chase 30,000. Combined, that approaches the Museum of Modern Art’s trove. Banks have various explanations for their hoarding instincts: lots of walls to cover, clients to impress, corporate identities to build. Or perhaps just some past director was a devoted patron.
If banks were temples of culture rather than lucre, the collections would be easy to justify. As a financial asset, however, much of the art is of dubious value. Some 400 works owned by Lehman Brothers, including ones by Roy Lichtenstein, are expected to fetch only about $1 million at a coming auction. And it’s hard to believe Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst ever helped get an initial public offering off the ground.
At least some banks take care of their treasures. JPMorgan, whose collection was started a half-century ago by David Rockefeller at Chase Manhattan, has a well-regarded curator. But many banks don’t even know what’s boxed up in the basement, having inherited artwork in takeovers.
Some do make an effort to share their artistic wealth. Monte dei Paschi di Siena of Italy invites the public to see some of its impressive collection, which stretches back to the Renaissance. The Swiss bank UBS lets the Tate Museum of Britain select from its collection. But these efforts don’t often come to much. The Tate currently has only three of UBS’s pieces on display.

The authors tie these large collections to the financial bailout.  I'm more interested in comparing these banks to art museums.   It make When banks purchase massive amounts of art, it becomes harder for museums to compete with the economic clout of banks.  Though the piece is critical of this ownership of works of art, I suspect one main reason these works of art are held is to wait until their value escalates and banks can trade them for tax exemptions.

  1. Jeffrey Goldfarb & Lauren Silva Laughlin, Banks Hoard Troves of Art, The New York Times, October 26, 2009.

Oct 26, 2009

"It's about emotion, not airtight logic and consistent policy."

So argues Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times in describing the recent calls for repatriation of works of art.  He takes as examples the recent repatriation claims made by Egypt against Germany and France.  He makes two points that I'd like to draw out of the article.

First, he claims that globalization has intensified "cultural differences" between nations.  This allows nationalism to "exploit culture".  He may be correct in some cases, but he fails to note that the frescoes returned by the Louvre had been purchased recently, with little history.  Given what we know about the antiquities trade, this means they were likely illegally exported or looted. 

Second, he argues these claims are often based on emotion.  That is certainly true in some cases, because after all works of art are often designed to convey emotion.  One example of this would be Scotland's desire for the return of the Lewis Chessmen.  But not all of these claims are without merit.  Moreover, why is it that only claimant nations are "emotional".  Are not museums and other groups "emotional" when they make arguments that works of art should stay where they are currently situated?  Kimmelman makes the argument that justice has shifted.  But I think that is a good thing.  We are closer to better justice for all nations, not merely the wealthier market nations via International treaties like the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and important decisions like the Schultz and Barakat decisions in the United States and the United Kingdom.   

Michael Kimmelman, When Ancient Artifacts Become Political Pawns, The New York Times, October 24, 2009.

Oct 21, 2009

Sotheby's Refuses to Disclose Executive Bonuses

Sotheby's auction house is refusing to disclose to government regulators how much its executives receive in bonuses.  They defend the refusal by noting that if Christie's (which as a private corporation does not have to disclose the same information) were to learn the bonuses, they could lure away these executives.  Any follower of the art trade will hardly be surprised by the hesitancy to disclose this information, but Jeremy Telman at the Contracts Prof blog outlines pokes three holes in Sotheby's argument:


1. Sotheby's and Christie's are undoubtedly at the top of the heap in the art dealing industry.  Based on my circle of acquaintances, which includes many unemployed or underemployed artists, art curators and art experts, it seems likely to me that Sotheby's and Christie's benefit from being in a buyer's market when it comes to hiring executives.  If both companies under-compensated their executives, where would those executives go?  And if they left, so what?  Couldn't Sotheby's and Christie's easily find highly competent replacements who would work on paint fumes just for the honor of getting those great auction houses on their resumes?
2. But even if I'm wrong about that, if Christie's were really interested in luring executives away from Sotheby's, couldn't they just ask the executives about what sort of compensation package it would take to motivate them to move?  Is there a number one rule of Sotheby's Club that you don't talk about Sotheby's Club?
3. In any case, didn't Sotheby's waive its right to whine about the hassles of disclosure when it went public?




Daniel Wakin, Sotheby’s Keeps Its Executive Bonus Plan Under Wraps - ArtsBeat Blog - NYTimes.com.

Oct 20, 2009

China to Research Foreign Museum Archives for Chinese Artifacts

http://rtoddking.com/images/chinasum2004/04092110.jpg
  China seems to be taking a new approach to repatriation, creating research teams which will inspect the holdings of museums to "document" the archives.  This has led to speculation that China may use its growing economic clout to demand the return of objects.  

Peter Foster reports for the Telegraph:


The sacking of the Old Summer Palace – or 'Yuanmingyuan' – as punishment for the torture and execution of 18 emissaries sent by western powers to Beijing, remains an emotive subject in China, where it is still viewed as one of the nation's great humiliations.
The decision to try and document the millions of items now scattered round the world comes as China takes an increasing interest in retrieving artefacts that were removed from China during the colonial period and in the early 20th century.
"We don't really know how many relics have been plundered since the catalogue of the treasures stored in the garden was burned during the catastrophe," the palace's current director Chen Mingjie told the state-run China Daily newspaper.
"But based on our rough calculations, about 1.5 million relics are housed in more than 2,000 museums in 47 countries." China's sensitivity towards such 'looted' treasures was demonstrated in March when a Chinese collector sabotaged the auctioning of two bronze heads taken from the Old Summer Palace, bidding £13.9m for each, but later refusing to pay.

Peter Foster, China to study British Museum for looted artefacts, Telegraph.co.uk, October 19, 2009.

Oct 19, 2009

Poggioli on the New Acropolis Museum

The Parthenon Gallery in the new Acropolis Museum

"Everyone understands what is missing".

So says Naya Charmalia, a member of the New Acropolis Museum exhibition team, in a piece today for All Things Considered by Sylvia Poggioli:

Acropolis Museum director Dimitrios Pandermalis says his aim is to reunify the entire composition close to its original setting.
"We have from the same figure, half of the body in Athens, half of the body in London. We have a body in London and a head in Athens. We have horses in London, and the tails of the horses are in Athens. It is a moral problem in art of divided monuments," he says.
British Museum officials concede that it could loan some of the sculptures, as long as Greece recognizes its ownership of the artifacts. It's a proposal Pandermalis rejects.
"They don't belong to the British, they don't belong to us. They belong to history. They are not pieces of trade," he says.
The campaign for the return of the sculptures is part of the international debate over ownership of cultural property.
For Greeks, the return of the Parthenon Marbles is an issue of national and cultural pride.
Maro Kakridi-Ferrari, professor in the philosophy department of Athens University, says the Parthenon — and what it symbolizes — were traumatized by the sculptures' removal.
"They are the material proof of what democracy has built in Athens of the Classical period," she says. "They are identified with the glory of ancient Greece, and they are part of the national identity."


Poggioli Sylvia, Greece Unveils Museum Meant For 'Stolen' Sculptures, NPR.

Egypt Makes Claim to Nefertiti

The gallery displaying the Nefertiti bust.

Egypt has hinted at an official demand for the return of the bust of Nefertiti from Germany this week.  The demand comes as Germany opens the rebuilt Neues Museum, reinstalling the limestone and stucco bust there.  Zahi Hawass has told German media outlets that "[i]f she left Egypt illegally, which I am convinced she did, then I will officially demand it back from Germany".  These comments come after Culture Minister Faruq Hosni of  Egypt failed to gain election as the new director general of UNESCO, and Egypt threatened France with a cultural boycott to secure the return of recently-purchased frescoes from the Louvre.  There are no indications Egypt will make a similar threat with this case, though perhaps if evidence comes to light indicating some wrongdoing, Egypt may attempt this aggressive strategy again. 

The bust has been in Germany since 1913.  A German archaeological expedition digging near Amarna found what may have been the house and studio complex of the sculptor Thutmose in 1912.  The bust of Nefertiti was found on the floor of a storeroom along with other plaster casts.  The removal of the busts does not appear to be an illegal smuggling or criminal in the same way the frescoes returned from the Louvre were.  This dispute then will share some characteristics with the dispute between Yale and Peru over artifacts from Macchu Picchu. 

In a piece in the New York Times, Monika Grütters, an "art history professor, legislator and a leading cultural expert" in Germany is quoted arguing:

“The documentation exists. The arrangements were agreed. The process was legal . . .  There was a complete understanding about what would remain in Egypt and what would be taken to Germany . . .  Maybe there is a bit of jealousy on the part of Egypt over Nefertiti. In any event, I am not so sure Egypt has the best conditions for this statue . . .  And because it is so fragile, I am not sure the statue can even be flown. We have excellent conditions here in Germany.

 There are indications the Egyptians may have been misled during the initial meeting over the partage of many of the objects which were recovered from the Thutmose workshop in 1912.  Are these issues which can be litigated today?  Perhaps not, as the limitations periods may have expired.  But in the court of public opinion, more evidence of German misrepresentation might compel some action or calls for return.


Judy Dempsey, Egypt Demands Return of Nefertiti Statue, The New York Times, October 19, 2009.

Oct 14, 2009

New Leonardo . . . does anybody care about the art?

A portrait of a young womanA labratory in paris has discovered a fingerprint on this work which is "highly comparable" to one on a Leonardo da Vinci work in the Vatican.  That means this work which was purchased for $19,000 may be worth tens of millions now.  It seems there are also stylistic similarities, and this work was performed by a left-handed artist (as Leonardo was).

It is an interesting story, but again I'm reminded of the lament by Jonathan Jones that art history has become pseudoscience.  Why should we care how much this work could fetch at an auction, what about the art?  Is it a nice picture, or just a windfall investment?

Oct 13, 2009

Roger Atwood on the "Mass Pillage" in Iraq

Roger Atwood has an Op-Ed in yesterday's New York Times arguing Iraq could learn from the approach of Peru and Mali in protecting their archaeological resources.  Both nations have used civilian patrols to protect sites, and apprehend looters:


This kind of grassroots organizing — where local officials, police officers and archaeologists join forces with local residents — is the best way to combat looting and protect sites from being swallowed up by the illicit antiquities trade. A similar strategy has proved effective in Mali, a country that has little in common with Peru besides a rich archaeological heritage. It would work in Iraq and elsewhere.
Surprisingly, though, relatively few governments have focused on getting rural people involved in protecting threatened sites. Most spend their energy pressing museums in the United States or Europe to repatriate looted artifacts, instead of focusing on safeguarding the archaeological riches still in the ground. Repatriation is a valuable goal, but an immense amount of historical information is lost whenever looting occurs and sites are damaged, even if the objects are later recovered. The government’s time would be better spent expanding the patrols to prevent looting in the first place.

Oct 12, 2009

World Monuments Fund Watch List


The World Monuments Fund has announced its 2010 "watch list", and two sites from here in New Orleans have made the list.  The first is St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, and the modern glass and steel Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. 

St. Louis Cemetery was opened in 1823.  The tombs are above ground—a necessity because of the ground water levels, and in keeping with French and Spanish tradition.  It was created by and for the city's "free people of color."  St. Louis #2 contains the remains of some of the earliest and jazz and blues musicians, including Danny Barker.  It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  It contains some remarkable examples of cemetery art, and Creole history.  The cemetery is at risk from vandalism, water lines from the flooding during Hurricane Katrina, and neglect. 


File:All Saints Day in New Orleans -- Decorating the Tombs.jpg
These New Orleans sites join the ranks of Herat in Afghanistan, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Machu Picchu, Taos in New Mexico, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin homes in Wisconsin and Arizona.  

Oct 9, 2009

Louvre to Return Egyptian frescos

Egypt's decision to force France to return the potentially looted frescos has proven very successful.  The objects, allegedly stolen from Egyptian tombs in the 1980's had been purchased by the Louvre in 2000 and 2003.  At least two consequences of this decision will soon emerge.

First, how many other nations of origin will attempt to make similar claims?  Egypt ceased all ongoing archaeological digs by French archaeologists.  Was this a threat only reserved for objects which may have been looted recently?  Will this set the precedent for this kind of treatment by German archaeologists if the bust of Nerfertiti isn't returned to Egypt?

Second, might this signal renewed scrutiny of the acquisition practices of museums outside the US?  Much of the discussion has rightly focused on wrongdoing by some American museums and dealers.  But what of their counterparts around the world?  Shouldn't they be subjected to the same scrutiny?

Louvre to return Egyptian frescos, BBC Oct. 9, 2009.

Oct 8, 2009

Free Wally!

 The 10-year battle over the rights to this work may soon be nearing the beginning of the end:


A federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the U.S. government and the Leopold Museum in Vienna have enough evidence to possibly lay claim to the "Portrait of Wally."  The painting by Austrian expressionist Schiele in 1912 depicts his mistress and primary model.    The U.S. government confiscated the painting when it was on loan from the Leopold, claiming the museum knew the painting had been stolen by a Nazi in 1939 from its Jewish owner, Lea Bondi.   The Leopold sent more than 100 works by Schiele to New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1997.  Acting on information that two paintings had been looted in Austria during World War II, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau seized "Portrait of Wally" and "Dead City" from the museum.



And the work has been in storage ever since.


Jonathan Perlow, Dispute Over Schiele Painting Heads to Trial [Courthouse News Service, Oct. 7, 2009]

Sep 29, 2009

More Art Thefts in California


Coming soon after the theft of the Warhol works in Brentwood, and the armed robbery in Belgium, there has been another major theft in California. In Pebble Beach 13 works by Rembrandt (pictured here), Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and others were stolen.  These new works may  be worth as much as $27 million.  The works were stolen from Angelo Benjamin Amadio; who has since offered a $1-million reward for the return of the objects.

Why all these thefts?  Is it a product of the economic downturn?  Or are thieves hoping to gain some of these lucrative rewards?

Big art theft reported in Pebble Beach [Monterey County Herald, Sep. 28, 2009]

Turkey Plagued by Illicit Antiquities Trade

An interesting piece this Sunday on the problem of looting of sites in Turkey and the smuggling of objects from war-torn nations like Afghanistan and Iraq through Turkey:


According to the “Cultural and Natural Assets Smuggling Report” prepared by the Culture and Tourism Ministry based on figures provided by the Anti-smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau (KOM) of the police department, Turkey sees higher statistics related to the smuggling of historical artifacts every year.  In 2003 security authorities seized 3,255 historical artifacts that smugglers were attempting to take abroad. With a steady rise over years, this figure rose to 17,936 in 2007. And another new high came in 2008, when authorities seized 42,073 historical artifacts and detained 4,077 suspects in 1,576 operations.  Coins are the favorite of smugglers as they are relatively easy to take abroad without detection. The number of coins seized by security authorities rose from 20,461 in 2007 to 55,613 in 2008. . . .


The report also maintains that conflicts and wars tend to create a suitable atmosphere for the smuggling of historical artifacts, as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the ongoing wars allow smugglers to operate freely. The majority of historical artifacts smuggled out of these countries are sent to Western countries via Turkey. This route of smuggling implies that these historical artifacts are purchased by collectors in rich Western countries. The US, the UK, Switzerland and Japan are the favorite destinations for these items.  The report cites lack of sufficient security measures against theft in museums as the major reason for the high number of smuggling cases. Tourism is the most widely used venue for smuggling historical artifacts.Furthermore, Turkey lacks a sufficient and clear inventory of historical artifacts in the country, and Turkey does not have statistics about existing historical artifacts and about already smuggled items.

Ercan Yavuz, Turkey a magnet for smugglers of historical artifact [Today's Zaman, Sep.  27, 2009]

Sep 28, 2009

The Symes Auction

Robin Symes, the antiquities dealer with a checkered past will have remnants of his art collection sold at auction at Bonham's in Bath.  The sale is being organized by liquidators of Symes' estate.  Symes was a successful dealer in antiquities, but also played a role in the trade in illicit antiquities.  He was featured prominently in the network of dealers which sold works handled by Giacomo Medici, and the Getty.  The catalog describes the sale as the "Robin Symes Collection".  It includes the following "the items are being sold by the liquidators who make no warranty as to title, but have been given no reason to believe good title cannot be passed."  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the history of these items.  As Francesco Rutelli told the participants at the ARCA Conference in Italy this summer:  just because one can buy these items, doesn't mean one should buy these items. 

Colin Gleadell, Art Sales:  the last remains of a scandal [The Telegraph, Sep. 28, 2009]

Sep 25, 2009

Massive Recovery of Anglo-Saxon Gold Announced

Cheek piece and sword fitting

Below is some video of the massive discovery of Anglo-Saxon gold discovered by a detectorist this summer.

Two things to note from the piece: First is that these objects were very near the surface, and may have been at risk from pesticides/agricultural damage. Second, the finder here notified the proper authorities, and an archaeological excavation was made possible. There is a terrific website devoted to the objects, with a number of images and links to news reports. It is hard I think for even the most ardent critics of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to find much fault with the result in this case. The objects have a history, archaeological excavation was undertaken, and the public can study and enjoy these terrific objects.

Sep 24, 2009

Armed Theft of a Magritte


Earlier today armed robbers stole this work, Olympia by Rene Magritte from an appointment-only museum just outside of Brussels today.  The men rang the bell, asked if visiting hours had started, and then put a gun to the attendant and rounded up the visitors, and stole the work.

No word yet on if they were wearing bowler hats.  Magritte painted the work with the man in the hat and an apple in front of his face, the Son of Man -- an image which was prominently used in the Thomas Crown Affair.  It seems unlikely thieves would risk punishment to re-enact a film, so why was the painting taken?  There are a few oft-cited possibilities:

The first, is that a collector admires the piece, and hired a thief to take it for him. We can call this the Dr. No situation. This seems the least likely possibility, but the one that strikes a chord with the imagination. Writers in this subject frequently cite the Dr. No as being responsible for thefts, and I admit it makes for good Bond villains, but there has been no convincing evidence that thsi is why people are stealing rare objects. Another similar possibility which seems far more likely is that an unscrupulous dealer may have a similar piece for sale, and if he can establish some excitement around these kinds of pieces, the price for his similar work may go up. 

Second, the thief may not have known that the object was so rare as to make its subsequent sale difficult.

Third, the thief may simply be trying to kidnap the object. They could then insure its safe return for a generous reward, or negotiate its return.

Finally, perhaps the market is doing such a poor job of regulating what is and is not legitimate, that it may not be all that difficult to sell this piece after all. This strikes me as the most troubling possibility, but also not very likely.

Sep 21, 2009

Lost Work Discovered

Ludovico Mazzolino lost masterpiece:  Lost Renaissance masterpiece discovered after 60 yearsThis work, Madonna and Child with St. Joseph, by Ludovico Mazzolino has been rediscovered after being left in storage for nearly 60 years.  A photograph of the work was sent to an auctioneer, who identified it as the work of Mazzolino.  It seems this work is genuine, and has a solid history.  Guy Schwinge, an auctioneer at Duke's of Dorchester said:

"With the help of the National Gallery we have been able to identify that it was last sold at public auction three years before Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo."

The seller is a pensioner from Cheltenham, who put the work into storage in 1950.  He received it from his great grandmother who bought it in Italy in 1862, and it had been sold at auction in London in 1812 for only £20.  




Lost Renaissance Work Discovered [BBC News, Sep. 21, 2009].  

Viking Silver Discovered by Metal Detectorists on Display in York

Vale of York Hoard vessel. Picture by the British Museum
This hoard of viking silver -- buried in the 10th century -- was discovered by Metal detector David Whelan and his son Andrew in a field in 2007.  Included in the find were 617 coins and 67 other objects.  The treasure was valued at over £1m.  They went on public display in York last week.  Andrew Morrison, curator of archaeology at the York Museums Trust tells the BBC what we know about the silver and the role it played in the Anglo-Scandinavian economy:




"We can certainly say it's an Anglo-Scandinavian hoard because of the contents," Mr Morrison insists. Among the coins are dirhams from Muslim states as far away as central Asia and Afghanistan.  "What they're showing you is trading links. That tends to be very much more the Viking side of life than the Anglo-Saxon side of life," says Mr Morrison. The Scandinavian seagoing peoples travelled and traded far and wide   The presence of "hack silver" - items such as jewellery cut into pieces for their silver value - is also "what you expect from an Anglo-Scandinavian economy," he adds. The Anglo-Saxons tended to use coins rather than bullion.  The hoard will be on show in York from 17 September until 1 November.  It will return to the British Museum while the Yorkshire Museum closes for refurbishment until August 2010. It will then return to York for "a period of time" - by which time the whole hoard, including all 617 coins, should be ready to go on display.  For Mr Morrison this co-operation between regional and national museums is "the way forward - you get the best of everything: the local input into ways of doing things, with the national expertise".  The hoard, for him, has a personal feel - it gives clues about whoever it was who hid it. The single gold arm ring among the mass of silver items could well have been of great sentimental value to its owner, he believes. Possibly it was a reward for services given by a superior ruler.  In sum, he says: "This is the lifetime's treasure of a reasonably wealthy individual."  It also helps us to remember what a wealthy and prestigious place Northumbria, centred on York, was, he observes - sometimes in the richness of archaeological finds in the city and its surroundings "we forget how it is a place with the seeds of power and glory."
Silver-gilt vessel from the Vale of York Hoard. Inset: before cleaning. Photo: British Museum.
  In an ideal world of course all these objects would be professionally excavated.  Yet these objects tell us a great deal about the culture which produced them, they can be enjoyed by scholars and the public in York and at the British Museum.  Contrast this with the Sevso Treasure, which is locked away at Bonham's auction house.  Three nations of origin, each with national ownership declarations and no similar rewards for finders, fought over those works, and the result was the trust created by the Marquess of Northampton was able to retain possession.  Whatever criticisms can be lodged with the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, they reward compliance.  They work.  We still know very little about the Sevso Treasure, who discovered, and where.  The current state of law and policy produces a perfect black market.  The PAS offers a good alternative.  What is the utility of a legal regime which cannot be enforced? 

I've argued that the PAS has a lot of merit, and should be considered as a potential policy model for other nations. Rick Witschonke, reported on a conference earlier this month at the British Museum on the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and his thoughts are here

Trevor Timpson, The 'wonderful, wonderful' hoard & Getting the most out of treasure [BBC Sep. 17, 2009]. 

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