Apr 30, 2009

Book Thief Sentence Reduced

The BBC has a report on the successful appeal by Farhad Hakimzadeh, convicted in January of 14 counts of theft.  The Appeal Court has reduced his sentence from two years to 12 months, apparently because of the man's age and the fact that his crimes did little permanent damage:


Mr Justice Blake, giving the court's judgement, said: "This was not a case of someone stealing to improve his library then preventing scholars from accessing those books in the future. All the books have been recovered and so have the pages. 

"He has suffered a considerable humiliation and loss of reputation at the age of 61 years."
The decision means that Hakimzadeh, having served 104 days, will be released in 78 days time. 

A spokesman for the British Library said: "When Hakimzadeh damaged and stole pages from Library items he abused the trust that we extend to all researchers using our collections. 


"We have zero tolerance of anyone who harms our collections and will pursue anyone who threatens them with utmost vigour." 

The spokesman added that the Library will "continue to pursue a number of routes with the aim of achieving redress for the damage he caused."
 

Apr 29, 2009

The Challenge of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Simon Usborne has an extended piece for the Telegraph examining the difficult task UNESCO has in selecting and preserving heritage sites. A number of pressures make this a difficult task, from too many visitors to looting to environmental or other factors. Pictured here is Monte Albán near Oaxaca, Mexico. The site is reportedly under threat as its carvings are exposed to the elements, it has been looted, and a nearby fire damaged it in 2006. The site is a World Heritage Site, which brings visitors and attention, but not perhaps enough resources for protection, preservation or crowd management.

One difficulty is the huge number of sites the agency is responsible for:


Unesco insists all its sites adhere to strict rules about management and planning, but could it be that the task facing the organisation – effectively to protect the planet – has become so daunting as to be impossible? If it has, the man in charge must have one of the toughest jobs in the world. Speaking from his Paris office, Francesco Bandarin admits it's a tall order. "Sometimes you feel it's impossible to control everything, especially when you look at our founding principles," he says. "Our list is growing and the number of requests is growing, and it seems like the more work you do the more you get. It's a very big job – too big."
Bandarin suggests a solution would be to maintain a central committee, but to break some of the bureaucracy by handing partial autonomy to an "effective network of heritage institutes". Unesco has launched a review of its practises and Bandarin expects big changes by 2012, when World Heritage turns 40. "It's the only way we can cope with the crazy volume of work," he says.

Iraq Troops Recover Antiquities

From Bloomberg:

Iraqi commandos smashed a smuggling ring, recovering 235 looted Babylonian and Sumerian artifacts that they turned over to the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry. 
The soldiers arrested a gang of seven thieves who were preparing to smuggle the objects outside of Iraq, according to a statement e-mailed today by the U.S. military in Baghdad. They were tipped off by residents in the southern Iraqi towns of Abu al-Kahsib, Bab al-Tawael and al-Amir. 
Among the artifacts presented to the ministry in a ceremony this week were gold jewelry, ceramics and stone figurines, the military said. They weren’t marked with museum serial numbers, suggesting they were illegally dug up from one of Iraq’s estimated 40,000 archeological sites. 
“The Iraqi Army is putting extraordinary pressure on smuggling gangs that steal Iraq’s history to finance terrorist operations,” Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir said in the statement. “The recovery of the artifacts was a joyous occasion because they could not be replaced with money and represented 5,000 years of Iraqi history.”

Apr 28, 2009

"Appropriating the Past: the uses and abuses of cultural heritage"

To inaugurate the new Durham University Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage, there will be a "multi-disciplinary conference" to be held at Durham University, UK from the 6th-8th of July.  Here is the description:


This two-day conference should be of wide appeal to archaeologists, anthropologists, philosophers, lawyers and others with an interest in the ethical principles and problems associated with the concept of cultural heritage.  The meeting will open with four invited lectures to introduce the conference theme and relate it to the specific aims and methods of the new Centre.   

In recent years, the right of archaeologists to erect ‘Keep Out' signs around what they conceive of as the archaeological record has come under increasing challenge from other interest groups which may assert equal or superior rights to access, utilise and manage those remains, or to determine their significance.  So a decorated bronze vessel which for an archaeologist is primarily a source of information to be extracted by academically approved methods may be, to other eyes, a sacred or tabooed object, an anchor of social or cultural identity, a work of art, or a legitimate source of hard cash.  These different perceptions correspond to different forms of appropriating the past, and they can give rise to sharp practical conflicts.    

This conference will explore some of the key ethical issues raised by the competing modes in which archaeologists and others appropriate the past.  These include: rights to interpret the past and tell stories about it; handling the sacred; the concept and ethics of birthright; local versus national versus international rights over sites, antiquities and artefacts; roles and responsibilities of museums; duties/rights of international intervention to defend antiquities; study and custodianship of human remains; looting and the antiquities trade; the economic exploitation of sites and resources; duties of preservation for future generations; the use of destructive research techniques; the roles of codes of ethics and of legal frameworks.
Keynote Speakers 
Professor James O. Young (Philosophy, University of Victoria, Canada)
Professor Robert Layton (Anthropology, Durham University, UK)
Dr John Curtis OBE (Keeper, Dept. of Middle East, British Museum, UK)
Ms Janet Ulph (Law, Durham University, UK).

Apr 24, 2009

Hugh Eakin Sums up Cuno's Recent Writings

In the upcoming issue of the New York Review of Books Hugh Eakin discusses the recent work of Jame Cuno.  As Eakin makes clear, a number of Cuno's arguments are controversial, perhaps even wrong-headed.  But we should still grapple with many of the arguments, including:

Cuno's Manichaean view of cultural property—with national laws facing off against cosmopolitan museums—draws on several sources. From the Stanford legal scholar John Henry Merryman he appropriates the idea that archaeological countries tend to be "retentionist"—they aim to retain antiquities within their borders—whereas art-market countries like the United States are "internationalist"—supporting maximum dispersal. He also cites the work of the philosopher K. Anthony Appiah, whose recent book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006) makes a forceful ethical argument for gathering together the art of different cultures in world museums, so that it can be more widely studied and enjoyed. A third influence comes from various studies of nationalism, including The Myth of Nations (2002), Patrick J. Geary's eviscerating account of the pseudohistorical claims on which national identities in many European countries are based.


At the heart of Cuno's analysis, however, are some broad assumptions about Western museums and their relation to the nations from whose territory their collections are formed. Taken together, they form an underlying story that goes something like this:


In the modern era, the discovery and circulation of antiquities have been guided by the rise of large collecting museums, on the one hand, and the emergence of nation-states, on the other. The idea of the museum as repository of world heritage can be traced to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment; the idea of modern nation-states as defined by self-identifying populations in particular territories derives largely from the spread of nationalism in the nineteenth century.


Through the early twentieth century, these two developments were able to coexist to mutual benefit: Western museums were given permits to engage in archaeology in the new nation-states of the Mediterranean and the Middle East; in return, governments in those countries often stipulated a division of finds, known as partage. As a result, the museums made pioneering discoveries and amassed stupendous holdings from around the world; while archaeological countries established important collections of antiquities found in their own territory.

Apr 22, 2009

Cleveland Museum of Art Returns 14 Objects to Italy

Today the Cleveland Museum of Art will hand over 14 looted works of art to Italy, including this Donkey-Head Rhyton, (c. 475 BC).  Steven Litt has an account for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. These works were likely looted between 1975 and 1996, and were the subject of an agreement reached last November.  In exchange for the return, Italy will lend 13 other objects of comparable quality for renewable 25-year periods. 

Timothy Rub, the CMA Director says in Litt's piece that the agreement was "open and fair and equitable to all parties. I was pleased then, and still am, that we reached a conclusion that was just that . . .  My focus going forward, and the principal point of contact with the Italian government, has been on what we intend to do in the future . . .  We have some work to do in terms of finalizing requests to a number of museums with the blessing and concurrence of the [Italian] cultural ministry."

Apr 21, 2009

"What fools the curator also fools the collector"

[image]Charles Stanish, Anthropology professor at UCLA makes some great arguments in the May/June issue of Archaeology magazine about the intersection of eBay and antiquities manufacturing. The piece, "Forging Ahead: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love eBay" argues the popular auction site is not as big a problem for the looting of ancient sites as many of us might believe. Instead, a number of forgeries have begun to flood the market. It is a terrific, and frightening article. It echoes an argument I've been trying to make in recent months: that the lack of transparency in the antiquities trade is defrauding our cultural heritage. Without an accurate and impartial accounting of an object's history, how can we know for sure if an object is forged?

Pictured here is an image from the piece of a forged Moche portrait vessel. What about other potentially forged antiquities? Stanish argues in the piece:

The wealthier collector who up to now has been laughing about the naive folks who buy on eBay is in for a surprise, too: those dealers that provide private sales are some of the forgers' best customers, knowingly or otherwise. In fact, the workshops reserve their "finest" pieces for collectors using the same backdoor channels as before, but now with a much higher profit margin because they are selling fakes. As a former curator myself, I know that an embarrassingly high percentage of objects in our museums are forgeries. What fools the curator also fools the collector.
From the professional's point of view, there are really three kinds of "antiquities" on eBay. About 30 percent are obvious fakes or tourist art that can be detected by looking at the pictures, even the fuzzy ones. These are easy to pick out because they are not intentional reproductions, but simple pieces manufactured for tourists and sold as such. The creators of these pieces mix up iconography and choose colors and shapes for visual effect. Such objects are clearly not ancient. Another five percent or so are probably real, while the rest are in the ambiguous category of "I would have to hold it in my hand to be able to make an informed decision." This latter category has grown fast.
This isn't an isolated problem. Consider the Getty Kouros, the Bolton forgers, and the others we do not yet know about.

One intriguing idea which struck me as I read the piece is how perhaps the demand for antiquities can be appropriately shifted to purchasing modern recreations. Rather than insist on buying an authentic "antiquity" a better model perhaps would be if buyers purchase modern recreations—which might be considered unique works of art in their own right. Many of these forgeries are similar in many respects to the "real" thing. As Stanish argues "I know . . . of one fellow who makes grass-tempered reproductions of a 2,000-year-old pottery style. Having worked on archaeological projects for years, he learned to get the grass for his fakes from ancient middens near his house. If fired properly, and if the organic residue in one of his pots were carbon dated, it would appear to be a very old piece indeed."

ICE Agents Seize Old Master

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agents seized this work by an "unknown Utrecht master" dating from 1632. It will be returned to the Max Stern estate. In a piece by Catherine Hickley for Bloomberg, it is reported that the work was seized from Larry Steigrad on April 2nd.

The precedent for the seizure was set late last year by the First Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in Vineberg v. Bissonnette. It affirmed summary judgment for successors of an art dealer—Max Stern who was forced into selling works under the Nazi regime. The sale took place at a 1937 auction; the First Circuit held in that case that the forced sales of works belonging to the Stern estate were a "de facto conficcation", providing the precedent for this seizure.

Thomas Kline, an attorney for the Stern estate is quoted in the piece "With that decision, all artworks Stern sold under orders at the Lempertz sale are now considered stolen property, [and the estate] “hopes to receive further assistance from law enforcement authorities in the U.S. and elsewhere".

Lawrence Steigrad, the owner of the gallery in Manhattan where the work was seized says in the piece "“I was in my warehouse in New Jersey when Philip Mould [the London dealer who sold him the work] called me on my cell phone . . . I was shocked and upset that we had not found out before we purchased this painting, as we both had it checked. We were both happy that I had not sold it on, causing more problems and involving private clients.” It seems a bit curious perhaps that this call came only a couple of days before an undercover agent walked into the gallery to look at the work.

“I was in my warehouse in New Jersey when Philip Mould called me on my cell phone,” Steigrad said in an e-mailed response to written questions. “I was shocked and upset that we had not found out before we purchased this painting, as we both had it checked. We were both happy that I had not sold it on, causing more problems and involving private clients.”

The London dealer Philip Mould purchased the work at the Kunsthaus Lempertz auction house in November 2007; the same auction house which sold Stern's works 70 years earlier. That auction house blames the Art Loss Register for "missing" this work. Luisa Loringhoven describes how this work was not caught by the company's database:

“The Lempertz catalog from 2007 describes the painting as a portrait of a musician aged 57, while our database describes the painting as a portrait of a bagpipe player,” Loringhoven said. “Though the picture was searched by description and title, it was missed because of these differences.”

Loringhoven said London-based Art Loss Register carries out about 300,000 searches a year. “While we endeavor to be as thorough and as accurate as possible, we may miss a handful of items”.
It seems then Mould is left footing the bill for this restitution at present; though he may choose to proceed perhaps against the Kunsthaus Lempertz or even the art loss register based on the details in the piece. The Department of Justice and Homeland Security will return the work to the Max Stern Estate today in a ceremony in New York today which is also Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Apr 20, 2009

"they forgot about culture"

David Glenn, who is doing some very good writing on the antiquities trade for the Chronichle of Higher Education has a Q & A with Larry Rothfield discussing the invasion of Iraq and the looting of sites and museums there ($) (cross-posted at Safe-Corner).  Here is an excerpt:

Q. Why did the United States do such a bad job of protecting the museum in 2003?
Before the war, nobody except archaeologists was worried about civilians looting the archaeological sites and the museum. And that includes the Iraqi exiles who were advising the State Department's Future of Iraq Project, which was supposed to develop plans for the postwar period. They set up working groups on all sectors of society — but they forgot about culture.

Q. But would it have made a difference if the Future of Iraq Project had paid attention to culture?

No, it wouldn't have made any difference at all, given that the military threw all of their plans in the garbage can anyway.

Now, the military itself was very interested in doing its job in terms of protecting cultural sites and museums. But under international law, its job is defined as not destroying or looting cultural sites itself — not as preventing civilians from destroying sites.

So before the war, they reached out to archaeologists, and they did a perfect job of identifying sites to put on a no-strike list. None of those sites was destroyed in active combat operations.

Unfortunately, they ignored warnings from the same archaeologists they were working with that the museums and sites might be looted by Iraqis. The Pentagon should have known about that issue. Nine museums were looted after the 1991 Gulf War. The military did not learn its lesson from that experience.

More on the Conservation of the two Italian Bronzes

Reader Francesca Tronchin has much more to offer on the conservation work being done at the Getty to the two bronzes from Italy which I mentioned last Friday:

First off: I am an employee of the Getty and every time I enter or leave my building, I see these two statues, trussed up in a conservation lab.

Nevertheless, I am NOT an official mouthpiece of the Getty and these are my own thoughts on the matter.

Moreover, I am an archaeologist and an Italian citizen, which makes my position even more complicated! :)

Although it might be easy to be very cynical and suspicious of the Getty's involvement in the conservation of these statues, given the Museum's appalling past practices, I hope that people come to realize that this is in fact a great gift to Italy. (The 'collaboration agreement' notwithstanding.)

The two bronzes have been the subject of some pretty terrible conservation practices in the past. I am not a conservator myself, but one of the Getty conservators gave me a tour of the shocking methods of restoration, etc. on the two statues. Neither of these works have been on display for at least ten years, as they both were languishing in Italian conservation labs, partway through various phases of restoration work. (One, if not both of the bronzes were in Florence, far from their home in Pompeii.)

The Getty is treating these two statues with state-of-the-art methods and materials of conservation, practices that are unfortunately out of reach for most Italian (European, even) labs.

These two works of ancient Roman sculpture--while not of tremendously high quality as far as ancient art goes--will be conserved for generations because of Getty's interventions. All at no cost to Italy at all. The statues will be displayed here after their conservation for a period of a couple of months, and then returned to Italy in a state better than when they left their homeland.

As far as I know, none of the other American museums previously under fire for their illegal/immoral acquisition practices (e.g. the Met, the MFA) have offered this kind of service to the Italians. Those agreements seem to be simply traditional loans rather than including the costly, time-consuming, but ultimately invaluable work of conservation.

Apr 17, 2009

The "Collaboration" Begins at the Getty Villa

These are the first two works from Italy to arrive at the Getty Villa as a part of the agreement reached in 2007.  These bronzes, Ephebe as a lampbearer and Apollo as an archer will be loaned for two years.  The Ephebe will go on display at the end of April, and the other will be displayed in a year after study and conservation.  Karol Wight, the Getty's curator of antiquities says in the LA Times' art blog "We want the partnership to be mutually beneficial . . .  But of course our concerns are highly aesthetic."

Apr 15, 2009

My Article on Conflict of Laws and Cultural Property

I have posted on SSRN the final version of my paper titled How Adopting the Lex Originis Rule Can Impede the Flow of Illicit Cultural Property, 32 Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts 111.

Pictured here is a Byzantine mosaic from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, similar to the mosaics taken from Northern Cyprus which gave rise to the Goldberg suit. The Seventh Circuit Federal Court of Appeals upheld the default—and problematic for cultural property disputes—lex situs rule in holding “Indiana law and rules govern every aspect of this action, from the statute of limitations issues through the application of the substantive law of replevin.” The trial court had noted that although Switzerland was the location of the wrongful activity, it bore little connection to the cause of action. None of the parties or important actors was Swiss; the mosaics had never been in the stream of commerce in Switzerland; and they had only been on Swiss soil for four days. The jurisdiction with the closest connection to the objects was Cyprus, not Indiana. After all, the mosaics had been firmly fixed to the church for over 1400 years. Although it would therefore make sense to give concessions in the law to jurisdictions such as Cyprus, courts have shown a hesitancy to apply the law of the source nation, or lex originis.

Here is the abstract:

The International trade and transfer of art and antiquities faces problems because nations have erected very different rules with respect to movable property. All nations forbid theft, however most cultural property disputes involve an original owner and a subsequent good faith possessor. Different jurisdictions have chosen to allocate rights and responsibilities between these two relative innocents in very different ways. Disharmony in the law is seldom a good thing, but in the realm of cultural property it can be particularly damaging to the interests of nations, museums, individuals, and our collective cultural heritage. The lack of harmony ensures no overarching policy choices will be furthered, which prevents parties from anticipating legal outcomes and giving substance to policies.

This article explores the default conflict of law rules which are applied to cultural property, and shows how the lex situs rule exploits the various legal rules which apply to art and antiquities. It challenges the lofty position enjoyed by the lex situs rule and proposes a radical reform of the default choice of law analysis. By employing the law of the Nation of Origin or lex originis courts can ensure the jurisdiction with the most tangible connection to an object enjoys the benefit of applying its legal rules to a given dispute. This will not only ensure the security of art and antiquities transactions, but impart much-needed transparency into the cultural property trade, and finally will decrease the theft and illegal excavation of art and antiquities.

The article begins by presenting some examples of recent disputes, and the problems they present for the law and cultural heritage policy. Section II describes the fundamental difficulty of adjudicating claims between two relative innocents, and the disharmony which has resulted as different jurisdictions have resolved this conundrum in very different ways. Section III lays out the ways in which private international law impacts art and antiquities disputes. Section IV analyzes the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, the most recent attempt to harmonize the law affecting cultural property. Section V proposes a radical reform of the choice of law enquiry taken by courts.
Keywords: art, antiquities, private international law, conflict of laws, international law, lex originis, lex situs, renvoi, art theft, antiquities, cultural heritage, cultural property
I'd be delighted to hear any reactions to the work at derek.fincham "at" gmail.com.

Montclair Art Museum to Deaccession 50 Works

James Panero reports in the WSJ on the decision by the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair NJ to deaccession 50 works from the museum's permanent collection:

[T]his plan will include the sale, or "deaccession," of 50 works from the museum's permanent collection, among them a Jackson Pollock drawing valued at $300,000 to $500,000 and several Hudson River School and American Impressionist works with estimates ranging from $25,000 to $300,000, according to a prospectus prepared by Christie's. The auction house believes the sales will generate between $2.9 million and $4.3 million for the institution, which says it will use the funds for future acquisitions. Presented as curatorial housekeeping, but in fact motivated by financial exigencies, the Montclair sales -- if allowed to proceed -- will set another sorry example of an institution cashing out on art in the public trust. . . . 
 Now, as its overall endowment has dipped 25%, to $6 million from $8 million, the museum risks not having enough cash on hand to back its loans. That's where this deaccession comes in -- to raise cash to satisfy the requirements of its bank bonds. What's most troubling is that nothing on the books is designed to stop it, even though Montclair is liquidating art in its permanent collection to raise the aggregate collateral for its loans -- precisely what AAMD claims to oppose.
Lora Urbanelli, the director of the museum gives the case for the deaccessioning in this case:

We took out tax exempt bonds at a certain time in our history. And when you do that -- we are diligently paying them off -- but whenever you do that, as part of the agreement, you agree to have a certain amount on hand in an endowment fund. At times when our endowment is flagging, we go below that line. So this is a creative way to keep the endowment full and to stay above the water line to grow our endowment for acquisitions -- just so we are in the good graces with the bond covenants. All the bank wants to know is that the endowment is a healthy one for the size of the institution. There's nothing untoward. There is nothing to hide. The deaccessioning that we're about to do has been more or less in the works for years. What we're doing now is considering an acceleration of a process. . . . The AAMD sees no problem with the way we are handling this situation.

"Art isn’t reduced here to a litany of obscene auction prices"

So writes Michael Kimmelman in a piece detailing the destruction resulting from the recent earthquake:


Italy is not like America. Art isn’t reduced here to a litany of obscene auction prices or lamentations over the bursting bubble of shameless excess. It’s a matter of daily life, linking home and history. Italians don’t visit museums much, truth be told, because they already live in them and can’t live without them. The art world might retrieve a useful lesson from the rubble.

Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has been busily soliciting foreign aid for cultural restoration after the quake. More than 11,000 volunteers and rescue workers have rushed to help. Milko Morichetti is one, a 39-year-old art restorer from Mogliano, in the Italian Marches.

“Without the culture that connects us to our territory, we lose our identity,” he said. “There may not be many famous artists or famous monuments here, but before anything, Italians feel proud of the culture that comes from their own towns, their own regions. And when we restore a church or a museum, it gives us hope. This is not just about preserving museum culture. For us, it’s about a return to normalcy.”

Apr 14, 2009

MoMA Sued in Nazi-era Restitution Suit

The successors in interest of German artist George Grosz filed suit in federal court last friday to claim three works: Portrait of the Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse (1927), Self-Portrait With Model (1928) and the watercolor Republican Automatons (1920) (pictured here).

The claimants allege the works were left with Grosz's dealer Alfred Flechtheim when the artist was forced to leave Germany in 1933. The New York Times summarizes the plaintiff's version of events

Charlotte Weidler, an art dealer and curator for the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, said that she had inherited “Portrait of the Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse” from Flechtheim and that she gave it to Curt Valentin, a German dealer in Manhattan, to sell to the Museum of Modern Art in 1952. The museum bought “Republican Automatons” from a Toronto collector in 1946 and was given “Self-Portrait With Model” in 1954.

Back in 2006 the Met declined to borrow the work Portrait of the Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse due to the potential lawsuit.

Apr 13, 2009

Palestinian PM Makes Claim for Dead Sea Scrolls

The Toronto Star has a nice piece on the demand by the Palestinian Authority to cancel an exhibition of Dead Sea Scrolls.  Palestinian officials claim the objects were stolen by Israel from Palestinian territories.  It is an indication of the increasingly prominent role antiquities are playing in national politics and notions of national heritage and even past wrongdoing.  The calls share similarities with other nations who have urged repatriation of objects, from Scotland to Peru and others.  Hamdan Taha, the director-general of the archaeological department of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, "The exhibition would entail exhibiting or displaying artifacts removed from the Palestinian territories . . .  I think it is important that Canadian institutions would be responsible and act in accordance with Canada's obligations." 

The Royal Ontario Museum will host a six-month long exhibit of the scrolls, operated in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of about 900 manuscripts, dating to 70 AD.  The caves in which the scrolls were found were located near Qumran (see map below), in what is now the Palestinian West Bank. From the piece in the Toronto Star:


Beginning in 1947, and for nearly a decade, experts from the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and the École biblique et archéologique française excavated the caves and salvaged the scrolls, only a few of which were found whole. The rest were scattered into thousands of fragments.

Written mainly in Hebrew, and partly in Aramaic and Greek, the scrolls include about 200 copies of portions of the Jewish Bible.

At first, the scrolls were housed in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control at the time.

After the 1967 Six Day War, however, Israel unilaterally absorbed the eastern sections of the city, an act most Western nations – including Canada – regard as illegal under international law. The Israelis removed the scrolls from East Jerusalem and took them to the western city, where they remain.

According to Shor at the Israel Antiquities Authority, portions of the scrolls frequently have been put on display in other countries – including the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia – over the past 10 years or so.
This raises the question, should nations use these antiquities as instruments of foreign policy?  Will the end result be more difficulty in holding international loans and travelling exhibitions?



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Apr 8, 2009

More On Deaccessioning

Donn Zaretsky responds to some lazy criticism by Christopher Knight of his deaccessioning arguments.  If you want to have a serious discussion on the merits of a policy, then you should probably avoid distorting the opposing viewpoint, provide some evidence for your position, or at least take the time to read your opponnents views.  In this case, painting Zaretsky with a broad "deregulation" brush, and revealing a real distaste for lawyers generally cuts against any broader point Knight may have had.  Though the latter probably isn't a bad idea generally—lawyers are a special breed after all—cultural policy and museum management has too long ignored and shunned sound legal principles. 

That appears to be a real shame in this case as Zaretsky probably doesn't disagree too much with Knight's core philosophy on collections management.  It seems to me Zaretsky points out the flaws and inherent inconsistencies in the stated policy.  As he argues "what I see myself as having been doing during this debate is pointing out the inconsistencies in, the hypocrisy that is built into, the conventional art world view on deaccessioning (namely that it is perfectly fine when the proceeds are used to buy more art, but absolutely forbidden for all other purposes)."  That seems to me to be a very valuable argument, and an important role that few others have done. 

He goes on to discuss the prominent deaccession examples of recent years, including the National Academy to avoid closing its doors, or Universities want to sell works because of substantial drops in endowments, or Thomas Jefferson decides to sell its $68 million work because nobody visits it, or a universal museum attempts to shift gears because of a declining local economy.  Now we can challenge these stated views, and certainly should maintain healthy skepticism of these attempts to deaccession works.  However the current rules prevent and even preclude this kind of debate. 

As I've speculated before, one wonders if in this economic climate, we may have to think about adopting the approach much of the rest of the World uses for cultural management, which is an increased level of Government support and funding.  Much of the cultural management structures in the UK, such as the Waverley Export Process, were initiated in response to economic hard times, and the loss of art and world-heritage leaving the UK and heading elsewhere, namely to the US.  It might be worth remembering, that the Universal Museums in america were formed at the expense of other nations.  Though it may be pessimistic, I'm increasingly convinced that art follows money and influence.    

Apr 3, 2009

"Peru v. Yale: A Battle Rages Over Machu Picchu"

I'm quoted in David Glenn's article for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the dispute between Yale University and Peru over artifacts taken from in and around Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham between 1911 and 1916. The piece is behind their subscription wall, but it really is worth the effort to get your hands on a copy. It's a good overview of the dispute, with a timeline and an overview of the parties' public statemetns which gives us an idea of the competing legal claims.

The dispute draws some of the important ramifications the dispute has for repatriations generally. We are all eagerly waiting for Yale's responses on the merits. At this point the parties are still disputing the proper federal court for the dispute. If and when the dispute reaches some of those important substantive points, whether the action was timely will likely be a prominent issue, as I speculate in the piece.

One of the important potential ramifications of this dispute may be whether nations of origin have the right to try to reach back and challenge some of these past agreements.

Apr 1, 2009

ebay and Aboriginal Heritage

The Sydney Morning Herald has a very good piece on the looting and destruction of aboriginal sites in New South Wales, and the link to online auction sites like ebay. 

The situation is infuriating indigenous groups and heritage experts, who say NSW has the most toothless protection regime in Australia.
NSW has successfully prosecuted just 10 cases for destroying or disturbing heritage without permission since 2005.
The NSW Environment Department litigation manager, Gordon Plath, said prosecutions were increasing but were difficult to secure because state law required proof that heritage was destroyed knowingly.
A Bourke collector prosecuted last year for selling stone axes and tools on the auction website eBay was caught because his advertisement demonstrated he had knowingly committed the crime.
He was charged under the National Parks and Wildlife Act with disturbing up to 129 Aboriginal objects and defacing two of them and fined $1650.
It seems one of the difficulties is ineffective legislation in New South Wales in particular.  As the former Head of Aboriginal heritage policy at the Environment Department, Brad Moggridge says in the piece, "The legislation is not worth the paper it's written on. The provisions aren't there to protect. The penalties aren't there to deter people. There should be an Aboriginal heritage act like most other states have."

"AAMD Rules Need to be Deaccessioned"

So argues Donn Zaretsky in Art in America.  Here's an excerpt:


So where does that leave us? Supporters of the AAMD position say that works can never be sold—except when they can be sold, in which case they’re somehow no longer held in trust. And they say that if we allowed an exception for even the most mutually beneficial transaction (for example, a sale by a struggling institution like the National Academy to a healthy one like the Met), there would be no end to such sales—even though experience under their own rule shows that there are strong institutional constraints in place that act as a check on any abuse of such freedom.

Clearly, these internally inconsistent rules need to be re-examined, if not thrown out altogether.   

Trading Stonehenge for the Parthenon (UPDATE)

Over at Elginism there is an interesting April 1st post on the recent discovery of what might be missing stones from Stone Henge.

The recent discovery of what are thought to be some of the missing megaliths from Stone Henge has been covered extensively in the Greek media during the last week. The stones were found at a site (the location of which is being kept secret whilst a full archaeological study is being carried out) in the Peloponnese. It is thought that they were taken from Britain during Roman times, whilst Greece was also part of the Roman Empire.

What has caused particular controversy in the UK, is the Greeks current refusal to consider returning these stones which are believed to have been an integral part of Britain’s most important historic monument.

Would the UK government's stance on the Parthenon Marbles be different if Greece held a corresponding piece of heritage which 'belongs' in its original context? The 'discovery' has prompted an Early Day Motion today from Andrew George MP.

The Return of the Stonehenge Megaliths from Greece

That this House is euphoric about the news of the discovery of many of the missing megaliths from Stonehenge in a remote and mountainous area of the Peloponnese Peninsula in Greece to where they were taken to build an amphitheatre; considers this to be the single most important discovery in British archaeology for more than a century; yet is astounded at the brazen effrontery of the Greek authorities who have scandalously refused their return to Britain where they rightly belong; believes the Greeks have attempted to defend their decision with the kind of shameless and preposterous poppycock of an ancient colonial power; calls on the Greeks to put right the wrongs of their forefathers during that shameful period of ancient Greek imperial history; and asks HM Government on the day of the announcement of this find, April 1st 2009, to answer the extraordinary Greek claim that there is no difference between this and the holding by the British Museum of the Parthenon Marbles.

Early day motions are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons, though they are primarily a vehicle to publicize individual views of MPs or draw attention to a specific issue. April 1st EDM's maybe especially poignant.

UPDATE:

Yes indeed this was of course a prank, but a clever one, and I thought I gave away that this was a bit of April 1st silliness. Andrew George has been a proponent of returning the marbles. It seems the EDM was not even tabled, as it wasn't sufficiently based in fact. It's a nice little hypothetical though, what if the best-known piece of British heritage was possessed abroad; might that make the Parthenon dispute look differently?

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