May 29, 2009

Voluntary Returns

A couple interesting returns of objects, both of which which appear to be completely voluntary.

First is a letter by Abraham Lincoln:

An extremely valuable letter by Abraham Lincoln dated November 14, 1863 -- missing from public records for maybe 100 years -- has been donated today by a private collector to the National Archives.
The brief note on Executive Mansion letterhead in the President's handwriting signed "A.Lincoln" was sent to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase. It was written five days before Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, providing insight into the president's regard for a personal friend and his interest in West Coast politics even in the midst of the Civil War.

National Archivists discovered the Lincoln letter being sold online in 2006. It originally had been torn or fallen from an 1880 bound volume of government correspondence to the Treasury Department. There is no evidence that the letter was ever stolen, and how it went missing remains a mystery.
When contacted by Archivists, the letter's owner, Lawrence Cutler, a private collector in Tempe, Arizona decided to donate it during the bicentennial of Lincoln's birthday. Cutler  would not disclose what he paid for the letter at auction three years ago, but said a similar Lincoln letter sold for $78,000.

The next is a group of objects donated to Eton College, which have been returned to Egypt:


Four sons of Horus, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty or later after ca 1295 B.C.
Four sons of Horus, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty or later after ca 1295 B.C.
LONDON. Eton College, in the south of England, has returned more than 450 antiquities to Egypt, after it was realised that many had probably been illegally exported. Last month we reported that the main part of the school’s collection, bequeathed to the school by Major William Myers in 1899, is going on long-term loan to Birmingham University in the UK and Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University in the US (The Art Newspaper, May 2009, p7).
The returned antiquities had been donated to Eton over a century later, in 2006, by the family of the late Ron Davey, a London-based Egyptologist. He in turn had received most of them as a bequest from his friend, Peter Webb, who had died in 1992.

When the antiquities arrived at Eton three years ago, they were examined by curator Dr Nicholas Reeves. The donation comprised 454 items, including ushabti figurines, beads and amulets, textile fragments, potsherds, coins and other small objects.

Both the letter and the Egyptian antiquities do not seem to be terribly valuable, but the individual dealer and Eton College have both seemingly unilaterally decided to return the objects to their proper stewards.  But one wonders if either the letter or the antiquities are particularly valuable or noteworthy.  If they had been, would the decision to return them been more difficult?  I think it probably would have been.

May 28, 2009

More on Looted Antiquities on Ebay

Mike Boehm has a piece in the LA Times which does a good job following up with Charles Stanish, author of the recent piece in Archaology Magazine discussing looted antiquities on EBay which I discussed earlier here.  Stanish argues that the internet is not quite the haven for looted antiquities some may have feared, but instead a substantial amount of the antiquities for sale online are likely fakes. The piece offers a counter to many of Stanish's assertions, including:

Usher Lieberman, a spokesperson with Ebay:

"We take very seriously any claims that items sold on the site aren't genuine. . . . This isn't something we're hearing a lot about."

Oscar White Muscarella, an archaeologist:

"The guy who has money and a lust for antiquities is going to buy them . . .  What's going to decrease plundering is not forgeries, it's only if governments take more action."

Finally, Jerome M. Eisenberg,owner of the Royal Athena Galleries in New York is quoted in the piece:

"[A]nybody with a decent amount of intelligence isn't going to buy on EBay unless they know who they're dealing with."

May 26, 2009

Threedy on the Role of Storytelling in NAGPRA Repatriation

Debora L. Threedy, University of Utah College of Law, has a piece in the Journal of Land, Resources and Environmental Law, Vol 29 No 1 (2009), CLAIMING THE SHIELDS: LAW, ANTHROPOLOGY, AND THE ROLE OF STORYTELLING IN A NAGPRA REPATRIATION CASE STUDY.  Here is the abstract:

  After some odd twists and turns by the end of the twentieth century the shields were in the possession of Capitol Reef National Park. At that point, three claims were filed for repatriation of the shields under the auspices of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA or the Act). 

In this paper, I use the controversy surrounding the repatriation of the three shields as the basis for examining the question of who owns the past. In particular, I examine how the repatriation process under NAGPRA addresses that question. I do this through the methodology of a case study. Because of the fact-intensive inquiry required under NAGPRA, and because NAGPRA repatriation cases are not typically resolved through court litigation, a case study seems an appropriate way to proceed with this examination.

May 25, 2009

"a powerful broadside aimed at Britain"

That's how Frank Partride describes the New Acropolis Museum in the Independent:


At the museum entrance, a signboard describes the Parthenon Gallery as a "dress rehearsal for a permanent exhibition of the entire frieze". For the Greeks, it's no longer a matter of if the marbles are returned, but when. Bernard Tschumi, the museum's Swiss-born architect, signed off his €130m creation with the words: "I'm convinced the marbles will come back. Their return will make sense straight away." 
Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis, the academic who has overseen the six-year project, speaks with the quiet certainty of someone who knows his big moment is at hand, after a very Athenian sequence of delays that have postponed the opening by nearly a year. Building anything in Athens is bound to turn up a treasure or two in the subsoil, and as the holes were being sunk to house the museum's load-bearing piles, a 5,000-year-old urban settlement was discovered, which had to be carefully excavated and incorporated into the design. They've achieved this triumphantly, turning part of the ground floor into a glass walkway directly above the ruins, giving the impression that the museum is suspended in mid-air.

May 22, 2009

Tough Times at Brandeis

Brandeis University, under a great deal of criticism for its announced decision to sell many of the works in its Rose Museum has announced it will halt retirement payments beginning in July.  It is a sad day when an institutions decides to shutter a museum, but this decision really highlights the grim financial reality facing the University. 

From Tamar Lewin's piece in today's NYT (via the Art Law Blog): 


While universities across the country have taken a wide range of actions to confront their financial problems, including layoffs and the suspension of capital projects, freezing contributions to retirement accounts is rare. Financially troubled corporations have been taking such action, but faculty and staff members at colleges and universities have traditionally enjoyed stable, and generous, benefits — and expect no less. 

“There is this perception that the nonprofit world is maybe a gentler, kinder world than corporate,” said Roland King, vice president for public affairs at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “So some people seem to perceive this as a breach of faith, especially since many people go into nonprofit work at less salary, because the benefits are so good. But we are absolutely at a point in this economy where these sort of things have to be on the table.” 

Suspending Brandeis’s contribution to retirement plans from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, will cover $7.4 million of its projected $8.9 million deficit, the university’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, said in an e-mail message to the faculty and staff. In the message, Mr. Reinharz said he had planned to share the news of the suspension at the end of the week, but was pre-empted when it was announced in the May 19 edition of the student newspaper, The Justice.

May 21, 2009

Byrne on Preserving Gettysburg

J. Peter Byrne, Georgetown, has posted Hallowed Ground: The Gettysburg Battlefield in Historic Preservation Law 22 Tul. Envtl. L.J. 203 (2009) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This article seeks to deepen legal analysis of historic preservation law by analyzing how contemporary presuppositions and legal tools shape changing preservation approaches. It is organized around legal disputes concerning the Gettysburg battlefield, a site of great national significance, which has been preserved in different forms for nearly 150 years. The paper describes the history of preservation at Gettysburg. It argues that the Supreme Court's constitutional approval of federal acquisition of battlefield land in 1896 reflected contemporary conservative nationalism. It also analyzes how legal tools for preservation of land surrounding the battlefield have evolved from simple ownership to coordinated regulation and contract, breaking down the traditional stark division between protected and commercial land. Finally, the article examines how the National Historic Preservation Act governs government choices about what to preserve and how to interpret it. Because preservation of a site associated with a significant event inevitably will reflect contemporary interpretative biases, the law should mandate inclusive processes for making preservation choices and encourage the presentation of multiple perspectives.

May 20, 2009

Italian Authorities Showcase Recovered Antiquities

Italian authorities yesterday displayed two medieval frescos and other objects recovered during antiquities investigations reports the AP and ANSA.  The medieval frescos were recovered as a part of the investigation into Marion True, which were found at the home of a Greek woman, Despoina Papadimitriou on the island of Schoinoussa in 2006.  Also displayed were some of the objects recovered from Operation Phoenix in which "goods were handed over to Italian authorities by two Lebanese brothers who operated a Geneva antiquities gallery." 

More impressive work from the Carabinieri, but will there be an end to the cycle of looting, seizures and arrests? 

Paper On Underwater Cultural Heritage and Investment Law

Valentina Sara Vadi, a Ph.D candidate at the European University Institute has an article in the recent edition of the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Investing in Culture:  Underwater Cultural Heritage and International Investment Law.  Here is the abstract:

Underwater cultural heritage (UCH), which includes evidence of past cultures preserved in shipwrecks, enables the relevant epistemic communities to open a window to the unknown past and enrich their understanding of history. Recent technologies have allowed the recovery of more and more shipwrecks by private actors who often retrieve materials from shipwrecks to sell them. Not all salvors conduct proper scientific inquiry, conserve artifacts, and publish the results of the research; more often, much of the salvaged material is sold and its cultural capital dispersed. Because states rarely have adequate funds to recover ancient shipwrecks and manage this material, however, commercial actors seem to be necessary components of every regulatory framework governing UCH.  In this context, this Article aims to reconcile private interests with the public interest in cultural heritage protection. Such reconciliation requires that international law be reinterpreted and reshaped in order to better protect and preserve UCH and that preservation of cultural heritage be recognized as a key component of economic, social, and cultural development. 

May 19, 2009

The Theft of Public Statues

Sad story via Bloomberg on the probable fate of this Henry Moore statue, valued at as much as 3 million pounds which may have been stolen and melted for scrap for a mere 2,500 pounds. 

U.K. detectives had first worked on the theory that the piece, “Reclining Figure,” was stolen three years ago at the request of an art collector. It has never been found. Hertfordshire officers said they now believe the 2.1-ton work was sold for its metal, highlighting the security risks facing high-value sculptures shown in public.


“There was a wave of thefts of statues around the time the Moore was stolen,” Dick Ellis, director of the Art Management Group, a U.K.-based company that advises art collectors on security issues, said in an interview. “There is an increase in the theft of statues at the moment,” said Ellis, a former head of Scotland Yard’s art and antiques squad.

May 18, 2009

Iraq Regains Control of Ur


AFP reports on the return of Ur to Iraqi control last week:

The US military on Wednesday handed control of ancient Ur, the biblical birthplace of Abraham, back to Iraqi authorities, who hope now to relaunch it as a major tourism site.

"We officially announce the taking over of Ziggurat of Ur from our friends the Americans," Talib Kamil al-Hassan, governor of Dhi Qar province, said at a ceremony to mark the return of the site six years after the American invasion.

"We are pleased with this great success for the nation," he added while the Iraqi flag was hoisted atop the temple.

"Abraham, peace be upon him, was born here, the father of prophets and religions," he said.

The site is renowned for its well preserved stepped platform or ziggurat, which dates back to the third millennium BC.

It lies near the US air base of Talila, outside the southern city of Nasiriyah, and has been closed to the public since the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
On a similar note, Larry Rothfield was interviewed by Chicago Public TV station WTTW which gives a slightly different view.  He describes many of the failures which led to the destruction of Iraqi heritage in recent years. 

More on the Admissions Prices at the Art Institute Chicago

Tyler Green noted last week that the Art Institute Chicago has decided to scale back some of its admissions prices for certain groups of Chicago residents.  In doing so he draws some connections between this policy, and the arguments James Cuno has made about the proper place for art and antiquities.  I made a similar kind of point last week, and Green argues the rate reductions don't really sit well with this Cosmopolitan view of heritage:

All of these rollbacks are for Chicago (city) residents only. In other words: For the AIC, providing access to the cultural treasures in its store isn't a priority... but a quick-sorta-fix for the sake of narrow political expediency was.

That's kind of ironic given that AIC director Jim Cuno is well-known for arguing that it really doesn't matter where antiquities are because they're part of our shared, global cultural heritage. Well, there are tens of thousands of other objects at the AIC that are part of our shared cultural heritage too. It's too bad that the AIC refuses to make broader public access to those treasures a priority . . .

May 11, 2009

Student Note on Restricting the Import of Cypriot Coins

Derek Kelly has written a note Illegal Tender: Antiquities Protection and U.S. Import Restrictions on Cypriot Coinage, 34 Brooklyn Journal of International Law (2009).  He argues one of the reasons the United States protects antiquities is because they may be used as a kind of "political" bargaining chip, particularly on the international stage.  The author does a nice job discussing the imposition of restrictions on Cypriot coins, and he even digs deeply into many related blogs and other sources highlighting the competing views. 
 
It is a thought provoking piece, and a nice student note.  Here's an extract from the introduction. 



In one of the Bush administration’s final acts before leaving office, the United States concluded an agreement with China that banned the import of Chinese antiquities into the United States. This agreement, known as a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), was the most recent of fourteen bilateral accords the United States has signed with other countries for the avowed purpose of protecting cultural heritage.  One important aspect of the new agreement with China is the inclusion of a number of ancient coin-types among the protected materials. This is significant because it is only the second time that an MOU has included coins and demonstrates the increasing breadth of these agreements as the United States attempts to use cultural heritage protection for politicalgain.
The author makes some interesting points, and I think he is certainly right in a sense that many nations use antiquities and heritage policy as a political issue, but of course we could say that about every issue confronting every representative form of government.  He takes up James Cuno's argument that these objects "have political meaning."  I think one aspect of the argument which I would have liked to have seen expanded perhaps is the idea that the U.S. does not really unilaterally impose these restrictions.  A nation makes a request, and they have always been granted. 

May 7, 2009

Presentation at the University of Chicago Cultural Policy Center

The Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago has had a terrific speaker series on the antiquities trade this Spring, and I'm excited to get a chance to present a bit of my own work there next Thursday.  Here are the details:


Thursday, May 14
3:30 – 5:00 p.m.
Harris School of Public Policy Studies, 1155 E. 60th Street
Room 140C 

Ideally, before an individual or institution purchases an antiquity or a work of art, a diligent enquiry into its origins can confer “good faith” status. This allows the buyer to acquire good title and provides the legal right to seek compensation if the seller proves unscrupulous. Despite these important advantages, good faith has been used to promote commercial convenience and economic efficiency at the expense of public enjoyment and understanding of the world’s cultures. Though an existing body of law prohibits and punishes a variety of activities which further the illicit trade, these measures are severely hampered by the mystery surrounding antiquities transactions. At present, details regarding authenticity, title, or even more basic questions such as the origin of an object are intentionally hidden and disguised from public view.
  • How did a family of art forgers fool both Sotheby’s and the Art Institute of Chicago into believing that they had purchased a work by Paul Gauguin?
  • Should we hold museums to a higher standard when they acquire works of art and antiquities?
  • Do countries that over-regulate the export of antiquities actually harm our common cultural heritage by exacerbating the demand for stolen and looted pieces?
  • Should economic models of art markets account for the preservation of heritage and context?
In order to decrease the theft of antiquities and looting of archaeological sites and increase the effectiveness of existing legal measures, we need a new theoretical foundation for increased scrutiny of the antiquities trade. When an object is acquired without a rigorous due diligence process, that acquisition defrauds our heritage by distorting the archaeological record; harms the legitimate acquisition of antiquities; perverts the important role museums play in society; and ultimately warps the understanding of our common cultural heritage.

Another Recovery for the Stern Estate

The AP reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have returned this work, St. Jerome by Ludovico Carracci (1595) to the estate of Max Stern.  The work was owned by art dealer Max Stern, and he was forced into selling the works in 1937 in Cologne, Germany.  The work had been hanging in the home of art dealer Richard L. Feigen.  Feigen had read about the other recent return to the Stern estate, and discovered the work had been missing after checking with the Max Stern Art Restitution Project

This voluntary return follows soon after another recent return, and the recent decision by the First Circuit, Vineberg v. Bissonette

Fakes Uncovered in Russia

John Varoli for Bloomberg has the story of this work, sold by Christie's International for $3 million which may be a fake.  The work, purportedly made to appear as a work by Boris Kustodiev is included in a list of 100 alleged fakes by Russian masters which have been sold over the past decade.


For the past 18 months, Russia’s art market has faced its worst crisis of confidence in the post-Soviet era as five volumes of “The Catalog of Fraudulent Art Works” were published, said dealers. Some experts say that fakes now comprise the majority of artworks they are asked to evaluate. 

“Every month I’m asked to look at 10 paintings and nine are fakes,” said London-based Russian art dealer James Butterwick. “Many Russian collectors buy without asking competent experts. If a work is credible then it has a provenance that can be easily checked out.” 

Prices have also tumbled as the financial crisis cuts collectors’ appetite for art. Combined sales at Russian art auctions in New York at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in April were about 40 percent of the volume sold in 2008.
Rosokhran-Kultura, the government’s cultural watchdog, released the latest issue of the fakes catalog last month. It contained the most expensive item sold at Christie’s November 2005 auction of Russian paintings in London. It was listed as “Odalisque,” painted in 1919 by Kustodiev. 

“There’s no doubt ‘Odalisque’ is a fake, and that’s why we included it,” said the catalogue’s co-author Vladimir Roschin.

May 6, 2009

Intellectual Property and Traditional Knowledge

Stephen R. Munzer and Kal Raustiala have posted The Uneasy Case for Intellectual Property Rights in Traditional Knowledge (Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 27, pp. 37-97, 2009) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
    Should traditional knowledge - -the understanding or skill possessed by indigenous peoples pertaining to their culture and folklore and their use of native plants for medicinal purposes - receive protection as intellectual property? This Article examines nine major arguments from the moral, political and legal philosophy of property for intellectual property rights and contends that, as applied to traditional knowledge (TK), they justify at most a modest package of rights under domestic and international law. The arguments involve desert based on labor; firstness; stewardship; stability; moral right of the community; incentives to innovate; incentives to commercialize; unjust enrichment, misappropriation and restitution; and infringement and dilution. These arguments do, however, support “defensive” protection for TK: that is, halting the use of TK by nonindigenous actors in obtaining patents and copyrights. These arguments also support the dissemination of TK on the internet and via other digital media and the selective use of trademarks. The force of these conclusions resides in the importance of a vibrant public domain, and the absence of any plausible limiting principle that would allow more robust rights in TK for indigenous groups without permitting equally robust rights for nonindigenous groups.

Admission Fees at Universal Museums

I've been interested to note in the last few weeks a couple of ideas which may appear to be more closely related than we might think.

First is the general trend of museums increasing their cost of admission. Tyler Green discussed this back in march, when the Philadalphia Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago both indicated admission hikes were on the way. In his Op-Ed in April for the Philadelphia Inquirer Green argued that the special exhibition of "Cezanne and Beyond" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art" results in two museums. Specifically, "[t]he area of the museum that features "Cezanne and Beyond" is available only to those affluent enough to afford the exhibition charge, while the rest of the museum is more accessible to the lower and middle classes." This is a problem because the museum "is a nonprofit housed in city-owned buildings. It gets about $2.4 million a year from the city and has received millions more in capital funding, with more on the way. So its willingness to effectively redline certain residents out of its programming is improper."

I think that is an interesting argument, and an important point to make as funding for a lot of projects is tight right now, but particulary art and cultural projects. Without government funding, or other revenue sources, these institutions may be pricing out younger and lower-income visitors. Now, they may have access to culture at some other location, a concert, via the web, or in another way, but long-term this would seem to harm the museums standing among these groups.

Secondly, I wonder how this trend of admissions increases might impact arguments for universal museums. David Gill has been poking holes in many of the ideas in the collection of essays edited by James Cuno "Whose Culture?". Cuno of course is one of the more outspoken proponents of the acquisition of objects even where they may have been looted or illegally removed from their context. And scholars on both sides go around and around on that argument, and tend to devolve into their entrenched positions with no real progress being made for cultural policy generally. But one argument I don't see made is whether these Universal Museums may not even be Universal for the inhabitants of the city they are in. Are these rate hikes espousing Cosmopolitan values? If so, don't we need to apply them equally, whether that applies to the acquisition of a piece lacking history, or to how many and what types of people can come and view these objects? I think it does.

May 5, 2009

Harding on "Perpetual Property"

Sarah Harding has posted her paper "Perpetual Property" 61 Florida Law Review (2009) on SSRN.  Many of these ideas speak to the importance of limitations rules for claimants, particularly in the Nazi spoliation context.  These rules have been expanded to accommodate these past injustices, which may be a very good thing for redressing the wrongs of the past, but might alos have some undesirable consequences for other areas.

Here's the abstract:

This paper explores the emergence of perpetual property in a number of discrete areas of property law: the longevity of servitudes in historic and environmental preservation, the ever growing time span of intellectual property rights, the disappearance of the rules against perpetual interests, and the temporally unlimited reach of cultural property claims. While the demise of temporal limitations is itself worthy of recognition and will be the focus of a significant part of this paper, my primary interest is whether these changes tell us something about shifting cultural attitudes to the institution of private property. If it is the case, as a number of prominent sociologists have argued, that an exploration of social attitudes toward time is indispensable to an understanding of our current cultural conditions then exploring temporal limitations in property law will presumably help us better understand what Professor Radin has called the cultural commitments of property. This topic is particularly compelling when one considers that the emergence of perpetual property, with its assumption of stability and permanence, has occurred at a time when speed, flexibility and impermanence are dominant features of our current social conditions. The prevailing conditions in society, even a single generation into the future, are likely to be so different from today that long-term control of property seems anachronistic and paradoxical. So why is it that in an era of rapid technological change we are more willing to tolerate perpetual property interests?

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