Jul 26, 2011

Repatriated Objects from the Getty in Naples


Over the weekend I traveled with a group from Amelia down to Sorrento and the Bay of Naples. On Saturday we went into Naples and visited what may be the most important Italian archaeological museum in Italy, the Naples National Archaeological Museum. It was every bit as stunning as advertised. A grand old beautiful shambling wreck of a museum in a beautiful mess of an Italian city, with the Farnese Bull, and the Alexander Mosaic, and much more. It was a lovely visit to one of Italy's very best museums. It was founded in the 1750s by Charles III of Spain, and houses a number of important works from nearby Pompei and Herculaneum, which had been rediscovered and excavated in the early part of the 18th century.

But on the way out, a sign indicating what exhibition rooms were open or closed stood out. We hadn't noticed it on the way in. I've posted the picture here, and even though it is too blurry to read, the red text at the bottom says 'Restituzione dal museo J.P. Getty', but the gallery was closed. One of our group asked (in Italian), why the gallery was closed, and was told apparently it was due to a lack of funding.

He asked, 'what objects were in the gallery from the Getty', and the museum employee responded that there was not enough funding for an inventory, probably meaning they did not have enough money to prepare a brochure. So which objects were meant to be displayed, the museum visitor can only guess at. Now I have no way of knowing if this is a typical case. Perhaps we caught the museum on a day where they were understaffed—though it was a Saturday. We paid our 8 euros each, though, and did our small part. There were a number of closed off areas, as you can perhaps make out in my amateur photograph, so there are other areas closed to the public.

Italy is currently enduring its own austerity measures, and like other nations which are cutting back, culture and heritage are some of the first targets. So perhaps in more prosperous times these objects will be displayed more regularly. But even with a good reason for the closing, even with a good reason for restitution, what good is a return if the objects can not be displayed? It will reduce the demand perhaps, but keep these objects hidden away, at least for our small group.


The museum was, for me, stunning. Whether the objects from the Getty (whatever they were) would have compared to the Farnese Bull, the Hercules at rest pictured here, or any of the stunning micro-mosaics can only be guessed at. But it is a striking irony that all of the work and time and effort spent repatriating objects from the Getty was wasted on this visitor, who took a plane, train, taxi, and bumpy ferry, walked the rainy streets of Naples to the Museum, and was still unable to see the objects 'in context' in Naples. This certainly does not justify for me the illicit and illegal trade in these objects. It does though I think crystallize just how vexing the antiquities trade, museums, and repatriation issues can be.

Jul 18, 2011

United States Signs Bilateral Agreement with Greece

Hillary Clinton, at the Acropolis Museum in Greece
The United States has signed a bilateral agreement with Greece to impose import restrictions on certain archaeological and Byzantine objects dating from before the 15th Century. The agreement flows from the United States' implementation of articles 7(b) and 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

One might be under a misimpression by reading some accounts of this signing by amateur international lawyers. To be clear, the United States has taken a unique view on the 1970 UNESCO Convention, but we should remember that the United States was the first 'market nation' to sign on to the convention, and no reasonable appraisal of the U.S. actions with respect to the UNESCO Convention would deem them unserious.

In fact, one might deem them more rigorous than other nations who have signed the convention but taken little or no concrete action. Though the financial burden of making a case before the Cultural Property Advisory Committee can be high, the process is straightforward, and allows for U.S. Customs agents to have clear classes of objects which they are looking out for.Those who argue that U.S. implementation does not reflect a commitment to fight the illicit trade in antiquities (an intellectually lazy assertion, particularly when it has little supporting evidence or argument) might be well-served by actually reading the text of both article 7 and 9 of the convention, and even seeking out Patrick O'Keefe's very fine commentary on the convention itself.

Art.'s 7(b) & 9 taken together are the key provisions which the United States has enacted via the Cultural Property Implementation Act, and the Cultural Property Advisory Committee makes determinations on the imposition of import restrictions and creates a relatively streamlined process for creating bilateral agreements. Without the CPIA, treaties and bilateral agreements would be far more difficult to create because these agreements would have to go through the U.S. Senate for ratification.

Art. 7 (a) prevents national museums from acquiring cultural property originating in another State Party which has been illegally exported. If we think about this in terms of the US, what does consistent with national legislation mean? Which museums are 'instrumentalities' of the US government? Just the Smithsonian? There is after all no 'American Museum' along the lines of the British Museum or the Louvre. As a consequence, the U.S. has not implemented this article.

Art. 7 (b)(i)requires States to prohibit the import of cultural property stolen from a museum, religious or secular public monument or similar institution. Note that it requires an inventory. Very few museums have created such an inventory.

Art. 7(b)(ii) actually requires that a nation "pay just compensation to an innocent purchaser", or one who has valid title if the object is returned.

Art. 9 is the crisis provision of the Convention. When you look to the text, terms like cultural patrimony, jeopardy and pillage are undefined. The protection of this Article extends only to "Archaeological and ethnographical materials". It requires nations to erect import restrictions on certain classes of objects if they are in danger.

Patrick O’Keefe Argues:
[P]illage and jeopardy of a cultural heritage occur where the remains of a particular civilization are threatened with destruction or extensive movement abroad or when the sale of certain archaeological objects on the international market sets off a broad campaign of clandestine excavations leading to the destruction of important archaeological sites. …[I]t should not be considered open to a State Party to refuse to act on the ground that, in its opinion, the pillage complained of was not in fact putting the cultural heritage of the requesting State in danger. …Article [9] was against illicit traffic in cultural objects, and …the requesting State should not, therefore, be required to produce evidence as to the degree of damage or size of the illicit trade in these objects.

Art. 9 has two prerequisites: the cultural patrimony must be in jeopardy from pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials and there must be a "concerted international effort". So first you need to determine whether the looted objects at issue are part of the cultural patrimony of an aggrieved nation.

It can be tempting for some to lose sight of many of the other sections of the UNESCO Convention. The convention imposes obligations on both market nations and those rich with cultural resources. These obligations represent the other side of the market and obligates nations of origin to protect their own sites and museums, to police their borders and to educate their people about the value of conserving cultural heritage. These obligations include establishing a government agency that will assist in the preparation of laws for the regulation of cultural objects, establish a national inventory of protected property, promote scientific and technical institutions and supervise archaeological excavations; establishing a licensing system for the export of cultural objects and requiring dealers to maintain registers with information on the origin, supplier, description and price of items sold.

Jul 15, 2011

"Groundbreaking" Antiquities Smuggling Ring Investigation

 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced yesterday that it has for the first time "dismantled" an antiquities smuggling network operating in the United States. Charges have been brought against individuals before, but this is appears from the indictment to be a pretty complete looting network, operating in the Middle East and the United States, which has been uncovered. According to the federal indictment four men have been charged with smuggling antiquities into the United States. It alleges that four men operated a smuggling operation which sent objects from Egypt to Dubai and its freeports and on to the United States. The federal agents also note that there was money laundering involved here, perhaps a tangible case implicating organized criminal activities to antiquities smuggling.

Dubai has freeports, much like Switzerland does. These are special areas which allow for the ease of international commerce, but can also be a haven to looters and smugglers. Giacomo Medici of course operated a very posh looted antiquities showroom from a Swiss freeport for many years. As the tension and unrest in many Middle-Eastern countries emerges, will Dubai become a focus for antiquities investigations? A haven for looters? I would suspect that Dubai will be far more willing and able to police and investigate on the looting of objects and stolen artifacts. I have a PhD colleague who currently works in their copyright enforcement force, and I would imagine that if nations ask for enforcement assistance from Dubai, they will likely receive it.

Windsor Antiquities booth in Manhattan, via WSJ
The investigation began when ICE Special Agent Brenton Easter and his team were looking for a terracotta head which was uncovered in Iraq in 2000, and the investigation uncovered an international smuggling ring. This is an example of what appears to be a very successful operation which has targeted all of the individuals in the ring, including the conduit from the thieves or looters in the Middle East, "the broker", "the individual providing false provenance", and "the end-all collector". One of the objects, pictured here was a Greco-Roman-style Egyptian sarcophagus which might be worth as much as $2.5 million.

The indicted men are Mousa Khouli (Windsor Antiquities, NY), Salem Alshdaifat (Holyland Numismatics, West Bloomfield MI), Joseph A. Lewis, II (collector of Egyptian antiquities), and Ayman Ramadan (Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading, Dubai).
  1. ICE makes arrests and seizes cultural artifacts stolen from Egypt, (2011), http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1107/110714newyork.htm (last visited Jul 15, 2011).
  2. Keith Johnson, Alleged Antiquities Smugglers Busted, wsj.com, July 15, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304223804576446313624549304.html (last visited Jul 15, 2011).
  3. Kiran Khalid, Feds: Global antiquities smuggling ring dismantled CNN (2011), http://edition.cnn.com/2011/CRIME/07/15/new.york.antiquities.smuggling/ (last visited Jul 15, 2011).
  4. Feds accuse 4 of smuggling Egyptian artifacts, Reuters (2011), http://newsandinsight.thomsonreuters.com/Legal/News/2011/07_-_July/Feds_accuse_4_of_smuggling_Egyptian_artifacts/ (last visited Jul 15, 2011).
  5. Kate Taylor, Federal Authorities Charge 4 People in Antiquities Smuggling, The New York Times, July 14, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/arts/design/federal-authorities-charge-4-people-in-antiquities-smuggling.html?_r=1 (last visited Jul 15, 2011).

Jul 12, 2011

The Third Annual ARCA Conference Last Weekend

Neil Brodie, accepting his ARCA award 

This past weekend ARCA held its annual conference just off the medieval cloister here in Amelia, Italy. As part of the conference ARCA presents its awards to those whose research or work has made a contribution to the field of art and heritage protection. These are nominated by and voted on by ARCA's Trustees and past award winners.

Two of our award winners were able to make it in person this year. Neil Brodie received an award for his scholarship. Neil joined ARCA for the first six weeks of the summer as a writer in residence, offering lectures to students and working on his next piece. But the highlight of the conference for me might have been the standing ovation the students gave him when he won his award. Neil has of course written extensively on the looting of antiquities and their eventual sale. He has conducted archaeological fieldwork and was the former director of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. His terrific writing on the illicit trade in antiquities stands as a thoughtful and passionate cry for the preservation of a vanishing and finite resource.

Paolo Ferri
Paolo Ferri was also presented an award for policing and recovery. Dr. Ferri has been a prominent figure in the return of many looted antiquities from North American public and private collections. He now serves as an expert in international relations and recovery of works of art for the Italian Culture Ministry. This was Ferri's first award for all of his work. The man who played such a large role in the return of so many beautiful antiquities to Italy had a quiet and direct manner and throughout the weekend was quick with a smile. He offered some interesting suggestions for future policy, including an International Art Court, but what struck me more than anything was his almost polite insistence for obeying legal and ethical principles. 


The other award winners who were unable to attend were Lord Colin Renfrew, and Prof. John Henry Merryman. 

Lord Renfrew has been a tireless voice in the struggle for the prevention of looting of archaeological sites, and one of the most influential archaeologists in recent decades. At Cambridge he was formerly Disney Professor of Archaeology and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and a Senior Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Prof. Merryman is a renowned expert on art and cultural property law who has written beautifully about art and heritage for many years. He currently serves as an Emeritus Professor at Stanford Law School. He adds this award to his impressive list of awards, including the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and honorary doctorates from Aix-en Provence, Rome (Tor Vergata), and Trieste. His textbook Law, Ethics, and the Visual Arts, first published in 1979 with Albert Elsen, stands as the leading art law text. His writings have shaped the way we think about art and cultural disputes, and have added clarity and rigor to a field he helped pioneer.



Joni on the left, during a break  on Saturday
It was a terrific conference thanks in large part to Joni's terrific planning, and I hope she'll forgive me for dragging her into this undertaking. Thanks as well go to the ARCA staff who worked very hard to make things run smoothly, all of the presenters, students and attendees. These folks made for a super weekend.


Many of these issues can quickly get contentious, but the weekend allowed for plenty of opportunities for discussion, polite disagreement, and conversation. Next year's conference will likely be a few weeks earlier, in June, and I'm very much looking forward to it.












For those who are interested, the schedule of presentations is posted below the jump:



Jul 2, 2011

Should a Museum Hire Marion True?

la dea di Morgantina
Malcolm Bell thinks so. He holds a position as emeritus professor of Greek art at the University of Virginia and the co-director of the American archaeological excavation at Morgantina. He has written a long review of Felch and Frammolino's 'Chasing Aphrodite'. Morgantina was the site of course where the limestone goddess was looted, and had it not been looted, Bell may well have recovered it and its full context. In 1988 when the goddess was sold to the Getty for $18 million, Marion True sent him photographs of the sculpture, asking if he knew about it. He did not, though he does write that his "lack of knowledge offered no form of assurance that it did not come from Morgantina".

So it is quite surprising perhaps that Bell comes to the conclusion that the book 'undervalues' the contribution of Marion True to efforts at reform. He concludes with the following paragraph:

Today the archaeologist's belief that ancient sites must be protected, and that ancient artifacts are best studied when we know most about them, is widely shared by our museum colleagues. That there has been a convergence of views is owed in good part to Marion True, whose bitter experience offers lessons to all parties. Her contributions far outweigh her mistakes, and were I today to be asked to recommend someone to fill a major museum position, she would be the first person to come to my mind.
Will partisans accuse Bell of not reading the book because he makes a controversial argument, or instead take his arguments on the merits?

  1. Malcolm Bell, The Beautiful and the True, wsj.com, July 2, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303339904576405983959162302.html?mod=googlenews_wsj (last visited Jul 2, 2011).



Jul 1, 2011

Footnotes


Mes Aynak, a 1400 year-old Buddhist monastary will give way to a Copper mine
  • A Chinese mining company has been granted a 30 year lease to mine copper from one of the world's largest untapped reserves in Afghanistan, but the mining will damage the 1400 year-old Mes Aynak complex. Archaeologists have been given 3 years to salvage the site, while a proper excavation would take closer to 10 years. The US military is chipping in $1 million for the salvage.
  • Donn Zaretsky runs down the coverage of the settlement of the Brandeis-Rose Art museum deaccession lawsuit.
  • The difficult task of conserving Ur in Iraq.
  • Request denied: Italy asked if the Louvre might give up the Mona Lisa for a temporary exhibition, but the move would cause "incalculable damage" and was not worth risking.
  • Cultural heritage preservation Houston style: an original 1967 model of AstroWorld has been saved for future generations and been purchased from Craigslist, the engineering firm which purchased the model plans to donate it to the Houston Public Library.
  • Truth is an absolute defense: David Grann, author of a terrific piece on art authentication last year for the New Yorker has been sued by one of the subjects of the piece, art-authenticator Peter Paul Biro. 
  • The AV Club reviews Chasing Aphrodite.
  • The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam will close for 6 months for security upgrades and renovations.
  • Eight Old Master paintings will be repatriated to the Netherlands.
  • The University of Sydney decided the considerable sum a donated Picasso could bring by a sale outweighs the value in keeping and displaying the painting.

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