Jun 30, 2012

Dr. Laurie Rush on "Cultural Property Protection as a Force Multiplier"

Laurie Rush, and Army archaeologist who has directed the In Theater Heritage Training Program for Deploying Personnel has a very interesting piece tin the March-April edition of Military Review, Cultural Property Protection as a Force Multiplier in Stability Operations The piece focuses on the work of the Monuments officers during WWII, but has much to say about the continued importance of heritage protection today. An excerpt:
Few contest the long-term value of cultural property protection during fullspectrum operations. However, one might reasonably question its immediate benefits to Western military personnel facing hostile engagements in today’s complex conflict situations. One immediate response refers to the media battle that is an inevitable part of all modern conflict. Just as the Italians and Germans used propaganda effectively to advance their causes during the African and Italian campaigns, the terrorists and insurgents of today are often on the scene with video cameras. The British monuments program in 1943 began in part as a response to an Italian propaganda effort centering on the ancient Roman city of Cyrenica in Libya. After the ancient site changed hands from the Italians to the British and back to the Italians, the Italian government put together a propaganda campaign with the message that the British had shown no respect for the glory of ancient Rome. The Italians faked damage to the museum, photographed statues under reconstruction and added captions accusing the British of deliberately breaking them, and offered examples of graffiti written in English. The power of these materials was manifest. They helped convince the Italian people that the British had no respect for any element of Italian or Roman history and culture.
The whole piece merits a good read, highly recommended. I wonder if the protection of these sites and objects can be considered an economic, cultural or other 'multiplier' as well, extending the arguments and resources we might dedicate to their protection outside of conflict zones as well.

Jun 29, 2012

The Fourth Annual ARCA Conference

We have just returned from Amelia and the first five weeks of the ARCA program in Amelia. Last weekend ARCA held its fourth annual conference, and the event gets better every year, a fact evidenced I think by how many folks returned to Amelia for the conference again this year. The event brings together a diverse set of talents, which is necessary given the challenges facing heritage advocates. These dangers include theft, archaeological looting, the sale of illicit objects in the market, forgery, and destruction during armed conflict. And the challenge of course when one begins a conference is to ask what one little conversation can do in the face of this heritage crime. Our hope is to take the conversation and carry it back to our work. As we know, many of these conversations focus on the Mediterranean, and the return of illicit objects there (and even the claims for more returns).


This means of course that many other areas of the World are left under-considered. To open the conference I discussed the ongoing case of a looted statue from Koh Ker which has been seized by U.S. attorneys in a forfeiture proceeding from Sotheby's. We were able to invite with His Royal Highness Ravivaddhana Sisowath, Prince of Cambodia to give some remarks. He spoke about the importance of these statues to the people of Cambodia, and the circumstances surrounding their removal in the conflict during the 1970s involving the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge. Later on Saturday we were able to present awards in person to three of the very best kinds of advocates in this field: Joris Kila, an expert in protecting cultural heritage during armed conflict who has visited Libya and other at risk sites; Jason Felch, a reporter for the L.A. Times who has continued important work in this field with ideas like Wikiloot; and finally George Abungu, the Vice-President of ICOM and a powerful advocate for heritage protection. His discussion of African rock art was one of the very best discussions of art and heritage protection I have seen.


There were many other highlights—the presentation from Dr. Laurie Rush on heritage protection as a force multiplier was outstanding, and of course the early career presentations were some of the best of the weekend. 


Many many thanks to everyone at ARCA for such a terrific weekend, including Monica, Lynda, Catherine, Kirsten, Noah, and of course Joni. You can save the date already for our fifth conference, June 22-23, 2013 in Amelia again.  

Jun 21, 2012

A Field Class at Cerveteri

Inside la banditaccia at the Etruscan Necropolis near Cerveteri
Last Friday I finished teaching my art and cultural heritage law course here in Amelia as a part of ARCA's masters certificate program. One of the highlights of my year is coming to Amelia for ARCA's program, and the field class at Cerveteri captures so much of what makes cultural heritage policy a rich and interesting area  to study—but there are frustrations as well.

First the good. There are beautiful vibrant works of art in the houses for the dead. We met Stefano Alessandrini who took us through the necropolis and the tombs. They now have names like 'the tomb of the Grecian Urns'—where of course many Greek pieces of pottery were found. And the highlight is the 'tomb of the reliefs' with wonderful frescoes, bas-reliefs, and sculptures that portray a number of professions. The images are familiar and comfortable, except maybe for the image of Cerberus on the far wall. The burial complex was quite large, far larger in fact than the protected area of Cerveteri in the banded area. And outside of the protected world heritage site are tombs in need of conservation, some exposed tufo rock tombs, and also some vulnerable unexcavated tombs.


You can see the area from this google maps image. To the right of the white line is the unexcavated or non-conserved area. To the left is the well-kept World Heritage Site.


There was one Italian archaeological excavation of a tomb outside la Banditaccia:


But also we saw a different kind of excavation, there were a few looters pits on the exposed hillside a few hundred yards up the road. These appeared to have been done in the last few months:

At the bottom of the hole you can see the outline of one of the tombs, likely a square tomb. So a looter may return at night and look for the entrance to a tomb. One difficulty is the remoteness of the field here. It's just out of view of the little dirt track. On a dark night a looter could cover the hole with dark canvas and shine a flashlight underneath to do their work. 

Before the trip I assigned DH Lawrence's short chapter discussing Cerveteri to the students. Though his scientific knowledge of the Roman and Etruscan civilization was lacking perhaps he did get the feel of these tombs just right. He travelled there in 1927 with a companion, and one imagines the little wine sink just off the main square is the same one where Lawrence popped in and complained about the lunch he ate before walking to the necropolis. But when he stops complaining about the food, the dust, the heat, and the Romans (the ancient ones), he describes a happy feeling walking among the tombs. He envisions the Etruscans thinking about a trip to the underworld. He suggested that the Etruscans might have burned their simple wooden homes (whether this is true or not I am not sure). But the point he draws from this writerly device gets the feeling of the place right. The Etruscans believed in a happy, joyous afterlife, which freed them to live in the moment while they were alive. And it is perhaps no coincidence that the time when Lawrence traveled to Italy and the Etruscan places was a time when Lawrence was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, and he might have been thinking about his own legacy and afterlife.

And he notes that many of the best treasures of the tombs were missing from them. Some had been lost to the humidity of the tufo rock, or to scholarly study and excavation. Others had yet to be looted or excavated . The Sarpedon/Euphronios krater was still resting in its context while Lawrence was walking through the tombs. The terms cultural nationalist and internationalist had yet to be devised and attached to the arguments about the proper place for these objects. But Lawrence is a firm believer in the power of context for the aesthetic experience of the viewer: 

What one wants is to be aware. If one looks at an Etruscan helmet, then it is better to be fully aware of that helmet, in its own setting, in its own complex of associations, than it is to ‘look over’ a thousand museums of stuff. Any one impression that goes really down into the soul, it is worth a million hasty impressions of a million important things.
I guess we all have different views on our favorite way to see art. Walking through a large museum with many objects—millions might be a bit of an exaggeration—is certainly one way. And pairing a trip to the Villa Giulia with a trip to Cerveteri in the same day offers a deeper different experience of seeing the tombs and the objects removed from them in the same day. We can argue about the value of both. But in making the decision, we should respect the law and regulation. Disagree with it, work to change it, work to strengthen it, whatever. But looting, even looting from the distant past, should not be used to avoid or end the conversation.





Jun 20, 2012

Picasso Vandalism at the Menil in Houston

The vandal used a stencil to spray a bull and the Spanish word Conquista (conquer) in gold paint on Pablo Picasso's painting Woman in a Red Armchair.
 A moron has decided to vandalize a Picasso work at the Menil in Houston. This is a few blocks from our house—but we are away in Amelia at the ARCA summer program finishing up my teaching and preparing for the annual conference this weekend. If we were home the spaniels and I would be scouring Houston looking for this dimwit. From the chronicle:

Police are searching for a suit-jacketed suspect who spray-painted graffiti over a Picasso painting at Houston's Menil Collection art museum last week.
Menil communications director Vance Muse, reached in Germany Monday, said the painting was rushed down the hall, with the paint barely dry, to the museum's renowned conservation lab, where chief conservator Brad Epley quickly began its repair. The vandal, who fled the building and has not been identified, stenciled an image of a bullfighter killing a bull and the word "Conquista" on the painting.
 The vandal used a stencil and spraypaint to damage Picasso's Woman in a Red Armchair. The work may have been rushed down to the conservation lab, yet the museum security was nowhere to be seen. One of the great charms of the Menil is you can wander in and have the place to yourself on a hot afternoon, but perhaps security needs to pay a little closer attention. 
  1. Molly Glentzer, Picasso vandal hits Menil, Houston Chronicle, http://www.chron.com/entertainment/article/Picasso-vandal-hits-Menil-3642537.php#src=fb (last visited Jun 20, 2012).

Jun 18, 2012

Two Antiquities Smugglers Arrested in Greece

Earlier in June two men were arrested for allegedly smuggling an ancient gold wreath and armband out of the country:

The suspects were stopped by highway police near the village of Asprovalta, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Thessaloniki late Thursday. Officers, who were working on a tip that the house painter might be trafficking in antiquities, found the 4th century B.C. artifacts in a shoebox under the passenger seat. The wreath was a rare and valuable find, said Nikos Dimitriadis, head of the Thessaloniki police antiquities theft section. “It is a product of an illegal excavation from a Macedonian grave, according to archaeologists (who examined it),” he said.

  1. Associated Press, 2 arrested in Greece for alleged antiquities smuggling of ancient gold wreath, armband, The Washington Post, June 8, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/2-arrested-in-greece-for-alleged-antiquities-smuggling-of-ancient-gold-wreath-armband/2012/06/08/gJQAijagNV_story.html.

Jun 12, 2012

Kennedy reports in NYT on austerity and Greek sites

The Olympia museum in Greece, site of an armed theft
Randy Kennedy has a report on the effect Greek austerity may be having on cultural heritage management in Greece. He cites the forced retirement of some senior Greek archaeologists, difficulty for early career archaeologists secure employment, the closure of some sites, and other difficulties. He reports on an ad produced by the Association of Greek Archaeologists:

The ad, produced by the Association of Greek Archaeologists, is most immediately a reminder of an armed robbery of dozens of artifacts from a museum in Olympia in February, amid persistent security shortcomings at museums across the country. But the campaign’s central message — “Monuments have no voice. They must have yours” — is a much broader attack on deep cultural budget cuts being made as part of the austerity measures imposed on Greece by the European economic establishment, measures that have led in recent weeks to an electoral crisis, a caretaker government and the specter of Greece’s departure from the euro zone. Effects of the cultural cuts are already being felt by the public, as museum galleries and sometimes whole museums suffer from sporadic closings.

Despite the persistent claims that austerity played a role in that Olympia Museum theft, there has been no evidence of this, other than the circumstantial connection between Greek austerity and budget cuts and the armed theft early in the morning itself. We may be critical of the Greeks—but in times of economic hardship difficult choices must be made. And Greece is certainly not the only nation making those choices. Consider the Met's recent decision to quietly deaccession some old masters, the Getty's recent funding cutbacks, or even the Corcoran's potential sale of its building in Washington D.C. Difficult choices for all of these cultural institutions have to be made.

Kennedy's piece does a fine job relating the perspectives of the Greek archaeologists affected. But is austerity a cause of the looting and theft? Or rather is it the thieves and looters who commit these crimes, and austerity provides them with a slightly more vulnerable target.

We should perhaps remember that other arts reporters for the New York Times have a habit of travelling to the mediterranean and pointing out flaws in the cultural resource management of the Greeks and Italians. Consider this piece from Michael Kimmelman in 2009 criticizing the Italians and the Villa Giulia after the repatriation of the Euphronios Krater.
  1. Randy Kennedy, Archaeologists Say Greek Antiquities Threatened by Austerity, The New York Times, June 11, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/arts/design/archaeologists-say-greek-antiquities-threatened-by-austerity.html (last visited Jun 12, 2012).

Jun 11, 2012

Nemeth on strategic protection of cultural heritage

Does the citizen protection at the Cairo Museum
offer lessons for strategic protection of heritage?
Erik Nemeth makes an interesting point in a special contribution to the Chicago Tribune. Rather than just consider what museums or 'source nations' lose when objects are repatriated; why not consider the gain and strategic benefit returns can offer to the returning nation or museum. And what other benefits might occur during armed conflict if heritage sites are aggressively protected?

The political turbulence in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain has seen both looting of artifacts and destruction of monuments. Last year, citizens linked arms in front of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with some success. This and other instances like it suggest potential for proactive protection of cultural artifacts, particularly in light of the U.S. ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention in 2009. Indeed, U.S. foreign policy can parlay risk to cultural property into diplomacy by insisting that military interventions, even when the U.S. is not engaged militarily, include a strategy for securing museums, monuments and sites of archaeological significance that along with tactical bombing avoids collateral damage. America might also assess objects that are likely targets for repatriation and consider offering their return as part of a strategy for relations with the nation of origin. If engaged in conflict — or even if not — an active interest in protecting the local cultural property would serve the purposes of garnering political goodwill and creating an opportunity for communication with the local government and potentially the insurgency.
  1. Erik Nemeth, Repatriating part of Saddam statue could promote diplomacy, Chicago Tribune, June 7, 2012, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-06-07/news/ct-perspec-0607-artifacts-20120607_1_hiram-bingham-iii-artifacts-collateral-damage (last visited Jun 10, 2012).

Jun 7, 2012

Paolo Ferri and Jason Felch on Wikiloot

ARCA's Annual Conference in Amelia
Tom Kington reports for the Guardian on the efforts of Jason Felch to use crowdsourcing to help police the antiquities trade with wikiloot:
Felch now plans to obtain and post piles of material seized from dealers during police raids and deposited for trials which have yet to be published, and let allcomers mine the data for new clues. "It's all raw, unprocessed data. Researchers can use it, but we also hope the public can use it to find out a bit more about what is on display at their local museum," he said. . . .
 "We will also need a few hundred thousand dollars," added Felch, who is applying for grants, talking to universities and promoting the concept this month at the annual conference in Italy of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA). . . . 
With an estimated 500,000 artefacts looted from Italy to date, one Italian investigator – Paolo Ferri, a magistrate now working at Italy's culture ministry – said any attempt to track them down was welcome. He was cautious about aspects of the crowdsourcing concept, claiming that publishing images or descriptions of looted artefacts could push their collectors to hide them better. "They may also work harder to camouflage the origins of their pieces or even access the archive to manipulate it," Ferri said. "Why not have a password to keep traffickers out?"

Both Felch and Ferri are slated to appear at ARCA's annual conference here in Amelia in a few weeks on June 23-24. The report makes it appear as if Felch has been invited to discuss wikiloot. He is welcome of course to discuss the initiative, but the primary purpose of his invitation is to honor his writing and reporting. He and Ralph Frammolino will be honored for the terrific reporting they have done, which culminated in Chasing Aphrodite, and the blog which has continued that good work.

Conference attendees will have an opportunity to hear more about Felch's plans for wikiloot, and though Ferri and others share misgivings, the conference will allow an opportunity to listen and take into account those concerns. One of the aims for ARCA's annual conference is to bring folks together and foster a productive exchange.
  1. Tom Kington, WikiLoot aims to use crowdsourcing to track down stolen ancient artefacts, the Guardian, June 6, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jun/06/wikiloot-crowdsourcing-stolen-artifacts.
ARCA's annual conference is free to attend, and open to the general public. For any questions about the conference please contact me at derek.fincham@artcrimeresearch.org.

Jun 5, 2012

Chasing Aphrodite interviews Simon Mackenzie

The Chasing Aphrodite blog has a very good extended interview with Simon Mackenzie whowith Neil Brodie—received a substantial research grant to study the illicit trade in antiquities. One highlight:


Most criminologists agree that supply-side interventions are going to be problematic, particularly on their own. The drug trade and prohibition are pretty good examples of trying to control something where there’s a high level of demand in a globalized economy. None of these have particularly good records of success. Most of the current ideas seems to be about reducing demand or, alternatively, taking an end-to-end type solution — take both ends seriously and start to unwind the economic cultural and social forces underpinning the market. Once you see that, strict legal responses begin to look problematic. It’s very difficult for the law to seriously engage with an entrenched, large-scale global trade. The nature of regulatory intervention in the cultural heritage market has largely been legal. Mostly its been about UNESCO, passing laws in source countries, prohibition of theft, and passing laws in market countries to prevent purchase. The interesting question for regulation is how do we build up systems around these laws we have.
My own arguments about the best way to unwind this problem from both ends is here—we need to impart transparency into the market and elevate the standards for the good faith acquisition of these objects.

Jun 4, 2012

Will US Attorneys Appeal after latest Ka Nefer Nefer setback?

A judge has dismissed the federal government's request to reconsider an earlier ruling dismissing the government's forfeiture request for the Ka Nefer Nefer mask currently on display at the St. Louis Art Museum. Rick St. Hilaire notes the U.S. Attorney must now make the decision whether to appeal the ruling on to the 8th Circuit. 


The problem with the government's initial case—at least in the district court's view—was the government failed to allege the particular circumstances under which a crime took place as the mask left Egypt. This problem can be examined by referencing recent case law broadening the principle that looted and smuggled objects are considered tainted when they leave their country of origin, even in the absence of direct evidence of wrongdoing. I'm thinking for example of the Barakat ruling in the English High Court which offered claimant nations a broader platform of potential laws with which a nation of origin can claim theft. 


But in this case the federal prosecutors had a difficult prospect as Egypt was unable to offer enough evidence establishing a crime had been committed. So despite the research the SLAM conducted when it acquired the mask in 1998, the government was unable to offer enough to convince a judge to forfeit the object and force SLAM to make its case. It is an open question whether the district court would have taken such rulings on board, likely not. But an appeals court is in a more favorable position to make broader inquiries in the law based on policy and foreign authority. 

Cambodia considers repatriation of two more statues

One of two kneeling statues
from Koh Ker, at the Met

Cambodia has discovered it may have a claim to another set of objects in New York. But these statues are on display at the Met, not up for auction. 

The contested statues may have been taken from the same temple where a mythic warrior figure (discussed earlier here) was likely looted in the early 1970s. It seems the Cambodians have uncovered other objects which they may have tenable claims for in the wake of the research into the statue from the Koh Ker complex which was removed from auction at Sotheby's last month. Federal prosecutors have initiated a forfeiture proceeding against that statue, based on the fact that despite the armed conflict at the time, Cambodia's earlier pre-existing legal principles had established the statue was owned in some way—and thus any removal would have been an illicit removal. 

It seems research into the temple complex and the established law have allowed Cambodia to cast a wider net for their repatriation claim. It will be interesting to see how the Met responds to Cambodia's questions. The initial reaction from the Met in the piece does not seem to show the Met asked for much history when these objects were acquired:

 The museum acknowledged that beyond the names of the donors it has no records on the statues’ origins, despite a longstanding policy to investigate the history of donated antiquities. “No one is concealing anything,” said Harold Holzer, the Met’s senior vice president for external affairs. “I’d like nothing better that to find more documentation.” Mr. Holzer cautioned against using current standards for museum collecting to evaluate the propriety of acquisitions dating back more than two decades. “There were no real prevailing restrictions against accepting these works of art,” he said of the period, “especially if, by doing so, they might be protected from disappearance completely from public view and from study.” The Met’s policy in 1992 allowed it to accept works without a detailed provenance. Such acceptance, though, was supposed to come after an effort had been made to root out the history of a piece in case it was illicit.  

  1. Tom Mashberg & Ralph Blumenthal, Cambodia to Ask Met to Return 10th-Century Statues, The New York Times, June 1, 2012.

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