Apr 29, 2013

Conference Schedule, Vulnerability & Cultural Heritage, Leicester 9-10 of May

Next week I'll be attending and presenting at a conference at the University of Leicester titled "Vulnerability and Cultural Heritage". It looks to be a great group of speakers, and I'm looking forward to catching up with and meeting many of these folks. I hope to have a few reactions here when I'm back near a computer:


And here are details on the Programme:


Thursday 9 May

9.30–9.35  Welcome

Panel 1

9.35–10.00  Neil Brodie 
Provenance and price: The invisible hand of the antiquities market?

10.00-10.25 Simon Mackenzie
Conditions for guilt-free consumption in a transnational criminal market

10.25–10.50  Kathy Tubb
Trade Fairs: A Marketing Tool for the Sale of Antiquities

Refreshments 10.50–11.10

Panel 2

11.10–11.35  Rowan Brown
Loved, listed, looted: crime at the Lady Victoria Colliery.

11.35–12.00  Nick Poole
Combating Heritage Crime: Key Findings from the ACE Museum Security Programme

12.00–12.25  Mike Harlow 
Heritage Crime – 'What's the Problem?

12.25–12.50  Mark Harrison 
Heritage Crime – What’s the Solution? The development of multi–disciplinary approaches

Lunch 12.50–1.45

Panel 3

1.45–2.10  Julian Radcliffe
Protection of Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis

2.10–2.35  Patty Gerstenblith
When Is “1970” Not Enough and When Is it Too Much? Evolving U.S. Museum Policies and Practices for the Acquisition of Archaeological Objects

2.35–3.00  Michelle Gallant
The Impact of Money Laundering Measures

3.00–3.25  Janet Ulph
Money Laundering Measures and Ethical Dealing: the Demands Placed upon High Value Dealers and Museums in the UK

Panel 4

3.50–4.15  Tatiana Flessas
Museums and Antiquities after Marion True

4.15–4.40  Andrzej Jakubowski 
Black Sea Tomb Raiders and the Practice of International Cultural Exchange: Revisiting the Ethics and Responsibility of Museums

4.40–5.05  Derek Fincham
The Italian efforts to initiate forfeiture proceedings of the Fano Athelete/Getty Bronze in Italy

5.05–5.30  Antonio Roma Valdes
Illicit trafficking of cultural heritage as a crime. The role of the judiciary.

Friday 10 May

Panel 5

9.30–9.55  Jessica Dietzler
On antiquities and wildlife trafficking: similarities and peculiarities of regulation and control in two transnational criminal markets

9.55–10.20  Lorna Gillies
Help or Hindrance? The Utility of the Conflict of Laws Process in Claims for the Return of Cultural Objects Wrongfully Removed

10.20–10.45  Carolyn Shelbourn
Prosecuting heritage offences – a cautionary tale

10.45–11.10  David Gill
Title to be announced

11.10 – 11.30  Refreshments

Panel 6

11.30–11.55  Roger Atwood
Heritage and Development: A View from Central America

11.55–12.20 Kristin Hausler
Indigenous Sacred Objects: Trade and Stewardship Issues

12.20–12.45  Andreas Pantazatos
The Normative Framework of Stewardship: Care and Respect

12.45–1.10pm  Charlotte Woodhead
Stewardship and moral title: viable legal concepts?

Apr 26, 2013

Auctions and Civil Disobedience (UPDATE)

The Christie's Auction catalog with a bronze rabbit head
Earlier this week I was able to watch a screening on Earth Day of 'Bidder 70' a new documentary which examines the story of Tim DeChristopher. He was sentenced to two years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. His crime? He attended an oil and gas lease auction and bid on Utah land which was being leased for oil and gas exploration with no intent to buy the land (he didn't have the money) or to drill on it. I'm not as interested in going through a review of the documentary itself. I thought overall its well worth taking a look at, but my biggest frustration with the story was it left out a lot of the details of the auction process, how he was able to bid and refuse to pay, and how his act of civil disobedience ended up being successful.

From what I gathered the Bush administration in their last weeks in office put opened up lots of land for oil and gas leases, and that DeChristopher successfully ruined these auctions. And then when the Obama administration took office the Department of the Interior later decided not to auction these parcels of land after all. The film does a great job of presenting DeChristopher's story, and conveying his indignation at the ruination of what appears to be some pristine Utah wilderness.

 But watching the documentary I was most struck by the connections between a couple of events that I've traced here before: the Bronze zodiac auctions in France from the Yves Saint-Laurent sale, and the sentencing of antiquities looters in Utah. Environmental and cultural heritage issues are inextricably linked, and the different priorities of prosecution and sentencing on display here were really striking.

 If you aren't familiar with the sad saga of the Chinese Zodiac heads, here's a quick overview. Over 150 years ago the Summer Palace near Beijing was looted by British troops. Lots of art was burned, looted, destroyed, or lost. Some objects which had been taken were parts of a beautiful ornate fountain/clock mechanism which had the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. A handful of these still existing heads have been purchased by Chinese repatriation advocates on the open market. And two of these bronze figurines, the rabbit and the rat were acquired by Yves Saint Laurent. Well on his death many objects from his estate were set to go up for auction at Christie's in Paris. But the looting of the Chinese Summer Palace is a notorious event in Chinese history, and the Chinese government lodged a number of protests at the sale. When the two heads were up for auction, the successful bid was nearly 32 million Euro. The winning bidder was Cao Mingchao, owner of a small auction house in China. After the auction he refused to pay the bid, exacting the same kind of civil disobedience that DeChristopher went to prison for. After the auction Mingchao stated "What I want to stress is that this money cannot be paid (…) I think any Chinese person would have stood up at that moment. It was just that the opportunity came to me. I was merely fulfilling my responsibilities." Despite some hints at a French prosecution of the bidder, those never materialized and the heads as I understand it were never actually auctioned.

There have been a number of controversial sales of Precolumbian and native american sacred items in France in recent months. And it seems that despite some legal attempts to block sales, this kind of technically legal, but morally objectionable auction; which the current heritage law framework deems ok; will only be blocked if an auction house bends to public pressure or if there's a bidder exercising civil disobedience.

  Remember that in this part of the country the Four-Corners investigation uncovered a large network of illicit native american objects. That investigation led to 3 suicides and a number of citizens being indicted and later pleading guilty to heritage crimes. But no custodial sentences have been imposed. The sad takeaway is I think that you can loot native american sites, and the Federal government will have irregular investigations, but mess with the leasing of oil and gas, and you'll feel the weight of the federal government.


 Here's the trailer for Bidder 70:
Bidder 70 - Trailer from Gage & Gage Productions on Vimeo.

UPDATE:

And now it looks like the rat and rabbit will be returned to China: http://bit.ly/ZpP67I

Apr 9, 2013

Student note on restituting Nazi-Looted art

Katherine N. Skinner has a student note titled "Restituting Nazi-Looted Art: Domestic, Legislative, and Binding Intervention to Balance the Interests of Victims and Museums", 15 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 673. From the abstract:
The Nazis engaged in widespread art looting from Holocaust victims, either taking the artwork outright or using legal formalities to effect a transfer of title under duress. Years later, US museums acquired some of these pieces on a good-faith basis. Now, however, they face lawsuits by the heirs of Holocaust victims, who seek to have the museums return the artwork. Though good title cannot pass to the owner of stolen property under US law, unfavorable statutes of limitations, high financial hurdles, or discovery problems, among other obstacles, bar many of these claimants from seeking recovery. Though some museums have amicably settled with claimants, museums’ otherwise resistant responses are not surprising, considering the “cultural internationalist” attitude they adopt toward restitution in general. US federal action to resolve the issue of Nazi-art restitution has been aspirational rather than practical, and courts are not ideally suited to handle the difficult policy implications present on a one-off basis. Additionally, museums have not been faithful to their self-imposed ethical guidelines, which promote full out-of-court cooperation with claimants seeking restitution for Nazi-looted art. Therefore, this Note proposes that Congress step in to create a binding, uniform, domestic body to hear and resolve Nazi-art restitution claims brought against museums. Such a forum would eliminate many of the initial obstacles claimants face, and with its narrowly tailored application it would prevent museums from becoming more vulnerable to restitution claims in other contexts. Finally, with a sunset provision followed by a presumption against restitution, such legislation would provide museums a respite from facing these claims eternally.

If you are writing in the field and would like me to post your abstract, just drop me a comment below, or email me at derek.fincham 'at' gmail.com.

Apr 8, 2013

Looting at Ebla in Syria

On Saturday CJ Chivers reported on looting in Syria, in particular at the ancient site of Ebla:

For decades Ebla has been celebrated for the insights it offers into early Syrian civilization. The scenes here today offer something else: a prime example of a peculiar phenomenon of Syria’s civil war — scores, if not hundreds, of archaeological sites, often built and inhabited millenniums ago because of their military value, now at risk as they are put to military use once more. Seen from afar, Ebla is a mound rising above the Idlib plain. It was first settled more than 5,000 years ago. It eventually became a fortified walled city whose residents worshiped multiple gods, and traded olive oil and beer across Mesopotamia. The city was destroyed around 2200 B.C., flourished anew several centuries later and then was destroyed again. The latest disruption came after war began in 2011. Once rebels pushed the army back and into nearby garrisons, the outcropping upon which Ebla rests presented a modern martial utility: it was ideal for spotting passing government military planes.
The piece also has a very good video report, showing the site: http://nyti.ms/XkR4EY

  1. C. J. Chivers, Syrian War Devastates Ancient Sites, The New York Times, April 6, 2013.

Apr 5, 2013

Can the Hopi Thwart the Sale of Sacred Objects in Paris Next Week?

A Hopi helmet representing the Crow Mother (more slides via NYT)
Next week the Néret-Minet auction house in Paris will auction a number of Hopi objects, many of which are more than 100 years old, and many of which are considered sacred. Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office in Kykotsmovi, Arizona says of the objects: "Sacred items like this should not have a commercial value. . . . The bottom line is we believe they were taken illegally.”

The auction house claims that the objects were purchased as early as the 1930's, and that all the objects were sold as long ago as the 1960's.

Tom Mashberg reports for the New York Times that:

Historians say many Hopi artifacts were taken long ago by people who found them unattended in shrines and on altars along the mesas of the Southwest. Others were confiscated by missionaries who came to convert the tribe in the late 19th century. Some were sold by tribe members. But even those sales were not legitimate, Hopi leaders say, because they may have been made under duress, and because the tribe holds that an individual cannot hold title to its religious artifacts — they are owned communally.
This of course is why many of these objects were acquired in the last century. The Hopi have a fundamentally different view of property and sacred objects. They have a communal relationship to these objects. When that view of objects is linked with western legal systems, the results can be messy. But I think there are a number of legal challenges that can be made to the auction of these objects.

Possible action could include an action for the recovery of stolen property. The Hopi would have to establish that they have a relationship to these objects that is sufficient to allow a French court to deny the sale. Or the United States government could intervene and protest the sale on the grounds some of the objects were removed from Federal or tribal lands and are considered stolen under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. But the difficulty with both of those legal options is the problem of proof.

The best chance for a quick resolution to the sale may be to generate enough headaches for the auction house, the consignor, and any potential buyers. The New York Times piece will help raise the profile for the auction, but it will also require some vocal and I'm sorry to say expensive, actions on the part of the Hopi or their advocates.

In a case like this, it is true that seldom have we seen works of art from the United States exported and sold in a way which upsets the creator culture. If the market for Native American art continues to be this robust, it may take more concerted action on the part of the Federal government to intervene. I don't think this is an issue of uneven application of international cultural heritage law, much of which is soft. The reporting and some reaction seems to suggest the U.S. does a better job of helping foreign nations in their efforts to repatriate. I don't get the sense that that is right. Rather I'm not sure we have a good robust set of tools to seek repatriation from abroad when it is warranted. And there are a number of reasons for that. For one, I don't think Native American tribes have been confronted with this problem very often either because it didn't happen or they weren't aware. But also we don't have a good organized cultural apparatus in the United States. We rely on lots of very capable Museums and other organizations. But in the case of international repatriation. It really helps to have an active and organized set of voices acting in concert. We just don't have that in the United States. So there are challenges for the Hopi here, but other similar groups have shown that patient and persistent appeal to reason can impact the disposition of these objects.

Mashberg, Tom. “Hopi Tribe Wants to Stop Paris Auction of Artifacts.The New York Times, April 3, 2013, sec. Arts / Art & Design.

Apr 1, 2013

Theft at the Villa Giulia


A view of the Villa Giulia, Italy's Etruscan Museum
Over the Easter holiday weekend, thieves have broken into the Villa Giulia Museum in Rome, home to thousands of Etruscan artifacts, including the Euphronios/Sarpedon Krater. La Reppubblica reports today that the thieves broke into the museum on Saturday night through the back, locked the guards on duty in the gatehouse, and stole some jewelry from the 19th century Castellani collection. They appear to have avoided entirely the antiquities from Cerveteri, and elsewhere, many of which had been repatriated back to Italy in recent years. Holiday weekends are notorious for being risky times for museums.

Some of the recently repatriated antiquities that
have hopefully been left unscathed after the theft
The thieves reportedly used smoke bombs to distract the guards and to obscure the view of the security cameras. But they appear to have taken little. Most of the antiquities were unscathed, at least according to initial reports.

The Villa Giulia was founded in 1889 to house pre-Roman antiquities from the Etruscan civilization. The building had been a Renaissance villa built by Pope Julius III beginning in 1550. It has a lovely garden designed by Giorgio Vasari, and a very early 19th century recreation of an ancient Greek temple.

There does not appear to be any reporting of the theft in English, here is the text of a Repubblica account in Italian:

Sono entrati dal retro e, dopo aver rinchiuso i custodi di turno nella guardiola, sono saliti nella Sala degli ori dove hanno fracassato tre vetrine e rubato alcuni gioielli ottocenteschi della collezione Castellani, usando dei fumogeni per non rendere visibili le immagini riprese dalle telecamere. Quello avvenuto la scorsa notte al Museo nazionale etrusco di Villa Giulia, a Roma, è un "furto singolare", di cui "non si capisce la finalità" perché gli oggetti rubati non sono quelli di maggior valore nel museo, spiega la direttrice regionale per i Beni culturali e paesaggistici del Lazio, Federica Galloni. "I ladri - racconta la dirigente del Ministero dei Beni culturali - sono entrati dal retro del museo ieri sera, verso le 23.30. Hanno rinchiuso i custodi nella guardiola e sono saliti al secondo livello, nella sala degli Ori, dove hanno frantumato con un'ascia tre vetrine blindate molto spesse all'interno delle quali erano esposti dei gioielli della collezione Castellani. Ne hanno presi solo alcuni, forse perché disturbati dall'arrivo dei carabinieri, chiamati immediatamente dai custodi. Non capisco - ragiona Galloni -, è veramente un furto strano, singolare, perché nel museo ci sono dei reperti archeologici di gran lunga più importanti, che hanno maggior valore se immessi sul mercato". Sul posto si trovano sia la scientifica che il Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale dei carabinieri. "Verranno esaminati i filmati delle telecamere a circuito chiuso", aggiunge Galloni, anche se "i ladri hanno utilizzato dei fumogeni durante il furto". 

Roma, Rapina Con Fumogeni  Rubati Gioielli Dell’800 a Villa Giulia - Roma - Repubblica.it.” Roma - La Repubblica. Mar. 31, 2013.

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