Thursday, April 16, 2015

Should Christie's have known?

I plan to comment on the withdrawn objects from Christie's in a little more detail. I note that a spokesperson for the auction house has called for access to the Medici and Becchina photographic archives. But this misses the point that at least one of the pieces appears to feature in a published consignment list. Surely the register used by Christie's to check for stolen items would have made that link ... But it appears that they are unfamiliar with such literature. 

It goes back to my earlier point that the auction house needs to adopt a more rigorous due diligence process and that may mean changing the agency used to check collecting histories. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lots withdrawn from Christie's

The four lots at Christie's that had been identified by Glasgow University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, have been withdrawn from the auction next week:

  • Lot 83: Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to the Swing painter. The property of a gentleman.
  • Lot 103: Etruscan terracotta antefix. Property from a London collection.
  • Lot 108: Apulian hydria, attributed to a follower of the Snub Nose and Varrese painters. Property from a London collection.
  • Lot 113: Gnathian bottle, attributed to the White Sakkos Group. [Note only one of the two pieces has been withdrawn.]
It appears that the Italian authorities were in touch with the auction house and we look forward to a statement in due course.


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Thursday, April 9, 2015

An Etruscan antefix and Christian Boursaud

I have been looking through the consignment list of Christian Boursaud, dated 24 September 1985. The items were intended for the December 1985 sale at Sotheby's in London (9 December 1985).

Number 37 is listed as 'ANTEFIXE ETRUSQUE TERRE CUITE' with a reserve of £2000.

I presume that a due diligence search would make the link should the antefix resurface on the antiquities market.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Swing painter and the Becchina archive

Attic black-figured amphora
Attributed to the Swing painter
Becchina Archive
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
In December 2002 Christie's Rockefeller Plaza sold an Attic black-figured amphora attributed to the Swing painter for $53,775 (December 12, 2002, lot 16). It was stated as 'The property of a private collection". The amphora is listed in the Beazley Archive (no. 26090) although no other information is provided other than the sale at Christie's.

However this same amphora has resurfaced on the London market and is due to be auctioned at Christies on 15 April 2015 (lot 83). The estimate is £50,000-£70,000. The collecting history is now provided as:

  • Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s. 
  • Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16. 
  • Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale. 
  • with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006. 

It is now the property of 'a gentleman'.

Were the staff at Christie's in New York unaware that the amphora had resided in a Japanese collection in the 1980s?  Why were they unable to provide that information?

This amphora is important as Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted the piece in the Becchina archive. Indeed the annotations on the record card show that images of the amphora were sent to three European academics.

Becchina had links with a Japanese dealer so the private collection in Japan is not without interest.

And (part of) the stock of Becchina's Basel operation has been the subject of considerable interest since it was revealed earlier in 2015.

Will 'the gentleman' withdraw the amphora from the auction? Or will Christie's withdraw the lot?

And what does it say about the 'due diligence' search conducted by Christie's prior to the sale?

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New sightings at Christie's

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has identified four lots in the forthcoming April sale at Christie's in London from the Medici and Becchina archives. Further details will be posted here.

however it does raise a major issue, once again, about the lack of rigour in the due diligence process conducted by Christie's.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Owning stolen stuff is not part of our mission"

I applaud the Stephan Jost, Director of the Honolulu Museum of Art, for his comments about the voluntary return of antiquities to India (Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, "Antiquities looted from India end up at Honolulu museum", Denver Post April 2, 2015). The items have been linked to Subhash Kapoor.

Jost added: "I'm not sure we've done anything heroic. We just want to do the right thing."

The article cites James Cuno:
It's very rare for evidence to come to light to show a museum has items that were illegally obtained, said James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. 
"Claims might come from time to time. But most often those claims are based on just interest or the construction of national identity," he said. "If evidence is provided that's convincing, no museum will resist."
Perhaps the Director of the St Louis Art Museum could read this story and "do the right thing" and return the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask.

Perhaps the present proprietor of the Icklingham Bronzes could read this story and "do the right thing" and return the Roman objects to the UK.

Perhaps the curator at Fordham would like to return the bronze Caracalla from Bubon to Turkey?

Perhaps the New York owner of the Koreschnica krater would like to return it to FYROM? (And perhaps also the North American university museum that acquired some of the other burial goods.)

And the list could go on.

What we are seeing is a professional response to the shame of the Indian antiquities scandal.

And could the AAMD add "Owning stolen stuff is not part of our mission" to its policy on acquiring archaeological material? It might just help curatorial staff to remember.


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Icklingham is not a safe place to search



It appears that Icklingham could have serious shocks for anyone looking for Roman material in its environs. Be warned!

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Please return the Icklingham bronzes to the United Kingdom

The New York Times piece on the "repatriation" of antiquities raises issues beyond Syria and Iraq (Tom Mashberg and Graham Bowley, "Islamic State Destruction Renews Debate Over Repatriation of Antiquities", March 30, 2015). James Cuno, the advocate of retentionism, is concerned that antiquities are taken out of potential war zones and are placed somewhere safe. He is quoted:
“Calamity can happen anywhere, but it is unlikely to happen everywhere at the same time,” Mr. Cuno said in an interview. “I say ‘distribute the risk,’ not ‘concentrate it.’ ”
I presume that Cuno would be happy for looted antiquities to be returned to museums in "safe" countries.

Can I suggest readers of LM turn to page 21-22 of Who Owns Antiquity? to read about a Roman bronze that was welcomed into a Harvard exhibition while Cuno was director? The bronze was removed from a Roman town in Suffolk. And I have discussed it in my review of Cuno's volume for the American Journal of Archaeology.

Would Cuno like to ask the present proprietor of this bronze (and the other pieces found at Icklingham) to return them to the United Kingdom as soon as possible so that they can be placed on public view?

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James Cuno: "the lone voice in the wilderness"

I see that James Cuno presents himself in the New York Times as "the lone voice in the wilderness". But he needs to see how he has failed to obtained a balanced view over the acquisition of recently surfaced antiquities. He should read my review of Whose Culture? a volume that could be considered partial and partisan.

Interestingly Cuno's colleague at the Getty, Tim Potts also has a view on the debate: “It has become an article of faith that any form of trade in cultural items is bad”. In the same review of Whose Culture? I asked what had happened to his voice, especially as he was recorded as the co-organiser. Perhaps he would like to comment on some of the acquisitions he made and why one had to be returned to the vendor. What is the full account?

Perhaps the trade in cultural items is not as good as he would like us to believe it is.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"There is a far greater awareness of the problem of trafficking in looted antiquities"

I was very struck by Timothy Rub's comments to reporters from The New York Times in the discussion over whether or not North American museums should "repatriate" --- a loaded word? --- antiquities to their countries of origin (Tom Mashberg and Graham Bowley, "Islamic State Destruction Renews Debate Over Repatriation of Antiquities", March 30, 2015). Rub is quoted:
Timothy Rub, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and former president of the art museum directors association, said acquisition scandals, including those involving the Getty before Mr. Cuno’s tenure, had put his peers on the defensive when it came to holding on to items. 
He added, however, that “there is a far greater awareness of the problem of trafficking in looted antiquities and the role that American museums can and should play in discouraging this.”
Then in response to a comment by Gary Vikan, former director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, who suggested that antiquities that surface on the "black market" should be "ransomed back".
Mr. Rub said that approach was warranted only in rare cases when “an item was in fact taken out of harm’s way and would be at risk if returned to the country of origin.” 
“That’s when museums and philanthropies and governments should work together,” he said, “to ensure that the item is acquired and cared for and kept safe until it can be returned to its rightful owner.”
Mashberg and Bowley miss a key point here. It was not just the J. Paul Getty Museum that was involved in an "acquisition scandal". There was also the Cleveland Museum of Art where Rub had been director from 2006 to 2009. Indeed Rub was director when it was agreed to return objects (that had been acquired prior to his directorship). Yet he also declined to disclose the collecting histories of the return items (unlike Boston or the Getty). Rub has also had a confused position over the return of antiquities, placing "clear blue water" between himself and James Cuno (see here).

But have we seen major museums working with the governments of countries to see the rightful return of archaeological material? The case of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask is a case in point especially now that the internal emails and memoranda have been released.

Have senior museum directors of North American museum appreciated the scale of the problems that have developed over the last 45 years? Perhaps they should read something on the "scandal" that would help them to focus their minds.

Newspaper reports such as this demonstrate that there continues to be a lack of genuine awareness of the problem of trafficking in looted antiquities by some in the North American museum, antiquities market and legal communities.

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