Thursday, January 28, 2010

"A deficit of trust": lobbyists and Obama

I had a cup of tea with a colleague this afternoon as we got to grips with a substantial questionnaire. In a casual moment he asked if I had listened to the highlights of President Obama's first State of the Union address on the BBC. He thought that I would be interested in Obama's comments on lobbyists in Washington (see earlier comments).

So I sat down with the BBC transcript and here is the relevant section (45 minutes into the speech):
Let's meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let's try common sense. A novel concept.


To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust - deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we have to take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue - to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; to give our people the government they deserve.

That's what I came to Washington to do. That's why - for the first time in history - my administration posts on our White House visitors online. That's why we've excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs, or seats on federal boards and commissions.
But we can't stop there. It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or with Congress. It's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.



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Antiquities and Jihadists

Earlier this month I drew attention to the speech of Giuseppe Proietti linking Mohamed Atta to the attempt to sell antiquities in Germany. My prompt had been the Fall number of the Journal of Art Crime.

I now see that the February number of the Art Newspaper has also taken up the story (Cristina Ruiz, "9/11 hijacker attempted to sell Afghan loot: Mohammed Atta offered artefacts to German archaeologist", January 27, 2010). Ruiz gives credit to the Journal of Art Crime.

If this story is accurate, based apparently on a security report from the German intelligence services, then there are more serious issues at stake. Archaeologists have been raising the issue of the looting on archaeological sites to provide material for the market. And there have been concerns about the way that archaeological material has been used to fund organised crime (or, in this case, terrorism).

What if those buying looted antiquities derived from Afghanistan inadvertently (or "in good faith") helped to fund the attacks on the Twin Towers? It makes the provocative comments of a senior North American academic, quoted in an interview in the New York Times (Robin Pogrebin, "$200 Million Gift Prompts a Debate Over Antiquities ", April 1, 2006), seem more than inappropriate. In talking about archaeologists who hold an ethical position, the archaeology professor is reported to have said:
''The jihadists, as I would call them now -- who think that to even publish anywhere an item that doesn't have a provenance is forbidden -- this is an utterly ridiculous position,'' he continued. ''If you took that position, we wouldn't know anything about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those were found by Bedouin in caves beside the Dead Sea. None of them were found by archaeologists. If you followed the purists, you would totally ignore it.''
I have commented before on one of the responses to this debate.

Imagine a collector of antiquities justifying an acquisition in these (fictitious) terms: "This sculpture may have been sold by jihadists who needed money to fight NATO forces in Afghanistan".

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Antiquities seized near Foggia


There is a report in the Italian press of a seizure of antiquities at Rodi Garganico in the province of Foggia ("GDF sequestra 108 reperti età Dauna in Puglia", ANSA, January 25, 2010).  The pieces date from the 6th to the 4th centuries BCE.The objects include 18 pots, 7 fibulae and items of personal jewellery, 5 spearpoints, and 78 fragments of pottery.


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Monday, January 25, 2010

Cyprus: pots and coins

There has been a reminder of the scale of looting on Cyprus. There is a report by Menelaos Hadjicostis on the breaking up of a major "smuggling ring" ("Cyprus police bust large antiquities theft ring", AP January 25, 2010). The raid found pottery and limestone sculptures as well as silver and bronze coins valued at 11 million Euros. Ten Cypriot nationals were arrested and five others, including a Syrian national, were on the run. The antiquities are reported to have been found in the region of Limassol and Paphos.

A seizure like this is a good reminder of the need for agreements to protect the finite cultural resources of Cyprus. This includes the MOU between Cyprus and the United States. The presence of coins in the haul shows that coins need to be part of any agreement. It also explains why coin dealers have been challenging the agreement.

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Burns Night Greetings


Looting Matters sends good wishes to its readers for Burns Night.

This raises an issue. Is there a museum that celebrates the cultures of the British Isles? The British Museum is an encyclopedic museum for world cultures. Is there a case for displaying archaeological material found in Scotland in (say) London?

Or should objects found north of the border be displayed in Edinburgh ... or Glasgow ... or Inverness ... or Stornoway.

So should the Lewis Chessmen be returned to Scotland? And if so, where should they be displayed? And what if they belong, at least in cultural terms, to Scandinavia?

There is something to discuss after consuming the "Great chieftain o' the puddin-race". (LM celebrated last week.)

Image
Isleornsay sunset © David Gill.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Fakes and forgeries at the V&A

An exhibition, 'The Metropolitan Police Service's Investigation of Fakes and Forgeries', opens at the Victoria and Albert Museum tomorrow, Saturday 23 January 2010 (until 7 February). [V&A link]
In this display, The Metropolitan Police Service's Art and Antiques Unit will showcase some of the investigative methods involved in detecting and preventing the increasingly sophisticated crime of art forgery. Using historical and contemporary criminal cases, the broader financial and cultural impacts of art forgery on modern society are considered. Exhibits will include the diverse body of work assembled by the forger, Shaun Greenhalgh, who executed such fake "masterpieces" as the Egyptian Amarna princess and paintings purporting to be the work of the English artist, L.S. Lowry.




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Looting Matters: The Return of Antiquities to Italy and the Swiss Connection

Looting Matters: The Return of Antiquities to Italy and the Swiss Connection

The Italian search for 350 antiquities.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Antiquities from Italy: the Bürki connection


Anyone following the return of antiquities will have come across the name of Fritz Bürki of Switzerland. When Boston's Museum of Fine Art returned thirteen antiquities to Italy in October 2006, the name of Bürki featured large. The most prominent piece was a marble statue of Sabina, the wife of the emperor Hadrian. This had been said to have resided in the collection of a Bavarian aristocratic family; its sale to the FMA had been negotiated by Robert Hecht. One of the other pieces was an Apulian amphora attributed to the Darius painter; it was sold by Bürki in 1991 jointly to Shelby White and Leon Levy, and to the MFA (with funds given by the Jerome Levy Foundation).

Bürki reappeared as a vendor to Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman. Among their collection was a Pontic amphora (identified by a polaroid seized in a raid on the Geneva Freeport). Another was an Apulian bell-krater attributed to the Choregos painter. One of the significant pieces was a fragment of wall-painting; this came from the same composition as a fragment returned to Italy by Shelby White. These Fleischman pieces were later passed to the J. Paul Getty Museum; their return was agreed in November 2006.

The J. Paul Getty Museum acquired several items from Bürki. Among them was an Attic black-figured zone cup, attributed (by J. Robert Guy) to the manner of the Lysippidies painter, purchased in 1987. A more elaborate piece was the Attic mask kantharos attributed to the Foundry painter (by J. Robert Guy) and acquired in 1985. The museum acquired an Apulian pelike attributed to the Darius painter in 1987.

Other museums have not been so forthcoming about their sources for objects that have been returned to Italy. However it was reported in November 2008 that Bürki is listed among the vendors for material returned from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Bürki is reported to have conserved the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater before it was sold to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art by Robert Hecht.

Now the Italian police have announced that they are actively pursuing some 350 items handled by Bürki. It appears that they are circulating DVDs of the objects to dealers and auction-houses. It will certainly have the effect of dampening down the market. It appears that the objects were recorded as a result of a raid on Bürki's Zurich premises in October 2001.

The renewed interest in Bürki will once again focus on how the looting of archaeological sites in Italy has long-lasting impact on those who acquire archaeological material for public and private collections. The solution is clear: the market should only agree to handle objects that have a documented collecting history that can be traced back to the period before 1970 (the date of the UNESCO Convention).

Image
Portrait of Sabina, purchased from Fritz Bürki of Zurich, through Robert E. Hecht to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1979. Returned to Italy in 2006.


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George Washington University Seminars on Museums and Antiquities

I noticed that there are some interesting seminars at George Washington University Seminars in their "Museums and Antiquities" series.

Coming up:
  • January 21, 2010. James Cuno: “Museums, Antiquities, and the Politics of Cultural Property"
  • February 18, 2010. Patty Gerstenblith: "Museums and the Market: Preserving the Past by Regulating the Market in Antiquities”
  • March 4, 2010. Malcolm Bell: "Archaeologists’ Views on Collecting Antiquities"

Bell and Gerstenblith were excluded from Cuno's edited volume Whose Culture? (see my comments). I reviewed Whose Culture? for the Journal of Art Crime.

For reviews of Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity?

Perhaps somebody attending the series could leave some comments.


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A History of the World in 100 objects


The BBC and the British Museum are collaborating on a major radio series. It will take 100 objects from the collection and describe their impact.

The series is described:
At the heart of the project is the BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 objects. 100 programmes, written and narrated by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, and focusing on 100 objects from the British Museum’s collection. The programmes will travel through two million years from the earliest object in the collection to retell the history of humanity through the objects we have made.
I note that among the objects is the bronze head of Augustus found at Meroe but likely to have been hacked from a statue in Roman Egypt.
  • BBC website A History of the World (with links to broadcasts)
Image 
© David Gill


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A register for antiquities in private hands

Earlier this week I posted on the attempts by Italian authorities to pursue 350 or so antiquities from a Zurich-based dealer and conservator who has been linked with several of the objects returned from North American collections. Peter Tompa, the Washington lobbyist, posted a comment and then grumbled elsewhere that I had "posted but did not directly answer" his question.

I responded with a request for him to disclose the identity of the anonymous but knowledgeable collector of Greek pots. Tompa has failed to respond with either a comment or a separate posting --- and that is surprising.

Tompa is the legal officer for the Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI). William Pearlstein, who is cited by Tompa in his comment, is a Director. The CPRI has a number of "projects" on the go. I have commented on the first and its inadequacies.

The second project relates to "Developing different models for a registry that can be applied to privately-owned objects". The CPRI promises "A draft report will be published on the CPRI website by the end of 2009"; it has yet to appear. The project is due to do the following:
Several different forms of registries have been proposed in legal articles with extensive discussions of how a registry might preserve security and privacy, the degree of transparency/opacity they should have, the responsibilities of contributors to a registry, the potential interaction with law enforcement, and what sort of repose it might offer. The CPRI will pull together, explain and compare the models that have been proposed and others that may also serve the purpose of inclusive registry.
It would be so helpful for the legal officer and the director of the CPRI to urge the anonymous knowledgeable pot collector to publish her or his collection on the CPRI website as the first stages in a public registry. Are there any Apulian pots? What are their collecting histories? What percentage of the collection has recorded histories before 1970?

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Will the knowledgeable collector of Greek pots post their collection online?


The Italian authorities are keen to reduce looting. They have prosecuted dealers and their suppliers. They have requested that major North European museums return archaeological objects without resorting to the courts. They have also been seeking out objects apparently removed from archaeological contexts in Italy that are known to have passed through the hands of dealers in Switzerland.

Through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s (and indeed into this millennium) certain museums and private collectors have been more than happy to buy recently surfaced antiquities. Did they ever stop and ask themselves why the objects failed to have any documentation to show that they came from verifiable "old collections"? These institutions and private individuals were happy to buy in "good faith" and ignore the problem of looting.

And now Peter Tompa, a Washington lobbyist, has responded to the Italian move to pursue some 350 objects handled by a Zurich-based conservator. (Incidentally this conservator has been linked to the return of cultural property from at least three major North American museums.) He writes:
A knowledgeable collector of Greek vases has proposed something more modest. Why can't the Carabineri post images of this material on-line and make it easy for collectors, auction houses, dealers and museums to check whether they have inadvertently purchased artifacts with a questionable provenance?
Who is this anonymous "knowledgeable collector of Greek vases"? Will Tompa reveal her name? Or his? Will this anonymous collector of Greek figure-decorated pots post their collection online along with the collecting histories of each piece?

Such an action would make it easy for law-enforcement agencies, archaeologists, museum curators, and foreign agents to check whether that collector had inadvertently purchased pots with a less than complete collecting history.

Image
Pelike fragments, 66272-3[253] © Carabinieri


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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Have you seen this krater?

I understand that DVDs have been dropping through the letterboxes of major dealers of antiquities in the last few days. They contain images of objects originally seized in Zurich in 2001; they were later released by a judge. In another legal ruling the Carabinieri have been granted permission to reseize the objects - but key pieces have been dispersed.

The Carabinieri are now distributing images of the 350 or so items that have been passed on by the dealer concerned. You really should view the DVD if you have bought any antiquities in the last few years without a recorded collecting history, especially if it came from "an old Swiss collection".

And if you recognise this krater please do let the Carabinieri know ... or leave a comment.

All this is a reminder of how the Italian authorities are tackling the problem of looting.

Image
From Carabinieri, 66272-3[57] 
© Carabinieri



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Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Fano Athlete: Legal Case in Final Stages


Elisabetta Povoledo has covered the final stages of the legal wranglings over the Fano Athlete presently in the J. Paul Getty Museum ("Italy Presses Its Fight for a Statue at the Getty", New York Times January 16, 2010). The Italian legal team have been concentrating one one key questions: "Was the museum acting in good faith when it purchased the statue for a little less than $4 million in 1977?" Povoledo reports the Italian assertation that "the museum was willfully negligent in carrying out due diligence before buying the work".

Alfredo Gaito, one of the legal team representing the J. Paul Getty Museum is reported: "Consistent documentation suggests that the sale was done in good faith because the seller offered sufficient guarantees to overcome every doubt." Such claims of acquisitions made in "good faith" were also recorded by the Princeton University Art Museum and the private collector Shelby White (see my earlier comments on this phrase); in both those examples the objects have been handed over to Italy. Even James Cuno accepts "due diligence and good faith inquiries are no longer sufficient".

Revelations made by Jason Felch in the LA Times have reminded us of some of the issues surrounding the acquisition. Now Alberto Berardi who speaks for the return of the Fano Athlete is quoted: "No museum in the world should exhibit works whose provenance is clearly illegal".

The next stage in the legal tussle is for the Pesaro judge, Lorena Mussoni, to decide if the statue should be seized. A decision is expected in the next month.

Povoledo also notes the Italian praise for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in New York. There is an implicit acknowledgment that the MOU between the USA and Italy is helping to reduce the movement of recently looted archaeological material.

Image
From the J. Paul Getty Museum

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Looted Antiquities from Puglia on Display in Rome


Antiquities looted from Puglia have gone on display in a special exhibition, "Marble's Secret - Polychrome Marbles of Ascoli Satriano", at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome. The objects include a marble lekanis, and a marble group of two griffins attacking a fallen doe. Both had formed part of the Maurice Tempelsman collection in New York, and were acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1985. They have formed part of the returns to Italy.

The exhibition press release, "Tomb raiders' marbles feted in Rome" (January 5, 2010), notes that the pieces were looted from a tomb outside the ancient city of Ausculum, the modern Ascoli Satriano, in Puglia. Christopher Chippindale and I have noted elsewhere the links with Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, and Robert Hecht. There were also reports that the tomb contained pots attributed to the Darius painter (works attributed to this pot-painter feature promiently in the returns to Italy).

The exhibition is a reminder how North American private collectors were buying recently-surfaced antiquities from Italy. 

The marble pieces will go on permanent display in the Museo Civico in Ascoli Satriano once the exhibition closes.

Further details
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40. [Abstract and link]

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Fritz Bürki and Coins

The Italian Carabinieri press release this week drew attention to the objects handled by Fritz Bürki (see my comments) whose name has been linked to a number of returns to Italy (see P. Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, 185-88). Those interested in numismatics will no doubt be interested to learn that Bürki handled not only Greek pots and marble sculptures but also coins.


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Friday, January 15, 2010

Looting Matters: The Fano Athlete and Its Acquisition by the Getty

Looting Matters: The Fano Athlete and Its Acquisition by the Getty

A discussion of the release of documents (by Jason Felch in the LA Times) relating to the 'Fano Athelete' by the J. Paul Getty Museum.


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Italy: Looting decreased dramatically

The Carabinieri art squad (Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale) has released details of its activities during 2009 ("Roma - Rientrano in Italia reperti archeologici di inestimabile valore", Press Release January 14, 2010; see also "Italy recovers Euro165 million in stolen art, relics", AP January 14,2010). It is clear that Italy is addressing the threats to its cultural property. There were only 59 reports of looting on archaeological sites in 2009, a significant fall from 238 in 2008. (There were 40 such reports in 2006, but in the 1990s 1000s; see earlier comments.)

During 2009 39,584 looted archaeological objects were recovered. This surely reflects the looting of 1000s of archaeological sites in Italy over many years (or even decades). One of the personalities who has featured prominently in the Medici Conspiracy (and the return of antiquities to Italy) is Fritz Bürki of Zurich, Switzerland. 137 objects were returned to Italy from the conservators Fritz Bürki & Son. The Carabinieri are clearly trying to track down another 300 items handled by Bürki. Museum curators and collectors will, I suspect, be checking that his name is not associated with any recent (i.e. post-1970) acquisitions.

The Carabinieri also displayed a Roman wall-painting from Boscoreale and and a Corinthian krater seized from Christie's in New York.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Fano athlete: new revelations

In January 2009 there were still comments in the Italian press suggesting a desire for the return of the bronze 'Fano athlete' from the J. Paul Getty Museum. Italy renewed its claims in January 2008 just as the Sarpedon krater was returning to Rome, and it was being announced that Shelby White would be handing over part of her collection. Maurizio Fiorelli, the Italian state prosecutor, still had the athlete on his agenda when he was interviewed for the Sunday Telegraph in August 2008. Michael Brand, director of the Getty, had made his position on the Fano athlete clear stating that he was uninterested in objects that had left their country of origin prior to 1970.

I have reviewed the 'collecting history' before. The statue appears to have been found in the sea by fishermen from Fano; it seems likely this happened in August 1964. It then apparently passed through Gubbio before being handled by Elie Borowski in Switzerland, and sold to the Artemis Consortium.

In March 2008 I wrote:
My hunch is that Rutelli will not be revisiting any of the above collections (with the possible exception of the J. Paul Getty Museum for the Fano athlete) unless there are new and spectacular revelations. He has negotiated and agreements have been reached.
It now appears that there are indeed new revelations. In today's LA Times, Jason Felch has revealed some new documents ("A twist in Getty Museum's Italian court saga", LA Times January 14, 2010). Dietrich von Bothmer and Thomas Hoving, both of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented on the possibility of acquiring the statue jointly with the Getty.

Thomas Hoving, the Director of the MMA, wrote to J. Paul Getty on June 26, 1973. 
It is clearly understood by us that no commitment is to be made by me on your behalf for the Greek Bronze until certain legal questions are clarified.
These included the confirmation of title and "the circumstances regarding its [i.e. the athlete] leaving Italy".

Felch continues:
Hoving promised that the Met's attorneys would talk with Italian officials to clarify the circumstances under which the statue had left Italy and whether the Italians were still pursuing a legal claim, records show.

In an internal MMA memo (June 19, 1973) Dietrich von Bothmer, curator of Greek and Roman art, noted:
I recommend that legal opinions be solicited as to the possibility that a foreign government may at a later time, especially after publication of the statue, claim it as "artistic patrimony".
Bothmer had earlier briefed Hoving in a memo of January 31, 1973, and pointed out that the dismissal of the case in Italy "does not permit the legal conclusion that the statue was . . . legally exported from Italy."


Hoving's correspondence of July 3, 1973 also make it clear that J. Paul Getty did not want to acquire the statue unless the legal points were clarified.

Felch notes:
When Getty died in June 1976, his legal concerns died with him. The following year, the Getty Museum bought the statue for just under $4 million -- more than Getty himself had been willing to pay. Rather than check with Italian authorities as Getty had required, museum officials simply confirmed that the legal opinion provided by the dealer's lawyers in 1972 was still valid, records show.
One thing that the series of returns to Italy and Greece has taught us is that it is important for museums to carry out due diligence before making acquisitions. And the new documentation seems to suggest that the Getty chose not to ask key questions before the Fano athlete was purchased (in spite of J. Paul Getty's personal concerns).


Felch continues:

And it may be hard, given its founder's legal concerns, for the Getty to persuade an Italian judge that the museum conducted the proper due diligence before buying the statue.

"Instead of clearing it with Italian authorities," said Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago, "they went to the one party that was sure to give them the answer they wanted."
It now looks as if Italy's claim for the statue has been strengthened.



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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Athenian pottery at auction in New York



I have been mapping the sale of Attic pottery at Sotheby's New York since 1998. Some $7.6 million worth of pots have been sold, with a median value of $11,213. Some 63% of the lots surfaced for the first time after 1973 (the data of the AIA declaration; see "The 1970 Rule").

Attic pottery is a minor component of the auctions. Compare the $51.4 million worth (21% of value) of Egyptian antiquities over the same period. 66.5% of the Egyptian lots surfaced for the first time after 1973.


Image
© David Gill, 2010

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Ownership, Stewardship and Cultural Property

I have commented before on the difference between stewardship and ownership. The forthcoming Cairo conference seems to be continuing the onwership debate. Is the debate going to be about where specific items of world heritage should be on public display?

Thus the Parthenon marbles are known to have formed part of the architectural sculptures on the Athenian akropolis whether or not they are displayed in London or Athens. The head of Nefertiti continues to be part of the archaeological record of Amarna whether it remains on display in Berlin or is placed in the new exhibition in Cairo.

Those are two examples of the debate over the "ownership" of cultural property.

But the more complex issue is the ongoing destruction of archaeological sites. The 1970 UNESCO Convention reminded the universal community of the need to protect the archaeological record. And English-speaking archaeologists, museum curators and collectors were reminded of the issues by the 1973 AIA declaration. The debate needs to concentrate of how we, as an international community, can be good stewards of the archaeological sites.

Will the Cairo conference recognise the two separate issues?


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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Michael Brand on the Getty's Relationship with Italy

Lee Rosenbaum on Culturegrrl has carried the story about Michael Brand's resignation as Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum.  While some members of the AAMD have taken a critical attitude towards Italy (over the CPAC review of the MOU with Italy), Brand is far more generous in the released statement:
I am especially pleased that we were able to break through a deadlock and settle claims by Italy and Greece for certain objects in our antiquities collection, and that we now enjoy a renewed relationship with the governments of both those countries. The fruits of the partnership with Italy have included the extraordinary loans to the historic Bernini exhibition and the current loan of the phenomenal Chimaera of Arezzo, all of which have brought this institution much public and critical acclaim.
Brand's position was made clear in his co-operative return of a further fragment of wall-painting to Italy in April 2009.

While I have not always agreed with Brand on some of the issues (e.g. 'orphans'), I can only admire the way that he has given a positive steer to the J. Paul Getty Museum in a very difficult period over the return of antiquities to Italy and Greece (see Gill and Chippindale). I would like to offer him my best wishes.



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Cairo Conference: The Return of Cultural Property

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities has announced that it will be hosting a conference in April to discuss the return of antiquities. The conference will be seeking to resolve issues over cultural property that the home countries consider to be "stolen".

There will be a discussion of legal solutions though the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property is an internationally recognised benchamark. No doubt some countries will be seeking the return of obects acquired well before 1970.

The press release specifically cites Egypt's desire to reclaim the Rosetta Stone and the head of Nefertiti.

Among the coutrnies due to attend are Greece, Mexico, Peru, Afghanistan, Iraq, Cambodia and China.

Other countries should also be represented. Bulgaria has a sigificant claim on a hoard of Byzantine silver, and FYROM (the Republic of Macedonia) is seeking the return of an archaic krater from a North American private collection.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

FOIA Appeal Announced by Coin Collectors

It comes as no surprise (as I anticipated on November 24) to find that the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) have appealed against the opinion on the FOIA case brought against the US statement (for details). The appeal was filed on December 22, 2009 (Press Release; statement and document on ACCG website).

The statement, issued under the name of Wayne Sayles, states:
The appeal seeks to overturn Judge Richard J. Leon's November 20th decision to uphold the State Department's (DOS) repression of information about the process by which import restrictions were placed on common collectable coins of Cypriot and Chinese types.
The case of coins from Italy no longer seems to be on the agenda for the three plaintiffs (see court case papers, Count IV: "documents evidencing the potential inclusion of coins on the list of items subject to import restrictions with Italy"). Has something changed?

The press release also makes its view of President Obama clear:
the Judge's decision in this Freedom of Information Act lawsuit came less than a month before President Obama's "Open Government" Progress Report to the American People--where the President proclaims: "My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government..."
Yet the statement overlooks the wording of the original ruling:
... the State Department has established that it conducted a reasonable search, that it properly withheld the disputed information under FOIA exemptions, and that it complied with its obligation to segregate the exempted material from non-exempted material.
The plaintiffs do not appear to appreciate that the FOIA allows exemptions under certain circumstances.

This appeal is so important to two of the three plaintiffs that they have yet to comment on the appeal (or for that matter on the decision, or the case) on their respective websites (PNG, IAPN). No doubt there will further calls for funding from coin-collectors to help the cause. How much have the three plaintiffs had to find so far?

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Antiquities at auction in New York


The antiquities market in New York seems to be in serious decline. The overall sale of antiquities at Sotheby's and Christie's was down by over $8.5 million. Some $20 million worth of antiquities were auctioned in 2009; this is comparable with the levels in 2003 ($20.4 million) and 2006 ($19.9 million). Sotheby's has seen a sharp decline; 2009 was one of the lowest levels in the decade (the lowest was 2006 with $6 million). In contrast Christie's has seen a steep increase in the amounts achieved. However Christie's has also featured in a number of seizures (see earlier comment).

For the record some $300 million worth of antiquities have been sold at the two auction-houses in New York since 1998.

Is this decline the result of a shortage of antiquities with recorded histories, more rigorous due diligence processes, or the global recession?

Image
© David Gill, 2010


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Monday, January 4, 2010

Antiquities and terrorism

Does Looting Matter? I was very struck by reading Judith Harris, 'Financing Terror', The Journal of Art Crime 1, 2 (Fall 2009) 89 [subscription details]. She comments on a speech made by Giuseppe Proietti of the Italian Ministry of Culture. Proietti made the point, “the trade in archaeological artifacts in Iraq and Afghanistan is second in volume only to the drug traffic.”

What is more striking is the claim,
[Proietti] also said that Mohammed Atta, who headed the suicide command that destroyed the Twin Towers on September 11, 2002, had two years previously contacted an archaeologist at the historic University of Göttingen in Germany with an offer to sell looted archaeological artifacts from Afghanistan. According to the unidentified archaeologist, who declined the offer, the money was to finance Atta’s flying lessons in the U.S., said Proietti.

I see the story was reported in Germany ("Kunst als Terrorfinanzierung?", Der Spiegel 18. Juli 2005).

Die Hamburger Todespiloten haben nach neuen Erkenntnissen des Bundeskriminalamts (BKA) möglicherweise versucht, die Anschläge vom 11. September 2001 durch illegalen Kunsthandel zu finanzieren.

Der Kopf der Gruppe, der Ägypter Mohammed Atta, sprach 2000 oder 2001 die Göttinger Professorin Brigitte G. an und offerierte "antike afghanische Kunst mit dem Ziel der Weitervermittlung". "Er wollte wissen, wo man Antiquitäten vermarkten kann", erinnert sich die Wissenschaftlerin. Dabei habe Atta, so das BKA, am Rande als Begründung möglicherweise auch geäußert, er brauche das Geld, um den Ankauf eines Flugzeugs zu finanzieren. Der Kontakt nach Göttingen war über die Technische Universität Harburg vermittelt worden, an der Atta damals studierte. Weil die Professorin ihn auf das Auktionshaus Sotheby's verwies, kam kein Geschäft zustande. Atta war Anfang 2000 aus den Qaida-Ausbildungslagern in Afghanistan zurück nach Deutschland gekommen, um die Anschläge auf die USA vorzubereiten.
Who was buying such antiquities in the period before 2001?

Such a report should make museums, collectors and antiquities dealers think twice before they buy recently-surfaced antiquities.

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Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: Looking Ahead

I have reviewed some of the key developments in 2009. I expect that there will continue to be further revelations from the Medici Conspiracy. 2009 saw several ex-Medici pieces seized at an auction-house in New York and unless due diligence procedures are changed we are likely to see more items emerging. It seems likely that as the True and Hecht trial continues there will be further objects identified. The Italian claims on material in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and the Miho Museum were unresolved in 2009 ... so perhaps there will be moves in 2010.

There are two major photographic archives which have yet to make an impact on museums and collectors: the Basel images and the Symes albums. As the objects start to be identified we are likely to see the impact of "toxic antiquities" on the market.

Other items need to be resolved notably the Cleveland Apollo and  the St Louis Art Museum mummy mask.

Zahi Hawass is planning a major conference in Egypt which will seek the return of cultural property. I wonder if Bulgaria will be invited as the country has claims on some Byzantine silver. FYROM also has claims on recently looted material that is reported to be in North American collections. Hawass is clearly intending to step up pressure for the return of Nefertiti from Berlin.

The AAMD still needs to resolve the issue of accepting loans of recently-surfaced antiquities. (And I said that a year ago ...)

2009 has seen changes in the patterns for major auction-houses selling antiquities ... and I hope that it is not just due to the credit crunch but rather from the desire to act more ethically.

Gill and Chippindale are planning some major pieces of research for 2010 ...  Context Matters will continue in the Journal of Art Crime ... and Looting Matters will hopefully distribute further stories through PR Newswire.


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