My copy of James Cuno's Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum (University of Chicago Press, 2011) has arrived. There are four main chapters covering the Enlightenment, Discursive, Cosmopolitan and Imperial Museums.
A browse suggests that Cuno has chosen to sidestep one of the most pressing issues for so-called encyclopedic museums in North America, Europe and Japan: the acquisition of newly surfaced antiquities. The "Medici Conspiracy" has brought about the return of some 130 antiquities to Italy from North American collections. How have these high profile encylopedic museums damaged the reputation of museums in general?
I look forward to reading Museums Matter and to reflect on this telling title.
TheWelsh Government has published details about its handling of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales. The information, released under Freedom of Information, shows that the National Museum of Wales alerted CyMAL on 26 November 2010 ("increasingly concerned"; "The issue ... giving us the greatest concern ... is the Portable Antiquities Scheme"). The letter highlighted the need for Wales to meet the funding gap of £64K. (It is worth comparing these figures to the ones that appeared in the PAS press release in November 2010.)
The second memorandum (from CyMAL dates from 28 October 2011. This seems to suggest that little formal planning was undertaken during the intervening 11 months. (This overlooks the discussions that were taking place in public fora as well as in academic publications.) Interestingly the memorandum required a decision by 1 November 2011. In other words the memorandum was sent on a Friday and a decision was required by the following Tuesday. The…
The last year has been a major time of change with a move from Swansea University to University Campus Suffolk. Highlights have included the news that I will be a recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America's Outstanding Public Service Award for 2012.
In January I tried to anticipate some of the stories that were likely to develop. Here are some of the developments.
A significant number of objects on sale in New York and identified from three separate photographic archives were highlighted in the Italian press. This put the ethical code of the IADAA under question. (The same gallery offered further material later in the year.) Other material appeared on the London market in April and in October, as well as on the New York market (and see here). Another item appear for sale in Germany. The MOU with Italy was extended. The "Aphrodite" returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum to Aidone on Sicily. The Minneapolis Institute of Art has finally agreed to return an Atheni…
The news that Humana will be returning two Roman statues to Italy have started to raise other questions. Humana's twitter feed suggests that there is no information on the New York gallery "at the present time". What does this mean? Does the company have no record of where it purchased the sculptures? Or is the New York gallery still active and would not appreciate unwelcome and adverse publicity?
Perhaps there will be a disclosure in the near future to demonstrate the "good faith" of the return.
The Italian Ministry of Culture has announced today that the North American healthcare company, Humana, based in Louisville, Kentucky, will be returning two Roman marble statues to Italy (press release, in Italian; "US company sends Italian statues home", AP December 14, 2011).
It appears that Humana had acquired the two statues "in buona fede" from an unspecified New York gallery back in 1984. The company then contacted the Italian authorities when it was informed that the statues had been removed from Italy illegally (“illecitamente sottratti”). The Italian Minister of Culture praised Humana for taking the initiative to co-operate with the Italian authorities.
This appears to be in marked contrast to the behaviour of a New York gallery and a New York auction-house when objects that they were due to sell were identified from seized photographic archives.
It will be interesting to learn which New York gallery supplied Fortuna and the other Roman statue to Humana. …
The US Department of Homeland Security has issued details of the types of archaeological material that are covered by the import restrictions. There is a position statement about the US Government: The United States shares in the international concern for the need to protect endangered cultural property. The appearance in the United States of stolen or illegally exported artifacts from other countries where there has been pillage has, on occasion, strained our foreign and cultural relations. This situation, combined with the concerns of museum, archaeological, and scholarly communities, was recognized by the President and Congress. It became apparent that it was in the national interest for the United States to join with other countries to control illegal trafficking of such articles in international commerce.The list of archaeological material includes Cycladic figurines as well as ancient coins.
It appears that Essex Police are now investigating the gold sovereigns discovered during a rally at Twinstead near Sudbury in Essex ("Halstead: Appeal for missing coins worth £70k", Halstead Gazette December 1, 2011). It appears that approximately 200 gold coins, with an estimated value of £70,000, have gone undeclared.
PC Andy Long, who acts as a heritage crime officer with Essex Police, made the situation quite clear: All the coins found on the site are protected by the Treasure Act. They are treasure trove and have to be declared to the county coroner. We would urge anyone who has taken any of the coins or knows of their whereabouts to contact me immediately."PC Long can be contacted via here.
Details of the Treasure Act can be found here. The duty of the finder (as well as details of the offence linked to the failure to report the find) can be found here.
There was some discussion of an Apulian rhyton when it was offered on the New York market last year. It had first surfaced at Sotheby's New York in 1994. The rhyton seemed to match an image in one of the seized Swiss dossiers of images. It raised the possibility that the pattern known for the London market in the 1980s and 1990s (and so well documented by Peter Watson in Sotheby's: Inside Story) was also repeated in New York.
Christie's pressed ahead with the sale of the rhyton in spite of calls for the lot (and others) to be withdrawn.
It now appears that another Italian piece, a Peucetian clay stamnos, also seems to feature in one of the Swiss photographic dossiers (December 7, 2011, lot 154). In the photograph the stamnos is covered in deposits that could suggest that it was fresh out of the ground in southern Italy when the photograph was taken. The stamnos first surfaced at Sotheby's New York in 1995. Who consigned it? What else came from the same source?
What does he mean? First, the word "provenance" is (at best) ambiguous and, I would suggest, is obsolete. I have written on this topic in an academic article elsewhere. Essentially what is implied by this dealer is that the declaration of the collecting history was not required.
And that brings me to a second point. Who required the collecting history? Is the dealer suggesting that the information was required by law? Or was such information provided as part of the "professional" service offered by dealers? (And what does the omission of such information by such dealers tells us about their attitudes toward collecting histories?) And were potential buyers wanting this information so that they could avoid buying recently surfaced antiquities?
Earlier this year I drew attention to key elements in the IADAA's Code of Ethics in the light of an article by Fabio Isman. Point 2 states: The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.Imagine a member of the IADAA stating that because an object was known in 1991, the Code of Ethics was not binding (irrespective of how the item or items moved from a putative grave assemblage in Southern Italy to a dealer's warehouse in Geneva or London). Contrast this with the batch of material returned to Italy by an IADAA member in 2007. Those objects first passed through the hands of the IADAA member in the 1980s and early 1990s.
IADAA members will also be aware of Point 7: Members of IADAA undertake to the best of their ability to inform the Administrative Board about stolen goods and thefts. They also …
It appears that collectors are avid readers of LM. It seems that they now turn to LM for reliable information about potential purchases. Apparently LM provides information that is not always available from dealers.
And what does that say about the due diligence process in the marketplace?
I can remember the appearance of the sale catalogue that realised the antiquities of Athena Fund II. Objects that passed through that Fund continue to appear on the market so it would be helpful to write a short summary.
As the Washington Post noted, "McNall also runs an investment fund for Merrill Lynch, called the Athena Fund II, that specializes in ancient art and coins" (Heidi L. Berry, "The Ancient Wealth Of the Hunt Brothers", June 14, 1990). Attitudes towards selling and collecting antiquities were very different in 1990 (Andrea Gabor, "Art of the wheeler-dealers", U.S. News & World Report July 2, 1990). The smart money is backing ancient art. Onetime Texas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt and his brother William went bust speculating on silver, but their collection of ancient coins, vases and bronzes fetched over $ 23 million at last week's Sotheby's auction -- roughly double the original estimates. Just last year, Canal Capital, a firm c…
A New York gallery is offering a pair of "important" Apulian volute-kraters attributed to the Baltimore painter. They are reported to have the following histories: "Ex S.B. collection, San Diego, CA., acquired from Royal-Athena in 1991".
But what were the collecting histories prior to 1991? Research by Christos Tsirogiannis has suggested three other previous holders: one in Switzerland and the other in London. At least one had apparently passed through the well-documented Athena Fund II managed by Hesperia Arts Auction Ltd. in 1990.
Why has the New York gallery failed to mention Athena Fund II? And what about the earlier handlers?
A Munich auction-house will need to explain why items appearing in a forthcoming sale feature in one of the dossiers of images seized in Switzerland. Research by Christos Tsirogiannis has identified an Attic black-figured neck amphora attributed to the group of Würzburg 199 that had formed part of the Waltz collection in Munich.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that this amphora was found in Italy. Other neck-amphorae with the same attribution have been found at Cumae, Orvieto, Vulci and reportedly at Cerveteri.
Will the auction-house take responsible professional action and contact the Italian Ministry of Justice?
The Art Newspaper has turned the spotlight on the sensitive issue of the Princeton University Art Museum (Mauro Lucentini, "Has peace broken out after the trial of Marion True?", issue 229, November 2011). This resumes the discussion of the apparent internal investigation at Princeton relating to the acquisition of some 9 objects. It is 12 months since the Daily Princetonian revealed that the internal investigation had taken place, and nearly 18 months since the revelations in The New York Times. Will the museum reveal the full collecting histories of the objects in question in the interests of transparency? Lucentini reminds us of the hostile position adopted by Edoardo Almagià in Princeton Alumni Weekly in July 2010 (and discussed here). There are some 20 objects linked to Almagià. At least 7 other major North American museums are linked to the material.
My attention has been drawn by a fellow researcher in East Anglia to the appearance of objects in a forthcoming sale in Munich that appear to feature in one of the seized polaroid dossiers. Does this suggest that German dealers have a less rigorous due diligence process? Or are fewer questions asked about collecting histories? Or are owners of such material trying to sell objects in markets other than London and New York?
One of the more notorious examples of looting in Greece was the wholesale removal of fragmentary Cycladic figures known as the Keros Haul.
The Munich auction house Gorny & Mosch (auction 202) is offering two Cycladic fragments that look as if they too are derived from the Keros haul (lots 7 and 8). Both come from the Waltz collection. If this is the case, will Gorny & Mosch be contacting the Greek Government to check that the objects have not been looted from this highly significant site in the southern Aegean? Would a German auction-house wish to be seen to be ignoring the claims of Greece over a cultural property claim at this moment in time?
The same Munich auction-house has been linked to the handling of recently-surfaced antiquities as part of Operation Ghelas.
Last night we attended the inaugural Robert Sainsbury Lecture at UEA in Norwich. It was delivered to a packed audience by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, on the theme of “Art in a Global Perspective”.
MacGregor explored the theme of the encyclopedic museum noting parallel changes across different continents and cultures. He had a short discussion of the Benin bronzes, derived from the notorious punitive expedition, and drew on the thinking of Kwame Anthony Appiah's essay in Cosmopolitanism. MacGregor adopted James Cuno's much criticised position when he suggested that cultural property can form part of the political agenda. He perhaps went a little too far when he suggested that cultural property "myths" or (to use his word) "untruths" were deliberately constructed to make the case for the return of cultural property. Such a suggestion in the case of the Benin bronzes belittles the horrendous "facts" of the Benin Punitive Expediti…
The December sale at Christie's in the Rockefeller Plaza is fast approaching and has once again given Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis material to consider. He draws my attention to one publicly declared object linked to Robin Symes: an Apulian loutrophoros attributed to the Varrese painter (lot 132). This was first recorded in 1983, and then auctioned on the New York market in 1995. One wonders at how the loutrophoros moved from a funerary context in southern Italy to the Symes gallery.
A second Apulian piece, a dinos attributed to the painter of Louvre MNB 1148, is said to have been known since 1983 when it was on the London art market (lot 134). It was then sold in an anonymous sale at Christie's New York in 1993. The dinos's true collecting history is revealed by its appearance in the Schinoussa Archive.
These are not the only pieces in the auction that have an interesting background. One wonders if Christie's have contacted or will be contact…
It now seems that the Minister for Heritage has realised that he has devolved responsibility for PAS in Wales. And with responsibility comes the need to foot the bill. The Minister for Heritage is being asked to consider a revised funding package from Wales to support the continued operation of the popular and successful Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Wales in 2012-13 and identifies a framework for future years.This appears to suggest that there is no solution to the funding question but merely a "consideration".
The Egyptian press has reported that a delegation from Egypt has collected 122 Egyptian antiquities in Sydney ("Local Delegation Heads to Australia to Retrieve 122 Artifacts", Egypt State Information Service October 29, 2011). SCA Secretary General Dr. Mustafa Amin said the most important artifacts to be retrieved are a bust of granite and a statue made of glass in addition to a group of statues including one made of bronze.This raises the question about the importer, the vendor and the collector. And is this seizure the hint of a well organised network?
A year ago I had a look at the statistics for those subscribing to (broadly) cultural property blogs via Google Reader. Such an overview was not without controversy. However it gives some idea about whether or not there is a clear body of readers who want to be notified about new posts. There are, of course, other ways to view blog posts and it is possible to get into a debate about the finer detail.
Today's snapshot suggests that 54% of LM's readership comes from the US, and 15% from the UK. Germany is next with 6%, and then Switzerland with 4%. Bulgaria, the subject of a proposed MOU with the US, represents 1%.
IE remains the most popular (!) browser at 36%, followed by Firefox (23%), Chrome (16%), and Safari (15%).
LM remains grateful to its readership for suggestions and comments on stories.
North American private collector and trustee of the Boston's MFA, Peter Aldrich, has revised his earlier 2003 essay “An Antiquities Collector’s Thoughts on the Structure and Economics of the Antiquities Markets. The Unintended Consequences of Public Policy, Possible Reforms and the Ethics of Market Participation” (in Carol Mattusch, Alice A. Donohue, and Amy Brauer, eds., Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities -Proceedings of the XVI International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Boston (Oxford: Oxbow, 2006), 494-96) for Forbes (with Robert Lenzner, "There's Big Money And The Need For Reform In The Antiquities Trade", November 1, 2011). Lenzner tells us "Aldrich, a retired real estate investor from Boston, ... began collecting Greek and Roman artifacts in emulation of the late Leon Levy and his wife Shelby White". What Lenzner does not inform the readership of Forbes is that two of the antiquities returned from a North American collectio…
The Art Newspaper has reported that a Roman portrait head, removed from a statue at Sabratha, was sold for £91,250 at Christie's in London (lot 261) (Martin Bailey, "Head sold at Christie’s stolen from Libya", November 2011). The portrait head was apparently stolen in 1990.
It is significant that Christie's appears to have sold the portrait with a falsified collecting history: "private collection, Switzerland, circa 1975; acquired by the present owner in Switzerland in 1988". It was thus placed in Switzerland long before it had been stolen in Libya.
This raises some key issues. How did the staff at Christie's conduct a due diligence process for this statue? What documentation had they seen? What made them convinced that the Swiss collecting history was accurate?
And Christie's has a responsibility to disclose to police authorities who had consigned the portrait to them. Has any additional material been consigned by the same source?
I note that Mark Fox has written about concerns over the proposed MOU with Bulgaria and how it could affect coin-collectors ("Bulgaria Seeks Import Restrictions", Numismatic News October 31, 2011). Fox notes:
Several prominent coin dealers and auction houses, including Classical Numismatic Group (CNG) and Harlan J. Berk, Ltd., have already alerted their customers about Bulgaria’s request for an MOU with the U.S. and its possible implications on the hobby if implemented.
It should be noted that CNG has more than a passing interest in coins that appear to be derived from Bulgaria. Indeed the press release relating to this case appears to have been circulated by a paid Washington lobbyist. The same lobbyist has commented in a private capacity on the proposed MOU with Bulgaria.
Eric J. McFadden of CNG has made a submission about the proposed MOU commenting on the place of coin collecting:
This pursuit has been the source, for hundreds of years, of international understanding an…
Martin Bailey has discussed the pillage of antiquities that had been stored in a secure location in Benghazi ("Interpol confirms Libyan treasure was looted", The Art Newspaper November 2011). The material seems to have been found during the Italian occupation of Cyrenaica. The Benghazi Treasure comprises 364 gold coins, 2,433 silver coins, 4,484 bronze coins, 306 pieces of jewellery and 43 other antiquities, including statues. This seems to contain Greek, Roman and Byzantine material.
Dealers and galleries that handle archaeological material will need to insist that they see authenticated documentation for any recently surafaced objects.