Friday, September 28, 2007

"We've made it harder for Americans to see the glories of the past"

The late Steve Vincent seems to be the voice of some in the collector "lobby". In one of his last pieces ("Ancient Treasures for Sale. Do antique dealers preserve the past or steal it?", Reasononline, April 2005) before his tragic death in Iraq, he quoted the collector Shelby White.

She acknowledges:

"All we've done is make public and private collections more vulnerable to claims from foreign countries. At the same time, we've made it harder for Americans to see the glories of the past."

She is absolutely right as I presume the "we" refers to like-minded collectors.

So, yes, collectors like Shelby White who have drawn on recently surfaced antiquities to enhance their holdings have made "public and private collections more vulnerable to claims from foreign countries".

She knows it because Polaroids showing some of the objects in her collection have been seized in Geneva.

She knows it because it is reported that the Italian government is seeking the return of selected pieces.

When will she come to an agreement so that Italians can see these glories from their cultural heritage in their own country?

6 comments:

Voz Earl said...

Dear Mr. Gill,

You stated in your blog article:

"She is absolutely right as I presume the "we" refers to like-minded collectors."

You don't actually believe this do you? The quote immediately struck me as being misapplied and a quick search on Google confirmed my hunch. Here is the full context of that comment from the New York Observer, Feb 21, 2006:

"While hard-line archaeologists argue that collectors like Ms. White deny scholars a chance to see and understand artifacts in their historically correct context, she and her supporters contend that without public-spirited collectors, some of the world's great treasures will simply disappear from public view.

"Objects are going elsewhere-to Japan and Europe and the Middle East," Ms White complained to Reason Magazine in April 2005. "All we've done is make public and private collections more vulnerable to claims from foreign countries. At the same time, we've made it harder for Americans to see the glories of the past."

So clearly the "we" responsible for making "it harder for Americans to see the glories of the past," refers not to collectors, but to "cultural heritage" advocates such as you and your colleagues.

Yours respectfully,

Voz Earl

David Gill said...

Dear Voz

Thank you for your comment.

The Shelby White quote is taken from a Steve Vincent interview published in April 2005. (I provide the link to the quote.)

Jason Horowitz ("How Hot Vase It?", New York Observer, Feb 21, 2006 [archived]) recycles the quote, acknowledging his source, in February 2006.

He precedes it with his own comment (not one from Shelby White):

"But the couple, apparently unfazed by criticism that almost all looted antiquities passed through such dealers' hands, went on amassing a world-class collection. While hard-line archaeologists argue that collectors like Ms. White deny scholars a chance to see and understand artifacts in their historically correct context, she and her supporters contend that without public-spirited collectors, some of the world's great treasures will simply disappear from public view."

Why does Shelby White use "we"?

Because "we" refers to collectors like her. Because "we" refers to what she would consider to be "public-spirited" individuals.

The display of private collections of antiquities --- like that formed by Shelby White (and the late Leon Levy) --- in public institutions drew attention to what has been happening. Such actions by collectors like White and Levy made "public and private collections more vulnerable to claims from foreign countries".

Best wishes

David

PS The Shelby White and Leon Levy collection is discussed in detail by Gill and Chippindale, "Material Consequences of Contemporary Classical Collecting", American Journal of Archaeology 104.3 (2000), available online at http://www.ajaonline.org/archive/104.3/chippindale_christop.html

Voz Earl said...

Dear Mr. Gill,

I've just now read the Steven Vincent article, including the Shelby White quote, and I think you are reading something into it which is just not there. Unless you are drawing on knowledge of additional quotes, the "we" seems to clearly refer to the collective efforts of cultural heritage activists (particularly in the United States). In the case of America, the efforts of such local activists are making "public and private collections more vulnerable to claims from foreign countries," while simultaneously making it "harder for Americans to see the glories of the past." Meanwhile, the objects which would have come here and stayed here in the past are now going "elsewhere-to Japan and Europe and the Middle East." Why? Because collectors in those countries have less of a problem with cultural heritage activists than those in the US do, not because US collectors agreed to publicly display unprovenanced antiquities which they had acquired.

The "we" thus means 'we as Americans, and the direction we are currently headed in with this movement of cultural heritage repatriations’ and so forth.

Yours respectfully,

Voz Earl

David Gill said...

Dear Voz

Thank you for this North American insight. If you read Vincient's article carefully you will see he creates a tension between collectors (like Shelby White) and archaeologists (or as you would call us "cultural heritage activists").

But you are now suggesting that collectors (and by implication archaeologists) in Europe, Japan and the Middle East have fewer scruples and less integrity than those in North America.

Or have I misunderstood you?

Best wishes

David

Voz Earl said...

Dear Mr. Gill,

You said:

"But you are now suggesting that collectors (and by implication archaeologists) in Europe, Japan and the Middle East have fewer scruples and less integrity than those in North America."

Allow me to clarify. I’m simply trying to divine what Shelby White meant by the comment, not injecting my viewpoint on the matter one way or the other.

The quote sounds like the comments of a collector who is frustrated at the direction "we" are headed in this country vis-a-vis antiquities repatriations and the resultant decrease in opportunities for the American public to be exposed to historical treasures from the past. But I suppose the only person who knows for sure what Shelby White had in mind is...Shelby White.

All the best,

Voz Earl

David Gill said...

And we all need to ask if the collecting habits of individuals like Shelby White (though she is not alone) have escalated the situation. If so, she used "we" in an appropriate way.

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