Friday, November 23, 2007

Cultural Ceasefire: is 1970 the right date?

Lee Rosenbaum ("My Ceasefire Proposals for the Cultural-Property Wars", Culturegrrl, November 19, 2007) has proposed a cultural ceasefire on the return of "illicit" antiquities. As part of that proposal she has posed the questions:
Should the known provenance have to go back to before the 1970 date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property? Or should the date be in 1983, the year when the U.S. officially became a party to the UNESCO Convention?
I am not sure this takes account of the present situation.

We need to remember that the earliest object returned from Boston to Italy, a Lucanian nestoris, was acquired in 1971. Likewise the Roman fresco fragments were purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1971.

In fact if the 1983 date was used it would have excluded six of the thirteen antiquities from Boston, and at least twelve of the 40 items on the list from the Getty. (Princeton would have been unaffected.) The Euphronios krater (and part of the Hellenistic silver hoard) would not have been returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A more interesting question is this: would the 1983 date exclude the Athenian volute-krater in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) acquired from Robin Symes in 1983? And remember that the incoming director of MIA is Kaywin Feldman who also acts as secretary to The Association of Art Museum Directors which "recommends" that an archaeological object can be acquired if it has been out of its "probable" country of origin for ten years.

This idea that awareness of the problem of looted antiquities is a recent one recalls the quote from Shelby White, "It is hard to apply current standards to something that happened thirty years ago" (The New Yorker, April 9, 2007). But there was general awareness of the issue from December 1973 when the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) passed the resolution that included:
The Archaeological Institute of America believes that Museums can henceforth best implement such cooperation by refusing to acquire through purchase, gift, or bequest cultural property exported subsequent to December 30, 1973, in violation of the laws obtaining in the countries of origin.
This strengthened its 1970 resolution that included:
The Archaeological Institute of America calls upon its members, as well as educational institutions (universities and museums) in the United States and Canada, to refrain from purchasing and accepting donations of antiquities exported from their countries of origin in contravention to the terms of the UNESCO Draft Convention.
Christopher Chippindale and I earlier adopted 1973 in our research as a key date for acquisitions. But we had been considering lowering it to 1970 in the light of the successful actions by the Italian Government. A move to 1983 would, in my opinion, be a shift in the wrong direction.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails