Saturday, July 19, 2008

Good Faith: A Common Phrase?

I find myself in agreement with James Cuno: "due diligence and good faith inquiries are no longer sufficient" (the quote is now published in Who Owns Antiquity? [2008] 4). He continues:
It means only that unprovenanced antiquities are not being acquired by U.S. art museums to the extent that they were in the past. Instead, undocumented antiquities are going elsewhere in greater numbers, either remaining in the private domain of private collectors and dealers or being sold or donated to museums in countries that do not enforce foreign patrimony laws as the United States does. (p. 5)
And how often have we heard the phrase "good faith" in the last year as antiquities have been returned from museums, auction-houses and private collectors in Europe and North America?

For example, Bonhams offered an Egyptian fragment removed from the Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410) that has now been returned to Egypt. A spokesperson for the auctioneers said that they "would not identify the seller who tried to put the artifact up for auction, but said it appeared to have been bought 'in good faith'." (He actually fogot that the vendor was supposed to have inherited the piece from his seafaring father ...)

As Princeton University Art Museum returned antiquities to Italy, the university spokesperson claimed that all had been acquired in "good faith".

And back in 2006 Shelby White was asked to comment on her collection (Jason Horowitz, "How Hot Vase It?", The New York Observer, February 19, 2006):
We bought in good faith, we published everything, we supported archeology, and we supported conservation ... We acted in good faith, and if we did anything wrong, I am prepared to address that.
Then earlier this month as Shelby White announced the return of the fragmentary marble funerary stele and the bronze calyx-krater to Greece, the press statement claimed that the pieces had been acquired in "good faith".

What does "good faith" mean?

That the pieces were purchased from a "reputable dealer" in Europe or North America?

Both Princeton and Shelby White have been reluctant to share the information about their sources in marked contrast to the exemplary curatorial generosity of the MFA in Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

How can Princeton and Shelby White help other museums and private collectors avoid buying recently-surfaced antiquities?

2 comments:

Larry Rothfield said...

There are at least two things that the collectors and dealers could do to help others avoid buying recently-surfaced (or to be more precise, illegally excavated or illegally exported) antiquities:

1. Push for and fund a provenance review board that would be accredited by the AIA, WAC, or some other professional association of archaeologists. That board could set standards for what counted as a legitimate provenance, and could empanel experts to examine artifacts and either certify or disqualify them as saleable. (There would have to be fees paid for this services, I presume.) Ideally, this certification would be legally required to permit an antiquity to be sold.

2. Lend financial support for efforts to clamp down on looting at the source. One straightforward way to do this would be for a wealthy individual or group to establish and fund a non-profit foundation with site protection and anti-looting/anti-smuggling efforts as its sole focus; another would be to go to Charles Schumer and urge him to impose a tax on sales of legal antiquities, with tax revenues dedicated to fighting looting, smuggling, and illegal sales of antiquities. If looting can be controlled -- and we have some hope that it can if adequate resources are provided -- then fewer illicit artifacts will come to market.

Larry Rothfield said...

There are at least two things that the collectors and dealers could do to help others avoid buying recently-surfaced (or to be more precise, illegally excavated or illegally exported) antiquities:

1. Push for and fund a provenance review board that would be accredited by the AIA, WAC, or some other professional association of archaeologists. That board could set standards for what counted as a legitimate provenance, and could empanel experts to examine artifacts and either certify or disqualify them as saleable. (There would have to be fees paid for this services, I presume.) Ideally, this certification would be legally required to permit an antiquity to be sold.

2. Lend financial support for efforts to clamp down on looting at the source. One straightforward way to do this would be for a wealthy individual or group to establish and fund a non-profit foundation with site protection and anti-looting/anti-smuggling efforts as its sole focus; another would be to go to Charles Schumer and urge him to impose a tax on sales of legal antiquities, with tax revenues dedicated to fighting looting, smuggling, and illegal sales of antiquities. If looting can be controlled -- and we have some hope that it can if adequate resources are provided -- then fewer illicit artifacts will come to market.

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