Friday, January 9, 2009

CPAC, Italy and Hindsight

On January 19, 2001, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Italy signed an Agreement to protect pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman archaeological material. (CPAC)
The background to the agreement was provided:
This U.S. action is in response to a request from the Government of Italy under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Reports from the Carabinieri Nucleo Tutela del Patrimonio Artistico and in the Italian national and regional press indicate that looting is a current and severe problem, particularly in southern Italy, Sicily, and Etruria. The quantity and nature of Italian archaeological material on the market further indicate that the archaeological heritage of Italy is being pillaged to meet the demand for U.S. and international trade in artifacts. The Agreement offers the opportunity engage in a partnership to help protect the cultural heritage of Italy and to enrich American cultural life through research and educational programs and loans between Italian and American institutions.
On 12 October 1999 there was a public session of CPAC to gather views. We should be grateful to Peter K. Tompa for his eyewitness account of the proceedings ("State Department Advisory Committee Meets on Italian Request for Import Restrictions", Celator 13, 12 (December 1999) [available from ACCG]). He noted some of the contributors to the debate:
Jerome Eisenberg of Royal Athena Galleries showed slides of Italian auction catalogues selling archaeological items. ... he argued that it would be patently unfair to require importers of such items into the United States to prove more than their Italian counterparts.

Arielle Kozloff, a gallery owner, and Rena Moulopoulos, Sotheby’s Worldwide Director of Compliance, both made particularly eloquent statements. Ms. Kozloff charged that Italy was gripped with "Millennium Fever." She questioned the rights of the modern nation state of Italy to the cultural objects of the entire Roman Empire that encompassed most of Europe, parts of Africa, and parts of the Middle East. She also charged that there is a "dirty little secret" that archaeologists are afraid to speak against the claims of host governments for fear of losing permits to excavate. Ms. Moulopoulos indicated that Sotheby’s always seeks to confirm the provenance of items it auctions; however, most consignors do not want the provenance to be published due to concerns about confidentiality. ...

While the museum community is divided on the issue, the only museum representative that spoke, Marion True, agreed that museums should research provenance before procuring objects for their collections. Ms. True is the curator for antiquities at the Getty Museum. The Getty’s acquisitions policy for classical antiquities evidently states that the museum will only purchase items from established, well-documented (i.e., published) collections.
Since 1999 there have been a number of returns of antiquities to Italy:
CPAC was wise to sign the agreement given what we now know about the market in recently looted antiquities.

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