Thursday, March 19, 2009

Toxic Antiquities

The global financial crisis has been making us think of the problems of "toxic assets". In the wake of the return of antiquities to Italy and Greece it is time to reflect on "toxic antiquities". The term is not intended to undermine the authenticity of the objects (see the discussion of the term "illicit antiquities"). Rather it should remind us that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of antiquities passed through the hands of tombaroli to be passed onto the market. So far just over one hundred pieces have gone back to Italy from North American collections --- and this is probably far less than 1% of what the Italian Government could request.

So where are the 99% of the antiquities that could be identified by Polaroid images seized in Geneva, Basel and Schinousa? Some are in public museums but others are likely to have passed into private collections or even "investment" portfolios which are waiting to be realised.

Imagine buying a marble sculpture for a $1 million or so - only to find that it features in one of the Polaroid archives.

Where are these "toxic antiquities" residing?

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