Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market"

Lucian Harris has written about the gold vessel that appeared to have been looted from Iraq ("German court orders return of ancient vessel to Iraq", The Art Newspaper November 18, 2009) [see earlier comments]. Harris reports: "The decision of the Finanzgericht or financial court in Munich on 25 September was reached on the basis of a second expert opinion which concurred that the vessel was of Iraqi origin and it was ordered that it should be handed over to Iraqi authorities."

The report quotes Alaa Al-Hashimy from an October 2009 interview:
Unfortunately, we have information that make it clear that Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market and the authorities have not yet done enough to prevent it.
A 2007 interview with Dr Michael Müller-Karpe, a German museum curator, had described Germany as a laundry for antiquities.

Müller-Karpe now adds the telling comment:
In Germany you are punished if you buy a stolen car radio, but if you buy a stolen cylinder seal, or clay tablet, you are not.
The gold vessel is reported to have surfaced with Münzenhandlung Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger of Munich, Germany. This gallery is a member of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). As I have stated before, the IAPN "is one of three bodies involved in a legal suit against the US Department of State over the import of antiquities to the USA". It is also interesting that the IAPN, a "numismatic trade body", was represented at this month's review of the US MOU with Italy. One assumes that the IAPN is not in favour of import restrictions on archaeological material.

Has the time come for German authorities to take the issue of looted antiquities more seriously? Dr Müller-Karpe deserves praise for his brave stand over this part of Iraq's (and indeed our) cultural heritage.

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