Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wordle on Looting Matters: 2

Wordle: Looting Matters

Wordle: Looting Matters 2

Last November I created a Wordle Image for Looting Matters. I have generated two further "word maps" to give a glimpse of what has been happening this month (with over 11,000 visits).

Friday, January 30, 2009

Phoenix Ancient Art Issues Clarification

Just over a week ago I was asked if I could post a statement of facts about the detention of Ali Aboutaam in Sofia.

Dukas Public Relations, who hold an account for Phoenix Ancient Art, have issued a press release (New York, January 28, 2009) through PR Newswire (see statement). I reproduce it here for convenience:
Phoenix Ancient Art Clarifies Misleading Article Regarding Ali Aboutaam from Thomson Reuters

Phoenix Ancient Art has stated that the information published by the Thomson Reuters news agency regarding Mr. Ali Aboutaam, dated January 15, 2009, is incorrect.

The story stated that Mr. Aboutaam was under arrest in Sofia, Bulgaria. In fact, Mr. Aboutaam is at his home in Switzerland and his movements are not restricted.

A registered letter was sent on January 19, 2009 to the Swiss office of Thomson Reuters to ensure that this false information, which was issued through that company's Cairo agency at the behest of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, would be deleted immediately.

As a result, Thomson Reuters published the same day, a new dispatch specifying the facts underlying its initial news report and indicating this time that the Sofia High court, Bulgaria, had issued a definitive ruling on Egypt's motion for extradition and had concluded in its verdict, based on the applicable European Community law, that the Egyptian motion was without merit and therefore inadmissible - an extremely unusual action in extradition law.

To summarize the background: Mr. Aboutaam was sentenced in absentia to 15 years imprisonment in Egypt in 2004, accused of aiding and abetting in the smuggling of antiquities. This sentence was handed down following the trial of several Egyptian nationals and nine international associates, a trial which took place without Mr. Aboutaam ever being informed that any proceedings whatsoever had been instigated against him and without him being invited to participate in such proceedings. The sentence that was pronounced following this first trial was never even notified to Mr. Aboutaam, whose address in Switzerland is publicly known due to his important commercial activities. Consequently, Mr. Aboutaam only learned of this verdict against him later on, through a third party who drew his attention to the content of articles that had appeared in the Egyptian media.

The Egyptian nationals who were the subject of this trial appealed the judgment pronounced against them. The verdict of the trial court judges was thus overturned. Eventually, on April 6, 2008, there was a final ruling on the case, fully and finally quashing the sentences pronounced in May 2004. Once again Mr. Aboutaam was never invited to part take in the appeal proceedings.

It should be noted that following the proceedings, the three principal accused were fully and finally exonerated from the accusations of smuggling antiquities by the Egyptian judges, thereby exonerating any individual accused of aiding and abetting. This final definitive judgment nullifies the idea put forth by the Egyptian judicial authorities that Mr. Aboutaam would be entitled to a new trial if he returned to Egypt, a country in which, incidentally, he has never stayed, either privately or in his professional career.

It was also noted in the terms of the statements issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture that a link had been established between the seizure of Egyptian antiquities (280-300 artifacts) in Switzerland in the summer of 2003 and Mr. Aboutaam. This statement is once again baseless and unsubstantiated. Had there been any merit to the allegations, Mr. Aboutaam would not have been able to practice his profession in recent years. Mr. Aboutaam has never been the subject of a seizure related to objects of Egyptian provenance in Switzerland, where he has remained available to comment on any related questions.

It is consequently both shocking and intolerable that the Egyptian Ministry of Culture has been authorized, without the slightest verification by the Thomson Reuters agency, to issue such statements, which have no basis and are contrary to the actual facts. In the interim, those facts have been confirmed by the Bulgarian judicial authorities. The remarks made by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, and more particularly Mr. Zahi Hawass, are slanderous and consequently impugn Mr. Aboutaam's honor.

Phoenix Ancient Art continues to pride itself on its transparency and dedication to complying with and working with law enforcement to ensure the integrity of the legal antiquities trade in all nations.

Culturegrrl and Tom Campbell

Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl is longing to have a 45 minute in-depth interview with Tom Campbell of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (for her "due diligence" search see "The Pendulum Swings: Met's Tom Campbell Gets Punked", January 29, 2009). He is willing to talk to the Telegraph and the Guardian ... so why not this "avidly read" commentator on contemporary culture?

TC - be bold. Give her the interview!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Another concern for Tom Campbell

Tom Campbell, director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, has given an interview for Ed Pilkington of The Guardian ("NY Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Campbell in 'go mode'", January 29, 2009). I am not sure what to make of the provided detail Campbell drives "through the English countryside ... listening to the punk-rock band Pendulum" ... no doubt it fits with the YouTube message ("spoken in his rather more-English-than-the-English expat's accent"). There are even mentions of iPhones and iPods.

One of the issues mentioned in the interview relates to the Sarpedon krater:
Another concern is tension over looted antiquities, a sore that healed a little last year after the Met returned a famous vase, the Euphronios krater, to Italy.
This has been addressed in part by the MMA's newly released Collections Management Policy. But what is Campbell's position on this issue? Perhaps Pilkington could have pressed ever so gently ...

History Lost: Exhibition Catalogue

A copy of the exhibition catalogue for the History Lost exhibition (text by Neil Brodie and Andreas Apostolidis) has arrived.

This all-colour catalogue provides a historical overview of looting (including the sculptures from temple of Aphaia on Aegina) as well as a series of post-1970 cases studies. Among them is a section on "Looting in Cyprus" with a list (and map) of 100 looted sites on the island. The feature includes the 159 silver coins returned to Cyprus from Italy in 2003. (See how this is still a contemporary issue.)

For Greece there are sections on the Aidonia Treasure and the Corinth Museum theft. There are short entries on recent returns including the Saarbrücken bronze youth, the Apollo Lykeios from Gortyn, as well as material from the J. Paul Getty Museum (a Boeotian stele, a gold wreath, a marble kore).

There is a short illustrated section on Iraq, and a reconstruction of the Weary Herakles.

Copies are available from Anemon Productions in Athens. (Also available in Greek, Italian and Portuguese.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The great treasures of ancient art belong to no nation"

James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? has received a series of critical reviews.

Cuno has now responded on the Princeton University Press blog: "Where do the great treasures of ancient art belong?", January 27, 2009.

He poses the question:
“Where do the great treasures of ancient art belong? In Western museums or in countries where the civilizations that created them once flourished?”
Cuno considers the place of the bronze horses of San Marco in Venice, removed from Constantinople - and who knows where before then. But this is not an example of recent looting from an archaeological site.

A second historic example is provided by the Parthenon sculptures. Yet to turn from this monument to mount an attack on the motives of Greek claims on archaeological material shows a lack of rigour in Cuno's thinking. Is it "Greek nationalism" (as Cuno terms it) to ask for the return of a bronze sculpture, a funerary stele, a gold wreath, and a bronze krater that appear to have been looted in recent years? Are the requests driven by a desire to protect our universal cultural heritage? Yet he is silent on such returns.

Cuno returns to one of his favoured themes, the encyclopedic or universal museum:
Encyclopedic museums, like the British Museum or the Metropolitan Museum or the Art Institute of Chicago, serve as a force for understanding, tolerance, and the dissolution of ignorance and superstition about the world. They remind us of the connections that course through history and manifest themselves in the objects we prize for their beauty, eloquence, and fresh strangeness. They remind us that culture is always living culture, always changing the way we see the world, and always transforming us, ourselves, into the bargain.
Cuno forgets that such museums remind us of the collecting process (or "provenance" as some choose to describe it). The display of Benin bronzes in such museums reminds me, and I am sure others, of the African defenders of Benin city mown down by Maxim guns as British troops took part in the Benin Punitive Expedition. This does not fall into my definition of tolerance.

A second question introduced Cuno's piece - but is left unanswered.
The more vexing and urgent one — how can we prevent the looting of archaeological sites and the illicit trade in antiquities -– is not the topic of this article.
Yet this is exactly the question behind his second section which notes:
The government of Italy claims that all antiquities found within the borders of the modern state of Italy were made by cultures autonomous to the region.
Perhaps Cuno could have said that Italy has been asking for the return of antiquities (well over 100 at the last count) because they appear to have been looted from archaeological sites in the modern state of Italy since 1970. How could such pieces end up in prestigious public collections in North America?

How can we prevent looting, Cuno asks (even if he does not want to answer it here)? How can we prevent the illicit trade in antiquities?

One solution to get senior museum curators in North America (and elsewhere) to acknowledge that they need to adopt a rigorous acquisition policy. And the AAMD has indeed taken a step in the right direction. (But there is unwillingness on the part of some AAMD organisations to engage with the new spirit of transparency.)

This latest posting from Cuno shows that he has not been listening to criticisms from the archaeological and heritage communities. We want to understand the great archaeological finds - Cuno's "great treasures of ancient art" - as part of an archaeological assemblage and not as single items devoid of their contexts.

Rome trial: il commercio clandestino

Last week I commented on the resumption of the continuing trial of Marion True and Robert Hecht in Rome. The judge is Gustavo Barbalinardo. According to the Italain press this is the sixth session of the hearing ("Getty: domani processo a True ed Hecht, rischio prescrizioni", ANSA January 22, 2009).

The report notes the continuing dispute with the J. Paul Getty Museum over the "Fano Athlete" ("Atleta di Lisippo"). The report also suggests that there remains a long list of "disputed objects" (oggetti contestati) which could be subject of a judicial order.

There are hints about the real targets for the trial: i tombaroli e il commercio clandestino.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.
The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an 'Antiquities Road Show' with a panel of experts (I presume from the Portable Antiquities Scheme - given the prominent poster displayed behind them). How much are these coins worth? How much could they fetch on the "black market"? Have the finds been undervalued? And so we get the views of active metal-detectorists on how the PAS is working. Quantities of finds from the field were flashed across the screen along with charts showing approximate depths as well as rough locations.

The programme website is worth exploring and has a section on 'The metal detecting controversy'.

My verdict?

The viewer was left with little doubt about the amount of archaeological material that has been removed from this site via metal-detecting over a long period period. And how much information has been lost? And should this Viking period burial - complete with weight scales, and small silver ingots - be dispersed over the internet? Or is it part of our cosmopolitan heritage and therefore deserving of display in a public museum?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rome Trial Resumes

Elisabetta Povoledo has noted the resumption of the Rome trial of Robert Hecht and Marion True ("Trial Resumes for Former Curator", New York Times January 23, 2009). This has now entered its fourth year.
Focus shifted to the dealer, Robert Hecht, who has been accused along with Ms. True of conspiracy to traffic in antiquities looted from Italian soil. Both defendants deny the charges. Daniela Rizzo, an archaeologist, presented documents and photographs of artifacts that prosecutors contend passed through Mr. Hecht’s hands. Mr. Hecht’s lawyer said his client disputed the case made by prosecutors for the provenance of each object.
Over 100 items have been returned from North American collections to Italy.

Will this herald renewed claims against museums in Denmark and Japan?

Friday, January 23, 2009

From the Geneva Freeport to Egypt: a Review

Arthur Brand has directed my attention to "Sentences slashed in antiquities case", Gulf Times 8 June 2006. It mentioned an allegation relating to the smuggling of "300 rare Egyptian antiquities into Switzerland".

I thought it would be useful to review Egyptian material returned from Switzerland. The media trail goes back to October 2003 ("Egypt hails Swiss decision to return stolen antiquities, urges others to follow suit", World News Connection October 4, 2003). This mentions the return to Egypt of approximately 200 antiquities that had been seized in the Geneva Freeport in August.

The 200 items were handed over to Egyptian authorities in November ("Switzerland hands back seized antiquities to Egypt", Agence France Presse November 28, 2003). The seizure, that took place in August, is discussed:
Three months ago, Egypt asked Swiss authrities to seize the ancient Egyptian treasures at Geneva's customs-free warehouse due to suspicions that people were taking precious artefacts from archeological sites to sell or export illegally.

In October, Cairo announced it had smashed the smuggling ring and arrested 15 Egyptians and one Lebanese. It was also looking for 12 others, including two Swiss, two Germans, a Canadian, and a Kenyan.

During a six-month investigation, the Egyptian authorities learned that the suspects smuggled valuable artefacts from the Pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic Christian periods to Switzerland and France.
The report by the Associated Press suggested that there were approximately 280 items ("Ancient Egyptian artifacts smuggled to Switzerland return home", AP November 30, 2003; repeated "Precious relics returned home: 'Among Egypt's best pieces'. About 280 artifacts were found in a Swiss customs warehouse", The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec) December 1, 2003).
Two mummies as well as sarcophagi ... statues and masks were among the artifacts seized last August in an investigation into the illegal excavation and export of the objects.
The report indicates that they were seized in a warehouse in Geneva.

The trial was covered ("Top Egyptian antiquities smuggler gets 35 years", Agence France Presse April 29, 2004).
The ringleader of an Egyptian antiquities smuggling ring that shipped at least 300 pharaonic and other artefacts to Europe was sentenced Thursday to 35 years in prison, an AFP correspondent said.

Twenty-five other members of the gang, including nine foreigners, were sentenced by the Cairo criminal court from one to 20 years in jail, although some were tried in absentia and are on the run.

The longest sentence was handed down to Tareq Suissi, a businessman and senior official with the National Democratic Party, who was arrested in April and expelled from the ruling party.

He was convicted of stealing, hiding and smuggling precious artefacts from the pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic Christian periods to Switzerland and France, as well as bribing officials and falsifying documents.

He was also convicted of possessing drugs and weapons and money laundering, and further fined several million Egyptian pounds.

Prosecutors had said stolen artefacts were found in Suissi's luxury villa in a Cairo suburb, which prompted a broader investigation.

Among the other defendants were a senior customs official who received 20 years in prison.

Eighteen others -- including nine people from Swizterland, Germany, Kenya and Lebanon who were all tried in absentia -- were each sentenced to 15 years. The other six received between one and 12 years.

Four of the Egyptians were also tried in absentia.

Among other Egyptians tried were customs officials, two police colonels and officials with the Supreme Council of Antiquities from the southern temple city region of Luxor.

The court acquitted five people.

Suissi and the others can appeal their verdicts.
The report added:

Swiss authorities have informed Egypt they will return to Egypt some 300 artefacts, including statues, masks, and two mummies they found in a warehouse in the free zone at Geneva Airport, the prosecutor had said.

Among the seized objects were statues, masks, sarcophagi and mummies.

The smugglers had claimed they were exporting souvenirs from the internationally known tourist bazaar in Cairo's Khan al-Khalili neighborhood when they shipped the antiquities, the prosecutor said.
These 300 items were, presumably, in addition to the 280 or so items returned to Egypt in November 2003. The details also link back to the report in The Gulf Times (June 2006).

In October 2004 a further seizure of material at Heathrow was noted ("Britain returns 619 pieces of stolen Pharaonic artefacts to Egypt", Agence France Presse October 14, 2004). These had apparently arrived via Switzerland. The article then noted the 2003 return of 200 antiquities from Switzerland to Egypt and added,
Earlier, Cairo announced it had cracked the smuggling ring and arrested 15 Egyptians and one Lebanese. It was also looking for 12 others, including two Swiss, two Germans, a Canadian, and a Kenyan.

During a six-month investigation, the Egyptian authorities learned that the suspects smuggled valuable artefacts from the Pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic Christian periods to Switzerland and France.

The Sofia Detention: Coverage from Beirut

The detention of Ali Aboutaam has now been covered in the Lebanese press. A story featured in today's Al-Akhbar (Beirut; January 23, 2009; in Arabic) giving details of the Interpol arrest warrant. Postings by Arthur Brand on the Museum Security Network were cited.

The Lebanese story also mentions the case of the mummy mask ("Ka Nefer Nefer") in the St Louis Art Museum.

Phoenix Ancient Art has issued a statement concerning the incident in Sofia. This seems to contradict the version of events posted by Zahi Hawass.

Perhaps somebody from Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) could provide a little more detail?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Sofia Detention: Comment from Phoenix Ancient Art

I have been contacted by a representative of Phoenix Ancient Art who has kindly sent me a statement of facts relating to the recent detention of Ali Aboutaam in Sofia.

I reproduce it here with permission from the representative. (I note that the statement has not been placed in the press release section of Phoenix Ancient Art's website.)

The link to the Reuters story can be found here.

STATEMENT OF FACTS:

Last week, Reuters wrote a highly misleading story that alleged wrongdoing by Ali Aboutaam in an old legal case brought against him and others in Egypt. The story was misleading in two very serious ways:

First, it did not report what ultimately happened to Ali in Bulgaria -- Ali was allowed to return home to Switzerland after Bulgarian courts determined, after a full hearing, that Egypt’s legal procedures were seriously deficient and that Ali never had a chance to challenge the charges against him.

Second, the article did not mention that Egyptian courts threw out the charge in which Ali was named.

The plain, indisputable facts are as follows.

When Ali traveled to Bulgaria recently, he was detained until Bulgaria could evaluate Egypt's request to extradite Ali on a very old charge of smuggling. Ali was not in jail; he was restricted to Bulgaria and lived at his family's home. After a thorough evaluation of the Egyptian request, Bulgarian courts rejected it as totally unacceptable. Bulgaria reached this decision based on its explicit finding that the Egyptian procedures by which Ali's conviction had been obtained fell below the most basic protections of any civilized nation. Ali was convicted without being told of the charge against him, without being present and without even having legal representation. In addition, Bulgaria found that it could not even fully understand what Ali was charged with.

Not only was Egypt's request firmly rejected -- an extremely unusual action in extradition law -- but on top of that, it became clear that Egypt had not told Bulgaria that Egypt's own courts exonerated the people who were charged with Ali and had been told of the charges. In other words, the people who supposedly agreed with Ali to improperly trade in antiquities but who were told of the charges and, being in Egypt, went to trial, were all ultimately found not guilty. In addition, the Egyptian courts criticized the Egyptian prosecution as biased. A translation of the Egyptian court’s decision reads, in part: “The judgment [against Ali Aboutaam] became an excuse by the prosecutor to gain the advantage he wanted, in a matter which would be more suitable to refuse, according to the evidence...[T]he appealed judgment was made because the district attorney’s office had presented all its supporting evidence for the accusations and analyzed this accusatory evidence in detail one after the other, and ignored all the evidence that indicated innocence.”

So, although you would never have known this from the Reuters story:
  • Ali is free and is at home in Switzerland after Bulgaria rejected Egypt's request.
  • Ali 's detention in Bulgaria (a detention where he could travel within Bulgaria) was not based on any finding of guilt but, instead, on Bulgaria having to hold him until it could evaluate and ultimately reject Egypt's request.
  • Ali’s co-defendants who stood trial in Egypt were ultimately ACQUITTED for lack of evidence to support Egypt’s claims .
At Phoenix Ancient Art, we continue to pride ourselves on our transparency and dedication to complying with and working with law enforcement to ensure the integrity of this trade in all nations.

We appreciate the willingess of Phoenix Ancient Art to share this statement with a wider public.

Egypt and the Östergötland County Museum

Egyptian authorities have made a formal claim on Egyptian antiquities in the Östergötland County Museum in Sweden ("Egypt asks Sweden to return artifacts", IHT January 19, 2009). The 212 pieces had once belonged to Egyptologist and collector, Otto Smith, who had excavated in Egypt in the 1920s. Zahi Hawass claims that the objects were removed "in an illegal manner".

The museum has now issued a press statement (pdf). The issue will be considered by the museum board in early February.

Such a claim is different to those made by Greece and Italy for archaeological material that has been removed illicitly since 1970.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Sofia arrest: comments from Bulgaria

Petar Kostadinov ("Bulgarian prosecutor, art collector conspired to free controversial art dealer - journalist alleges", Sofiaecho.com January 21, 2009) has discussed the arrest and release of Ali Aboutaam in Sofia.
The Sofia City Court (SCC) ... said that because Bulgaria and Egypt did not have an extradition agreement, Abou'Taam could not be sent to Egypt. The court's ruling has been appealed but was denied and Abou'Taam was released.
According to this report Aboutaam left Bulgaria on January 7, 2009 "after his name was taken off the wanted list based on the [Bulgarian] SCC ruling".

If this is the case, why did the Egyptian authorities make a statement on January 15? They were presumably aware that Aboutaam was back in Switzerland.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History in the Making and a Time for Change

Looting Matters sends its North American readers greetings on this historic day.

"The Egyptian conviction targeting my client was illegitimate"

There has been a further press release to Reuters in Zurich ("Bulgaria rejects Egyptian extradition bid: lawyers", Reuters Africa, January 20, 2009) about the arrest and subsequent release of a Canadian antiquities dealer in Sofia (see earlier post). The Geneva law firm of Woodtli Levy Pardo and Brutsch issued a statement:

Mr Ali Aboutaam is now in Switzerland and is completely free in his movements ... Bulgaria purely and simply refused to take up the extradition request, considering in substance that the Egyptian conviction targeting my client was illegitimate.

Apparently the travel ban on Mr Aboutaam was lifted on January 5.

The same story story has also appeared in the Bulgarian press (January 20, 2009; link).


Monday, January 19, 2009

Sofia arrest update

The story about the September 2008 arrest of a Canadian antiquities dealer in Sofia and last week's press statement from Egypt has been updated.

Isabel Vincent ("Antiquities-smuggle rap zapped", New York Post January 18, 2009) reports that "Bulgarian authorities refused to extradite Ali Aboutaam to Egypt, where he would face a 15-year prison sentence". She continued:
Aboutaam, a principal in Phoenix Ancient Art on the Upper East Side spent several weeks under house arrest in Sofia, Bulgaria, as officials debated whether to honor an Interpol warrant issued by the Egyptians, according to court papers.

Aboutaam, 43, was convicted in Cairo in 2004 of smuggling the artifacts. Bulgaria this month rejected the extradition request.

"I think it would be very helpful if the Egyptians read the Bulgarian opinion," said Peter Chavkin, a Manhattan attorney for Aboutaam, who lives in Geneva.

"The Bulgarian authorities found that Ali was not afforded fundamental protections and that the underlying conviction was bogus."
There is, as yet, no further response from the Egyptian authorities.

Looking back to the al-Suwaysi case

Last week's news story about the reported arrest of a Swiss-based antiquities dealer in Bulgaria alluded to the story about the al-Suwaysi case. The case was mentioned in The New York Times (Barry Meier and Martin Gottlieb, "An Illicit Journey Out of Egypt, Only a Few Questions Asked", NYT February 23, 2004; see also Barry Meier and Martin Gottlieb, "Few questions are asked when rare Egyptian relic is offered", IHT February 24, 2004).

At about the same time as Hicham was arrested in New York, Ali's name was being read out in a Cairo courtroom, one of 31 people accused of being part of a long-running ring that had smuggled artifacts through Switzerland to Western dealers and galleries. The charges grew out of a raid last summer at the main Geneva free port.

The indicted included several high-ranking Egyptian police and government officials; the mastermind, prosecutors said, was Tariq al-Suwaysi, a politician and businessman whose lavish way of life had earned him the nickname "the Prince." Also among the accused were several members of the Farag family, the clan that had bought the stele of Pasenenkhons from the builders in Akhmim.

Egypt's general prosecutor, Maher Abdel Wahed, said Mr. Aboutaam had been indicted based on telephone conversations secretly recorded last year, along with other information that showed he had received smuggled artifacts through Mr. Suwaysi's ring. The prosecutor said the two men had been recorded discussing, often in code, the delivery of smuggled pieces.

"They were partners," he said.

After reviewing transcripts of the recorded conversations, Ali Aboutaam issued a statement saying he and his brother constantly received telephone calls from people seeking to sell them objects or claiming to be owed money by their father, Sleiman Aboutaam. The calls from Mr. Suwaysi, he said, fit into that category.

A Swiss lawyer for Mr. Aboutaam, Mario Roberty, said that while his client knew of Mr. Suwaysi, it was only because Sleiman Aboutaam might have dealt with him.

Added Ali, "I never bought from him, for sure."

A further raid in the Geneva Freeport is noted by Andrew Marton ("Kimbell negotiating refund for $2.7 million statue", Fort Worth Star-Telegram August 17, 2001).
Sources in Europe and the United States have indicated that the Aboutaam warehouse in Geneva was raided within the past six months by Swiss and Italian authorities. The raiders reportedly confiscated 70 to 80 terra cotta pieces, mostly vases, originating in Italy, in addition to documentation pertaining to the artwork.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Agreement with China

America has signed an agreement with China, "Import Restrictions Imposed on Certain Archaeological Material from China", that will take effect from January 16, 2009 (see further details from SAFE Corner).

Randy Kennedy has written about the agreement ("Pact on Chinese Treasures Wins Praise", New York Times January 16, 2009). He includes a response from James Lally, a New York based dealer in Asian Art.
James Lally ... suggested that the restrictions would not seriously affect his business or that of many other dealers, saying that the mainstay of their trade is in artifacts that have long been in circulation outside China. But he argued that the agreement was deeply flawed and would end up hurting scholarship and museum patronage in the United States.

“It’s going to have a terrible effect on efforts to encourage new students to study Asian art and on collectors and patrons to become involved in the field,” Mr. Lally said. “They’ll say, ‘Well, I’ll just go to contemporary art or I’ll support the symphony.’ It sends the wrong signal.”
I disagree. Failing to sign the agreement would have sent out the wrong signal.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Dealer, Interpol and Sofia Airport

Back in September there was a story that an antiquities dealer, arriving on a flight from Paris, had been arrested at Sofia airport (news.bg September 18 2008). The basis for the arrest was apparently an international arrest warrant requested by the Egyptian authorities in June 2007.

The individual was not named in the report but was said to be a 43 year old Canadian citizen of Lebanese origin.

A report in the Egyptian press now makes things a little clearer (Batoul Helmy, "Interpol arrests antiquities smuggler", Daily News January 15, 2009). It continues:

A notorious antiquities dealer was arrested by the Interpol in Bulgaria after a years-long chase, Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni announced.

According to the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, the smuggler, Ali Abu Ta'am, is Lebanese but resides in Geneva, Switzerland. He owns an antiques exhibition.

Abu Ta'am is also a suspect in the case of Tarek El-Suesy, who was arrested in 2003 for smuggling Egyptian antiquities outside the country.

Abu Ta'am allegedly aided El-Suesy in smuggling 280 Egyptian antiquities outside Egypt. Some of the antiquities were labeled as glass utensils, children's toys and electronic appliances and then smuggled under the name of a well-known export company.

Hawass added that the investigations proved that Abu Ta'am was one of eight suspects in El-Suesy's case.

In April 2004, the Egyptian criminal court sentenced Abu Ta'am to 15 years in prison and a fine of LE 50,000 in absentia.

The report ends on this note:

Hawass was optimistic that Abu Ta'am's arrest will quell any further attempts to smuggle antiquities.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Farewell to Liapis as Hellenic Minister of Culture

Mihalis Liapis stepped down as the Hellenic Minister of Culture on January 8, 2009 after 16 months in office (press release). The incoming minister is Antonis Samaras.

The speeches for the ceremony have been released. Liapis spoke about the financial challenges to the Ministry and he painted a bleak picture for his successor: "The road is difficult, upwards and ... lonely, but the Ministry deserves a better fate" (Ο δρόμος είναι δύσκολος, ανηφορικός και ... μοναχικός, αλλά αυτό το Υπουργείο αξίζει καλύτερης μοίρας.). (See also press reports in Greece.)

Liapis placed Greece's cultural claims firmly on the international stage through the hosting (in March 2008) of the UNESCO conference in the New Acropolis Museum. He has strengthened links with Italy that led to the Nostoi exhibition in Athens. This coincided with the return of fragments of the Parthenon from Palermo and the Vatican. But he has also initiated claims on more recently looted material; recent returns include an Attic marble funerary lekythos from a Swiss dealer, and two pieces from the Shelby White collection.

Image
Mihalis Liapis at the return of an Attic funerary stele from the Shelby White collection. (From the Hellenic Ministry of Culture)

Selling antiquities: "Trying to get a brand new take"

I am still thinking about the radical proposal on Archaeological Development Bonds suggested by the Milken Institute ("Financial Innovations to Curb Looting and Preserve Cultural Resources").

It made me go back through my notes. In March 2007 the Aboutaams were featured in an interview for the New York Times (Ron Stodghill, "Do You Know Where That Art Has Been?", New York Times, March 18, 2007). The article was in part about the implications for the market caused by the return of antiquities from Boston and the Getty.
The new wariness of collectors, both public and private, to buy or exhibit works that do not have the most rigorously documented history jeopardizes the business of even the most established dealers. So the Aboutaams are remaking themselves and their business. In a trade that has been full of grave robbers and forgers adding patina to new objects, they are busy digging up documentation for everything they sell in an effort to polish their reputation.
Tracing the collecting histories of pieces has become important as the supply of freshly-surfaced antiquities has come under increasing scrutiny.

So it is not surprising that Hicham Aboutaam has begun supporting the bans. He envisions that the market for antiquities, which he says are currently undervalued, will resemble that of old masters or Impressionist paintings, which have increased sharply in value of late.

''The more questionable works entering the antiquities market, the less their value and the larger the dark cloud that hangs over the field,'' Mr. Aboutaam said. ''That affects prices negatively. I think we could put an end to the new supply, and work comfortably with what we have.''

Under such a moratorium, the Aboutaams and other established antiquities dealers would enjoy a significant advantage over newer competitors.

So where does the market go from here?

Stodghill continued his report:

Mr. Aboutaam is working with the Milken Institute, the economic research organization in Santa Monica, Calif., on a conference to be held in June to discuss the disparities in international treaties and laws affecting provenance and the antiquities market. Jared Carney, director of marketing and program development at the institute, said that discussing the woes of the art market is not standard fare for the organization.

''But what is right down the middle for us is looking at issues of social capital and the challenges of protecting intellectual property, and protecting assets and the pressure to preserve heritage,'' Mr. Carney said. ''You've got to give it to Hicham for trying to get a brand new take on things and coming at his challenges in a different way.''

In the end, Mr. Aboutaam said his efforts were simply to preserve the past for a world that should have access to it through beautiful cultural objects.

To what extent is this initiative from the Milken Institute being prompted from within, and for the benefit of, the market?


Monday, January 12, 2009

The Telegraph talks to Tom Campbell

Lee Rosenbaum (Culturegrrl) has drawn attention to Jasper Rees' interview with Tom Campbell, Director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art ("Tom Campbell, director of New York's Metropolitan Museum, interview", Daily Telegraph January 12, 2009). E-museum technology is likely to be deployed in the galleries ("harnessing modern technology to make sure we can deliver information at different levels for those who want it") presents us with a vision of smart-phone wielding visitors watching their screens rather the objects. (This probably explains Campbell's appearance on YouTube [again a Culturegrrl find].)

Campbell does not say much about the "the ideas and concerns" of the Trustees at the Met---except to say that his own ideas resonated with them. (Does this say something about Campbell's attitude towards antiquities given which of the Trustees was on the search committee?) [A full list of Trustees, as of November 1, 2008, can be found here as a pdf.]

So can I offer a suggestion? How about using e-museum technologies to release (via the internet) the detailed collecting histories of archaeological material in the Met? This would have the bonus of being in step with the AAMD Guidelines on Ancient Art that encourages the investment of "research time"---another strand in Campbell's interview---"on objects where provenance is incomplete or uncertain".

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Renfrew, the Met and the 1970 Rule

The public release of the revised Collections Management Policy of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art seems to have been prompted by Lord Renfrew's SAFE lecture. Lee Rosenbaum on Culturegrrl has some useful comparisons to make with the revised (and enlightened) policy at the J. Paul Getty Museum where the local laws of countries are taken into account.

Rosenbaum also comments on the "cloudy" transparency at the Met ...

Perhaps Thomas Campbell could talk about the implications of the new policy in his next YouTube "broadcast".

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.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reunification or Dispersal: The New Acropolis Museum

Finds from the Athenian Acropolis have long been dispersed between three major collections in Athens (in addition to the old Acropolis Museum): the National Archaeological Museum, the Epigraphic Museum, and the Numismatic Museum. (This excludes some of the material from the North Slope of the Acropolis that is in the Agora Museum.)

Ta Nea (" Χάλκινοι θησαυροί βρίσκουν στέγη στο Νέο Μουσείο Ακρόπολης", December 30, 2008) [link] carried a story that there has yet to be agreement over the range of material from the three museums that will be released for display in the New Acropolis Museum. It had been hoped to transfer some 220 bronzes from the National Archaeological Museum, six hoards from the Numismatic Museum, and 43 inscriptions from the Epigraphic Museum.

The New Akropolis Museum provides an opportunity to consolidate the finds and present the archaeological remains---sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, pottery, inscriptions, coins---from this major civic sanctuary (and World Heritage site) in one place. Thus the accounts for the construction of the Parthenon could be displayed alongside other parts of the building.

Failure to resolve this issue would send out a signal that dispersal is acceptable: and that has implications for the debate about the return of the Parthenon sculptures.

Image
© David Gill

Welcome to Thomas Campbell

Thomas Campbell, the new Director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, has issued a short video talking about its encyclopedic collections ("The Met's New Star: Tom Campbell's YouTube Moment", Culturegrrl).

This is clearly going to be a new era with the release of details of the revised collections management policy that tightens up acquisitions. (Lee Rosenbaum had talked about the expectation of such a policy in June 2008; the policy was agreed on November 12, 2008, and the text was placed on the MMA website on January 6, 2009.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Journal of Art Crime: Call for Papers

The Journal of Art Crime, published by ARCA, is the first peer-reviewed academic journal in the study of art crime. This biennial publication welcomes interdisciplinary articles from both academics and professionals, related to art crime, its history, and its repercussions. Relevant fields include criminology, law, art history, history, sociology, policing, security, archaeology, and conservation. ARCA welcomes submissions at any time.

Content
Each issue of The Journal of Art Crime will include at least four academic essays, which will be subject to anonymous peer review. Essays considered to be of merit by peers may be returned to their authors along with rewrite guidelines which must be applied before publication.

The Journal of Art Crime will also include book and exhibition reviews, conference write-ups, capsule summaries of major recent art crimes, and editorial columns. The Journal welcomes submissions or proposals for any of the aforementioned.

The following prominent professionals will serve on the editorial board, in addition to ARCA’s trustees:
  • Professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn FBA, Emeritus Disney Professor of Archaeology, University of Cambridge
  • Petrus van Duyne, Professor of Criminology, University of Tilburg, the Netherlands
  • Neil Brodie, Stamford University, US
  • Dick Drent, Director of Security, the Van Gogh Museum, the Netherlands
  • Matjaz Jager, Director, Institute of Criminology, Slovenia
  • Patricia Sherwin Garland, Senior Conservator, Yale Art Gallery
  • Liisa van Vliet, Consultant, Accenture, UK
  • Bojan Dobovsek, Professor of Criminology, University of Maribor, Slovenia
  • Michael Kirchner, CPP, CIPM, Director of Safety and Security, Harvard Art Museums, US
  • Benoit van Asbroeck, Attorney, Brussels, Belgium
  • Judah Best, Attorney and Smithsonian Commissioner, US
  • Howard Spiegler, Attorney, US
  • David Gill, University of Swansea, Wales
  • Erik Nemeth, The Getty Research Institute, US
  • Travis McDade, University of Illinois, US
  • Ken Polk, University of Melbourne, Australia
  • David Simon, Professor of Art History, Colby College, US

Submissions
Submissions are welcome at any time. Academic essays should be 4000-9000 words in length (including footnotes, excluding bibliography). Please adhere to MLA style guidelines. Relevant images should be sent in jpg form in a separate email. Authors are responsible for securing any necessary permissions for the reproduction of images related to their articles. Average turnover for peer-reviewed essays is eight weeks, two weeks for editorial or review material.

Each academic essay should be accompanied by a cover page that includes:
-author’s name, affiliation, and contact information
-biographical information (up to 100 words)
-an abstract (100-200 words in length)
-six keywords that characterize the content of the article.
Please remove all identifying material from the body of the article.

Editorial proposals or submissions (book reviews, letters, etc) should include:
-brief abstract of proposed or submitted topic (200 word maximum)
-author’s name, affiliation, and contact information
-biographical information (up to 100 words)

Please send all submissions to editor@artcrime.info as an attachment in Word format.

Subscriptions
The Journal of Art Crime will be published both as an e-journal and in printed form. Subscribers may choose the electronic form alone, or purchase the electronic and print form as a package. The first issue will be published in the Spring of 2009, the second issue the following Fall. Please visit www.artcrime.info to subscribe.

The 1970 Rule


"The 1970 Rule" will be the key criterion for museums contemplating the acquisition of the antiquities. Was the object known prior to 1970? Is there a recorded history?

A study of the year of acquisition for the items (now numbering well over 100) returned to Italy from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum shows that 14% of the items were acquired in the 1970s (including the Euphronios krater). (This excludes the pieces returned from Shelby White, the Royal-Athena Galleries, and the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville).

27% of the returns were acquired in the 1990s, well after the USA signed up to the 1970 UNESCO Convention in 1983. Indeed more than 85% of the acquisitions were made in the 1980s and 1990s, after the 1973 Resolution of the Archaeological Institute of America.

And it may make institutions such as the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University rethink its collections management policy which hinges on the (now discredited) 1983 date.

Metal-detecting seen as looting by Milken Institute report

The Milken Institute's Financial Innovation Lab Report on Financial Innovations for Developing Archaeological Discovery and Conservation (December 2008) [pdf: registration required] has a section on the UK Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) (p. 9). Although the report initially talks about the reporting of "chance finds" (p. 8), the dedicated section on the PAS seems to present metal-detecting as looting.
The scheme has also been criticized by some scholars as legalizing looting, promoting the removal of artifacts by amateurs. Proponents of the plan counter that the looting was happening already and that the scheme encourages those who have looted to at least document what was taken and from where, preserving minimal cultural context.
So it looks like that in the eyes of critics and proponents of the PAS (at least in the eyes of the Milken Institute Report) that looting of archaeological sites takes place.

But is the report suggesting that looting is acceptable so long as the finds are documented? Does this miss the point about damaged and lost archaeological contexts?

But perhaps the Milken Institute's report was more about the "discovery" of archaeological finds than the recording and interpretation of them.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Auction of Antiquities in New York


What is the scale of the antiquities market?

In New York Sotheby's and Christie's have sold more than $270 million worth of antiquities since 1999. This works out at some $27 million each year, normally from two sales a year each.

Sales from galleries and dealers should be added to this amount.

Further reading
Chippindale, C., D. W. J. Gill, E. Salter, and C. Hamilton. 2001. "Collecting the classical world: first steps in a quantitative history." International Journal of Cultural Property 10: 1-31. [abstract]

New Reviews of Books on Cultural Property

On-line reviews for the American Journal of Archaeology 113.1 (2009) are now available. These include four books relating to cultural property:
  • Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property. By Margaret M. Miles. Reviewed by Molly Swetnam-Burland.
  • Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage. By James Cuno. Reviewed by David W.J. Gill.
  • The Acquisition and Exhibition of Classical Antiquities: Professional, Legal, and Ethical Perspectives (A Symposium Held at the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, February 24, 2007). By Robin F. Rhodes. Reviewed by Neil Brodie.
  • The Return of Cultural Treasures. By Jeanette Greenfield. Reviewed by Julie Hollowell.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Antiques Rogue Show: Reaction

The drama "Antiques Rogue Show" shown on the BBC yesterday explored the issue of the Amarna Princess sold to the Bolton Museum. One was left with the feeling that Shaun Greenhalgh, the forger, was (in the words of the reporter in the drama) "a gifted, bright kid" - but he came from the wrong place. Was Shaun a talented artist? And we hear the verdicts of the museum curator and the police officer.

The programme was introduced with a shot to the textual definition of "provenance". Central to the story was the acquisition of the catalogue of the sale of the Silver Park Collection ("Silverton Park: costly, rare and valuable antique furniture", Thompson, Rippon & Son, 1892). This appears to be a rare catalogue: only one copy is listed on WorldCat (in the Getty Research Library). The lot items were "all so vague" (to quote the actor playing Greenhalgh). And at the (fictional) police interview with Shaun the lead police officer suggests that the catalogue allowed the Greenhalghs "to make up a provenance".

Some questions remained unanswered. But the one that lingers was placed on the lips of a woman police officer briefing a reporter over a drink in a pub: how many Greenhalgh fakes are still out there unrecognised?

Attack at the Hellenic Ministry of Culture

The BBC has reported today that police guarding the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in Athens have come under attack by two men firing Kalashnikov automatic weapons ("Gunmen shoot policeman in Athens", Monday January 5, 2009). One officer has been injured and has undergone surgery.

New acquisition policy for the Metropolitan Museum of Art

It seems that Lord Renfrew's 2009 SAFE lecture has prompted a response from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. SAFE has released the news that the MMA will be accepting the AAMD's guidelines; Elyse Topalian, Vice President for Communications at the MMA sent an email to SAFE on January 2 stating that:
in June 2008 the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art accepted the Association of Art Museum Directors's June 4, 2008 Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art, and on November 12, 2008, the Board of Trustees adopted a revised Collections Management Policy incorporating those guidelines.

SAFE has posted details of the new MMA policy. This includes the statement:
The Museum normally shall not acquire a work unless provenance research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970 or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970.
Lee Rosenbaum had indicated that such an announcement would be forthcoming back in June 2008.

This is a major step forward and addresses earlier concerns.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Amarna Princess on the Antiques Rogues Show

The BBC will be showing a drama, "The Antiques Rogues Show", based on the forgers behind the Amarna Princess and the Risley Park Lanx (amongst other items).

The summary of the programme:
A compelling drama documentary about one of the world's prolific and most diverse art forgers. The Greenhalgh family lived by modest means on a council estate in Bolton but, tucked away in the garden shed, Shaun Greenhalgh was creating fake paintings, antiques and sculptures that would dupe the art world out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. He was aided by his octogenarian parents, George and Olive (played by Peter Vaughan and Liz Smith), who concocted elaborate back stories for each forgery. Their trump card came with a fake Egyptian statue, supposedly passed down from George's grandfather, which they sold to Bolton Museum for nearly half a million pounds. Despite the windfall the family continued to live a frugal lifestyle, revelling instead in the satisfaction derived at deceiving the art experts.
This will appear on the BBC's iPlayer once it has been broadcast.

Australian Antiquities Dealer Arrested In Egypt

A 61-year old Australian antiquities dealer "has been arrested in Egypt for allegedly trying to smuggle two 2300-year-old animal mummies and religious figurines out of the country" (Selma Milovanovic "Antiques dealer faces 15 years in an Egyptian jail", Sydney Morning Herald December 26, 2008).
According to local reports, when security officials opened the suspect suitcase, they allegedly found mummies of a cat and an ibis, both dating back to 300BC. They also allegedly found 19 figurines of the ancient Egyptian gods of Horus and Thoth, wrapped as gifts.
The individual was due to take a flight to Thailand.

The Herald Sun (Australia) reported (January 1, 2009):
A MELBOURNE man arrested in Egypt after allegedly trying to smuggle animal mummies out of the country has been released on bail. Frank Bottaro, 61, a successful Armadale antiquities dealer, will likely have to stay in the country until he appears in court.
See also:

The Market in Antiquities from Iraq

Neil Brodie, Director of The Cultural Heritage Resource of the Stanford Archaeology Center, has issued a draft of "The market in Iraqi antiquities 1980-2008" (pdf). There is much information about the surfacing of material from the region.

He makes a distinction between public auctions of material from Iraq (which have virtually ceased) and internet sales. He presents striking information about the number of cylinder seals and cuneiform tablets available for sale via the internet on single days in December 2006 and September 2008 (78 and 147 respecitvely for 2006; 142 and 332 for 2008). Some of the pieces seem to have been removed by the use of circular saws.

Brodie continues to use "provenance" as a term; see my comments on the use of "provenience" as well as the confusion about the use of the term "provenance". There is a distinction between the history of the piece (who handled it) and its archaeology (where it was found).

Friday, January 2, 2009

Renfrew on 1970 as a Benchmark

Lord Renfrew will be giving the 2009 SAFE Beacon Award Lecture, "Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: the 1970 Rule as a Turning Point (or How the Metropolitan Museum lags behind the Getty)". Mike Boehm has commented on the forthcoming lecture in "Getty's antiquities policy gets kudos vs. the Met" (LA Times blog January 1 2009).

Renfrew has already criticised James Cuno for not accepting 1970 as a key date. (For wider reactions to James Cuno's views see here.)

But times are changing and key bodies are choosing the earlier date. The American Association of Museums (AAM) encourages the use of 1970 for the acquisition of antiquities. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) advocates the use of 1970 for the acquisition of antiquities as does its Object Register.

I have discussed 1970 against the 1983 deadline here; after all, material from North American museums that was returned to Italy was acquired from 1971 onwards. And what happens to disputed material that was acquired before 1970?

Renfrew seems to have New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) in his spotlights. He has no need to go further than the exhibition celebrating the Philippe de Montebello Years. It is also worth reflecting on the collecting histories of the ex-MMA pieces that appeared in the Nostoi exhibitions in Rome and Athens (see also "Orphans and the Berlin painter"), in addition to the Morgantina silver.

Of course there is a marked difference between the MMA and the J. Paul Getty Museum when it comes to the objects that they have returned to Italy. The Getty has embraced transparency and has provided full disclosure (see Gill and Chippindale on the return). Will the MMA follow this important lead?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Looking Ahead to 2009

There is likely to be continuing fallout from the "Medici Conspiracy". Until now the emphasis has been on North American collections (and at least two more institutions have been mentioned in the press) but the focus is likely to turn to Europe (the Ny Carlsberg) and the Far East (the Miho Museum ). A decision about the "Cleveland Apollo" and a Bronze Victory with Cornucopia from the same museum is due this year.

Authorities in Greece also have sets of polaroids identifying material. It is likely that they will initiate further claims. Discussions with the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University are on-going. The New Akropolis Museum will serve as a focus for renewed and stronger calls for the return of the Parthenon sculptures.

The AAMD needs to resolve the issue of long-term loans of archaeological material. And AAMD members should be more transparent about acquisitions and learn to respond to requests for information.

Will the "credit crisis" continue to have an impact on the sale of antiquities? Certainly one London-based auction house needs to improve its due diligence process if it is to avoid the adverse publicity its antiquities department has attracted over the last year.

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