Pearlstein has called for the publication of the Medici Dossier. Yet he does not mention the view of a Christie's spokesperson (commenting on what Christie's described as "stolen artifacts") that the publication of images from a public auction allow for transparency and give opportunity for concerns to be raised. It is still not clear why Christie's left out a key piece of collecting history for lot 139 - a key piece of collecting history known to Christie's. (And is "diligence" really a verb? "so that US market participants could ... diligence their purchases" [emphasis mine].)
Pearlstein confuses two separate issues in his emailed comments to Alderman. He cites the case of "an Egyptian duck that was stolen from a government warehouse, never reported (perhaps never inventoried) and then seized when it came up on at auction 25 years later–after being consigned by a foreign purchase who took good title under local law". In this case the duck appears to have been removed from the store at Saqqara in Egypt; its excavation location is known. In the case of material featured in Polaroids from the Medici Dossier the detail relating to the archaeological contexts is not known. There is a difference between material removed from an archaeological store and objects ripped from archaeological contexts.
Does an incident in Egypt have a bearing on material from Italy? And what does it mean for "American purchasers" of archaeological material to act "in good faith"? Collectors, museums and cultural property lawyers have been aware of the ethical issues relating to archaeological material since the 1970 UNESCO Convention. And North American collectors, museums and cultural property lawyers are unlikely to have missed the 1973 AIA declaration. [For some of the issues see here.]
Pearlstein has strong views:
What the Italians are doing is outrageous. They are deliberately withholding the Medici files from the public, allowing hot pieces to remain in circulation and then playing up every seizure for maximum publicity value. They continue to play the role of victim when actually they have became cynical predators on American institutions that want nothing more than to do the right thing.What is "the right thing"? Why have North American museums recently adopted 1970 as a benchmark for acquiring archaeological material? Why have some 130 objects been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections in recent years? Is it "outrageous" for officials of a country to be outraged by the deliberate destruction of thousands of archaeological contexts to supply objects for the antiquities market?
Pearlstein calls for "market participants to police the integrity of their collections and [be] held accountable for their failure to do so". One of the key indicators for concern is a collecting history (or "provenance") that points to a certain auction-house in London in the 1980s and early 1990s (see a selection of pieces here). "Market participants" need to conduct rigorous due diligence searches if the collecting history includes those sales. And when that collecting history is "overlooked", questions need to be asked about the reason why.