Friday, November 30, 2012

Nostoi: reflecting on cultural policy at UEA

Later today I will be exploring the return of cultural property to Greece and to Italy in the European Forum at UEA. I will be reviewing the scale of the market in antiquities and considering the bilateral agreement between Greece and Italy. We will then consider the objects that have been returned to Italy and to Greece from (mainly) North American public and private collections. Greece has used the "Nostoi" exhibition to widen the discussion to the return of architectural sculptures such as the Parthenon marbles. Finally I will consider how this is a wider problem for Europe and will consider issues from Spain, as well as the UK. How will the antiquities market in the UK comply with the ethical concerns of the wider political communities?

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Lydian Hoard brooch recovered in Germany

One of the most celebrated returns from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art was the so-called Lydian Hoard. It was evidence of the widespread looting in Turkey. It was all the more tragic that a gold hippocamp brooch was stolen (in 2005) from the local museum where the hoard was displayed.

It was reported at the end of last week that the brooch had been recovered in Germany ("Karun piece found in Germany", Hurriyet Daily News November 22, 2012). A little more detail has been emerging (Constanze Letsch, "King Croesus's golden brooch to be returned to Turkey", Guardian November 25, 2012) although the precise facts have not been revealed.

The Lydian hoard reminds us that major museums were unwilling to ask searching questions about how material moved from the ground and onto the market. The story of this recovery is also likely to be revealing.

I am grateful to my colleague Ian Baxter for drawing my attention to the story. Further references are available from Paul Barford's post.

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Olympia theft: update

Olympia © David Gill
In February 2012 there was a theft of archaeological material from Olympia.

Christos Tsirogiannis has drawn my attention to a report in the Greek press today that records that three arrests have been made in Patras. Greek police had conducted an undercover operation to apprehend the thieves who seem to have been unable to shift the material.

This confirms Tsirogiannis' suspicions when interviewed about the theft earlier in the year.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Symes material returned from the Getty

The J. Paul Getty Museum has kindly been in touch and explained that while the return of material is newly reported, the objects were returned in the spring.

Julie Jaskol, Assistant Director for Media Relations at the Getty, kindly writes:
They were donated to the Getty by Robin Symes in 1988, and after research conducted by the Getty, now are under study in Rome. We initiated a study of the fragments (many no more than chips) several years ago when research indicated that joins were possible, but we weren't able to make this connection until the Italians published the Ascoli Satriano vessels some years after their discovery. 
In his letter to Director General Luigi Malnati last January, Jim Cuno said, "The Getty acquired these objects as a gift in 1988, in the hope that they would be preserved and studied and eventually reconnected with other fragments of the same objects. Happily, careful scholarship has led to that result. Working with colleagues in Italy, Getty curators have determined that the fragments in our possession are very likely to match with vessels from Ascoli Satriano. It is our hope that the fragments can be examined to ascertain their pertinence, and rejoined to these vessels." 
Dr. Malnati invited Claire Lyons to join a committee formed as a research collaboration to examine the pieces. 
The pieces are: 
88.AA.140-.42 - fragments of marble vessels, handles, rims (86) 
88.AA.143 -- four marble stands 
88.AA.144 - three marble feline paws
The items appear in the Journal of the J. Paul Getty Museum 17 (1989), 111 under no. 14, "158 fragments of vessels and sculpture" [JSTOR]. 67 of these fragments were linked to a statue of Apollo (inv. 85.AA.108) since returned to Italy. The source is listed as 'by donation'.

What other gifts did the Getty receive from Symes?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hadrian's Wall Collections under threat

Great North Museum © David Gill
It was announced today that Newcastle City Council is planning "to cut all funding to arts organisations in the city". This comes less than a week after warnings were sounded at the Culture Matters conference in Norwich.

The report comments that "the council will stop funding to the Great North Museum". GNM, that opened in 2009, holds (among other things) the internationally significant collection of archaeological material from Hadrian's Wall as well as the Shefton collection of Greek and Etruscan antiquities. This short-sighted policy fails to take account of the contribution that heritage, and in particular archaeological heritage, makes to economy of the region.

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Homecomings: a reflection

I will be speaking to the European Forum at UEA next week on the topic of "Homecomings: returning cultural property to Greece and Italy" [details here]. I will be reflecting on how museums and private collectors acquired recently-surfaced material. It is important to consider how parts of our European heritage have been pillaged with the resulting loss of knowledge.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Official silence on Getty return

Fabio Isman has reported on the return of 150 marble fragments to Italy from the J. Paul Getty Museum ("Il Getty Museum restituisce la tomba di Ascoli Satriano: il ritorno dell'arte perduta", Il Messaggero November 17, 2012). The pieces apparently come from a tomb at Ascoli Satriano and appear to be associated with the marble sculptures returned to Italy in 2007 (D. Gill & C. Chippindale, ‘From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities’, International Journal of Cultural Property 14 (2007), 205-40). We had noted Arthur Haughton's comments about the pieces linking them to Giacomo Medici, Robert Hecht and Robin Symes. Medici had reportedly informed Haughton that the find-spot was "a tomb which included a number of vases by the Darius Painter, at a site 'not far from Taranto'. Hecht said the site was Orta Nova ..."

The pieces themselves were published by Cornelius C. Vermeule ("The God Apollo, a Ceremonial Table with Griffins, and a Votive Basin", The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 15 (1987), 27-34).

What were the pots attributed to the Darius painter? What information has been lost by the destruction of this tomb.

The Getty news centre is quiet. The Italian Ministry of Culture news centre is silent.

If Isman is right (and his sources are normally trustworthy), one is left wondering why this material has remained in the Getty since 2007. What is the untold story?


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Getty Returns Fragments to Italy

Fabio Isman has drawn my attention to the return of some 150 fragments from the J. Paul Getty Museum. They are associated with pieces returned to Italy in 2007 and discussed by Chippindale and Gill. I hope to comment further later in the day, but it seems that the scale of the problem for the Getty is massive. This continues to raise issues about why museums were acquiring recently surfaced material. Who was taking the decisions to acquire the objects?

We look forward to hearing James Cuno's voice on the issues as it is topic that he has failed to address. Perhaps alongside Whose Muse? and Whose Culture? could be Whose Responsibility?

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Saving Heritage?

Culture Matters © David Gill
I have been reflecting on the "Culture Matters" conference in Norwich that has been taking place this week. We heard a passionate plea from Loyd Grossman to support heritage in the UK and beyond. Yet there was a gloomy view that the Westminster Government would continue to cut its support for the "heritage industry" and in particular English Heritage.

So we are faced with the potential degrading of heritage sites that have the potential to attract visitors and money for the UK economy.

Yet as ruined abbeys and castles crumble, the government seems willing (for the moment) to fund a scheme (with decreasing amounts) that essentially records the removal of portable heritage material from unrecorded archaeological contexts. I have raised some of the broad issues through the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology.

If heritage matters to the UK, and specifically to England, perhaps there could be a financial rebalancing to protect our universal inheritance.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Culture Matters

Culture Matters Conference © David Gill
Ian Baxter and I have been attending "Culture Matters: the International Cultural Heritage Conference" in Norwich. We came away with a strong sense of the importance of heritage for the UK economy. We will be exploring some of the issues elsewhere.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Illicit antiquities and UAE

I am grateful to the BBC monitoring service (and Happy 90th Birthday!) for their report on the newly issued "Federal Legal Decree No 5 for 2012 on combating cyber crimes".

The new law stipulates: "... penalties of imprisonment on any person using electronic sites or any information technology means to call to engage in the unauthorized trade of antiquities and works of art."

Will this take material off line and off the market?

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Khmer statue developments

The New York Times has an update on the story relating to the Khmer statue that was being offered by Sotheby's (Tom Mashberg and Ralph Blumenthal, "Sotheby’s Accused of Deceit in Sale of Khmer Statue", New York Times November 13, 2012). The suggestion is that there has been "collusion" between the vendor and the auction house to provide an inappropriate collecting history.
Prosecutors say that in 2010, when the statue was being imported into the United States, the owner submitted an inaccurate affidavit to American customs officials, at Sotheby’s request, stating the statue was “not cultural property” belonging to a religious site.
There is a suggestion that the collecting history for the piece had been fabricated:
Prosecutors also say Sotheby’s tried to mislead potential buyers and the Cambodian and United States governments by concocting a tale that the sculpture had been seen by a “scholar” in London in the 1960s, four years before its actual theft.
As the NYT points out, this could be an attempt to place the statue in circulation prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. All that needs to happens is for authenticated documentation to be presented to demonstrate that the sculpture was indeed in London in the 1960s. NYT draws attention to a Sotheyb's email:
The evidence collected by the government includes an e-mail from a Sotheby’s official to the Khmer scholar, Emma C. Bunker, that in part reads, “If I can push the provenance back to 1970, then U.S. museums can participate in the auction without any hindrance.”
Sotheby's have, I believe, been making an effort to address the issue of recently surfaced antiquities, not least in the light of the Medici Conspiracy. I hope that the position that they are adopting over the Khmer statue will not be changing perceptions.

Finally, one little plea! Please could we start using "collecting history" instead of that redundant term provenance?

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Symes material on the market

It is clear that the appearance of antiquities once handled by Robin Symes can arouse interest by parts of the media. Imagine a forthcoming sale by a major auction-house that includes named Symes material. But what if, alongside the named material, there are items that are also ex-Symes but with a silence in the collecting history? And why would there be silence? Would the due diligence search have failed to identify the pieces? Would such information need to be kept away from public gaze?

Of course, such a scenario is hypthetical. But we wait news of forthcoming sales with much interest.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Toxic Medici Material on the Market

Towards the end of last month I noted that it was clear that ex-Medici material was surfacing on the market in forthcoming sale(s). I was deliberately vague in spite of the plea from one collector to release the detail.

Christos Tsirogiannis and I were able to discuss the sale(s) when we met at the end of last week. We talked about the material that had been identified and the outcome of the sale(s). Had some been left unsold? Had buyers bought material because it had not shown up in the due diligence searches? And were some lots left unbought in case they too were potentially toxic?

New sales are on the horizon and there could be more surprises in store. Those organising the December sales of antiquities would be wise to conduct rigorous due diligence searches.

But what happens if those auction-houses or dealers had been warned in advance about ex-Medici material? Would they have treated them as "stolen" and withdrawn them from the sale(s)?

Can we look forward to December?

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Questioning the wisdom of acquiring painted pottery"

One of the things that I was asked to do on Friday in the "Not praising, burying" workshop day at the Fitzwilliam Museum was to reflect on the impact of Artful Crafts. Our last chapter, "The Way Forward", reflected on the market. I read the following paragraph to the group as part of the discussion later in the day (p. 193):
We are reliably informed (by a former ancient art consultant) that one consequence of our thesis is that some North American collectors are now questioning the wisdom of acquiring painted pottery, since the field is so controversial (and nothing puts off collectors as much as controversy: they want their investments to be secure and not subject to the vagaries of scholarship). ... Any opposition to the view that Greek pottery did not possess an exalted position in antiquity should now be judged against the background of a market whose supporters are afraid of losing possible financial and material benefits.
It needs to be remembered that these words were published before the raid on the Geneva Freeport, and prior to the publication of Peter Watson's Sotheby's Inside Story. It anticipates the fallout from the Medici Conspiracy that has damaged the reputation of so many major North American museums (and some European and south-east Asian ones along the way).

It would be inappropriate to identify the ancient art consultant (as it appeared on the person's business card). But if that consultant had advised her / his clients that it would be wise not to invest in recently surfaced Greek figure-decorated pottery some of the problems could be avoided. Indeed some of those clients could be questioning the advice that they had been given.

I am hoping that some of these issues will be raised in the wider discussion on Thursday next week in the McDonald Institute, Cambridge. Readers of LM (and others!) who live within easy reach of Cambridge are more than welcome to attend.



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Friday, November 2, 2012

Not praising, burying: preliminary thoughts

I am grateful to Alan Jelinek for organising today's wonderful workshop at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge today. I was able to reflect on some of the themes behind Artful Crafts and in particular thoughts (pre-Medici) on the scale of looting.

There was a mix of contributors including a philosopher so we got round to exploring some of the major ideas about the importance of context. Is there more to "art" than the creator? Why does context matter?

The Sarpedon krater was lurking on the periphery of the discussion, as well as the Kyknos krater, formerly in the private collection of an honorary fellow of a Cambridge college.

The group was able to walk round the galleries and to gain inspiration from the finds in the galleries. The Attic Nikosthenic amphora was central to our discussion, and the fragmentary (and reconstructed) Etruscan bone couch helped members to visualise the type of finds from tombs in ancient Italy.

We will be reflecting on the event in more detail next week when we reconvene in the McDonald Institute. I felt that we all gained something from the multidisciplinary setting for the day and I hope to share more in due course.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Not praising, burying: Cambridge day

I will be spending the day at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge tomorrow as part of the 'Not praising, burying' event [details]. At the start of the day I will be reflecting on the central themes of Artful Crafts. It strikes me that one of the central themes has been the way that Greek pottery has been removed from its ancient context and placed in an artificial "artistic" world that has promoted "important" creators. And museums and collectors have sought to acquire works by major names: Artful Crafts preceded the return of material to Italy from North American private collections.

I will be drawing attention to a Paestan krater once owned by Dr John Disney (founder of the Disney Chair of Archaeology) and acquired by the Fitzwilliam nearly a century after Disney's founding benefaction.

Next week the McDonald institute will be hosting a seminar to reflect on tomorrow (see also BBC).

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