Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The Art Loss Register: Readers' Views

How do readers of Looting Matters perceive the Art Loss Register?

I felt that it was a question worth asking as there appears to be a little bit of confusion among museum curators and dealers.

The Director of the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) felt he could buy an Egyptian mask with confidence because it did not appear in the ALR database.

Hicham Aboutaam was quoted in 2005 as saying that the ALR was "a registry for stolen and looted artifacts".

Due Diligence is now a key issue - but does the ALR solve the problem of recently surfaced antiquities? What does an ALR Certificate say about an object passing through the antiquities market?

So I posed the question:
What does it mean when a certificate from The Art Loss Register (ALR) accompanies an antiquity that is for sale?
70 people cast a vote (and they could choose more than one option).

The different options were:
  • The object does not appear in the ALR database [60 votes]
  • The object comes from a documented old collection [4 votes]
  • The object does not come from an illicit excavation [2 votes]
  • The object has not been stolen from a museum [7 votes]
  • The object has not been stolen from a private collection [5 votes]
  • No country will have a legal claim on the object [4 votes]
Most people got the right answer. The ALR Certificate means that that the object does not appear in the ALR database. No more; no less.

Hopefully if the piece had been stolen from a museum, there would be a record and the authorities would be alerted. But this is not always the case. And what about stores of archaeological material? How frequently are they audited for thefts?

Are all pieces in private collections registered with the ALR?

And can a piece that has been buried for (say) 2500 years appear on the ALR database? No! So it will not be on the database if it has come onto the market as a result of recent looting. And if it can be shown to have been looted, it is likely that a country will have a legal claim on it. And suddenly the ALR Certificate is not the complete answer to the due diligence process.

Does the ALR need to start ensuring that its certificates are issued with a reminder that they provide no guarantee that the object has not appeared on the market as the result of recent looting?


David Gill said...

For clarification on the wording of the ALR Certificate:

Tom Flynn said...

I'm glad you published the results of your straw poll and I was interested to read your analysis. But is everyone aware that the ALR is a commercial venture driven by the need to maximise profit for its shareholders rather than a pro bono registry working for the common good? This isn't just a side issue. It's of critical relevance to the concept of Due Diligence in both stolen art and the illicit antiquities trade.

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