© David Gill, 2010
Protests against the sale emerged on social networking sites last week. An online petition was organised by the Nigeria Liberty Forum, which describes itself as a "UK-based Nigerian pro-democracy group".
"They should seek good counsel and refrain from selling the mask," Orobosa Omo-Ojo, an official in the state government of Edo, which contains the modern city of Benin, told the press in Nigeria. "Anything that makes them ignore this call [from] the Edo state government will [make us] use this as a starting point to protect our intellectual properties."
Questions are being raised about whether the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is coming sufficiently clean about an ancient Greek vase in its collection, which has been linked to antiquities dealers involved in tainted acquisitions by the Getty.MIA Director, Kaywin Feldman, is probably regretting writing a letter to the New York Times that drew attention to her thinking on cultural property. And her position is important because she is also President of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).
Christie's Antiquities Department made history once again, achieving $34 million, the highest total for an Antiquities sale at Christie’s and selling the exceptional Cycladic marble reclining female figure for an amazing $16.8 million, a world auction record for a Cycladic marble figure and the highest price achieved for an ancient work of art ever sold at Christie’s.The Christie's sale fetched $34,092,875, a little behind Sotheby's at $45 million. But this means some $79 million worth of antiquities were sold at two New York auction-houses this week.
Egypt has rightly been demanding that governments and museums return fundamental parts of its patrimony that have disappeared from ancient troves. It has had no success thus far with a 3,200-year-old burial mask at the Saint Louis Art Museum, a bust of Nefertiti in Germany, or the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.Hawass takes the view that the mask was removed from one of the archaeological stores in Saqqara.
If a member museum, as a result of its continuing research, gains information that establishes another party’s right to ownership of a work, the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the work to that party, as has been done in the past. In the event that a third party brings to the attention of a member museum information supporting the party’s claim to a work, the museum should respond promptly and responsibly and take whatever steps are necessary to address this claim, including, if warranted, returning the work, as has been done in the past.In other words, Feldman needs to contact the Italian authorities ("the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party") and investigate the claim.
... why should we pay a treasure hunter 1000 times more than an archaeologist to dig up an object? Even to my politician, it seems pretty obvious that new finds like this year’s Crosby Garrett Roman helmet need to be in a museum where people can see them; and equally obvious that the sums of money paid to treasure hunters are as absurd as their public adulation. Two million pounds for the helmet and three for the Staffordshire hoard – these are sums that could keep a small museum going for several years.
Archaeology is in the business of understanding the climate, the soil, society, religion, conflict, commerce, living together: no minor matters. It is as important as every other science, from medicine to space travel, and its findings have a permanent value. Whatever the future brings, let’s hang on to this principle: the true currency of archaeology is knowledge; that’s our gold standard, valid everywhere.
G. Max Bernheimer, International Head of Antiquities showcases a Cycladic marble figure, one of the few sculptures attributed to the Schuster Master. The idol is one of the most iconic sculptural types to have survived from antiquity and is the highlight of Christie's Antiquities sale in New York on 9 December.Bernheimer seems so out of touch with Cycladic scholarship that he still uses the now obsolete nomenclature. I have noted elsewhere:
One change in G-G's approach has been the abandonment of the term 'Master' in favor of 'Sculptor' (though still in upper case). In G-G's earlier work, she explained: 'The term master is used throughout ... to denote a craftsman who was thoroughly competent in his profession although not necessarily highly skilled or capable of producing masterpieces' (SC, p. 62). The use of this term for Cycladic had been challenged: it may be appropriate for the language of 'high art' but not for what is likely to have been a humble craft (GC, pp. 651-52). G-G reports that her methodology and terminology were not borrowed from Morelli or Berenson, or from Beazley -- the obvious close precedent for identifying 'Masters' amongst the makers of ancient Greek artefacts; she reverts to what she now considers to be more art-historically neutral language (pp. xv-xvi).The auction catalogue entry continues to overlook Pat Getz-Gentle's attribution of 16 figures to the Sculptor.
In June 2010, the Italian government accused the Princeton University Art Museum’s antiquities curator, J. Michael Padgett, of acquiring nearly two dozen Italian artifacts for the museum that were the property of the Italian government. The University conducted an internal investigation and is now waiting for the Italian government's response.It should be noted that the New York Times disclosed the Italian papers in June 2010.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that J. Michael Padgett was accused of illegally donating artifacts to the Princeton University Art Museum when, in fact, he allegedly assisted in the artifacts' acquisition from an alumnus.This story is about the due diligence process conducted by a curatorial member of staff at the Princeton University Art Museum. And the correction is misleading in that the report that appeared in The New York Times included loans as well as acquisitions.
The New York Times recently reported that Italian authorities are investigating Edoardo Almagià ’73 for illegal trafficking in antiquities. The Times cited a document written by Italian authorities alleging that the former antiquities dealer loaned, donated, and sold ancient artifacts to the Princeton University Art Museum through curator Michael Padgett, who also is under investigation.Objects linked to Almagià have been returned from Cleveland to Italy.
We ask a very rigorous set of questions about any work of art that hypothetically might enter our collection either as a gift or a purchase ... We really have a tough standard in that regard, and I would say one of the toughest standards in the country.If such a "rigorous set of questions" have been asked about the twenty or so objects, Princeton University Art Museum has an academic responsibility to make a full disclosure of this information.
In June 2010, the Italian government accused the Princeton University Art Museum’s antiquities curator, J. Michael Padgett, of acquiring nearly two dozen Italian artifacts through fraudulent means and illegally donating them to the museum. The University conducted an internal investigation and is now waiting for the Italian government's response.
“There is still no indictment, and there is no investigation of the museum,” explained James Steward, director of the museum. “Beyond that, we’re in a wait-and-see situation.” Steward is the only member of the museum authorized to discuss its acquisition policies, and he declined to elaborate on the internal investigation.
Lorraine Sciarra, senior University counsel, said in an e-mail that the art museum’s current acquisition procedures have been in place since 2006.But what about the due dilgence process in the 1980s, the 1990s and the early 2000s when the disputed pieces were acquired?
“Princeton University Art Museum has a stringent acquisition policy in keeping with the November 1970 UNESCO agreement regarding the acquisition of ancient works of art or archaeological material,” she explained. “The policy reflects the art museum's commitment to respecting the preservation of every nation's cultural heritage as well as the specific patrimony law of each country of origin.”
There is much comment at the moment about the sale of papyri to the Museum of the Bible (MOTB), and specifically how fragments owned by th...