Wednesday 30 November 2011

Collecting Egypt: Asking Questions

"Question?" by Langlands & Bell at University Campus Suffolk
© David Gill
I will be working through some ethical issues with students tomorrow. Our themes will include:

The lecture will hopefully be interactive with questions directed through Twitter.

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Consignments to Sotheby's New York in the 1990s

There was some discussion of an Apulian rhyton when it was offered on the New York market last year. It had first surfaced at Sotheby's New York in 1994. The rhyton seemed to match an image in one of the seized Swiss dossiers of images. It raised the possibility that the pattern known for the London market in the 1980s and 1990s (and so well documented by Peter Watson in Sotheby's: Inside Story) was also repeated in New York.

Christie's pressed ahead with the sale of the rhyton in spite of calls for the lot (and others) to be withdrawn.

It now appears that another Italian piece, a Peucetian clay stamnos, also seems to feature in one of the Swiss photographic dossiers (December 7, 2011, lot 154). In the photograph the stamnos is covered in deposits that could suggest that it was fresh out of the ground in southern Italy when the photograph was taken. The stamnos first surfaced at Sotheby's New York in 1995. Who consigned it? What else came from the same source?

Was it the same person in whose dossier the image was recovered?

I am grateful to Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis for his identification of the stamnos.

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Saturday 26 November 2011

"A history of provenance was not required back in 1991"

A New York dealer whose gallery is a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art has recently made the claim: "a history of provenance was not required back in 1991" (see also here).

What does he mean? First, the word "provenance" is (at best) ambiguous and, I would suggest, is obsolete. I have written on this topic in an academic article elsewhere. Essentially what is implied by this dealer is that the declaration of the collecting history was not required.

And that brings me to a second point. Who required the collecting history? Is the dealer suggesting that the information was required by law? Or was such information provided as part of the "professional" service offered by dealers? (And what does the omission of such information by such dealers tells us about their attitudes toward collecting histories?) And were potential buyers wanting this information so that they could avoid buying recently surfaced antiquities?

So to point three: what was special about 1991? Were people concerned about documenting the collecting histories of antiquities in that year? On a formal basis the US Government had passed the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) in January 1983 [text]. This makes provision for the requirement of appropriate documentation for the items. And if the dealer was not the importer, the documentation, if accurate, would have revealed the information about previous handlers (or handler). The point about CPIA is that it emerged from the implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The point is this: by 1991, dealers in North America were well aware that there was an issue about cultural property that included archaeological material. This raises issues about enforcement by US authorities as well as attitudes relating the acquisition of cultural property by museums and private collectors, as well as the handling of such material by North American dealers and auction-houses. The Medici Conspiracy has made it very clear that ignoring the implications of UNESCO and CPIA had major ramifications for a number of major North American museums, for some North American private collectors, for some auction-houses based in North America, and for some North American based dealers of antiquities. The ignoring of collecting histories, or rather the lack of them, had toxic implications for those handling or acquiring such recently surfaced antiquities.

There is a further issue. Was the ethical aspect of handling recently surfaced antiquities ignored or sidelined in 1991? And what have been the implications of such an attitude for museums, private collectors and dealers?

And dates matter. I note that twenty years before 1991 (but still post the 1970 UNESCO Convention) a New York Gallery sold some Roman fresco fragments to the J. Paul Getty Museum. In November 2006 it was announced that those fragments would be returned to Italy. The reason? I will let the readers come to their own conclusion.

A dealer in 1991 may, perhaps, have felt that collecting histories were unimportant to determine or to declare. But twenty years later, in 2011, due diligence and transparency are fundamental elements of those who trade in cultural property. So if details of the collecting history become known, or appear to be suppressed, they should, I would argue, be made public.

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Friday 25 November 2011

IADAA members and attitudes towards recently surfaced antiquities

Earlier this year I drew attention to key elements in the IADAA's Code of Ethics in the light of an article by Fabio Isman. Point 2 states:
The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.
Imagine a member of the IADAA stating that because an object was known in 1991, the Code of Ethics was not binding (irrespective of how the item or items moved from a putative grave assemblage in Southern Italy to a dealer's warehouse in Geneva or London). Contrast this with the batch of material returned to Italy by an IADAA member in 2007. Those objects first passed through the hands of the IADAA member in the 1980s and early 1990s.

IADAA members will also be aware of Point 7:
Members of IADAA undertake to the best of their ability to inform the Administrative Board about stolen goods and thefts. They also undertake to co-operate with international and national agencies involved with the recovery of stolen goods.
So if evidence comes to light that the object was possibly removed from (say) Italy, one would hope that the IADAA member would be getting in touch with the Italian Ministry of Justice as a matter of urgency.

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Collectors as blog readers

It appears that collectors are avid readers of LM. It seems that they now turn to LM for reliable information about potential purchases. Apparently LM provides information that is not always available from dealers.

And what does that say about the due diligence process in the marketplace?

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Thursday 24 November 2011

Khouli Case: update

Source: ICE
Attorney Rick St. Hilaire has an update on the Khouli case. This has implications for any discussion of Egyptian material entering North America.

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Looking Back to Athena Fund II

I can remember the appearance of the sale catalogue that realised the antiquities of Athena Fund II. Objects that passed through that Fund continue to appear on the market so it would be helpful to write a short summary.

As the Washington Post noted, "McNall also runs an investment fund for Merrill Lynch, called the Athena Fund II, that specializes in ancient art and coins" (Heidi L. Berry, "The Ancient Wealth Of the Hunt Brothers", June 14, 1990). Attitudes towards selling and collecting antiquities were very different in 1990 (Andrea Gabor, "Art of the wheeler-dealers", U.S. News & World Report July 2, 1990).
The smart money is backing ancient art. Onetime Texas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt and his brother William went bust speculating on silver, but their collection of ancient coins, vases and bronzes fetched over $ 23 million at last week's Sotheby's auction -- roughly double the original estimates. Just last year, Canal Capital, a firm controlled by Asher Edelman, a corporate raider and art collector, invested "well over $ 10 million" in inventory for the Merrin Gallery, a leading New York City antiquities dealer. Similarly, Merrill Lynch has launched several limited partnerships that invest in ancient coins. "Antiquities have traditionally been overlooked by the public," says Frank Carr, the portfolio manager for Merrill's Athena funds and chief financial officer at Los Angeles-based Numismatic Fine Arts.
The New York magazine gave a little more detail about the sale of Athena Fund II through Hesperia Arts Auction (Andrew Decker, "The Shock of the Old", November 19, 1990). It revealed that the three main figures were Bruce McNall, Jonathan Rosen ("New York collector and real-estate developer"), and Robert E. Hecht ("the éminence grise of New York antiquities collectors"). According to one of the cataloguers for the sale, Jasper Gaunt, the main consignors were Atlantis Antiquities and Athena Fund II. (Atlantis Antiquities is a consignor of some significance for other reasons.) Only today a North American dealer informed me that Robin Symes was the source of much of the material in the Fund.

The Funds were not a great success ("Merrill to Pay Back Investors in Coin and Art Partnerships", New York Times August 24, 1994):
Merrill Lynch & Company said yesterday that it would pay $20 million to $30 million to settle lawsuits by investors in its ancient-art and rare-coin limited partnerships.
Units in the partnerships, which failed, were bought by about 3,500 investors from 1986 to 1990. They will receive the full $1,000 they paid for each unit in the Merrill Lynch Athena Fund I, Athena Fund II and Numismatic Fine Arts World Coin Fund, excluding any distributions they received from the first two funds.
Buyers desiring to acquire ancient art that had passed through such a Fund would want to be sure of the collecting histories of the pieces.

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Wednesday 23 November 2011

Collecting histories for the Baltimore painter

Detail from Apulian krater attributed to the Baltimore painter.
A New York gallery is offering a pair of "important" Apulian volute-kraters attributed to the Baltimore painter. They are reported to have the following histories: "Ex S.B. collection, San Diego, CA., acquired from Royal-Athena in 1991".

But what were the collecting histories prior to 1991? Research by Christos Tsirogiannis has suggested three other previous holders: one in Switzerland and the other in London. At least one had apparently passed through the well-documented Athena Fund II managed by Hesperia Arts Auction Ltd. in 1990.

Why has the New York gallery failed to mention Athena Fund II? And what about the earlier handlers?

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Tuesday 22 November 2011

From Italy to Munich

A Munich auction-house will need to explain why items appearing in a forthcoming sale feature in one of the dossiers of images seized in Switzerland. Research by Christos Tsirogiannis has identified an Attic black-figured neck amphora attributed to the group of Würzburg 199 that had formed part of the Waltz collection in Munich.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that this amphora was found in Italy. Other neck-amphorae with the same attribution have been found at Cumae, Orvieto, Vulci and reportedly at Cerveteri.

Will the auction-house take responsible professional action and contact the Italian Ministry of Justice?

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Monday 21 November 2011

Renewed focus on Princeton

The Art Newspaper has turned the spotlight on the sensitive issue of the Princeton University Art Museum (Mauro Lucentini, "Has peace broken out after the trial of Marion True?", issue 229, November 2011). This resumes the discussion of the apparent internal investigation at Princeton relating to the acquisition of some 9 objects. It is 12 months since the Daily Princetonian revealed that the internal investigation had taken place, and nearly 18 months since the revelations in The New York Times. Will the museum reveal the full collecting histories of the objects in question in the interests of transparency? Lucentini reminds us of the hostile position adopted by Edoardo Almagià in Princeton Alumni Weekly in July 2010 (and discussed here). There are some 20 objects linked to Almagià. At least 7 other major North American museums are linked to the material.

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Polaroids and Munich

My attention has been drawn by a fellow researcher in East Anglia to the appearance of objects in a forthcoming sale in Munich that appear to feature in one of the seized polaroid dossiers. Does this suggest that German dealers have a less rigorous due diligence process? Or are fewer questions asked about collecting histories? Or are owners of such material trying to sell objects in markets other than London and New York?

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Friday 18 November 2011

Keros Haul for Sale in Germany?

One of the more notorious examples of looting in Greece was the wholesale removal of fragmentary Cycladic figures known as the Keros Haul.

The Munich auction house Gorny & Mosch (auction 202) is offering two Cycladic fragments that look as if they too are derived from the Keros haul (lots 7 and 8). Both come from the Waltz collection. If this is the case, will Gorny & Mosch be contacting the Greek Government to check that the objects have not been looted from this highly significant site in the southern Aegean? Would a German auction-house wish to be seen to be ignoring the claims of Greece over a cultural property claim at this moment in time?

The same Munich auction-house has been linked to the handling of recently-surfaced antiquities as part of Operation Ghelas.

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Thursday 17 November 2011

Cultural Property in a Global Perspective

Benin bronze in the British Museum © David Gill
Last night we attended the inaugural Robert Sainsbury Lecture at UEA in Norwich. It was delivered to a packed audience by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, on the theme of “Art in a Global Perspective”.

MacGregor explored the theme of the encyclopedic museum noting parallel changes across different continents and cultures. He had a short discussion of the Benin bronzes, derived from the notorious punitive expedition,  and drew on the thinking of Kwame Anthony Appiah's essay in Cosmopolitanism. MacGregor adopted James Cuno's much criticised position when he suggested that cultural property can form part of the political agenda. He perhaps went a little too far when he suggested that cultural property "myths" or (to use his word) "untruths" were deliberately constructed to make the case for the return of cultural property. Such a suggestion in the case of the Benin bronzes belittles the horrendous "facts" of the Benin Punitive Expedition so clearly documented in The Times (London).

Only a Scot could have commented so wittily about the claims on the Lewis Chessmen by suggesting that Norway had yet to ask for their return.

The lecture itself was delivered with the usual passion and enthusiasm associated with MacGregor and his discussion was placed against the formation of the Sainsbury collection, that incidentally contains significant pieces of Cycladic sculpture.

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Apulian pottery, the Schinoussa Archive and Christie's

Source: Schinoussa Archive
Sources in Greece have picked up on the story that images of objects that feature in the Schinoussa archive appear to feature in the forthcoming sale of antiquities at Christie's in the Rockefeller Plaza, New York.

Will staff at Christie's be demonstrating their commitment to the rigorous due diligence process by contacting the Italian Ministry of Justice?

Why did Christie's fail to disclose this part of the collecting history for the dinos?

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Tuesday 15 November 2011

Collecting histories and Christie's

Source: Schinoussa Archive
The December sale at Christie's in the Rockefeller Plaza is fast approaching and has once again given Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis material to consider. He draws my attention to one publicly declared object linked to Robin Symes: an Apulian loutrophoros attributed to the Varrese painter (lot 132). This was first recorded in 1983, and then auctioned on the New York market in 1995. One wonders at how the loutrophoros moved from a funerary context in southern Italy to the Symes gallery.

A second Apulian piece, a dinos attributed to the painter of Louvre MNB 1148, is said to have been known since 1983 when it was on the London art market (lot 134). It was then sold in an anonymous sale at Christie's New York in 1993. The dinos's true collecting history is revealed by its appearance in the Schinoussa Archive.

These are not the only pieces in the auction that have an interesting background. One wonders if Christie's have contacted or will be contacting the Italian authorities. Max Bernheimer of Christie's has reminded us of the extremely rigorous due diligence process conducted by the auction-house in order to restrict repatriation issues further down the line.

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Saturday 12 November 2011

Welsh Government to consider revised funding package for PAS

 Minister Huw Lewis discussing heritage matters at the Hay Festival, May 2011
 © David Gill
The Welsh Government has issued its first statement on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS): "The future of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales" (31 October 2011). (Earlier in October 2011 there was no mention whatsoever of PAS on the WG website.)

It now seems that the Minister for Heritage has realised that he has devolved responsibility for PAS in Wales. And with responsibility comes the need to foot the bill.
The Minister for Heritage is being asked to consider a revised funding package from Wales to support the continued operation of the popular and successful Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Wales in 2012-13 and identifies a framework for future years.
This appears to suggest that there is no solution to the funding question but merely a "consideration".

Yet this cannot have been news to any serious heritage watchers in Wales. It was raised specifically on the James and Louise show on BBC Wales back in June this year. There had been academic discussion of the issue in the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology (London) in December 2010. In November 2010 PAS made a statement about the impact of the comprehensive spending review on PAS operations in Wales (a view that I heard aired in Cambridge earlier that autumn). This statement was issued just as the Welsh Assembly Government (as it was then) had announced cuts to the heritage budget in Wales. And to go back even further (May 2010) PAS was discussed at an open meeting in Cardiff where CyMAL was represented.

The apparent confusion is unwarranted and serious questions should be asked about how politicians and civil servants in Cardiff Bay have handled the issue of protecting the portable heritage of Wales.

The present official decision is this:
The funding package being considered would allow for the continuation of the Scheme in Wales including the continued employment of the Wales Finds Liaison Officer by Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and the continuation of the role undertaken by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts.
What is not clear is how this will be funded, when the matter will be resolved, and where additional cuts will be made to find the necessary money.

It would also be interesting to know how WG can make the claim: "It [sc. PAS] also seems to have reduced the amount of illicit detecting on archaeological sites." What is the evidence for this?

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Egyptian antiquities and the Australian market

The Egyptian press has reported that a delegation from Egypt has collected 122 Egyptian antiquities in Sydney ("Local Delegation Heads to Australia to Retrieve 122 Artifacts", Egypt State Information Service October 29, 2011).
SCA Secretary General Dr. Mustafa Amin said the most important artifacts to be retrieved are a bust of granite and a statue made of glass in addition to a group of statues including one made of bronze.
This raises the question about the importer, the vendor and the collector. And is this seizure the hint of a well organised network?

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Saturday 5 November 2011

Reflecting on Readership

Source: David Gill. Date: 5 November 2011.
A year ago I had a look at the statistics for those subscribing to (broadly) cultural property blogs via Google Reader. Such an overview was not without controversy. However it gives some idea about whether or not there is a clear body of readers who want to be notified about new posts. There are, of course, other ways to view blog posts and it is possible to get into a debate about the finer detail.

Today's snapshot suggests that 54% of LM's readership comes from the US, and 15% from the UK. Germany is next with 6%, and then Switzerland with 4%. Bulgaria, the subject of a proposed MOU with the US, represents 1%.

IE remains the most popular (!) browser at 36%, followed by Firefox (23%), Chrome (16%), and Safari (15%).

LM remains grateful to its readership for suggestions and comments on stories.

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Thursday 3 November 2011

Trustee of Boston MFA talks of the joy of collecting

North American private collector and trustee of the Boston's MFA, Peter Aldrich, has revised his earlier 2003 essay “An Antiquities Collector’s Thoughts on the Structure and Economics of the Antiquities Markets. The Unintended Consequences of Public Policy, Possible Reforms and the Ethics of Market Participation” (in Carol Mattusch, Alice A. Donohue, and Amy Brauer, eds., Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities -Proceedings of the XVI International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Boston (Oxford: Oxbow, 2006), 494-96) for Forbes (with Robert Lenzner, "There's Big Money And The Need For Reform In The Antiquities Trade", November 1, 2011). Lenzner tells us "Aldrich, a retired real estate investor from Boston, ... began collecting Greek and Roman artifacts in emulation of the late Leon Levy and his wife Shelby White". What Lenzner does not inform the readership of Forbes is that two of the antiquities returned from a North American collection to Italy had passed through the Peter and Widgie Aldrich collection (and discussed in an academic article published by Cambridge University Press in 2007). Among the antiquities presented by Aldrich to a major North American museum was a set of armour belonging to a South Italian cavalryman. (Another set of armour from a cavalryman's burial passed into the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection.)

Aldrich now writes "I found that the current market system stimulates, enables and creates looters, black marketeers, and unscrupulous middlemen, dealers and purchasers." He appears (astonishingly!) to be suggesting that some private collectors, like himself, were unscrupulous in the way that they developed their collections. Aldrich alludes to Robin Symes (though fails to mention Paris-, Swiss- and New York-based dealers who played their part): "There are examples galore of scandal in the antiquities trade, all of which makes reform advisable, indeed essential. For example, the reputation of the Getty Museum, an avid collector of antiquities, has been seriously stained by the scandal involving a London dealer who served time in jail."

Aldrich's association with recently-surfaced (and returned) antiquities makes it hard to take his seven point plan seriously.
I believe that this albeit plan could beneficially reform the structure and economics of the antiquities markets, lower the level of violence and corruption that afflicts poor and rich countries alike, and increase dramatically the employment and research opportunities of the archeological profession. It would also make it again an honor and a joy to collect.
Perhaps a more radical solution would be for collectors like Aldrich to insist on seeing properly authenticated documention before making their acquisitions. And in this spirit, I hope that he will publish the full collecting histories of the objects in his collection and include the pieces that he has donated to public museums.

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"Benghazi Treasure": BBC report

Caroline Hawley of the BBC has presented a short report on the theft of antiquities from Benghazi. Video here.

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Wednesday 2 November 2011

Sabratha head sold in London

Source: The Art Newspaper
The Art Newspaper has reported that a Roman portrait head, removed from a statue at Sabratha, was sold for £91,250 at Christie's in London (lot 261) (Martin Bailey, "Head sold at Christie’s stolen from Libya", November 2011). The portrait head was apparently stolen in 1990.

It is significant that Christie's appears to have sold the portrait with a falsified collecting history: "private collection, Switzerland, circa 1975; acquired by the present owner in Switzerland in 1988". It was thus placed in Switzerland long before it had been stolen in Libya.

This raises some key issues. How did the staff at Christie's conduct a due diligence process for this statue? What documentation had they seen? What made them convinced that the Swiss collecting history was accurate?

And Christie's has a responsibility to disclose to police authorities who had consigned the portrait to them. Has any additional material been consigned by the same source?

This is not a "one off" for Christie's in London, see, for example, a head from Butrint. And Christie's itself has been handling disputed material in recent years. (See also an earlier overview.)

Why is Christie's appearing so frequently in such cases? Perhaps those in senior positions in the auction house should start to ask some searching questions about their department of ancient art.

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Tuesday 1 November 2011

Coin dealers and the proposed MOU with Bulgaria

I note that Mark Fox has written about concerns over the proposed MOU with Bulgaria and how it could affect coin-collectors ("Bulgaria Seeks Import Restrictions", Numismatic News October 31, 2011). Fox notes:
Several prominent coin dealers and auction houses, including Classical Numismatic Group (CNG) and Harlan J. Berk, Ltd., have already alerted their customers about Bulgaria’s request for an MOU with the U.S. and its possible implications on the hobby if implemented.
It should be noted that CNG has more than a passing interest in coins that appear to be derived from Bulgaria. Indeed the press release relating to this case appears to have been circulated by a paid Washington lobbyist. The same lobbyist has commented in a private capacity on the proposed MOU with Bulgaria.

Eric J. McFadden of CNG has made a submission about the proposed MOU commenting on the place of coin collecting:
This pursuit has been the source, for hundreds of years, of international understanding and cooperation, not to mention personal enrichment, satisfaction, and enjoyment for American collectors who have been at the forefront of numismatic collecting and research.
There is still time to make a submission.
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Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...