Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Sunday, December 29, 2013
If Cambodia has such unclean hands, why is the U.S. Government spending considerable tax payer dollars on its behalf to force American institutions and collectors to repatriate artifacts long in this country? Shouldn't we at least demand better site security and the prompt prosecution of war criminals before our State and Justice Departments sacrifice American interests at the behest of Cambodian nationalists and American archaeologists?
Friday, December 20, 2013
As the New York Times has observed:
Anonymity is often prized in such transactions as a matter of personal privacy. It also and allows institutions quietly to sell items from their collections that they no longer need. In some cases it can also cloak the embarrassment of debt or help sellers avoid setting off family conflicts over the disposition of inherited assets.
In contrast, commentators in the archaeological blogosphere had hoped the lower court's ruling, requiring the identities of consignors to be disclosed, would stand. But why would they want this information other than to harass the sellers of "cultural property" they believe should be repatriated. So, its probably a good thing the Court of Appeals has ruled as it did.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
"The Hopi have not identified their plans for these artifacts on their return, but they are not viewed as art objects or housed in museums. Typically, Katsinam are still used in spiritual ceremonies or are retired and left to disintegrate naturally."
Under the circumstances, perhaps one should question the wisdom of the effort, particularly given information in one of the comments that such items were openly sold by some Hopi at least as recently as the 1970's. Tribes seldom speak with one voice and one wonders whether at least some tribal members would have rather have had such money put to other use on the Reservation. And there is a larger question: Is repatriation ever warranted when it leads to destruction?
Monday, December 16, 2013
The current Chinese MOU must be renewed in January or it will lapse. At a public session awhile back, CPAC received plenty of evidence that the current MOU does nothing but promote the interests of politically connected Chinese business interests at the expense of American collectors, museums and auction houses. But will CPAC and the State Department decision-maker listen? Or will the U.S. Cultural bureaucracy's knee-jerk repatriationist stance carry the day once more?
1. To prevail, the government still must be able to link the artifact in question to a specific site within the confines of modern Cambodia. That was done here, but it's unclear to CPO whether that could be done with respect to all the other Khmer artifacts the Cambodians and their supporters in the US Cultural bureaucracy and archaeological communities may have their sights on.
2. If that is done, the government must then either be able to point to an illegal import or prove that the artifact was stolen under a foreign cultural patrimony law that vested clear title to Cambodia. This issue was raised, but again not conclusively decided in the Sotheby's case.
3. There is also the issue whether Cambodia consistently applies such law at home. For example, during discussions about a renewal of a MOU with Cambodia, it was disclosed that at least one high Cambodian government official has a collection of similar antiquities. If so, how can the U.S. Government claim all such antiquities are Cambodian state property?
4. It now appears that the Khmer Rouge may have sold the Koh Ker statue. If so, doesn't that also undercut any Cambodian Government claim to the statue? As abominable a regime as the Khmer Rouge was, it was also considered the lawful Government of Cambodia for a time. So, if an artifact was sold by the Khmer Rouge, the "lawful rulers" of Cambodia, how could it be considered "stolen" now?
5. What part did the US State Department and its Cultural Heritage Center play in convincing the Department of Justice to take the Sotheby's case and in funding groups like Heritage Watch which have pressed for repatriation of Khmer artifacts? To the extent such claims are "ginned up" by the State Department rather than the Cambodians themselves, that would presumably have some impact on a jury's views of the matter.
There will, of course, be a concerted effort to pressure other museums and perhaps collectors to give up similar art works without a fight. That may very well happen given the cost and difficulties private parties face when going up against the U.S. Government. There is also the issue of whether the current owner of the artifact is willing to take heat in the press, let alone the archaeological blogosphere. So to put up a fight, one needs not only to be well funded, but to have considerable intestinal fortitude as well. Still, for those bold enough to fight, the relevant issues have not been conclusively decided.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
During CPAC's consideration of the proposed Bulgarian MOU, it was revealed that Bulgaria's corrupt police all too often hype such seizures in order to make it appear that their efforts are far more effective than they truly are in reality. The picture accompanying this story raises the question if the Bulgarian police are still more interested in looking good rather than doing good in their jobs. Hopefully, there will be some clarification of whether the image is that of the actual seizure and, if so, whether the coins are of ancient or modern origin.
Monday, December 9, 2013
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
The documents should go to their true owners or their representatives, not the country that hounded them to leave. It's as simple as that.
Monday, December 2, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
But what is the reality? Loans in fact only go to US Government institutions like the National Gallery of Art and museums that have repatriated artifacts. The good stuff only gets displayed here in the US for a short time and with substantial fees attached. And now, even this "cultural exchange" is in jeopardy as Sicily has decided to ban loans of important pieces from its own museums.
While I sympathize with Sicily and think it should get top dollar for loans, this turn of events again shows the MOU with Italy is a fraud. It is surely time for it to be scrapped. Really, what's wrong with Americans being able to import the same types of Italian artifacts collectors in Europe and indeed Italy itself have always been able to enjoy?
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Monday, November 25, 2013
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Monday, November 18, 2013
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Destroying Artifacts to Save Endangered Species-- Are There Any Parallels for Antiquities Collectors?
Some in the archaeological community see direct parallels between endangered elephants and "endangered" artifacts, but the differences should be obvious. Elephants are live beings; artifacts are not. Harvesting ivory kills elephants; removing artifacts from the ground may deprive them of "context," but it may also save them from deterioration and development. And is anyone seriously maintaining seized artifacts should be destroyed? Let's hope not, though one wonders if repatriating them to underfunded cultural bureaucracies abroad pretty much guarantees they will be lost through neglect or worse as time goes on.
And what of the economics of the government's actions? Some have suggested selling off ivory stocks would be far more effective in depressing prices and ultimately lessening demand. Government spokesmen instead claim that such sales would instead stimulate demand and help others disguise poached ivory.
And is this of any relevance to antiquity collecting? Probably not. First, "post-1970" antiquities remain legal to own so I'm not sure how sales of seized antiquities would help disguise "poached" ones. Second, underfunded cultural bureaucracies abroad could really use the money generated from such sales. Finally, stimulating demand for antiquities may not be such a bad thing, particularly where it leads to further study and appreciation of the ancient cultures that made them. So, despite any effort to link ivory to antiquities, any parallels in the end seem quite limited.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
After visiting the heart rendering display, CPO can attest that even in their damaged state, these artifacts retain a power to help us imagine a now vanished community. Indeed, given all the indignities they've suffered, perhaps they are a bit too pristine. Given their aged but clean condition, it's hard to imagine them as they were found-- waterlogged in the basement of Saddam's secret police headquarters.
And what of their ultimate fate? What assurances do we have that Iraqi authorities will ensure they are preserved for future generations and made available to scholars and members of the exiled Jewish community?
Digitizing them may preserve what information they contain, but electronic copies are no substitute for the real thing that is of tangible cultural value to the Iraqi-Jewish Community in exile. And looking at religious texts printed centuries ago in places like Vienna and Venice as well as all the items of a personal nature taken from deported Jews, any thinking person must really question the rights of the modern nation state of Iraq to these artifacts in the first place.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
But this is a blog on cultural property. From that perspective, Sicilian cultural officials should be happy that they ultimately allowed the Cleveland Museum exhibit to go forward. One can easily imagine the number of attendees on the Saturday afternoon CPO visited vastly exceeding the number of visitors its star attraction, the so-called Charioteer of Motya, receives in an entire year in its out-of-the-way Sicilian home.
Then there is the issue of the MOU with the Republic of Italy. Archaeologists and other proponents may point to the exhibit as a testament to the MOU's success. But tickets cost $15. Moreover, the exhibit only went to two museums, the Getty and Cleveland, which have made voluntary repatriations. One really wonders then if this is truly the case or if the exhibit would have traveled to the US anyway. Certainly, in the future, Sicily will likely demand even more money before it lets its treasures travel abroad.
As for the Cleveland Apollo, some in the archaeological community have questioned its provenance, presumably hoping that it too will be repatriated (but to where)? However, Cleveland has been forthright with its purchase. And the statue's current display "in context" alongside other, Roman era copies demonstrates that archaeological context should not be deemed supreme.
Kudos to the Cleveland Museum to Art for all it has done to further the appreciation of ancient Italian and Greek culture through these exhibits. Cleveland-- and in particular its Museum of Art-- does indeed "rock."
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Even worse, one voice in the archaeological blogosphere has taken all this to an extreme. Indeed, he goes so far as to demand that what should be considered good news instead requires the resignation of the responsible Government Minister.
Rather than celebrating the knowledge that has come from these finds, he instead claims these artifacts are better better left in the ground for future archaeologists to discover. But that is pure fantasy. Archaeologists will always be few in number. Their digs will always concentrate on significant sites, not the farmer's fields where most treasure is found. And while we are waiting, it's much more likely that the artifacts themselves will be lost through deterioration and development.
Luckily, most real archaeologists in the United Kingdom have made peace with metal detectorists. They recognize that the Treasure Act, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the knowledge of and preservation of artifacts they bring benefits everyone. So let's all celebrate the latest finds in England and Wales and salute the "heritage heroes" of the archaeological and metal detecting communities that have made it all possible.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Will Senator Schumer press the State Department on the matter or let it drop as was done with import restrictions on Chinese cultural artifacts?
Monday, October 28, 2013
That test calls for “a discriminating analysis of the particular question posed, in terms of the history of its management by the political branches, of its susceptibility to judicial handling in light of its nature and posture in a specific case, and the possible consequences of judicial action.” Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. at 211-12. One wonders if a court that honestly applied this test could really conclude that import restrictions on coins constituted such a “foreign policy matter.” I submit not. But we will not know unless, of course, another test case is filed in another circuit, perhaps one less known for its pro-government leanings.
Okay, you might with ask with perfect 20-20 hindsight why then did the Guild file in the 4th Circuit? Well, the Guild is a small non-profit and it was done because filing elsewhere would have added unnecessary expense since my law firm is based in Washington, D.C. As a D.C. firm, we certainly would have liked to file in D.C. Circuit, which is well known for its expertise in administrative law. However, to get standing we needed to actually import some coins on the designated lists—and the most convenient ports for an import from Europe were in Baltimore and Dulles Airport in Virginia, both in the 4th Circuit. It was only after the coins were imported and seized by U.S. Customs in Baltimore that the case could go forward.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Thursday, October 24, 2013
"These sacred artifacts were taken from the Iraqi Jewish community and thus do not belong to the Iraqi government,” the senior New York senator told the Daily News. “They belong to the thousands of Iraqi Jews, an ancient and once-vibrant community, who were exiled many years ago," Schumer said.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Monday, October 21, 2013
Friday, October 18, 2013
2200 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20037
no object may be considered to be an object of ethnological interest unless such object is -- (I) the product of a tribal or nonindustrial society, and (II) important to the cultural heritage of a people because of its distinctive characteristics, comparative rarity, or its contribution to the knowledge of the origins, development, or history of that people.
Peter K. Tompa
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Monday, October 14, 2013
Friday, October 11, 2013
"Western giants Christie's and Sotheby's are increasingly focused on China but barred from selling the hottest item -- antiques -- by laws aimed at protecting cultural heritage.
Meanwhile Chinese rivals Poly and Guardian have seen tremendous growth thanks to their greater freedom to act within the country, and their political ties."
The net effect of self-imposed US restrictions is simply to turn the market over to Mainland Chinese auctioneers and dealers. And again it must be asked: How can restrictions on the entry of ancient Chinese art into the relatively small US market have any impact on any looting within China itself when the much larger and rapidly expanding Chinese art market is allowed to sell the same ancient Chinese art without restrictions in Hong Kong?
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Here is an article about the Supreme Court case from Sunday's online Wall Street Journal.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Mr. Barford, like some of his fellow archaeo-bloggers, is also obsessed with the provenance of objects in private and museum collections. But what do we know about Mr. Barford's own background or "provenance" if you like? CPO has touched on this issue before, but Arthur Houghton, who was wondering about this issue, suggested that CPO ask the following questions for Mr. Barford to answer. He's welcome to answer these on his own blog or on this one, or to the extent he chooses not to do so, others are welcome to provide any accurate information they may have.
1. Exactly what academic and professional credentials does Mr. Barford have to back up his claim to be an archaeologist? What scholarly works has he authored about archaeology? What digs has he participated in and has any fieldwork he has performed been published?
2. Mr. Barford has evidently lived in Poland since 1986. At that time, Communist Poland was an international pariah for its military crack-down on the Solidarity movement. Why did Mr. Barford move from the Democratic West to Communist Poland? Did he work for the Communist Government as has been reported? If so, in what position and did he make any oath to that Government? What has he been doing since the fall of Communism in 1989?
3. Mr. Barford is reported to work as a contractor for UNESCO. Does Mr. Barford derive any income from organizations or groups that seek to prohibit or limit the access of dealers, collectors and museums to cultural goods? If so, what organizations or groups and how much do they give him? In short, does Mr. Barford have an undisclosed financial interest behind his commentary?
Friday, October 4, 2013
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
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New York, NY 10036
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Monday, September 30, 2013
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Thursday, September 26, 2013
"Museums, auction houses, art dealers and collectors are encouraged not to acquire such objects without having carefully and thoroughly researched their origin and all the relevant legal documentation."
While this may make sense for objects where there is already a reasonable suspicion that they may have been illicitly removed from Syria, it makes little sense for items like Roman coins, which are legally sold and collected most everywhere.
Meanwhile, in the ever more surreal archaeological blogosphere, anti-American Paul Barford demands to know why the Obama Administration has not already entered into a MOU with Syria to protect Syrian cultural patrimony. To be fair, perhaps Mr. Barford is just trying to be ironic.
In any event, presumably US Customs already feels it has ample authority to interdict illicit Syrian cultural property based on the bewildering array of economic sanctions already in place.