Friday, 17 February 2012

Not About "Repatriations"

American collectors and dealers' lobbyists don't seem to get it. Thick as planks the lot of them. They are constantly banging on about how the US "should not repatriate" stolen artefacts to countries like Greece (their current bête noire) when the 'natives' "cannot look after them" (for example totally prevent them being stolen by armed raiders). Typical of the sort of comment is this one from Bailey and Ehrenbergs' Peter Tompa:
'Greece in Meltdown; Archaeologists in Denial' [...] The Greek financial meltdown has led to further cuts in Greece's already poorly funded cultural establishment [...] Yet, it's business as usual in the archaeological blogosphere. Bash the collectors and museums. Call for more repatriations.
Let us be clear that what the United States (which quite clearly is all that concerns Welthaupstadt-Washington-based Tompa here) is "repatriating" are objects which are seized under US law because they are illicit (in the eyes of US law). Recovered stolen property, artefacts detected in the process of being smuggled into the country and suchlike.

The 1970 UNESCO Convention, the implementation of which US dealers in certain types of dugup artefacts are kicking, is called the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The word "repatriation" does not occur in the title (nor, indeed the body of the text of the Convention's 26 articles). The series of administrative processes to which dealers' lobbyists like Tompa and Welsh so strongly and vociferously object are intended - as it says on the box - to combat the ILLICIT trade in antiquities.

So yes, let us bash collectors who do not do anything much to avoid buying illicit antiquities, whose carefree self-centred behaviour allows the illicit trade to flourish. Let us bash museums that do the same. Why should we not?

So, instead of merely "repatriation" of the proceeds, I'd like to see the US doing more to haul those with illicit antiquities in their possession, or found to have been dealing in them up in front of a judge, have their perp-walk photos in an orange jumpsuit in all the papers. Let's have their names. Let culture crime be treated as what it is, a crime against 'humanity', stealing from all of us. Let those found to be involved be sent somewhere where the US authorities by the various subtle or not so subtle (legal we are assured) means at their disposal do their best to find out the names of their accomplices. Let them too then face justice. This is not just about Good Ol' Uncle Sam giving back the proceeds of a crime to some of its victims with a patronising smile and the obligatory scripted cultural pep-talk speechette. Let Tompa and Welsh and all the rest of the ACCG and their hangers on realise this is about fighting a crime. One which, if they tell the truth about their own beliefs, motivations and mores, one would have thought they'd care a lot more about seeing prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

But no, for them it seems it is all about stolen artefacts being taken away from the US market where they cannot get them and going back abroad. Who is the real Black Beast here? Who here is "in denial"?

Vignette: Collectors' bete noire (drawing copyright Pierrick Martinez)


Dorothy King said...

The museum in the US to use contra that is that is the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston - bad burglary. Also Dulwich Picture Gallery in London has a painting nick0named the "take away Rembrandt" because it's been pinched so many times. Plus ass quite a few country house collections in the UK.

Olympia was clearly a professional theft, and those sort of things go on whatever the security measures - if professional thieves want to get in enough, they probably will.

My "bete noire" is people you'd call coineys - often dealers - saying for example that Cambodia doesn't look after it's art enough, so we should be allowed to buy it and 'save it' ... I do try to point out that Cambodia went through this little thing called genocide so they might have other priorities first ... Grrrr

I suspect you do not approve of Shelby White, but you might like to know that for years she's been supporting funding the creation of catalogues in Cambodian museums, to make it less likely stuff gets knicked

Cultural Property Observer said...

The problem is that undocumented means illicit as you and the US State Department and Customs view the world, when that is certainly not the case in reality. As for Greece, I don't think anyone is gleeful about the situation there, but it does call for a major rethink on how Greece and other retentavist countries handle matters. It should be about conservation not control. State control over everything and anything never assured conservation in the best of times, and it certainly is a major impediment now.

The point of my post is that this should be a game changer in how these issues are looked at, new approaches need to be considered that encourage conservation of artifact not just bureaucratic and archaeological control. However, the archaeological blogoshere seems just to want more of the same.

Paul Barford said...

@ Dorothy, thanks.

@Peter Tompa:
There is no “problem”, the US CCPIA defines “unlawfully exported” (ie what eventually will be sent back to the source country under the CCPIA) in the way that the US CCPIA defines “unlawfully exported”.

The lot of dealers is to accept and abide by that existing US law. The type of documentation is, as I have pointed out – and you persist in ignoring – fully defined in the CCPIA.

I think the “gottchas” of the antiquity collecting lobbyists like yourself and Welsh discussing Greece’s problems reek of gleeful spite. Your blogging reveals an obvious deep, vindictive contempt and hatred for the citizens and governments of certain foreign countries. Greece, Italy, China, Egypt, now Bulgaria first among them. To judge from what you write at the bidding of your PNG paymasters, all you see in any country is whether it has a coin-containing MOU with the US. That is the whole extent of your “cultural property observation”, and – frankly – that disgusts me.

“it does call for a major rethink on how Greece and other retentavist countries handle matters”
No it does not, any more than any museum getting robbed calls for a major rethink on why have museums. Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston mentioned above by Dorothy for example. To take a more recent example, the ANS money Museum robberies (the oh-so-embarrassing ones that never-happened-on-Peter-Tompa’s-blog-cos-not-in-Wiley-Oriental-Gentlemen-Land), Mr Landau stealing presidental speeches from public archives.

Events like these prompt NORMAL people to think what can be done to improve security in public collections. Only depraved deviant collectors would suggest selling off all the objects in them to stop armed criminals or others stealing them. That is a perversion of the ideas behind Cultural Heritage Management. Please stop spreading perverted ideas.

“It should be about conservation not control”. Mr Lawyer, please define your use here of the words “conservation”, and define “control”, I really do not know what you are talking about here. Stealing objects from a museum “liberates” them from state control, is that what you are saying? That the masked thieves were "liberators"? Is that like Alfredo De La Fe's saying stealing and smuggling coins from so-called "retentionist" countries is "free enterprise"?

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