Thursday, 14 June 2012

Art Newspaper: What Turkey wants…

Martin Bailey reports ('Turkey turns up the heat on foreign museums', Art Newspaper, Issue 236, 13 June 2012) on the current status quo concerning Turkey's tough new approach to cultural property claims. This new drive, being pursued by Osman Murat Suslu, the director general of cultural heritage and museums, is leading to Turkey refusing exhibition loans to museums it accuses of holding improperly obtained cultural property from Turkey. 
Refusing loan requests to museums that reject Turkish antiquities claims represents a new policy for prime minister Recep Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003 leading a centre-right government. Although his administration is pro-Western and keen on joining the European Union, repatriation of antiquities strikes a nationalist appeal with the electorate.
Once again we see an arts journalist being less-than-sympathetic to those who question the rights of western collectors to be dismissive of, rob and trample others to get their concupiscent hands on trophies of their ability to dominate in the form of their cultural property. In the vocabulary of the supporters of 'culture-up-for-grabs', as in the dealers' lobbyists' rhetoric and Mr Bailey's article, museums are merely altruistic, spotlessly clean ethically and merely being "targeted". Anyone who wants to see historic wrongs righted is a "nationalist" (or "populist").  Of course the real fear is that others might follow suit: "Linking loan requests and restitution demands could be taken up by other nations, creating a damaging impact on the museum community worldwide". The existence of material taken against the wishes of other nations is not seen in any way by the journalist as having a damaging impact on anything?

Mr Bailey attempts to gather information on the full  'wants list' of Turkey. This is a bit patchy.  He notes that "the list of antiquities demanded gets longer as more exhibitions are hit by the loans boycott". Several European museums are mentioned. Among them is Berlin's Pergamonmuseum. Turkey has, not surprisingly, long called for the restitution of the 2nd century BC Hellenistic Pergamon Altar, acquired by Germany under an 1879 agreement with the Ottoman government. In 2001, the Turkish culture minister asked for the return of the altar, although it is unclear whether this represented a formal claim. In July the Pergamonmuseum:
 returned the Bogazkoy Sphinx, dating from around 1600BC and found at the Hittite capital of Hattusa in 1915. It had been taken to Germany for restoration in 1917, but was not returned. Last year pressure for restitution was intensified by the Turkish authorities, who withdrew permits for German archaeologists to work on Turkish sites. This led to a decision to return the sphinx, which is now with its twin in the Bogazkoy Museum. 
A spokeswoman for the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation which oversees Berlin’s state museums confirmed that Turkey has expressed the wish for the return of objects "from various European museums, among them those in Berlin.” No details are yet known of these claims. Two London museums also hold material which Turkey contests: 
British Museum, London: Turkey is claiming a first century BC stele, which was found at Samsat, near Selik. It was acquired by archaeologist Leonard Woolley in 1911 and bought by the British Museum 16 years later. The museum is willing to discuss a loan, but not deaccessioning.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London: A claim is being made for a sculpture of a child’s head [...] from the important third-century BC Sidamara sarcophagus. The fragment had been removed by archaeologist Sir Charles Wilson in 1882 and donated to the museum in 1933. It is currently in store and the V&A is now discussing a long-term loan to Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum.
 Then there is the case of a panel of late sixteenth century tiles in the Louvre in Paris. They had been removed from the walls of a standing structure within a building still in use, they come from the mausoleum of Sultan Selim II in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (see here). One panel was taken out and ended up ("in good faith") in the Louvre in 1895. It was apparently acquired by French collector Albert Sorlin-Dorigny (who was appointed dentist to the Sultan), but the official Turkish position is that the panel had only been removed “for restoration”.

In the case of the USA, Turkey disputes the ownership of items from, among others, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Cleveland Museum of Art and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC. In April 2011, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts eventually returned the top half of the second-century AD Roman sculpture of the Weary Herakles which it had acquired in 1981 (although initially jointly purchased with collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White, full ownership passed to the museum in 2004). Since 1990 it had been known that it matched the bottom half of a statue at the Antalya Museum that had been excavated in Perge a decade earlier. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Turkey is claiming 18 items, all of which were donated by New York collector Herbert Schimmel in 1989. Most are Hittite, including a silver 14th- to 13th-century BC vessel terminating in a bull [...]. A museum statement says that it is “not aware that any artefacts are Turkish state property”.
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles: Ten items acquired between 1968 and 1974 are being claimed. They include four marble statues of muses from about AD200, which were owned by a dealer, Elie Borowski, by 1968. A Getty spokeswoman says: “We are in dialogue with officials from the Turkish ministry of culture regarding some objects in our collection. We expect those discussions to continue.”
Cleveland Museum of Art: A claim is being made for 21 objects. Most important is a bronze Roman headless statue (second century AD), probably representing Marcus Aurelius, acquired in 1986, with provenance given by Cleveland as “Turkey, Bubon (?)” A museum spokeswoman says: “The policy is not to discuss publicly the substance of inquiries by foreign countries about objects in the museum’s collection”, on the grounds that this “encourages an informed and constructive dialogue”.
Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC: The claim is for the sixth-century Sion treasure, which was discovered near Kumluca in 1963. Some of the liturgical silver and gold went to the Antalya Museum. Forty pieces, representing half the find, were sold by the dealer George Zakos to Mildred Bliss, who donated them to Dumbarton Oaks (part of Harvard University). The director of Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Jan Ziolkowski, says: “We are confident that we have proper title to these antiquities.”
Bailey also includes in his list another case: Bowling Green State University, Ohio: which had acquired some bits of Roman mosaic which it was told were from "Antioch", but which it now appears had been looted from Zeugma. As he said, "The university’s president, Mary Mazey, has promised to “do the right thing” and discussions with the Turkish authorities are expected", but as yet it seems no formal claim has been made (nor I trust would be denied if it turns out that the mosaics were indeed looted).

In an earlier article (see here) published on the CultureinDevelopment blog (it's not really quite true, as Mr Bailey claims, that it was the Arts newspaper who scooped with the news about the repatriation requests)  there are other artefacts mentioned. Apart from the Bogazköy Sphinx, pieces from the Sion Hoard and the Boston Hercules, it mentions:
an altar featuring Zeus taken from Bergama, a statue of a fisherman smuggled out of Aphrodisias and many Trojan artifacts are currently in Germany [...]  while Russia has many pieces of the Trojan treasure. [...] Legal cases are also continuing for the return of three silver bowls and two small plates seized by German prosecutors near Darmstadt, as well as for the return of a silver fresco [sic] found in the luggage of a Turkish citizen at Germany’s Düsseldorf Airport. Negotiations have continued since 1991 for the return of those artifacts, officials said [...] The ministry is also negotiating for the return of Turkish objects found at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles; the parties involved have agreed to analyze a bronze head at the Getty Museum to determine whether it belongs to a headless statue at the Burdur Museum. In the event that the head is determined to come from the statue, museums officials said they would try to have the item returned to Turkey. Efforts to find and recover 62 pages of a Quran stolen from the Nuruosmaniye Library collection in 1990 are also ongoing, officials said.
Vignette: Not taken yet, Selim II's tomb tiling (photo Chris Kean)

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