Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Must-Read Text on Cleveland Wari Bag

This is more than good. Donna Yates (Grotesque Stone Idols) is in feisty-mode: 'Sad comments by Cleveland Museum curator: A looted Wari pouch 'symbolizes the entire exhibition' Property of an Anonymous Swiss Collector November 6, 2012. It is a hard-hitting must-read. It deals with an object that she'd discussed before an "unprovenienced and underprovenanced Wari hide pouch that the Cleveland Museum bought" for $146,500 from Sotheby's last year and what the Clevaland are doing with it, or rather are saying about it. Quoting a Wall Street Journal 'Cultural Conversation' with Susan E. Bergh of the Cleveland Museum ("Champion of the Wari") she notes:
Sometimes I just wonder if these folks purposefully craft their statements so as to make me cry into my soup.

 ... immediately striking a note of empathy. The Black Hat Guys of the antiquities world never cry into their soup thinking about unprovenanced artefacts. They just accept that its unavoidable that they are surfacing and they are (moderately) anxious not to be caught with a demonstrable example of one that was looted in their hands. Likewise some US museums folk. In the WSJ article which mentions this bag in an article about a current exhibition ("largely made up of looted objects in private collections"), Yates notes:
Bergh is somehow proudly highlighting a lack of context as if it were some mystical ancient archaeology mystery. No fair, Ms. Bergh, no fair! You don't get to capitalize on the trickle down effects of a problem that you are actively supporting. That is just lame. [...] Perhaps the worst part is this lady saying that the Wari have not been the subject of much scholarship and that she and her museum with their expensive hoard of looted objects is trying to attract scholarship to the Wari. Hey, friends and colleagues that study the Wari, just so you know the Cleveland Museum has your back. They know that what you guys need is for a US museum to give the thumbs up to collecting Wari material. No, they aren't going to donate $146,500 to excavations at Wari. They aren't going to use it to help facilitate the loaning and display of more objects borrowed from Peru (maybe the archaeologically excavated Lord of Wari regalia?). Nope, they are going to buy looted Wari items at great expense and put them on display. That, friends, is how you "attract scholarship to the Wari" [quotation marks added by PMB].
Yates is, I am sure, right when she urges acquisitive museums: "please don't pretend that the collection of Wari material helps we poor scholars who actually work on this stuff". That's just a coiney-argument. More please Ms Yates.

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