Monday, 4 August 2014

The Association of Dealers & Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art (ADCAEA)

Sue, we need someone with knowledge and
stature on our side of this issue to write something
explaining the situation [...]  Perhaps you can take a shot at it!

Sue McGovern kindly sent me the link to the website of the Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art (ADCAEA) of which she is president. She says this group is the answer to my postulate that if they don't do anything themselves, we should try and force dealers into action about the damaging state of the antiquities market. She says  "Actually Paul, I am doing something about it. Over the past few months I have worked to put together an organization to address such issues". The Association is based in Dunn Loring in Fairfax County, Virginia (basically part of the Washington DC urban sprawl). It seems to be relatively new (its non-profit status is said to be 'pending').

The blurb says that the ADCAEA is to be 'dedicated to providing resources, education, networking and support to advance the responsible and legal trading and collecting of ancient and ethnographic art', which if that is what it actually does would be wonderful. What seems however to be lacking is any reference to a finite and fragile resource endangered by irresponsible collecting. Although the  website says the Association has 'seven main objectives', it only lists six of them:
1) To advocate and support the establishment of clear, transparent and fair laws governing acquisition, ownership and commercial disposal of artifacts.
2) To educate and inform members on policies and laws that affects the international movement of cultural property.
3) To promote awareness and understanding of ancient and ethnographic art collecting through open communication with members and the public.
4) To observe a Code of Conduct that promotes the professionalism of our members through responsible and ethical practice.
5) To support the preservation and protection of cultural goods around the globe through responsible and legal trading and collecting.
6) To advocate a safe harbor for existing collections supported by the establishment of a nation-wide digital database that will restore legitimacy and value to objects and ensure museums, dealers and collectors can secure appropriate title to art and artifacts.
It is interesting to see the database being promoted, it was something I proposed years ago (see also David Knell's thoughts on the subject) but collectors and dealers have been fighting long and hard ever since, it's good to see reason prevailing. One is a bit puzzled however why the organization is called "Dealers and Collectors" rather than "collectors and dealers" (there necessarily being more of the former than the latter). I note with respect to the wording of the aims that collectors are not generally professional collectors, but dealers are antiquities professionals, so the code would concern something other than 'professionalism' surely. I suspect that this slip-of-the pen indicates that this will turn out to be another dealer-focussed group like the ACCG. (One also wonders whether coins and coin sellers are envisaged as falling under the remit of this group, some clarification would be good). Membership is open to all international dealers and collectors - but is fee-paying. You have to pay to be lectured to (how does that make it non-profit?). Potentially a tidy little earner for those concerned - who've not shown yet what they can do. Furthermore, in their advocacy of 'fair laws', will the ADCAEA be retaining a Washington legal firm to represent it with members' money? Bailey and Ehrenburg for example?

The page footer gives links to "Member Only Services", a projected 'Appraisal Service' and a listing of 'Dealer Members' ('In order to qualify for dealer membership within ADCAEA, a dealer must have an established reputation for honesty, integrity and professionalism among their peers. All our dealer members below observe our Code of Conduct' - but at the moment there are just two listed 'Sands of Time' (McGovern) and Hixenbaugh). It is not stated who vets the dealers proposing themselves for membership as complying with this code or how this is achieved (and whether the vetting is done before the dealer-applicant pays their five hundred green ones or not, and what the "rules' that will be established will be). The Code of Conduct is rather interesting and I have a few thoughts on it, which I'll present in a separate post.

The IADAA Code specifically mentions its standpoint on metal detectorists. This is absent here, does that mean that metal detectorists can join the ADCAEA and use it as a platform for their advocacy for responsible collecting? What about the other large area of US artefact collecting, pot digger and arrowhead collectors? Are they welcome? Is a stone tool ancient art?

The officers of the Association are mostly old pals from the Washington area: President: Sue McGovern-Huffman,Vice President: (conveniently vacant), Secretary: Peter Tompa, Treasurer: Joseph Lewis II, Board Members: James McAndrew, Joop Bollen (South Dakota businessman), Randy Hixenbaugh (dealer). This seems rather incestuous, Hixenbaugh and Sue McGovern therefore sit on the board that vetted the two dealers listed as dealer members.... I think we begin to get the idea. The Links section also seem to give an idea where this is going. At the moment, they comprise just four other sites: the Committee for Cultural Property anti-preservationist advocacy group, Cultural Property Observer disgraceful anti-preservationist lobbyist's blog and, a slow-moving 'online resource for Ancient Coins and Antiquities', sponsored by V-coins. Lip service is paid to Kosher by including a link to Loot Busters ('items reported stolen by governments and their representatives').

Well, obviously it is unfair to judge this association in the first few weeks or months of its existence, but one wonders whether its aim is going to be focussed more on protecting collectors and dealers (and object-centred interpretations) rather than focussed on protecting the archaeological heritage of which the things these people sell and collect are an integral part.

Also is this not merely an exercise in deflecting finger-pointing (as Ms McGovern wrote)? Ms McGovern sent the link in a comment to a post where I was discussing what are all-too-typical responses of US collectors to the issue of looting and smuggling. There were all sorts of arguments there, mostly of the 'us-and-them' ilk which is in one form or another an undercurrent in all discussions of collecting by collectors. The one argument that was missing from the thread I was discussing was "we must clean up our own act" (including from Ms McGovern). This rather casts some doubt on the degree to which any activities the ADCAEA may engage will be supported with any real sincerity by collectors and dealers that may merely pay lip-service, like British metal detectorists do to the PAS while most of them are wholly oblivious to what it really is about. It would seem that the majority of the people in the circles associated with the ADCAEA at the moment are far from seeing a need or the type of approach the Association is ostensibly promoting. Finally, on a personal note, if McGovern invited Peter Tompa ( whose views on the sort of responsible approach required and the company he keeps are all too well-known and visible), to be involved as a board member, then I doubt her own sincerity, aims and judgement. Anyway, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, let's wish them luck and watch attentively.

UPDATE 10th August 2014
They've updated the homepage with the word "seven" replaced by "six". Not a word of acknowledgement, let alone thanks, though from the organizers that someone took the trouble when invited to look through their stuff and comment on it. There seem to be no other changes. 

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