Thursday, 11 September 2014

Syria seen from Tumbleweedtown

Tumbleweedtown (Google Earth)
Kate Fitz Gibbon has a lot to say about ISIL and the antiquities market. The title says everything you need to know ('A Bridge Too Far – Using IS to End the Trade in Art', Committee for Cultural Policy, Inc., September 5, 2014).
Anti-art trade activists have taken advantage of IS’s well-deserved reputation for evil to argue for US legislation to end to the trade in virtually all art and artifacts from the region.
Well, of course that simply is not true. What is of concern is those transactions carried out where there is a lack of evidence that they are kosher (the dealer simply not knowing what he bought and where it actually came from). The rest everybody is fine with. Fitz Gibbon should know better than to follow the ACCG example and construct a straw man argument. Pathetic. There are no "anti-art activists" when what is the subject of commerce are archaeological artefacts, cuneiform tablets and potsherds are not "art". She returns to the same points at the end of the article, begging questions about whether Ms Fitz Gibbon really has read anything much about the issue with any attempt to understand what is being said:
 The proliferating public campaign to end the art trade in the US – strong on moral indignation but weak on the facts – which calls for a halt to a non-existent flood of looted antiquities – cannot provide solutions to an international problem. [...] simply preventing the movement of [looted] art is a deeply flawed policy. [...]  US policymakers should disdain extremists’ self-serving attempts to associate terrorism with the legitimate art trade.
First of all, again nobody is trying to "end the art trade in the US". That is childish nonsense.  By definition, a legitimate dealer has no truck with militants and those who buy from them, that is the point. The issue is those who do not check the origins of what they gaily buy and then introduce on the US market. That, in the present situation, is not legitimate business activity. I cannot see why invoking transparency to halt, or curb, the flow of looted artefacts and material onto any market is a "flawed policy". I rather think it is Ms Fitz Gibbon's apparent lack of clear thinking and logic that is the real flaw here. US policy makers should look at the evidence and come to an informed decision on what would best serve the interests of US collectors (buy dirty artefacts, or clean?) and US policy and self-esteem.

Fitz Gibbon appears to be suggesting that the US should not take any action while the situation is so 'clouded'
The situation in Syria and Iraq is clouded; much is unknown and in the present circumstance, unknowable.  [...]  Serious doubts have been expressed about the accuracy of the Times authors’ claims. A number of commentators have questioned how the IS “khums” tax of 20-50% could be calculated for commodities of unknown resale value. 
Of course, perversely, the woman could not bring herself to admit where she read somebody saying that, could she? Apart from selectively quoting her sources, she also misquotes them. Sam Hardy is cited as saying that he "found it unimaginable that $36m of antiquities could have come from one site", whereas what he said was that it was unimaginable that $36m in antiquities taxes came from one "site" (district).

It is rather typical of the milieu that the only mechanism she seems to be able to envisage is the USA going it alone in 'fighting the good fight' (Captain America Saves the World)- she seems blind to the fact that those she sees as her opponents are suggesting a more realistic approach of America leading the way (by example rather than demand).

Like most of the dealers' lobbyists, Fitz Gibbon reckons this "art" would be better "disseminated and exhibited" worldwide, typical ACCG stuff:
art unites humankind across the chasms of national and religious identity. The current destruction in Syria also shows that it is risky for source countries to hold all their cultural “eggs” in one basket. [...] art can be the stuff that binds disparate human communities.
I really do not think we need any more "binding" of the USA with Syria, but Syria will need a shared past to bind the nation after this conflict is over.  In any case, she continues, because of the superior US education:
there is no discernible interest in the sale of Syrian art among US art dealers, collectors, or museums. 
So it beats me why the CCP is so bothered about attempts to clean up the market in them.

Also mysterious is what the American "Committee for Cultural Policy, Inc.," aims to achieve by such flawed cartoon-cut out pseudo-arguments. Obviously the way to achieve effective cultural policy is to work with all sides, including those who raise concerns about the current situation. Dismissing and demonising them all as unreasonable, unreflexive conspirators opposed to all art is hardly likely to aid that sort of initiative. When are the US collectors' lobbyists going to face the issues like grown ups?

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