|Lux Tenebrae Post tenebras spero lucem|
Fitz Gibbon lines up her simplistic cardboard cutout comparanda: "treatment of “non-persons” in the old Soviet Union", ISIS, "China’s invasion of Tibet" and "Stalin’s and Hitler’s campaigns against art that was unorthodox or made by minorities", which gives a clue to the tenor of her line of argument (includes a call-to-authority reference too) and then asks:
Should our [sic] museums be stripped, their collections pulverized? [...] Does the hatred of the art trade extend so far that academics would destroy art?I think a suitable response to that is: "what was she thinking, what on earth is she on about?" She seems to have extrapolated from another cardboard cutout, the fictional "archaeological radical driven only by irrational hatred of us collectors and capable of irrational acts" without feeling the need to prove that any such took part in the exchange of tweets which she is trying to exploit here. But, hey, collectors, eh?
The problem it seems is that Ms Fitz Gibbon does not really understand what is meant by the word "artefact" when used by archaeologists. Thus she suggests:
"Most of the ancient art traded over the last 500 years and more has no “provenance.”For Ms Fitz Gibbon, for reasons I cannot fathom, any ancient artefact is apparently "ancient art". Perhaps she has little experience of archaeological artefacts. Has she ever been on an Old World excavation and seen what they produce? After an excavation, the stores may be full of lots of paperwork, tile fragments, oystershells, burnt daub, iron slag, nail shanks, charred seeds, pig bones, deer bones, coprolites (poo), leather offcuts, wood chips and shavings, bone offcuts, greyware and redware potsherds by the hundreds of kilogram, stone fragments, lead lumps, vessel and window glass sherds. And a few coins and bronze 'partifacts'. Where is the "ancient art"? Carry out twelve rescue excavations in a medieval town centre where the next supermarkets or banks are going up, then find a museum to take ten tonnes of assorted material, very little of which can ever serves as exhibit material. My guess is Fitz Gibbon would say "sell it to collectors" and I ask again, has she any idea what this stuff which makes up 90% of the assemblage from most sites looks like?
In her collectors' call-to-authority, Fitz Gibbon turns to a hallowed favourite and quotes John Boardman (from that dreadful tendentious Cuno book) when he says: "Objects are testaments of antiquity, whether handled by a thief or scholar; their integrity must be respected and their safety assured. To suggest that they should even be destroyed rather than kept in a museum betrays an appalling vacuum of scholarly integrity and responsibility, even philistinism”. That is all very well, but let him tell that to Barsettshire County Council who already have two museum stores which are filled to overflowing with material from past rescue excavations and cost a lot to keep up 'in perpetuity', and now realise that to keep the next batch of stuff they will need to find the money to build another one.
What do Boardman and Fitz Gibbon (US Committee for Cultural Policy) propose doing with boxes and boxes of the sort of material which a normal excavation produces, except a policy of selective retention?
I really would like to ask them, but - typically - the US Committee for Cultural Policy commentary section does not allow comments.
Her second 'point' I also find rather lacking in depth and perspective. She writes:
The deliberate destruction of art is never acceptable, whether a government does it for political reasons, for censorship, or in the name of religion.Is that true? I think here of a number of pieces of modern art that were deliberately created to be offensive when placed on public display or published, Piss Christ by U.S. artist Andres Serrano, for example. Or the deliberately mocking hatred-inciting Charlie Hebdo cartoons which produced such a horrific reaction. There are other instances from our own and other cultural milieus (here for example). Is there a place in a multi-cultural society for public display of such offensive material, does it promote tolerance and intercultural understanding, or does it promote alienation and resentment among the various groups provoked? Is that ever a valid purpose of art? Should it be the case that 'anything goes'? Why? Is everything 'art' anyway?
And what about communist art? I do not know if Ms Fitz Gibbon ever visited central eastern Europe. If she had, she'd be aware of this problem. After 1945, half of Europe fell into the Soviet Bloc, and part and parcel of that was the imposition of not only a new ideology but a new aesthetic. Streets were renamed, whole city quarters replanned, new buildings were erected (Palaces for the People) and there were sculptures and monuments scattered all over the place to various 'worthies' of the new regime. In the case of Poland some of this was mediocre (and some downright awful) as public art, but a lot of it was stylistically and in terms of craftsmanship very good and typifying the period. Now before this went up, the old stuff came down. In the north and west of Poland there had been many monuments erected by the Germans who lived there before the Potsdam agreement. All of that was wiped away. It included a lot that really had high artistic value, but was associated with the Nazis (the destroyed Tannenburg Denkmal is a personal favourite of mine, sadly bypassed by the new motorway). In 1989 nearly all the communist monuments were bulldozed as not fitting the new reality that was going to be built (and was). Plans were made to tear down some of the monumental fifties socialist realism buildings, but the costs were too high. Now we have new public art and monuments - the artistic quality of some of which is hard for me to see from this distance in time.
The old monuments that still stand are a problem because their social reception is not unambiguous. There is a park in Praga district, and among the monuments in it is a huge dirty buff chunky block of stone crudely carved. It was set up in 1945 by soldiers of the Red Army to commemorate their fallen comrades (the Red Army cemetery is elsewhere). It has a very home-made look to it, but is a document of history. The problem is that though these people saw [presented] themselves as liberators, to today's Poles they were the advanced guard of the Soviet occupation that lasted until the 1990s when the last tanks headed east. The city conservation authorities decided to leave it in place - and since then it has been vandalised time after time. Several other monuments to the Soviet war dead have also been vandalised in Warsaw - not to mention elsewhere in the Polish countryside. At the moment, we monitor them, clean them out of respect for the dead young men who were forced to fight and die here - even though their leaders had plans to dominate the country. While the conservationists can take a step back from history and see a need to preserve some of these things, not everyone is in agreement. It will be interesting to see what happens to sites like this after our upcoming October elections.
Fitz Gibbon states:
The deliberate destruction of art is never acceptable, whether a government does it for political reasons, for censorship, or in the name of religion.Does that mean she thinks Warsaw streets should still be full not only of the 'fifties to 'seventies monuments to otherwise forgotten communist worthies? Not only that, but all of the ones the Nazis put there before they decided to blow up the entire city? Is that what she is saying? Even if the authorities do not remove them, the anger about the country's past is still there and people will take it out on the symbols of vanished regimes.
The same goes for religious change, the European reformation was marked by iconoclasm, Catholic churches were stripped. The ancient world saw it with Akhenaton, the Byzantine empire experienced it in the 8th and 9th centuries (followed by a new artistic flourishing), the same thing had been happening throughout the entire Islamic world, with iconoclasm and monument erasure, in India the 1992 Ayodhya dispute raised the question of Mosques built on sites earlier sacred, and so on.
French 'naughty postcards' of the 1920s are arguably 'art', as are Helmut Newton albums. Feminists may discuss what kind of art it is, and we ourselves might see the majority of the 1920s Parisian images as rather coy, sentimental and a trifle comic in comparison to what any pubescent teen can find on the Internet today. It may well be however that there are countries (like the Islamic Republic of Wadiya for example) where even 1920s postcards may count as 'pornography' and if found be liable to destruction. Should the Wadiya National Museum have a Department of Forbidden photos to hold seized collections of 1920s French erotica just because outside the country the foreign devils think this is art? The point is we may smile condescendingly (imagining our own ''cultural superiority" because we tolerate such images and Piss Christ), but do we have a right to impose our values, our aesthetics, and out moral codes on others? Is our religion - or lack of it - one that should set the pace for the rest of the world? And who is going to impose the world rule that Ms Fitzgibbon's fetishisation of "art" requires to forbid the Wadiyans building a big bonfire to get rid of porno postcards which many there think are damaging to public morality?
I think the issue is that if Article 1 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention (much misunderstood as it is by the collectors' lobbyists and tubthumpers) allows sovereign states to decide what is national heritage, by the same token it assigns them the right to decide what is not. It is certainly not for the US "Committee for Cultural Policy" to attempt to dictate from Tumbleweed Town what the rest of us should do in our own countries. They can express an opinion, even defend their position (if they can), but first they should try and look a little deeper into the complexities of the issue and not come out with their glib sniping and homegrown Jim-Bob cardboard cutout arguments. Ms Fitz Gibbon, US "Committee for Cultural Policy", can you not do better than that?
The dealers' interest group CCP cannot countenance anyone outside actually engaging with what they said in n informed manner, and thus their comments are closed, mine are not.