Thursday, 16 July 2015

German Cop-Out?

Back in October 2014, on the back if the 'ISIL antiquities sales' talk,  there was talk about the Germans cleaning up their antiquities market, preventing the movement of items without the proper paperwork, in order to cut down the circulation of vast numbers of illicit artefacts through their markets. Here is some of my coverage of it - with references to the news sources on which they are based:
'Germany attracts trade in looted artifacts' Friday, 24 October 2014,
'New legislation on the cards in Germany' Saturday, 25 October 2014,
'Müller-Karpe on Amending the 2007 Cultural Heritage Protection Act' Tuesday, 25 November 2014,
'Provenance and Import - Two Different Things' Tuesday, 2 December 2014,
'Germany seeks to target stolen antiquities' Friday, 12 December 2014,
'No-Questions-Asked Artefacts and the Grey Market' Sunday, 14 December 2014,

'Stemming a Tide of Cultural Theft' Thursday, 18 December 2014,

'Antiquities under the hammer: The Berlin report on Berlin Conference "Cultural Property in Danger"...' Wednesday, 17 December 2014,
Also, tongue in cheek:  'Coin Dealers' Association Resolves Illicit Antiquities Problem Wednesday, 1 April 2015.
Almost everyone welcomed this announcement. Almost everyone, that is, who cares about the protection of the remains of the past from looting and commerce-driven smuggling. I commented at the time:
The new law is scheduled to come into effect in 2016. In the meantime, the minister expects the influential antique dealers' lobby will try to put pressure on Berlin. Mainz forensic archeologist Michael Müller-Karpe hopes that unlike in 2007, the government will not waver, but withstand the pressure.
Well, seven months later it turns out they caved in. A "Merkelstreichelt" moment for dealers who "keep losing the paperwork". Now it turns out that in the case of artworks this new law only refers to "the international sale of art and artefacts deemed of significant cultural value" and that is defined by how much it can be sold for on the antiquities market ('German culture minister defends controversial art law' Deutsche Welle 15.07.2015). But even this is drawing criticism from the art world.
The proposed legislation aims to scrutinize the sale of any artworks or artifacts valued at more than 150,000 euro ($164,000) and older the 50 years, intending to both stem the flow of the illegal sale of antiques and keep works in Germany which are considered "national treasures." While many in the art world agree the sale of illegal antiques needs to be better regulated - specifically in the wake of Islamic State's plundering of historic sites across the Middle East - they also insist the collateral impact on the wider German art market will be detrimental.
You need not bother going to Peter Tompa's blog, as usual he is so busy sniping, he's got nothing on this yet, but see Nicholas O'Donnell, 'European Cultural Protection Laws and Export Licenses — the Atlantic Gulf Widens', Art Law Report July 10th, 2015.

The antiquity dealers are sitting quiet at the moment, but the draft is being protested by contemporary artists in Germany (like Georg Baselitz) fearing that the pronouncement of their works "national treasures" will prevent their being auctioned in the lucrative markets outside Germany where they'd reach a higher price (this is bonkers because few of them will have been produced more than half a century ago and so fall within the definition).  These artists are threatening to withdraw their works from museums in protest.
However, [German Culture Minister Monika] Grütters has moved to allay anxieties, saying "many fears will prove groundless" and stressing that the draft law is a work in progress, and will be distributed to umbrella arts organizations for comment before it is put to federal cabinet. The minister has also proposed the 2014 EU convention on the protection of cultural heritage should be better integrated into German law, subsequent to parliamentary approval.
It is not clear which 2014 EU document is being referred to here, there was as far as I know, no such 'Convention'.

Anyway, in response to the outrage against the proposed law, Grütters held a press conference on 15th July in which she defended the law with regard to art works but tried to calm the storm by emphasising that the proposal circulating is still a draft and promised to refine further the definition of what is cultural property, and what is not. She even said that an increase in the minimum limits to €300,000 and 70 years was being considered (Nicholas O'Donnell, 'Germany Walks Back On Proposed Cultural Property Law' Art Law Report July 16th 2015 and the Die Welt article). Grütters’s revised proposal invites comment and contribution on what, exactly, is worthy of cultural property protection. It seems that the first draft was less than carefully thought out and consulted.

Most of the discussion (and outrage) has focussed on more recent art, I am as yet unclear what the situation is with the import of little portable antiquities worth less than 300k euros, like most Greek pots, statues, cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, foundation cones, glass vessels and of course ancient coins by the bucketful. Most of the source countries consider such items from their territory national treasures, irrespective of how much a Munich dealer can flog it for. Watch this space.


David Knell said...

Plus, of course, it should not be just a matter of the "significant cultural value" of individual artefacts. How about the sites that were trashed to extract them? Are not those sites of "significant cultural value"?

It should not be just about the value - cultural, monetary or otherwise - of individual artefacts. They are just a symptom of a much wider picture.

And increase the age minimum to at least 100 years (not 50 or 70). Anything less is just silly.

Paul Barford said...

I think with the age thing we should bear in mind this is about cultural property in general, not just dugups.

David Knell said...

Yes, I know. I was going off on a tangent unrelated to antiquities. As evidenced by similar legislation already in place in other countries, such a recent threshold can be a nightmare for living artists and their heirs, and can damage the stimulus and exposure of modern creativity in general. I'm not entirely convinced that the positive side of such a recent threshold outweighs the negative. But that's another story ...

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