Saturday, 3 October 2015

Justin Walsh on Museums and Illicit Antiquities

Justin Walsh, associate professor of art history and archaeology at Chapman University, writes in Hyperallergic (October 2 2015) on why he thinks 'Marion True Does Not Deserve Our Sympathy' for her role in the Getty's illicit antiquities scandal. He points out the problems involved with buying illicit antiquities:
First, the destruction of archaeological sites and the knowledge that could be provided by careful, professional excavation. Without excavation records the objects can serve only as evidence of their own existence, unable to tell us how they were used, in what context, and by whom. “Pressing for the return” of objects thus comes far too late. Second, this looting of sites, being illegal, is frequently carried out by gangs associated with existing criminal networks, making buyers of these objects supporters of criminal enterprises that exploit impoverished and powerless local citizens. This complicity even extends to the indirect financial support of dictatorial and genocidal regimes such as the Khmer Rouge (and now likely ISIS as well — the US State Department announced on September 29 that it had direct evidence of ISIS profiting from the trade in illicit antiquities).
While the trade and their lobbyists try desperately to play down these elements of the discussion (note the incessant quibbling over the "numbers" rather than the fact), it quite clearly is happening and we must react:
In the end, Marion True has become only the most obvious symptom of an illness that has afflicted the art world more generally. For the problems extend beyond American institutions to Europe, Japan, the Middle East, and Australia, and they involve artworks from places other than the classical Mediterranean, such as India, Thailand, West Africa, and the Americas. Yet to my knowledge, no museum official at any level — including True — has been fired from his or her job or been officially reprimanded for acquiring illicit objects. What Marion True’s return to the public eye ought to do is spur governments and art-world organizations to finally get serious about identifying and punishing those who participate in the trade of looted antiquities.

1 comment:

Brian Curtiss said...

Paul - even with indenting the quotes from others articles it's sometimes a little confusing differentiaiting your commentary from the quotes. Would you consider using quotation marks for the text you are taking from other sources? You can post this if you want but it's really just a suggestion for your blog to make it a little easier for the readers.

Keep up the good work! I always read all of your posts with interest and I hope you don't mind the suggestion.


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