Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The idea of Looted Antiquities Abhorrent in Theory only?

Tom Swope Gallery, Hudson, NY 12534, an ADCAEA dealer member deals in:
Antiquities from around the world: Greek and Roman, Egyptian, pre-Columbian, Early Chinese Buddhist Sculptures and Archaic Chinese jades [he carefully omits to mention 'Ancient Near East' and 'Indian/SE Asian art' - wonder why?]. While the range is broad, all the objects are chosen carefully for their beauty, authenticity, and what they tell us about our common past. A dealer in New York for many years Swope sold to private collectors, Museums and dealers and has a reputation for his eye, knowledge and integrity. The gallery also has jewelry inspired by antiquity, much of which is handmade by Tom Swope. Some pieces incorporate ancient gems and other elements, such as necklaces of ancient beads. Swope is very interested in ancient gems and neo-Classical gems, some of which are set in rings of his own making, or in 19th Century rings or loose, ready for putting into a custom setting.
The attentive reader will know what I feel about making wearable trophy jewellery from dugup antiquities. They will also know what I think of dealers (even those who claim "integrity") selling artefacts without any verifiable collecting history up front - as here.

Mr Swope gets a mention here because he also has an "art" blog in which he has now twice ('Civilization Under Attack, what can we do?' 28th sept 2015 and 'Asia Week 2016' 20th march 2016) made the suggestion that dealers are "saviours" of the objects, buying them "in good faith" from war-torn countries. I'd like to ask how one can buy with (sincere) good faith from sellers from war-torn countries. That'd be like buying works by Polish Jewish painters from a Munich dealer in 1942.
While in theory the idea of looted antiquities is abhorrent, in the age of Islamic extremism and civil wars, in which cultural destruction has become a regular event, we need to rethink our approach to the antiquities trade [...] we should view objects from the conflict torn regions of the world as rescues [sic] facing probably destruction. Ideally, we should not encourage looting, but we do not live in an ideal world, and Islamic fundamentalists are intent in erasing the culture and artifacts of the regions in their control. We should have learned something from the blowing up of the Bamiyan Buddhas, and now we have ISIS blowing up Nimrud, and Palmyra. But we have learned nothing. Rather the US government has taken an extreme position against the antiquities trade.
Here's a map of the points of origin of the eight items seized at Asia Week (those stated merely to be from "India" I have placed near Delhi, but many Kapoor items came from Southern India).  I would say its a pretty pathetic claim for any US dealer with "integrity" to make that any of them have been "saved" from any war-torn anything or taken from areas where "Islamist extremists have control". I'd say this is instead torn-logic reasoning of neo-colonialist greed.

Let us be clear, these eight objects were all seized because there were deemed to be sufficient doubts about whether they were obtained and imported legally. I thuink one cannot talk of "the responsible and legal trading of ancient and ethnographic objects" if one cannot show that those basic criteria are being met.Let the dealers concerned show the Feds their business records and get the objects back then we can talk about what it is they are doing.

Also, it seems to have escaped Mr Swope's notice that what was destroyed at Bamiyan, Nimrud and Palmyra  were buildings/monuments, not portable objects. Rather like the Nuremburg stadium which  the Americans blew up, or the Tannenburg Denkmal which was demolished when it came into Poland in 1945. Or these:

Mr Swope's blog post was featured with apparent favour on the ADCAEA Facebook page. Underneath there was no critical comment from other members. Apparently ADCAEA sees nothing wrong with the logic of "trading in looted objects to save them". That probably says about as much about the true nature of the ADCAEA as we need to know.


David Knell said...

Assuming Mr Swope's point of view is genuine rather than financially motivated, it is worryingly ironic that he deplores looting while failing to realise that the attitude of "saviour" dealers like himself is a major contributor.

It's sort of like celebrating that the statue ripped from this temple in Cambodia has been "saved" in some unknown trade showroom while overlooking the probability that it was trade demand that caused its theft in the first place.

Paul Barford said...

I had assumed that most readers of this blog would have taken that as read, but you are of course right to point it out for those that did not.

What interests me is that he belongs to the ADCAEA crowd of "responsible (ahem) dealers and he has said it TWICE without being picked up on it by a single one of that esteemed (ahem) group. Which as I say shows just what they (really) represent.

David Knell said...

I think you have more faith in "most readers" than I do. An extra hint always helps. That pic I linked to illustrates pretty graphically what some people's notion of "saving" is really all about.

Paul Barford said...

Well, as I always say, this blog is not for antiquity collectors/dealers, it is about them.

They did not "save" the feet. But in fact it's the fact that they did not which saves the information about where the object stood and how it fitted into its proper context - which is the temple.

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