Saturday, 30 August 2008

"Fifteen minutes of fame": or fifteen years or more of vigilance

In response to the Art Newspaper story which proclaims "the end" of the looting in Iraq, Peter Tompa feigns surprise: "One would think this news would be cheered and not jeered as it has been on both the "Safe Corner" blog and on the Iraq Crisis List". He goes on to speculate: "A cynic might suspect that those most interested in arguing that looting in Iraq continues on a large scale fear that good news will mean that their "15 minutes of fame" is fast drawing to a close".

Now I am not sure who he thinks is "interested"(sic) in "arguing that the looting continues on a large scale". It is not clear if that is addressed to McGuire Gibson whose post on the IraqCrisis list he highlights, or the author of the Safe Corner post or somebody else. Personally I would like it to have stopped back in the 1990s, or never have started.* Back then there was only moderate public attention paid to it, but with the political opposition to the US-led invasion, it became hot news. There cannot now be many readers of the serious newspapers across the western hemisphere that have not heard about this and realised its connection with the illicit trade in antiquities and those who collect them. I expect that makes those collectors and those who represent them feel more than a little uncomfortable. It casts them in the role of the 'bad guys'. Of course they strive so hard to present themselves as the good guys who are busily collecting away for the greater good of mankind (sic).

I am sure that there are a lot of people therefore who will find comfort that there is an arts newspaper telling people first that the looting "never happened", and then when the evidence shows the story was not true, that "it has now stopped". I expect a lot of dealers and collectors are now counting on the fuss blowing over in the coming weeks and months, that once again undocumented and unprovenanced Mespotamian antiquities can be sold and bought as openly as in the carefree days before the invasion.

I personally suspect that especially after the post-2003 looting there is by now such a stashed-away backlog of so many of these collectables around that it will be more than any "fifteen minutes" of vigilance to make sure that as few people profit from this heinous culture crime as possible. Mr Tompa should be aware that even if the story of Art Newspaper journalist Mr Bailey is right (which actually I personally sincerely doubt), this is by no means the "end". This is only the beginning of a long period when the circulation in the trade in Mesoptamian "pieces of the past" will need to be under close public scrutiny.

[And how interesting that if one compares the original title of the article and that of Culture Property Observer's blog post, it can be seen he has inserted the word "most". Could it be that Mr Tompa has doubts whether the Art Newspaper story as written is indeed true?]

* I think, as the author of the SAFECorner post to which Peter Tompa so scathingly refers, to avoid any misunderstandings it is worth stressing that I write on SAFECorner (as here) expressing my own personal opinions and of course not necessarily those of SAFE itself. I am at a loss to see where he perceives "jeering".

1 comment:

David Gill said...

The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. By Oscar White Muscarella. Studies in the Art and Archaeology of Antiquity, vol. 1. Groningen: Styx Publications, 2000. Pp. viii + 540 + 300 figs. $100.

Reviewed by Roger Moorey (JNES 63 no.1 (2004), pp. 55–6), Lucille A. Roussin (JFA 29, No. 3/4 (Autumn, 2002 - Winter, 2004), pp. 494-496), Morag M. Kersel (BASOR No. 335 (Aug., 2004), pp. 101-103), Pauline Albenda (JAOS 122, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 2002), pp. 101-102), D.W.J. Gill (AJA 107, 2 (2003), pp. 285-86).

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