Tuesday 30 March 2010

Chippindale on Collecting and the Classical World

Over on the SAFECorner blog, archaeology student Damien Huffer reports on a recent guest lecture by Dr. Christopher Chippindale in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra. It was given the title: "Illicit Antiquities: Scandal of Our Age". Huffer summarises the lecture neatly:
At its heart, he [Chippindale] argues, the modern antiquities trade revolves around the boost to one's appearance of wealth, prestige, status, and power that the ownership and display of antiquities is deemed to convey, especially amongst the collecting and dealing 'elite.' Underpinning this stance is what Chippindale has dubbed the "Connoiseur's view", defined as the idea that things (objects) have instrinsic merit and can reflect 'cultural universals', or 'eternal values', as tangible to the ancient people who made the object as to any living person today. Holding this view would then lend the collection of antiquities much "sophistication". This can be directly contrasted to the "Archaeologist's View", which defines artifacts as sources of information in context first and foremost, "worthy of celebration and care. [This view is...] that, while some meaningful information is inherent in the object itself, it is outweighed by contextual details, and greatly diminsed without them. [...] "these attitudes are not opposed, but the loss of context leaves the connoiseur's view intact, but 'wrecks' the archaeologist's view." To Chippindale, this exposes the fundamental self-centredness of the connoiseurs view from its inception, but especially after, World War II, when looting and modern, global, collecting really began to flourish. As he then goes on to show, the missconceptions of connoiseurs and the demand they create continues to profoundly affect [our ability to contribute to understanding of] the Classical archaeological world.
" Because it is much more difficult to openly sell stolen art [...] collectors have been turning to easily transportable small items; both recent and ancient, especially since the 1980s when looting increased world-wide". Chippindale cited the examples of Cycladic art: "of the 1,369 artifacts assessed for provenance history in Gill and Chippindale (2000), only 39 were traceable...the rest just "surfaced" during the 1980s or 1990s!" Other cases dealt with are the Medici/Hecht affair and others.

Chippindale asserts that "there remain no large stockpiles of authentic Classical antiquities available for the market and museums, outside of forgeries and newly looted pieces". Given his expertise in studying the market, I would say that this is a judgement that we can accept as reflecting the truth.

Damien Huffer adds that archaeologists must urgently continue, and in fact 'step up,' our "watch dog" roles in this crisis. (He is studying in Australia, so he did not add that this is unless you are a British archaeologist, when you just unthinkingly join in as "partners" with the collectors). He adds that
"activists in general must continue to find ways to take the "hip" and "chic" (if you will) out of antiquities collecting. Easier said than done, but only further education will continue to make a dent".
Chippindale and Huffer conclude: "We must continue to learn from the past, not consume it". Read the original piece and judge for yourselves to what degree the current state of the antiquities market is contributing to both these processes.


Damien Huffer said...

Dear Paul,

Wow, talk about quick turn-around time! I just posted this entry today! I commend you on a very good summary of my post, and the addition of other usefull information. However, two small corrections: 1. I spell my name Damien; 2. I'm American by nationality, but studying at ANU. See...minor things :)


Paul Barford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Barford said...

Hi Damien, minor errors corrected.

Thanks for that contribution to SAFECorner. It seems a bit funny writing a summary of a summary of a lecture, but I liked the "taking the hip and chic out of collecting" soundbite too much to let the opportunity pass !

Anonymous said...

Collecting as a status symbol of the rich symbolizing the ability of self-made-men to buy culture that was formerly the prerogative of the aristocracy isn't a new thing. That's part of its appeal for a lot of people I think. Looting for the livingroom showcases of the wealthy has always been an issue. The rest of the world has just started to care.

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