Wednesday 12 May 2010

Archaeology matters: Kimmelman and Drawing the Borders

Archaeology Matters discusses today Michael Kimmelman’s New York Times article “Who Draws the Borders of Culture?”, describing it as “the well-known and well worn argument: If you are for the return of antiquities, you are a nationalist...”. Archaeology Matters however comments “It would however have been better if the writer had at least had the decency to keep irrelevancies as well as down right lies out of his text”. Personally I think this seems a bit much to expect from the advocates of “unrestricted collecting rights” as we seem to have here from the pen of this author writing for a US paper, probably in response to recent criticisms of the amount of obviously freshly-surfaced (from "underground") material currently held in US museums and collections.

There are some sensible comments here, picking the author up on a number of inexactitudes presented as "Internationalist" (neo-colonialist) arguments for the sawn-off Parthenon marbles somehow “belonging in” a London collection. I admit that I failed to spot that "art-critic" Kimmelman suggests that it was the bringing of the Parthenon marbles to London that began Neoclassicism (“from the cultural crossroads of imperial London, reshaped cultural history over the course of the last 200 years by giving rise to neo-Classicism around the globe"), that is of course in a wider European context a nonsense.

I liked the bit about comparing the original owner of the Euphronios krater (who Kimmelman depicts as an early “collector”) with “a shopper in IKEA...”, that has the ring of truth for me. A few comments are made, with a laudable degree of sarcasm, on the use in Kimmelman’s arguments of the usual devils evoked in typical pro-collecting rant, the Nazis, Communists and Taliban.

Archaeology Matters correctly identifies the background to these nonsenses, the United States itself has no ancient objects which in the short period that state has existed have been carried off as imperialist trophies, but regards itself as the inheritor of imperialist traditions. The conclusion is that in its regurgitation of Cunoesque arguments: “this article is one of the most popularist and demagogic articles I have read trying to make a case for the "right of might" in cultural affairs”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, those comments--and very good point about the US's peculiar, context-free view of antiquities as imperial spoils.

And lately, Paul-- you're on a roll, excellent series of posts.

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