Tuesday 25 May 2010

Dug Up "Art"

There is an interesting article by US journalist Michael H. Miller discussing the "ancient art" trade in the New York Observer ('Digging Up the Past', May 25, 2010). Due to various factors, including, as he put it, the activities of "self-appointed looting watchdogs"(David Gill is named):
"never has the tension between collector, dealer and so-called "source" nation been higher".
Recent disputes over the "surfacing" (from "underground") of unprovenanced artefacts on the market:
have pulled in collectors and chilled the climate for buying certain works, regardless of quality, dealers and auctioneers report.
These "certain works" of course are those for which there is no evidence that they were licitly obtained and legally exported from the "source country", which is how of course it should be. Rather self-righteously Miller notes (utilising the art-market use of the term "provenance") that:
If an object's provenance - that is, its history of import, export and ownership - cannot be traced back to November 1970, many people in the U.S. antiquities trade won't deal with it.
Ha! Not so Mr Miller. Not so at all, unfortunately. You've not been reading what collectors and dealers themselves say about this. Take the ACCG for example. The collectors of Yahoo’s AncientArtifacts group who (despite labelling themselves unilaterally "responsible") prefer to ignore discussions of such issues "like the plague". Then there is ACCG President Bill Puetz’s V-Coins where currently 145 Ancient Dealers ("8 more Coming Soon") are offering 104,181 ancient coins and items valued at $20,021,412 with no more than a very small percent offering up-front any information about provenance or legal export. As Miller notes defensively the:
1970 provenance is merely an ethical standard, not a legal one.
Indeed, this is a discussion of the ethics of and in a trade that prefers to argue most vehemently against tightening up its own very loose definition of that concept. The antiquities trade is an area where we really do need more public watchdogs, whether "self appointed" or institutional (such as the PAS) to scrutinise the ethics of buying and selling archaeological evidence ripped from the archaeological record at both extremes of the continuum of the trade, from those that sell them like potatoes by weight, to those who when they've been tarted up sell them like exclusive special edition Rolex watches.

Worth a read, and then thinking about.
Vignette: Dealer! Watch out for those Looting watchdogs, because they might be watching you.

1 comment:

David Gill said...

Thank you for drawing my attention to this piece by Miller. I have responded here.
Best wishes

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