Saturday, 7 August 2010

Michael Müller-Karpe Still Fighting the Good Fight

As may easily be observed, portable antiquity collectors can get quite vitriolic about those they see and portray as their opponents. In the latest edition of the US-based "Coin News" is an (anonymous) and insulting article ["„Close to mental confusion“ – a German court on Michael Müller-Karpe’s private crusade"] which seems to be based on material sent by German dealers - from the Arbeitskreis Kunsthandel which jubilantly recounts how a Philistine (unnamed in the media) judge in the administrative court allowed himself ("IM NAMEN DES VOLKES") a few rude comments about archaeologist: "Dr. Michael Müller-Karpe self-appointed crusader in the name of cultural property protection". The court case went against the Hessian authorities who had seized as illicit antiquities some prehistoric bronze bowls apparently bought from an Armenian carpet dealer in Turkey by a holidaying couple and then sold to a Frankfurt art dealer. The Arbeitskreis Kunsthandel adds:
For years Michael Müller-Karpe has been accusing the antiquities trade of dealing in stolen and smuggled goods. Despite having been proved wrong on several occasions (as in the case above) he continues with his groundless attacks.[...] The German art trade and collectors hope that the irrational and resentment-based crusades of the archaeologist in Mainz against collecting and dealing in ancient art will now cease.

I bet they do. What is really odd though is the way they report the matter in dispute: "At the same time, the archaeologist claimed damages of 17 million Euros in total for himself and for the Zentralmuseum in Mainz for defamation". No, not for "defamation", perhaps US coineys, the ones that can read German, would like to read for themselves around the topic in the German media and see what the fuss really was (and still is ) about. They really should not allow themselves to be spoonfed misleading and incomplete reports by those whose interests are in no-questions-being-asked. The question is a by-now familiar one of archaeological and museum professional ethics.

They could start with Matthias Thieme, Rechtsbruch mit Räucherkesselchen" [Frankfurter Rundschau 07.08.2010], or Daniel Gerlach, "Eine gordische Affäre" [Zenithonline, n.d.]. By the way, the coin news version of the German antiquities' dealers press release concentrating on the verbal abuse misses out the most important part, in fact about half the original document, detailing the actual verdict. In fact it is the part of the document containing the rebuke, and makes clear the remarks refer to a letter of 10th May 2010 which went out under the letterhead of the RGZM and what the occasion for those remarks was. This is quite typical of the milieu, satisfied with a mere slanging match than any real discussion of the nitty-gritty.

On his blog of course Peter Tompa is typically vindictive ("German Cultural Property Crusader Gets Rebuked" ). Rebuke is about all the antiquities trade lobby can hand out these days instead of real arguments, that it's from a judge in an administrative court really need not excite us, I've had a few dealings with them in my own professional work and cannot say they are my favourite people. Echoing the German dealers, Tompa writes (note the terminology):
One wonders whether there will be any further ramifications for Müller-Karpe. Hopefully, the ruling will act at least some disincentive for his brand of cultural property vigilantism.
Obviously he's not read the Frankfurter Rundschau article. The question is whether the police will turn up in the German museum professional's office on Monday with cutting equipment.

Photos: Muller Karpe and three of the bowls, photos from Frankfurter Rundschau


David Gill said...

See the press release issued by the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) available here. This press release states: "At the same time, the archaeologist claimed damages of 17 million Euros in total for himself and for the Zentralmuseum in Mainz for defamation. "
Best wishes

David Gill said...

For the IADAA's press release in German see here.

Paul Barford said...

David, the IADAA's texts are those of the Arbeitskreis Kunsthandel cut-and-pasted, once in German, and the second time in what seems to be the same translation as used in the "Coin News" article. The concept of "defamation" does not appear in the original German. What however is FAR more significant is that the coineys (and the IADAA) omitted the whole of the actual justification of the verdict(the actual "Wichtiges Urteil" bit) in favour of the judge's nasty comments.

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