Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Collecting, Stumbling and Bumbling from a "Supporter" of Collectors

An archaeologist seems surprised that a post saying she supports a particular collector of pricey dugup bric-a-brac generated so many comments (PhDiva, July 12, 2011 Updated: Mougins Museum of Classical Art). For the record, I sent nothing. The last time I tried commenting on her blog (about the use of redundant religious buildings) her reaction - including dismissively labelling me an anti-semite and "Nazi" because I disagreed with her - was an unpleasant, exasperating and frustrating experience. Probably therefore she'd prefer me not to comment over on her blog on the tangle of ideas among her further comments on collecting in an update to her original Mougins Collection post. It does seem worth remarking on some of them. For example, in support of collecting:
let's not forget that Saddam Hussein cracked down on looting - but also committed genocide. Pol Pot, the Taliban and Mao both (sic) destroyed the cultural heritage of their countries and committed genocide, but that's not an argument for allowing the destruction of those countries' cultural heritage to continue.
Eh? It is not at all clear here what the connection is. Is this treating collecting as "preserving" or "allowing the destruction" of that heritage? I am not at all sure (apart from greedy antiquity dealers) who would be arguing for the ongoing destruction of Iraq, Cambodia, Afghanistan and China at all - let alone because of what an earlier regime got up to there. Something has got lost in the translation.

There seems more confusion when it comes to discussing the dates when objects can be treated as having licitly surfaced on the market. Since we are discussing the antiquities in the so-called Mougins Museum of Classical Art, in other words, in the case of archaeological artefacts, when they were dug up. PhDiva says:
I feel that we can argue about cut-off dates for antiquities, and the generally accepted one is 1970, but ... My personal feelings are that it should vary according to the piece.
Fair enough, a point of view she's entitled to (as I've pointed out before, I too would not necessarily hold out for a 1970 date either). But then a layer of confusion appears:
I know Polish Catholics whose collections were seized by the Communists after the War, and Jews who were forced to sell theirs or have them seized before the War, and so the 1970 date, which is in any case not universally enforceable, is not a fixed one to me.
But these are not looted dugups, these are restitution questions. This is not at all the same thing as looters smashing their way into ancient tombs to steal saleable pots and metalwork, or bulldozing a site to find toppled statues and collectable architectural mouldings, or metal detect for deeply-buried coins and personal ornaments. (I'd also like to point out with my ex-Ministry of Culture hat on that in the case of the nationalisation of certain properties in the Post-War period in Poland, they for the most part entered national collections.)

PhDiva says:
Antiquities collecting can be a mine-field, and it is one into which too many stumble and bumble, but it is also a field which benefits from the application of situational ethics. Everybody makes mistakes, and it's how you deal with them that matters.
well, as an archaeologist I feel that what matters is protecting the archaeological record from erosion and destruction by the looting which fuels the no-questions-asked market. What it seems PhDiva means by collectors "making mistakes" is finding out they've bought looted material (precisely through what is in effect no-questions-asked buying). Basically, if every collector continues to make this "mistake", and each of them thinks that if caught out they can find a PhDiva-approved way of "dealing with it" post-fact, then the looting will continue. But Looting Matters. So the sooner collectors and dealers and their archaeological supporters stop "Stumbling and Bumbling", the better .

Vignette: PhDiva and pirate friend, it is not known if he deals no-questions-asked in dugup antiquities - he looks the type of person who would.

1 comment:

Damien Huffer said...

what you've highlighted in red is the real bottom line here. I guess this is just too difficult a concept for some to grasp without being a practicing archaeologist themselves. In this case, maybe even not?

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