Tuesday, 12 July 2011

"Utter Foolishness"

I was pretty sure US "collectors' rights" activists would pick up the Art Newspaper article by Edek Osser '[Italian] Culture ministry condemned over running of archaeological sites' Art Newspaper issue 226, July-August 2011 - "Report finds multiple failings in maintenance, security and management"). Sure enough within hours over in a Washington lawyer's office a little boy's eyes lit up ( 'Italian Mismanagement of Cultural Patrimony!' shouts You-know-who's blog, Tuesday, July 12, 2011). Of course the US Italian-hating gloater's real purpose is not to express concern about the danger this places the archaeological heritage of Italy in at all, by no means no. All that these guys are concerned about is:
All this again underscores the utter foolishness of the State Department's recent extension of the MOU with Italy and its expansion to include certain coins.
Pretty pathetic. Especially as he goes on that by buying illegally exported coins (ie the ones the MOU covers) American collectors and institutions can make "their own private efforts to study and preserve ancient artifacts and coinage". Making these coins stay in Italy by US import controls the blogger says has "the perverse effect of actually working against the goals they supposedly were put in place to help foster". Well why? Why is a US collector better suited than an Italian one to study and preserve artefacts from Italian soil? Why are Italian collectors treated in this rhetoric as in some way inferior to the US collector? Because they have browner skins and don't speak American English?

Talking of which, Mr Tompa has been mixing with collectors so long, he's even forgotten like many of them, what they said in school about when to use an apostrophe:
It's high time for the U.S. Government to conduct a real cost-benefit analysis of these MOU's. Is throwing a bone to cultural bureaucrats and archaeological fanatics really worth the cost to collectors, museums and the small businesses of the coin and antiquities trade? And do such restrictions advance or detract from the advancement of knowledge and the preservation of artifacts from the past?
Sounds like a job for the Cultural Property Research Institute to me. Go for it guys! Does curbing the number of illegally exported coins (of the types listed in the MOU extension) substantially advance or detract from the advancement of knowledge and the preservation of evidence from the past? But evidence, not just the artefact-fetishist's view of the past, but all of it.

It seems to me though that the US is hardly in a position to be lecturing newly appointed culture minister Gian­carlo Galan about how he "should" be running his ministry. I suppose it would be superfluous to mention that the United States of America has NO Ministry of Culture to do any of the co-ordination that the Italians are accused of doing badly. So its a bit much being criticised for bad organization by gloating citizens of a country which lacks any organization. Does the United States of America have a "central database covering excavations, the cataloguing of finds and collections, or counting visitors and ticket sales"? Is that not "unacceptable"? (That's what the Italian report says). Is there a central Sites and Monuments /Historic Environment Record in the US to co-ordinate planning and research priorities on a national basis as is being postulated here? It would be interesting to have the Italian auditors look over American provisions for protection of the archaeological sites of the country with as much criticism as some Americans are now uncharitably directing towards the Italians.

Vignette: The Wild West collectors' code, kicking a man when he's down.


Cultural Property Observer said...

In addition to your general rudeness, it's disingenuous to claim this MOU only restricts "illegally exported coins." The MOU in fact restricts undocumented coins that are legitimately on the market in places like Germany and the UK. Americans can't import them, but Germans, English, French and even Italians can import them to their heart's content. What is the point of such a stupid regulation other than to throw a bone to cultural bureaucrats and archaeological fanatics like yourself? Why don't you take your campaign against imports of unprovenanced artifacts to your home in Poland if this is so important to you? It would be interesting to see what kind of response you would get from your fellow Poles.

Paul Barford said...

Well frankly, I do not think what I wrote was any more rude than what Cultural Property Observer writes all the time about "the Italians" of "archaological fanatics" and the suchlike. It's getting increasingly difficult for me to treat such texts with any seriousness. If people don't want to read rude things said about no-questions-asked collecting etc, I suggest they do not read Paul Barford's blog.

Let's take a step back from "coins", coins and coins. In the Italian MOU are architectural mouldings, statues and pots. Are you trying to say that nobody can import into the USA ANY Classical style stonework at all from anywhere on earth without an Italian export licence? Is that what you are saying? Because if so, I agree that is stupid.

These items should be submitted for export licences from the country they are being exported from where required, and not Italy. The same as a stately home Botticelli being exported from the UK. This is quite a separate matter from a bilateral MOU signed between the USA and Italy, isn't it?

[Now of course in my Botticelli example if it were illegally exported from the UK to a Wisconsin buyer - the US would probably do sod all about it as Britain does not have an MOU with you lot. Like the Icklingham bronzes]

If you are importing a marble statue dug up in Italy through Germany, as you know, the CCPIA (19 United States Code 2600, section 2606) requires merely a statement when the object was exported from the state party with which there is a bilateral agreement, no problems there as long as that was before the artefact type was designated under the CCPIA. What is "stupid" about that precisely?

So no, (leaving aside other considerations) its not per se illegal to ship a dugup statue from Italy to Germany BECAUSE far across the Atlantic the Americans have passed a law. The moment that somebody decides to import the object into the US however the US law applies. What is "stupid" about that?

So basically if the object does not fall into the bounds of those criteria of legal import defined by US law (defined among other things by the CCPIA), then yes, the import restrictions applied under the MOU are indeed regulating against the import of material which is illegal in terms of US law. Nobody else's. That's the compromise system you have Mr Tompa.

From my point of view, the CCPIA does not go anywhere near far enough to actually "implement" the Convention, and as you know, I think the US should stop putting up a sham pretence of implementing it, withdraw from the Convention and rename the CCPIA. I think the idea should not be to curb the import of illegally exported archaeological artefacts from a highly selective handful of countries, but to try and make a real dent in the global trade of illicitly obtained archaeological artefacts (for which one of the largest markets undeniably is in the USA) as a whole. You could usefully add at least Bulgaria and the rest of the Balkans, Egypt, the Baltic States and Russia, Iran and Afghanistan for a start.

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