Monday 23 April 2012

"The Future of the Past – Collecting Ancient Art in the 21st Century"

There is a transcript of the March 18, 2012 panel discussion "The Future of the Past – Collecting Ancient Art in the 21st Century" organized by The Asia Society, New York and sponsored by The Asia Society and the American Committee for Cultural Policy. Some of us were under the impression from its lack of website until now
and lack of activity that the ACCP was a dead organization. It seems not, they've organized this meeting involving several well-known names which was made available as a video (highlight-version for those of  short attention span ) on the Internet earlier, and received some comments on the blogs. Now the Cultural Property Research Institute has made a transcript available.

I will comment on it further later. Here I want to draw attention to the effect of British policy hampers the effort to protect the heritage:
Ahuja: Either we should be savvy like how Britain promulgated the portable antiquities scheme and say that the purpose of collecting is not antithetical to preservation, and archeologists and art historians and museum personnel find a way to progressively move forward, or we end up in a situation where we are more and more retentive and meanwhile the archeological record is being destroyed in any case. 
"Artefact hunting is not antithetical to protection"? Eh? Is that really the message of the Portable Antiquities Scheme? That looting is fine, because it is preservation? Where in the official statements of the Scheme is their position on this clarified? Of course the PAS in no way prevents the archaeological record from being destroyed as a result of collectors' greed.
Raby: [...] We have a major problem here: how can we replicate encyclopedic museums with a limited amount of stuff? How can it happen in an increasingly retentionist environment? [...] I think there are a number of strategies we might want to adopt to escape this sense of an impossibility of dialogue. The first is advocacy around the creation of legal markets, whether it's the Japanese model or the British model. Naman, I think you mentioned a very important aspect here. The extraordinary success of the Portable Antiquities scheme in Britain has provided not only an unparalleled amount of new information on Dark Age and Anglo-Saxon sites, but it's been a coming together of the archeologists and the metal detectorists. If you knew how bitter the opposition was 15 years ago, we have something here that's been a remarkable success. There is a possibility of private and public coming together. We have a model in front of us. So, we need to look at advocacy.
Raby here measures the "success" of the Scheme by the amount of stuff that has come out of the archaeological record, been summarily examined and is now available on the collectors' market. In the face of the Scheme's failure to deal adequately with the erosion of the archaeological record through artefact hunting the Scheme's only success has been to lead to a stifling of the discussion on looting in Britain and the need to take effective action against it. The "opposition" to which Raby refers is opposition to looting the archaeological record as a source of collectables, the curator thinks it is a "success" that there is no longer much opposition from British archaeologists to this process ongoing before their noses. Needless to say, I do not share his assessment of that situation. 

Vignette: Dr Melissa Chiu, one of the panel's moderators.

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