Tuesday 19 March 2013

Geoffrey Smith responds to "Red Flags in Paris"

Yahoo "Ancient Artifacts List" dealer Geoffrey A. Smith sends his response to M. Frechette's "Red Flags in Paris: Half of Sotheby’s Barbier-Mueller Pre-Colombian Sale Lacks Provenance". He suggests that what he calls "vitriolic" is "rarely productive" - though fails to suggest what - other than sheer outrage - an article about such a situations should (or could be expected to) "produce". He patronisingly suggests that "when you finish your dissertation and are out in the real world" (sic) "it is not a fault to temper the anti-collector rhetoric of the AAA if you have a desire to be effective". He means the AIA I expect. I totally disagree, it is a fault to pander to the no-questions-asked collectors of antiquities. There are too many folk out there concerned to prevent us telling it like it is. On the other hand, I really see nothing in the article to which this comment was appended that could be classified as "vitriol". It would seem that dealers are getting rather sensitive when certain issues are raised.

Smith suggests rather oddly that:
The fact that the provenance is not listed in the catalogue does not preclude there being a legitimate chain of ownership. Also a published provenance is not always an accurate one.
How can a pedigree be legitimate if it is unknown? I'd like to see Dr Smith try to sell to a discriminating buyer a million-dollar racehorse with a "legitimate pedigree, except I am not at liberty to tell you what it is (trust me)". No pedigree is no pedigree.

1 comment:


Perhaps what we need in such situations is more vitriol. In no other area of human endeavour do we find so much half-truths, lies and deliberate attempts to mislead as in the area of restitution. Some of us are beginning to think that it is part of western culture for educated persons to turn blind eyes to looting and other crimes when this helps to retain cultural property of other peoples in western museums and galleries where the stolen/looted articles are. Normal, honest Westerners turn out to be immoral (if preferred, amoral) as soon as you raise the issue of restitution. They tell you that morality has no place here and they take refuge in some laws which ostensibly do not permit the return of the object to its owners.

That Mexico and Argentina have put in their claims for the return of their artefacts is encouraging but what about all the other governments in Latin America, Asia and Africa that are not active in reclaiming their cultural property? What is preventing them from protecting their cultural property?

Kwame Opoku.

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