Sunday 16 June 2013

Flynn on the Art Loss Register and Antiquities

Tom Flynn in his Artknows blog has long contended that the 'Art Loss Register' (ALR) "is not a force for good in the provision of Due Diligence to the art market [...] a virtual market monopoly in Due Diligence provision is not good for the art market". He now draws attention to yet another case (Tom Flynn, 'Art Loss Register business model under scrutiny yet again', ArtKnows Sunday, June 16, 2013). It involves the "Chasing Aphrodite" blog and the purchase  by the Australian National Gallery of Art of a 900-year-old bronze statue of the dancing Shiva from Subhash Kapoor . It seems the offer was supported by a search certificate supplied by the ALR
The ALR make it clear on their website that their search certificates [...] "are not issued on the basis of incomplete or inadequately researched information." The ALR's search certificates are nothing more than confirmation that the object in question does not appear on the ALR's database of stolen objects.
Astoundingly, as the Chasing Aphrodite website reveals and Tom Flynn emphasizes:
Kapoor, in applying for the ALR search certificate, "was not required to provide any provenance information for the bronze." It would seem, therefore, that the ALR — supposedly an organisation seeking to promote Due Diligence in the art market — is not itself conducting adequate Due Diligence on the people with whom it does business or the objects in question
 A very important point is made:
Given the nature of the antiquities trade and the difficulty in establishing the provenance of antiquities being offered for sale, no organisation, including the ALR, should be issuing certificates for antiquities. The likelihood that those certificates could be interpreted as supportive of an item's legitimacy merely complicates an already problematic market and might even be indirectly helping subsistence looters and their end-users.
Of course there should be no difficulty in determining the collecting history of licit artefacts. By definition the latter have either come to a due-diligence dealer with a properly documented full collecting history with everything in order (otherwise he'd not be touching it), or at worst have one reconstructed by diligent research. In this day and age, no other antiquities have the right to be considered 'licit' (and collectable by a truly ethical collector, and thus being sold by a truly ethical dealer). There is no other definition of licit artefact. "They-can't-touch-you-for-it-legality" is not licitness, not by a long chalk. Here, an ALR certificate is just the icing on the cake, it is not the cake itself.

Vignette: Artistic nose

UPDATE: 19th June 2013
Sadly Tom Flynn's blog is now closed. Was it something he said? It will be sorely missed, he wrote sense.

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