Sunday 21 July 2013

Donna Yates on Detroit and Rio Azul

Following the news about the Detroit bankruptcy, Dr Donna Yates recalls the case of some of the material they bought, for example a vase discussed in the trafficking Culture encyclopaedia thought to have been looted in the late 1970s from Tomb 12 at the Guatemalan site of Río Azul.

Stephan Salisbury (1986, ‘The Struggle to Save a Past From Plunder’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 11 May) reports that the vase was offered for sale, along with other objects, by the Andre Emmerich Gallery in New York. It was reportedly subsequently in the possession of  businessman Peter G. Wray (Scottsdale, Arizona) and was bought by the Detroit Institute of Arts in April 1984 (accession number 1984.12.A, Arthur H. Nixon Fund). Donna Yates quotes a notable soundbite from the Philadelphia Inquirer article:
When then-curator of African, Oceanic and New World Art Michael Kan was asked if the museum required any export permit documentation proving the item was legal before purchasing the piece he responded, ‘Oh, heavens no. Who has time to do that? We’re very busy people here. I don’t know what that’s like. It’s like asking people if they check out every vitamin that’s in a capsule’ (Michael Kan, quoted in Salisbury 1986).

Donna Yates: "The rape of Rio Azul was heartbreaking: I used this for a poster for @saveantiquities You Have Been Robbed". If the Detroit Institute has got the loot, then how can they sell it? At least however if it comes on the market, that is one way to get them to come absolutely clean about where each item came from and was vetted by them. It would be a laugh if many of the items could not find a buyer due to poor documentation by a "too busy" museum of due diligence and collecting histories. 

Vignette: DIA Rio Azul pot

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