Sunday 23 November 2014

Syria Looting: Could Collectors Care Less?

Lynda Albertson (' Do you think art collectors might be tempted to buy Syrian antiquities (looted or otherwise?). We say resoundingly, yes' ARCA Blog November 23, 2014) discusses some recent auctions which involve items that seem Syria-related.She looks at portableised funerary sculptures and had no difficulty in finding any- Aphrodite Ancient Art LLC (“Early American private collection, 1960’s” and " Palmyra [...] purchased from Sotheby's New York, June 2011") and Sotheby's in its June 8, 2011 auction ("with a provenance of Sarkis and Haddad, Beirut, early 1970").
Given the fragility of the Palmyra tombs and all of the other heritage sites disrupted in Syria due to the ongoing war, I wonder if we should be focusing less of our time on quantifying how much money ISIS/ISIL may, or may not, be making off of conflict looting and pool our resources, putting them to better use by working closely with DGAM to identify traffickers or suspicious items that may enter the market having come from vulnerable areas or areas affected by conflict. [...]  their presence makes a pretty strong case that this is just the tip of the Syrian antiquities iceberg. 
She makes the point that discussing the "scary, made-up trafficking percentages" is a distraction from the main issue (see here). Indeed it is precisely by counting on churning on and on about the side issues that the dodgy antiquities trade hopes to fudge through this crisis too. This is what they always do. The issue is, Albertson stresses:
Petty subsistence looters may fence objects for paltry amounts, middlemen fighters may take their cut, and end traffickers may make a bundle selling to auction houses and galleries, but all this useless faffing about trying to put an unquantifiable dollar sign on how much its making which opponent in this war is doing nothing to stop the flow whatsoever. In the end percentages are less relevant than simply understanding that collection-worthy pieces like these seen at auction or those stripped from from Palmrya will surely find their way into the world's antiquities art market. Maybe not immediately, but with the lack of market transparency, surely in the future. Traffickers are patient. So are collectors.
Instead of asking about 'how much money' we can STOP them making, we should be thinking about how to STOP them from making any money at all by "surfacing" these things on our markets.

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