Tuesday 9 June 2015

"Due Diligence" in Buying and Selling Antiquities What is it?

Due diligence
Discussing the Art Newspaper article about the calls to open up the Medici archives to the public Duncan Finch admits confusion. He reckons that: 
an auctioneer who does check all the data bases available [...] is jumped on by the police for having a supposedly stolen item. He is told that he has not done due diligence as he should have; to which he replies that he HAS done all the due diligence he was able to do, since the only evidence to the contrary was unavailable to him as it was kept secret by the police. 
It remains unclear how long it will take those in the collecting world to understand that the evidence an item has been obtained licitly does not consist of it not being on this or that "stolen art database". Due diligence is not merely shooting a letter off to Mr Radcliffe. Mr Finch forgets that (unless we believe in coin fairies and coin elves) there are and have been many dealers shifting stuff from criminal diggers and smugglers onto the market without their business archives (if they even have such a thing) falling serendipitously  into police hands. In all cases, the onus on the seller (not 'auction house' which is just a channel) is to demonstrate the clean history of the items they have acquired for resale. If those physically involved in the chain of ownership cannot, nobody can. In the twenty-first century, and rising public awareness, dealers and collectors have no business buying goods where the licit origins cannot be demonstrated, it is as simple as that. Such items have no place in the legitimate market of licit goods handled by responsible and accountable dealers and collectors in the twenty-first century. Why is that so difficult for collectors to comprehend?

Even the ADCAEA in the first draft of their mega-superficial apology for Guidelines (as yet still awaiting revision) consider the concept of Due Diligence to be more than just checking the most accessible database or two. In law the concept  involves a defendant found in breach of the law proving that on balance they did everything possible to prevent the act from happening. It is not enough that they took the normal standard of care in their industry – they must show that they took every reasonable precaution. That means requesting to see documentation proving licitness, not merely ascertaining the absence of a claim ('they can't touch you for it Due Diligence').

As for the previous discussion of the issue ("no visible means of support") one really wonders about the abilities of any of these people to focus on an issue and discuss it sensibly. Pretty pathetic. The IAPN is paying good money for supporting this crap.


kyri said...

"there are and have been many dealers shifting stuff from criminal diggers and smugglers onto the market without their business archives (if they even have such a thing) falling serendipitously into police hands"
this is true but in the 18 or so years that i have been collecting things have changed drastically especially over the last 5 years.last week i emailed christies about consigning a piece of greek armour from a world famous collection that i bought from a german auction house 8 years ago.the piece had been published in the late 80s.they emailed me back asking me to get in touch with the german auction house so that they can verify from whom the piece was bought in 1988 and whether the consignor produced any documentation about the piece.this would never have happened even 5 years ago.unfortunately the vast majority of antiquities on the market cannot be traced back to 1970 or even 1980,the documentation is just not there.are we really worried about looting that happened 40 or 50 years ago or should we be worrying about what is happening now.personally im all for some kind of antiquities register like the one david knell suggested were every piece has a kind of log book similar to cars with a photo and unique number,something like that would stop any fresh pieces hitting the market.it would be a hard pill to swallow ,for both sides of this debate but unless something drastic happens nothing will change.

Paul Barford said...

What you are saying is "can people not be allowed to keep making money from items looted 40 or 50 years ago?" Is that OK? Or should responsible dealers and collectors not be taking the stance that culture crime should never pay? Dealer Flogitoff has a choice when he is offered an artefact without papers, buy it and hope for the best or refuse to buy it. Nobody makes him buy goods without proper documentation (unless he's made a VERY unwise business choice and got involved with cut-throats). As for a register, it is not a bitter pill for anyone this side of the debate, I've been advocating it consistently for years. It is the dealers who have been adamantly against the idea.

These "changes" you describe are happening in the AUCTION HOUSES. They are not happening in Grebkesh and Runn, or any of the "mom-and-pop businesses" represented by Tompa and Sayles. Do you think the auctioneers would be doing this if there was not the spectre of a Medici and Becchina archive out there? Tell me, if somebody comes to them with a vase, and they find a picture of it on a postulated public 'Medicibecchina' archive, what will happen to the pot, what will happen to the seller? Will the pot get repatriated or hidden, will the public get to hear about it?

If the archives are released, do you not think the number of dodgy items on open sale will suddenly drop, and then apologists will say the market is 'cleaner than it was five years ago"? But of course that is only cosmetic cleanliness because the pots of dubious origin will still be in the hands of the sellers, just not paraded as openly. Let's keep the spotlight on the market if that is the only way to make dealers clean up their act.

kyri said...

"What you are saying is "can people not be allowed to keep making money from items looted 40 or 50 years ago?" Is that OK"
well thats the bitter pill i was talking about,surely there would have to be some grandfathering before any register is set up.unfortunately your right that most dealers and some collectors as i remember from a discussion about this on the ancientartifacts yahoo group,are against the idea.

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