Thursday 6 August 2015

"Fell off ther Back'f a Lorry"? Nah, Guv, not My Stuff!

Arthur Daley has a few problems
documenting the origins of his goods too
Not only do I wonder about the cited costs of "one thousand dollars extra for each object" that a US dealer wants to charge his clients to document that the coins he sells are of licit origins ('Due Diligence???' Ancient Coins Wednesday, August 05, 2015), I wonder about another statement he makes:
I have previously pointed out that museums documenting provenance of acquired artifacts to the "1970 standard" are spending an average of 40 hours of curator time per acquisition assembling such documentation.
This appears to be back reference to a statement made in 2011: "I have seen reports that up to 40 hours of curator time per acquisition is required to document provenance to that standard". The origin of that "report" is not stated. It seems an odd statement to me.

Now to what is he referring here?  Barchester Museum acquires a Roman coin found by Timmy Taylor when he was a little boy playing in the woods near his home. What "40 hours" is needed to put that in the accessions register? The object file may contain a typed version of the finder's account of where he found it, an artefact release form signed by the landowner, a printout of the PAS record. What else is needed? What would take "forty hours" here?

The Getty Museum may buy a Greek vase of uncommonly beautiful form from dealers Goodbuy and Morales. The trustees only agreed to the purchase after they had seen the documentation provided by Richard Goodbuy (including the Art Loss Register certificate they arranged) and the curator of the museum's Greek and Roman gallery had written to the two persons who signed the affidavit and made a phone call. If that's forty hours work, he must be a slow writer...

The time to search out the documentation that the object is kosher is before purchase and not after. It is part of the acquisition process, not the cataloguing phase. In any case, if a dealer wants to sell the piece, it is the dealer who supplies the documentation of kosherness to the buyer (here a museum). It is only when it is found there are contradictions and gaps in that documentation (Ka Nefer Nefer anyone?) that any further curatorial time is taken sorting that out. But this sort of problem would be avoided if the buyer had been more cautious and critical in their approach to what the dealer provided.

Of course if objects have been acquired recently which have no documentation whatsoever of licit provenance, they are a bit of a curatorial liability - which is why sensible curators avoid them and the dealers that hawk them. Making up the gap may well be impossible, and "forty hours" will not suffice.  

Mr Welsh's issue is that it is the dealer who has to show the client that the item in question is kosher. I do not see the problem myself. If any of us went into business, I am sure we'd see it was a wise move to not try to cut corners with stuff we cannot prove did not "fall off the back of a lorry". Why therefore should dugup antiquities dealers think it is any different for them? If dealers involved in the legitimate trade only buy material which comes from respectable suppliers eager to show that their goods, in turn, are wholly licit, then the problem would not arise. If however they prefer to get stuff from the Komarov Brothers, with their numerous family ties back to Bulgaria, who gives you  a threatening look and bare their teeth if asked, "tell me, where's the export licence?" or the laconic Kurt Laufer in Munich with his cold humourless eyes, then I think they may well have problems providing objects with a collecting history. 

Mr Welsh, you buy some licit coins somewhere, how do you propose using up "forty hours" and a "thousand dollars" to make the documentation of that fact presentable? I am really curious. Educate us.

Sadly, as David Knell informed me, George Cole (Arthur Daley) died yesterday. He was 90, RIP.

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