Thursday 20 August 2015

The Heritagist on Vikan's 'American Museums Serve the World by buying illicit Antiquities"

Gary Vikan's suggestion in the Wall Street Journal (August 19) that Western museums and cultural institutions should be willing to purchase Syrian and Iraqi antiquities of dubious provenance as a 'necessary evil' in order to protect them from the threat of destruction by a bogeyman ISIL ('Black market antiquities buying "rescue mission" is not the answer for saving Syrian and Iraqi heritage', Thursday, August 20, 2015).
Vikan suggests that we may be supporting refugees fleeing Syria by purchasing black market antiquities, but his proposal contains no suggestion as to how Western purchasers should distinguish between those black market antiquities coming out of Iraq and Syria that have and have not been touched by Daesh. He suggests that museums should "never do anything to assist ISIS" and should employ "the highest standards of due diligence," but it is unclear what the highest standards of due diligence could possibly mean when you are talking about buying illegally and non-professionally excavated objects coming out of a chaotic conflict zone.
Anyway, we have seen that the antiquities trade is dead against increasing standards of and requirements for this "due diligence".

UPDATE  August 21, 2015 
Here is another rejection of the proposal: 'Response to “The Case for Buying Antiquities to Save Them” Galluzzo and Amineddoleh, August 21, 2015. "The destruction of artifacts in the Middle East should not be used as an excuse for Western nations to acquire black market goods":
What Mr. Vikan proposes is dangerous. Allowing museums to purchase antiquities to “save” them undermines the principles of due diligence aimed at excluding loot from museum collections. By allowing these institutions to accept or purchase unprovenanced antiquities, museums will increase the demand for illicit goods.[...] Trade in illicitly acquired artifacts is a demand-driven crime fueled by buyers. This is unacceptable; museums are the stewards of art and heritage and shouldn’t be contributing to the black market and incentivizing destruction.

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