Friday 17 April 2020

"Suffocating Bureaucracy is Undermining an Already Vulnerable Trade" Erika Bochereau

"Germany has little more than a handful of 
antiquities dealers these days, and most are micro-businesses.
How are they going to cope if this latest set of ridiculous measures
is adopted? And what are the implications for the rest of the market?"

Erika Bochereau

Pathetic violin music
for German no-
antiquities trade
I wonder if Erika Bochereau (the Secretary General of the Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Œuvres d’Art - CINOA), speaks German. Does she? Because she has written about the final report of ILLICID ( A New Report Says Germany Is a Hotspot for the Illegal Antiquities Market. Here’s Why That’s Wrong—and Dangerous Artnet News, April 17, 2020) and made a real mess of it. She calls it "zombie statistics", but fails to cite in her little exposé the document at all, just some "media headlines" (in English) and the UNESCO webpage (in English) announcing that the project was in progress. Bonkers.

First of all, "When the entire German art and antiques trade is at stake, it is important to get the facts right" is hyperbole, we are discussing archaeological artefacts, not the entire "beleaguered German art market".

She tries to persuade her readers that "shockingly, the study’s conclusions are based more on suspicion and prejudice than scientific research, I would argue, the German ministry that commissioned it has manipulated the results to support an anti-trade agenda". But, this is where I'd expect the link to that report. Here it is, Ms Bochereau: ILLICID Final Report

She then goes off on a tangent, "Before we get into the specific flaws of the report, it is important to acknowledge that even its motivation is built on a false premise". She then spends 23 liens of the article saying that it is wrong to state that the "illicit trade in antiquities is a multi-billion-dollar industry". Yet the word billion does not appear in the Report at all, this is not what the report is discussing. But this is one of the favourite straw men arguments of the antiquities trade, and who expects any representative of dealers to be thinking outside of the box? Nobody.

Then we get onto: 'unrealizable provenance requirements'. Now, article 3 of an international Convention signed half a century ago defines what illicit cultural property is.  The report talks about what the definition of illicit cultural property is in relation to the national legislations (Karte 2 is a nice presentation). To say that the study found only  "just under 0.02 percent of all of the items" to be of unknown origin (i.e. without any decent paperwork)  is just a cynical or ignorant misrepresentation of the contents of this document. As I say, it really looks like she's not spent any time at all reading it. Her arguments bear a very close similarity with what Kate Fitz-Gibbon wrote on the basis of what IADAA had written on the basis of a reading of an interim status-statement predating the final report. Suspiciously close.

Erica Bochereau totally misses the point, utterly:
The suspicion about origin is largely based on what the researchers see as incomplete provenance history, including the absence of previous owners’ names, despite the fact that data protection rules prevent this in many cases. The absence of full documentation for antiquities that have been circulating in the market for years is not only commonplace, but the norm. 
And that, actually, dear lady, is the problem in trying to sell this stuff today. It is not "what researchers see", it is what the actual state is.

Ms Bochereau should note the full title of the document that she is ostensibly discussing includes the word Verbraucherschutz. Do antiquities dealers have much of a concept what that means? It means if I buy a used car off Ms Bochereau, and she does not give me any documents for it, I'm not going to be able legally to sell it to anyone else. Unless, that is, I find a criminal gang looking for an untraceable undocumented getaway car. In my field though, I do not come into contact much with criminals willing to participate in undocumented sales. And Ms Bochereau? I'd be worried to admit that I think it is "the norm" in my branch of business, it might set people wondering just what kind of a business that is and with whom it deals. She plasters on the pathos:
A German law introduced to protect cultural assets, passed in August 2016, ignores these reasonable factors and instead demands proof of legal export from a country of origin before it will allow import.
Well, yes it does. And quite rightly so. 1970 UNESCO Convention Article 3, Ms Bochereau. In black and white, half a century ago. Ignored by the type of "businessmen" you proudly (?) represent who believe that we are still in the colonial nineteenth century. More pathos is applied:
Believe me—dealers would love to have an unbroken provenance for everything they sell. It would not only make their lives much easier, but would also add to the value of what they trade in. [...]  If ILLICID deems such objects as failing to meet the requirements of the law, then it simply shows how misguided that law is and how little those in power understand the market or even care to do so. 
Oh "poor dealers", eh? My heart bleeds from them.  But actually, they do not have any problems in buying and selling stuff no-questions-asked, do they? There is a whole bunch of dealers in Munich (there's a hotspot if ever there was one) for example that not having any provenance for anything much they sell has not held back, for years. That does not mean to say that they should claim some "right" to continue ignoring what was established in the 1970s, does it? Nor that we should "understand" their niche activities if we perceive them as damaging (as they are). As we enter the third decade of the twentyfirst century, they need to raise their standards, not we lower ours to meet their needs.

Ms Bochereau, since she's not read the report all that thoroughly, really does not know what it is about ("transparency, provenance consumer protection"). She claims that its whole purpose is to support the "claim that antiquities sales significantly finance terrorism and, principally, the activities of IS". What? What? There is a mention, section 1.3.6 on pages 31-2 that other writers have discussed the potential of the illicit trade of antiquities to, among other things, finance militant activity (and journalism mentioned in the footnotes on those pages mentions a couple of times ISIS/ISIL), but if she'd actually read this part of the report - which she seems not to have done - she would have seen that it specifically says on p. 32 that it was NOT intended to examine this question, but offers a few comments of what it sees on the German market (its focus) in the light of what had been written about elsewhere. Hers is merely another straw man argument, bulking out her apologetic by another 17 lines (and the Atta thing was dismissed - see particularly Donna Yates years ago).

The final section is about business record-keeping, something antiquities dealers seem always to have had problems with. Ms Bochereau jumps in with:
It is quite frankly scandalous that despite the failure of the ILLICID study back up its initial assumptions with hard evidence, the Federal Ministry of Research appears now to have manipulated the results to pursue its original agenda.
It is quite frankly scandalous that somebody can make such a statement without backing it up with a shred of evidence. As a matter of fact, she's not actually identified what the report is about and the only "assumptions" she has told us about are ones that her own and are not in the report. So what is she talking about? The document is backed up by quite a lot of tables and graphs presenting the numbers, densely footnoted. Where is this "manipulation"? I would suggest that it is indeed manipulation to simply say to your readers that something that somebody else has written is "wrong", without showing where. Ms Bocereau has not done that. So, on what basis does she propose we discuss these proposals? Because, discuss them we must.

And Ms Bochereau, is  concern that Germany was a hub for international cultural property crimes justified? I would say, from what we can all see, yes. Yes, indeed, and I am glad to see that the German government is trying to do something about it. Time now for the United Kingdom and the United States to better regulate what's happening there. Now.

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