Friday, 2 June 2023

Looted Symes Objects Returned to Greece

Hundreds of items are being repatriated to Greece after a 17-year legal battle with the liquidated company that belonged to disgraced British art dealer Robin Symes (Karen Ko, ' Greece Will Recover 351 Looted Antiquities After 17-Year Legal Battle With British Art Dealer Robin Symes' ArtNews May 23, 2023).

The Greek Ministry of Culture announced last week that it had recovered 351 objects dating from the Neolithic period to the early Byzantine era previously in the possession of Symes’ company. The illegally exported items included an early Cycladic figurine dating to between 3200 and 2700 B.C.E. a damaged marble statue of an Archaic kore from 550-500 B.C.E., and the torso of a larger-than-life sized figurative Bronze statue depicting a young Alexander the Great dating to the second half of the 2nd century C.E. [...]  Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni said the case was “difficult” and had plagued her office since 2006, the year after Symes was convicted on two counts of contempt of court and sentenced to two years in prison. He only served seven months. [...] The Greek Culture Ministry’s announcement did not specify whether the hundreds of items were part of the same hoard of antiquities that authorities recovered from 45 crates belonging to Symes at a Geneva freeport in Switzerland in 2016.

Greece’s announcement on May 19 also coincided with news from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office of two antiquities being returned to Iraq, one of which, a limestone sculpture of an elephant that had been hidden “since at least 1999” in a storage unit belonging to Symes. It had been looted from the ancient city of Uruk, now known as Warka, “stolen from Iraq during the Gulf War and smuggled into New York in the late 1990s". the other item returned to Iraq and apparently also from Warka was seized from the collection of former Met trustee Shelby White.

Of course, all of the newspapers celebrate the return of the OBJECTS, with not a mention of the archaeological sites that were damaged to get out these items (and the many more that [a] did not get into Symes' stock and [b] were still there when the stockroom was raided). After 17 years, the chain of passage of these items through the market will have been forgotten and it is unlikely that Greece will ever find out the name of the site from which any of these items were hoiked. This represents another 351 bits of destroyed archaeological context, 351 instances of loss of archaeological information. 


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