Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Other Side to "Monuments Men"

Though stories of art looting during World War II invariably focus on Nazi plunder, German and American officials say thousands of works, among them masterpieces by Dürer, Cranach and Hals, crossed the Atlantic in footlockers and mail parcels in the 1940s. Very few have trickled back. The thefts from German castles and storage vaults in no way match the scale of Nazi looting, and were undertaken by men who had witnessed the bloody toll of German aggression. But few suggest American soldiers were confused about the rules of war. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had issued strict directives forbidding such thefts. “Yes, they were suffering and losing buddies,” said Robert M. Edsel, chairman of the board of the foundation, which chronicles and promotes the return of art stolen during World War II. “But they knew what they did was wrong.” [...] “We just have to hope the heirs will come forward now that they’re discovering these things as the veterans die off,” he said.
Tom Mashberg, 'Returning the Spoils of World War II, Taken by Americans' New York Times, May 5th 2015.

ACCG "First Found" Argument on Shaky Ground

Nathan Elkins has published his thoughts which he's been blogging about for some time in response to the views of the commercial "numismatic professionals" who are trying to undermine preservationist measures apparently with the full support of the IAPN and PNG: Nathan T. Elkins, "Ancient Coins, Find Spots, and Import Restrictions: A Critique of Arguments made in the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild's 'Test Case'," Journal of Field Archaeology 40.2 (2015): 236-243. I'd like to see them answer in the same tone - citing their evidence.
Abstract: The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) has launched multiple legal challenges aimed at undermining import restrictions on ancient coins into the United States in bilateral agreements with foreign countries. One key component of the ACCG's argument is that the State Department has inappropriately restricted certain types of coins according to where they were made rather than where they are found, as mandated by the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. Although the ACCG has thus far been unsuccessful, it has not been pointed out that existing import restrictions on coins, in fact, have been written to include coins that tended to circulate locally and that are found primarily within the borders of the country with which the bilateral agreement is made. The ACCG's argument is thus on shaky ground. As the ACCG continues to press ahead with new litigation, it is worth drawing attention to realities and probabilities of ancient coin circulation as they pertain to protected coins

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Today's Art Market Hides Masterpieces

Writing of the legal struggle of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev against Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier (for overcharging him for some very expensive paintings), Leonid Bershidsky ('Today's Art Market Hides Masterpieces' Bloomberg View May 1, 2015) makes a number of points about the current art market which is somewhat at odds with the way it is portrayed by dealers and collectors of "ancient art" (portable antiquities). He suggests the need for external regulation.

The essay touches on the issue of  freeports ("glorified warehouses where art can be stored tax-free") in which many works are stashed  away where nobody sees them.
The growth of freeports in recent years reflects a change in collectors' motivations. These days, according to a Deloitte survey, 76 percent of purchasers buy art "with an investment view" rather than to satisfy a passion, and that’s up from 53 percent in 2012. An investment-oriented market needs infrastructure, and the more developed that infrastructure is, the higher art prices climb. As a result, the legitimate art market increasingly resembles the underground one for stolen paintings.

and looted antiquities stashed away for years until they can "surface" on the market at the "right price" for the seller.
"Criminals have been turning looted masterpieces into a type of underworld currency, trading the stolen canvases for guns or drugs," Ulrich Boser wrote in his 2010 book "The Gardner Heist." "After Titian's 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' was swiped from an English country estate, the painting passed through the hands of five different gangsters, each time used as a bargaining credit." No one ever sees these paintings, either, except for the gangsters.
If the market itself is not going to push out antiquities gangsters by changing their traditional no-questions-asked trading practices, they should be dealt with by regulation.

'Many Americans Have a Limited and Often Mistaken Understanding of Native American History'

Kevin Gover, Director of the \Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian points out that: 'Beneath the Debate of the Washington 'Redskins' Name is an Underlying Truth: The Vast Majority of Americans Have a Limited -- and Often Mistaken -- Understanding of Native American History'  (Huffington Post 5th May 2015)
Perceptions are reduced to myths and caricatures and to the limited education retained from the American classroom. At best, Americans learn a few stories: Squanto and the Pilgrims, Pocahontas, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn are standard fare. Little is learned of King Philip's War, the Pueblo Revolt, the ethnic cleansing of the South and Midwest, or the genocide of California Indians, all more historically significant than the tales Americans are taught.
In some states, disgustingly, I have seen with my own eyes that the historical cultures of the Native Americans are displayed in Natural History museums alongside the shellfish, stuffed birds and pressed flowers.

Arrest all Involved in Antiquities Corruption

A number of police officers and a member of Egypt's prosecution have been arrested and accused of involvement in the illegal trade of antiquities ('Egypt's prosecution orders media gag on antiquities smuggling case', Ahram Online , Monday 4 May 2015). This case  is notable because of the oft-repeated ('Two Wrongs') "excuse" that brown-skinned people in the source countries are all "corrupt" and not doing enough to fight corruption. Now we have a case where they are, can we assume that if and when investigations reveal the names of those buying antiquities from corrupt officials the dealers' associations will be pressing for their arrest and punishment? Because at the moment they are walking around free. 

Sam Hardy on the "Interpol" $100m-a-year conflict antiquities claim

Sam Hardy has an update to his earlier text analysing what Interpol did and did not say about ISIL making '$100 million yearly from heritage booty [conflict antiquities]’ (see: 'Interpol did not claim that Islamic State made $100m-a-year from conflict antiquities'). It turns out the whole claim was false from start to finish:
"Since the claim did not even come through Interpol, it must have been falsely attributed to them in order to lend it legitimacy. I don’t want to attribute it to anyone, yet, because it may have been introduced by an as-yet-unidentified link in the chain. But it came out via Iraq".

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Lenborough: Bonkers Britain a laughing stock in Europe

Trying to get my text on Britain's Alter-Vikings (that's metal detected ones of course) off, and trying to find some suitable material for the bibliography for one of the case studies I mention (guess!) came across this curiosity on the Internet. I'm going to leave it in the original, those interested can run it through a translator. It's from Facebook, and "Poszukiwacze" is Polish for what over there in Europe's Wild West are called "metal detectorists". I think the Polish searchers have got you lot sussed:
Poszukiwacze  24 December 2014 ·
Jest już filmik z odkrycia kolejnego fantastycznego skarbu w Anglii [grin emoticon]. Skarb 5225 srebrnych monet z czasów saskich odkryto w niedzielę, podczas komercyjnego kopania zorganizowanego na terenie opuszczonej średniowiecznej wioski. Siwogłowy pan na filmie to znalazca a pani w kolorowym kapelusiku to archeolog nadzorujący wydobycie. Można zadać pytanie czy tak powinno wyglądać wydobycie tego skarbu? Czy nie można było go wydobyć w "jednej masie", w całości? Kopanie było zorganizowane w niedzielę a więc oznaczałoby to konieczność rozstawienia namiotu i pilnowanie skarbu do poniedziałku, gdy na miejsce mogliby dojechać archeolodzy. Z pewnością jest to utrudnienie, ale chyba byłoby warto zaczekać i ten pośpiech rzeczywiście nie do końca był wskazany...
no, proszę...  Anna Brzezinska notes "Najbardziej zaskoczona i nieprzygotowana była pani archeolog". I'll translate that bit. The archaeologist came unprepared for the task she took on. Bonkers Britain a laughing stock in Europe. 

Vignette: 'Heritage protection' in Bonkers Britain.

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