Monday, 4 August 2014

Dealers and Collectors in Denial- a Typology of Excuses

Honest Joe Grabkesh of
Grebkesh and Runn,
the antiquity dealer
In the post above I discuss what Sue McGovern Huffman wrote on her Facebook page, referring to Erin Thompson's NYT opinion piece 'Egypt’s Looted Antiquities' (May 30th 2014). Below her text is a series of comments which form a nice summary of the principal arguments against the preservationist case. There is almost the full range of antiquitist apologetics there from collectors and dealers.
Peter Tompa urges McGovern to get involved in his anti-preservationist campaigns "we need someone with knowledge and stature on our side of this issue to write something explaining the situation. Otherwise, this pure propaganda will be the only thing anyone reads". [Mr Tompa himself never being involved in writing pure propaganda] (Tompa's proposition is seconded by Andrew Hunt Gordon). Of course we already have such an account - by Jonathan Tokeley-Parry ("Rescuing the Past: the Cultural Property Crusade").

Peter Lacovara applies the 'Their-comments-should-be-dismissed-they-know-nothing-of-the-trade' argument: "the woman who wrote this is a lawer (sic) and has no knowledge of Egypt whatsoever"

Robert Biscoff
plumps for the 'playing-the-victim' tactic. He sees a conspiracy in the 'timing' of this text, coincident with the "CPAC is "deliberating" [his scare quotes] whether to issue a blanket ban on the import of any object Egypt claims is their "cultural patrimony." [his scare quotes] This smells suspiciously like an article "planted" to influence the decision". He then attacks the current Egyptian government supported to the hilt by the White House. [No "blanket ban" is on the cards, archaeological artefacts dugup or illegally exported from Egypt are indeed Egyptian cultural heritage/patrimony.

Kevin Neve
says never mind about looting and smuggling, but plays the 'hidden-cultural-heritage-better-in-private-hands' game. He wonders when people are going "to get irate about the Millions of dollars worth of Artifacts that get destroyed or never seen again that sit in under funded museum basements all over the world not just Egypt we're (sic) is the cultural heritage in that [?]

Judith Jampolis Beiner
Agrees with him 100%, adding the 'can't-trust-the-brown-skinned-folk' trope: "The "small" articles that Ms. Thompson mentions would likely be lost to humanity is (sic) not for people who care about preserving the past" (she's presumably read Tokely-Parry's book, brown-skinned folk are not 'humanity' for her?). Mc Govern herself adds: "Most of the objects looted in Egypt are presently being destroyed not smuggled out of the country" Annette Hixebnbaugh augments "the ragheads destroy their own stuff" horror tales:
"Somewhere I read about a basement in Egypt being flooded and the artifacts stored there sitting in two or three inches of water. Many of these countires don't have the money nor facilities to take proper care of their artifacts. Which is better:
artifacts sitting in water, or artifacts in some collector's glass cabinet for all to view. I am a collector of sorts, and I've used my artifacts for programs in schools, libraries, museums, historical lectures, etc!!!!!!"
Hooray!!! How many Egyptian schools, libraries, museums and historical lectures has this stuff in Ms Hixenbaugh's personal, private, collectuion helped? I think we are missing the word "American" here, hinting at the agenda behind Ms H's self-proclaimed munificence. Can I see your glass cabinet Ms H? Will you put it online for us all to see? I've been in a number of Egyptian storerooms and can honestly say that in none of them (even those underground) was any standing water - or marks on the walls and storage shelves that any water had been anywhere near the artefacts stored there. I think this two-wrongs-make-a-right argument holds very little water (but please give a source)
Robert Bischoff drags out another Two-wrongs argument, remaining fixated on how the idea that looting and smuggling are OK when the governments use un-American ways of maintaining national unity. He then attacks Deborah Lehr for "creating a private-public partnership with the Egyptian government".
Mc Govern herself adds: "there is no doubt Egypt has a huge issue and we need to help as much as possible but this current finger pointing achieves nothing". The dealers doing nothing about the current state of the trade achieves nothing. If they will not do anything without finger-pointing, let's see what finger pointing and shaming them into action might do - before we are forced to force them into action to try and achieve something.


Sands of Time said...

Actually Paul, I am doing something about it. Over the past few months I have worked to put together an organization to address such issues: The Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art ( There are seven main objectives of the association:

To advocate and support the establishment of clear, transparent and fair laws governing acquisition, ownership and commercial disposal of artifacts.

To educate and inform members on policies and laws that affects the international movement of cultural property.

To promote awareness and understanding of ancient and ethnographic art collecting through open communication with members and the public.

To observe a Code of Conduct that promotes the professionalism of our members through responsible and ethical practice.

To support the preservation and protection of cultural goods around the globe through responsible and legal trading and collecting.

To advocate a safe harbor for existing collections supported by the establishment of a nation-wide digital database that will restore legitimacy and value to objects and ensure museums, dealers and collectors can secure appropriate title to art and artifacts.
Your constructive suggestions would be most welcome and appreciated.

Sue McGovern-Huffman, President
Sands of Time Ancient Art
Association of Dealer and Collectors of Ancient & Ethnographic Art.

Paul Barford said...

Well I see you telling your dreadful companions that you feared that your announcement would "get lost , but it did not. You will find some comments in today's posts. So will Mr Neve and Mr Bischoff be star members of your Association alongside Peter "Snidey" Tompa to represent the real voice of collecting?

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