Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cornelius Gurlitt Collection: Reconstructing Collecting Histories

Philipp Jedicke 'Task force investigating art trove inherited from Nazi collector achieved 'embarrassing' results' Deutsche Welle, 26.11.2015
Since 2013, a task force, soon to be disbanded, has sought to clarify ownership of the artwork found in Cornelius Gurlitt's apartment. Now people are asking: what has it achieved, and where do we go from here? [...] Berggreen-Merkel's team of researchers has been able to determine the exact provenience of four works, and a fifth was mentioned at the parliament hearing. Regarding slightly over 500 of a total of 1,497 works found in Schwabing and Salzburg, the task force rules out "appropriation as a result of Nazi persecution." Clarifying the origins of the rest has proven impossible. Regarding 104 works, 114 concrete claims and 300 requests from Germany and abroad have been filed with the task force.
The "Süddeutsche Zeitung" criticised the team suggesting that auction houses are able "to determine proveniences within 48 hours." I'd say that "determine" is perhaps not always the right word here....

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Queen may face legal challenge over Koh-i-Noor - stolen cultural heritage

A lobby group made up of Indian businessmen and actors is mounting a legal challenge against Queen Elizabeth II demanding the return of the world famous Koh-i-Noor diamond to India. The 105-carat stone, believed to have been mined in India nearly 800 years ago, was presented to Queen Victoria during the Raj and is now set in a crown belonging to the Queen’s mother on public display in the Tower of London. [...]The Koh-i-Noor, which means “mountain of light,” was once the largest cut diamond in the world and had been passed down from one ruling dynasty to another in India. But after the British colonisation of the Punjab in 1849, the Marquess of Dalhousie, the British Governor-General, arranged for it to be presented to Queen Victoria. The last Sikh ruler, Duleep Singh, a 13-year-old boy, was made to travel to Britain in 1850 when he handed the gem to Queen Victoria.
In 2013 British Prime Minister David Cameron while on a visit to India, defended Britain’s right to keep it saying he did not believe in “returnism”.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Looted marble bust returned to Poland

The bust (in the window) in the palace before the war
Julia Michalska.'' The Art Newspaper 2 November 2015
A marble bust of the goddess Diana has been returned to Poland. The 18th-century sculpture by Jean-Antoine Houdon, which was part of the collection of King Stansilaw August, was taken from the Royal Lazienki Palace by the Nazis in 1940. It was listed on Interpol’s database of stolen works of art.  Employees of the Polish ministry of culture spotted the work in a catalogue of the Viennese auction house Im Kinsky where it was offered for sale in the summer. [...] The Houdon sculpture, along with 56 paintings from the National Museum of Warsaw, was seized by the Nazis and transported to the headquarters of the general governor Hans Frank in Krakow. Polish authorities estimate that around half a million works were plundered or destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War.
The bust was recovered from the market due to the efforts of  Christopher Marinello, the chief executive of the London-based Art Recovery Group and will be returned to the Polish government at a ceremony in Warsaw later this month.

Friday, October 16, 2015

No 'Respect', Universal Museum Trophy Artefacts meet Sesame Street

Ridiculed and humiliated in America
Billed as "the biggest" one outside Egypt, Penn Musum's sphinx was found near the Ptah Temple at Memphis, excavated by Petrie. It bears the royal names of the 19th dynasty pharaoh Ramesses II and his son and successor Merenptah, and the museum like doing silly things with their trophy to celebrate capturing it:
To celebrate the Sphinx in all of its splendor, join the Penn Museum for quizzo on Oct. 2, a Young Professionals Event on Oct. 11, a Halloween event on Oct. 17, a sleepover on Oct. 18, and workshop on Oct. 26. On Oct. 19—almost 100 years to the day that the Sphinx arrived at Penn—the Museum will host a “Hijinks with the Sphinx” event from 1 to 4 p.m..
This apparently consisted of:
stories of the Sphinx, and an exclusive display of Egyptian kitsch, items from pop culture based on ancient Egyptian themes [...]. Guests matched wits in a True/False game about ancient Egypt, raced through an Indiana Jones-style obstacle course, and enjoyed an ancient hairstyles demonstration. Penn Museum members receieved (sic) an exclusive behind-the-scenes Sphinx history tour in the Museum Archives, while everyone joined the Sphinx for a celebratory slice of cake.
Universal Museums meet Sesame street. Perhaps if displaying it in the kitschy way they do, and treating it like just another pop-culture sideshow to be gawped at and played with, is the best the Americans can do with it, the sculpture would be better off going back to Egypt. It would do better for it to stand again in Memphis so it can be seen in a better context than entrapped by foreign dumbed down stupidity and treated as a alien object of fun.

Collectors say that accumulating these things and removing them from their context they are showing and teaching 'respect' for, and understanding of, other cultures. I see no respect or enhanced understanding  here whatsoever.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Don't Export Sekhemka, but not for these reasons...

Something called a "PRESS STATEMENT FROM SAVE SEKHEMKA GROUP EGYPT"  seems to have been written by twelve-year-olds. It states that
"Sekhemka is a pharaonic statue which belongs to the Egyptian people  [...] Selling a stolen statue which is owned by the Egyptian people is a crime against all international norms and standards. The British government need to act fast in order to prevent this crime by taking civil and criminal responsibility in abiding by the international law".
What? Not only is that complete gibberish, its legal status is completely lacking. It gets worse:
We send an appeal to the Human Rights Institute in London that it is against humanity to conceal information about a stolen antique. To be sold to an unidentified person and sent to an unknown place goes against civilisation and is a huge crime against humanity. We therefore ask that the Human Rights Institute intervene in stopping this offence and standing up with the Egyptian people in the International Criminal Courts to defend and save Sekhemka from the illegal trade.
Where is the definition of the illegality of this transaction? Come on people, get a proper lawyer. Moreover:

We appeal to the British Prime Minister to take the necessary legal proceedings against Christie's Auction and against Northampton Museum for having introduced and sold this antique which was stolen from Egypt as it is Egypt's right to to be given compensation.
No it is not. Where did they get this from? Off the back of a cornflake box?
Furthermore, we appeal to the UNESCO in supporting in tackling this illegal trade crime as mentioned in UNESCO's law dated 1970, Article 7. 
I suggest they read Article 7 again (It is not a "law"). While we are all for the statue staying on public display (but far away from Philistine Shoe Town), it is totally counterproductive for activists to attempt to utilise the sort of (non-)arguments that can only bring the whole notion of what to do with antiquities into ridicule and disrepute. Stop this amateurishness please. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Sindika Dokolo Collection


Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman and art collector, and his wife Isabel dos Santos, one of Africa's richest couples, are buying up colonial and other looted African pieces to 'save' them. Dokolo is  on a crusade to force Western museums, art dealers and auction houses to return Africa’s art, particularly works that might have been removed illegally during the colonial era.
“Works that used to be clearly in African museums must absolutely return to Africa,” Mr. Dokolo said in an interview [...] “There are works that disappeared from Africa and are now circulating on the world market based on obvious lies about how they got there.” To forward his cause, Mr. Dokolo’s foundation has set up a network of researchers and dealers to comb through archives and monitor the art market in search of stolen African art. Any time such artwork can be identified, Mr. Dokolo said, its owner will be offered a simple choice: Either sell him the work for the price at which it was acquired or face a lawsuit for theft. Mr. Dokolo, 43, has the financial wherewithal to turn such a threat into action. Besides his own family wealth, he and his wife are one of Africa’s richest couples: She is Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of José Eduardo dos Santos, the president of Angola since 1979. [...]  Mr. Dokolo’s deep pockets have allowed him to amass a massive collection of African art — more than 5,000 works of mostly contemporary pieces he has stored in Angola and Belgium. (He declined to estimate the total value of the collection.) His latest initiative is to set up a European subsidiary of his Luanda-based art foundation in Porto, and to open within two years an exhibition space with educational programs to promote African art. [...] In addition to his Porto project, Mr. Dokolo’s foundation also plans to build a museum and a music school in Luanda, as part of his push for African countries to create their own cultural institutions. 
The interview (Raphael Minder, 'Collector Fights for African Art' The New York Times, 9th July 2015) focues on the issue of items missing from museums:
Mr. Dokolo asserts that some African museums have been looted by Westerners, citing the national museum in Kinshasa for one. He has been trying to locate 6,000 pieces made by the Chowke people of Central Africa that were in the Dundo Museum of Angola and that disappeared during the Angolan civil war. So far, Mr. Dokolo said that he has managed to recover a few masks, including one of the masks missing from the Dundo Museum, which he bought from a private Dutch collection.