Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Greece drops legal action plans for Parthenon Marbles.

Helena Smith ' Greece drops option of legal action in British Museum Parthenon marbles row Guardian, Wednesday 13 May 2015.
The new Greek cultural minister Nikos Xydakis said the route to retrieving the treasures lay in diplomatic and political channels and not international courts where outcomes were far from assured. [...]  What was needed, he insisted, was “low-key persistent work” as the climate was gradually changing.
Indeed it is. The days of cultural property philistinism are numbered. 
The minister was speaking barely 48 hours after receiving a 150-page dossier from Amal Clooney and fellow leading human rights lawyers at London’s Doughty Street chambers exhorting the Greek government to pursue legal channels immediately. The report, outlining the options Athens faced in its decades-long struggle to win back the fifth century BC carvings, described a “now or never” opportunity for Greece and advised it to take the British Museum to the international court of justice. “The British adhere to international law,” said Clooney who co-authored the report with Geoffrey Robertson and Norman Palmer, British QCs regarded as pre-eminent experts in cultural restitution. “The Greek government has never taken advantage of this Achilles heel. You must take legal action now or you may lose the opportunity to do so due to future legal obstacles.”
I think it is a wise move not to take the lawyers up on it. It is difficult to see what legal arguments would stick. If they lose the case the Marbles stay. We do not need a legal judgement to say the Marbles should be returned. The moral case is clear. Crystal clear.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

James Cuno on Museums: The Case Against (sic) Repatriating Artifacts

Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, recently sat down with Cuno to discuss his case against repatriating museum artefacts. It seems to me that he is gently parodying Cuno's views. They initially employed a dyslexic typing monkey to provide the transcript but it has been silently corrected since. Of course what he gracelessly avoids talking about are the objects in US museums that are sent back to the source country because they ended up in the US illegally - which is absolutely the number-one reason why these repatriations take place. the man is muddying the waters.

Right now, this nonsense about "repatriation". Note this is an American term. If Cuno is going to get pedantic about it, let us remember that there is an allied term depatriation. This is what Cuno is arguing for. So when is Cuno going to advocate for the USA withdrawing from the 1970 UNESCO Convention where cultural property and nations go together? The problem seems to be that America has no real national culture of its own, mainly what it has taken from others and the deletion of much of what was there before the European dominance.

This follows his "Culture War The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts
" in the same periodical at the end of last year - described by the American Committee for Cultural Philistinism, as an "important article". Well, they would, wouldn't they?

The sixth blood antiquity from a US museum went back to Cambodia this week. Cleveland Museum at last admitted that there were problems with "their" Hanuman.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Robbers Return Maori Loot

A week ago, fourteen 19th-century Maori artefacts dating from the 1800s were stolen from a private collection during the burglary of a rural home near the small town of Hastings in northeastern New Zealand.  Included in the haul were a number of items made of greenstone (known in New Zealand as pounamu), several ceremonial mere, a club [patu] made from whalebone, and a ceremonial adze with a pounamu blade. Some of the important ceremonial items taken were registered as national treasures [taonga] with New Zealand's Natonal Musuem, Te Papa Tongarewa, and thus protected from export under New Zealand law. In a public statement, detective sergeant Craig Vining of the Hawkes Bay Police called for the return of the items, explaining that the artifacts had significant cultural and monetary value:
"We appeal to the people who took these items to return them immediately so they can be cared for by their proper guardians and remain in their turangawaewae [resting place].
"He added “This will have a major impact on local Maori. We appeal to the thieves to do the right thing and bring the taonga home".
On Friday the items mysteriously resurfaced and were taken to the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. No other details of the return have been released, though one may speculate that the thief's intention may have been to get these sacred (?) objects out of private hands.

Judge Arthur Tompkins, 'Stolen Treasures Mysteriously and Anonymously Returned' ARCA Blog April 24, 2015

Henri Neuendorf, 'Stolen Artifacts Returned to New Zealand Museum in Peculiar Theft', Artnet, April 28, 2015.

Friday, March 27, 2015

British Museum's response to a UNESCO proposal to enter into mediation over the Parthenon Marbles.

British Museum's response to a UNESCO proposal to enter into mediation over the Parthenon Marbles.
After full and careful consideration, we have decided respectfully to decline this request. We believe that the more constructive way forward, on which we have already embarked, is to collaborate directly with other museums and cultural institutions, not just in Greece but across the world.
On the Elginism blog, the timing of the response - issued on the last day of Parliament - has attracted attention: "the timing of this announcement merely highlights the level of awkward obstructiveness that is faced when anyone tried to actually engage the British Government or the British Museum in discussions on the issue".

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky

A horse effigy carving, c. 1880, by a Hunkpapa
Lakota artist (Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York took a step to realise its vision of being a truly encyclopaedic museum when it put on a show of the work of highlights of the art of a group of the indigenous population of the USA, which otherwise gets  a poor showing in the Met (“The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” to through May 10). It is reviewed by Holland Cotter in the New York Times:
Some of the earliest surviving art by native North Americans left America long ago. Soldiers, traders and priests, with magpie eyes for brilliance, bundled it up and shipped it across the sea to Europe. Painted robes, embroidered slippers and feathered headdresses tinkling with chimes found their way into cupboards in 18th-century London and Paris, and lay there half-forgotten. Now, in “The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, some of those wondrous things have come home. Of the about 130 pieces in the show, on loan from more than 50 international collections, those sent by the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris are exceptional: a drawing, on animal hide, of a half-abstract bird with prismatic wings; a raven-plume bonnet with feathers swept back as if hit by wind; and a bead-encrusted shoulder bag with a double-crescent design. They are all part of an exhibition that has to be one of the most completely beautiful sights in New York right now
The exhibition chronicles the rise of Plains Indian society and its development from the settled farming communities to a more mobile lifestyle until it too was smashed:
The United States government, with the Army and frontier settlers as its enforcer, stripped Native Americans of their land and contributed to all but wiping out the natural resources that sustained them. Reduced to the status of hostile aliens, American Indians battled one another over whatever scraps were left. The exhibition’s curator [...] could have ended the show there, on a tragic vanishing-people note. But wisely, and realistically, they did not. Instead, they bring the story into the present with work by inspired artists who carry Plains traditions into the 21st century.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The China Collectors

Shareen Blair Brysac and Karl E. Meyer, 'The China CollectorsAmerica’s Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art Treasures' 2015 ISBN-10: 1137279761 ISBN-13: 978-1137279767 
North American museums now possess the greatest collections of Chinese art outside of East Asia itself. How did it happen? The China Collectors is the first full account of a century-long treasure hunt in China from the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion to Mao Zedong's 1949 ascent. The principal gatherers are mostly little known and defy invention. They included "foreign devils" who braved desert sandstorms, bandits, and local warlords in acquiring significant works. Adventurous curators like Langdon Warner, a forebear of Indiana Jones, argued that the caves of Dunhuang were already threatened by vandals, thereby justifying the removal of frescoes and sculptures. Other Americans include George Kates, an alumnus of Harvard, Oxford, and Hollywood, who fell in love with Ming furniture. The Chinese were divided between dealers who profited from the artworks' removal, and scholars who sought to protect their country's patrimony. Duanfang, the greatest Chinese collector of his era, was beheaded in a coup and his splendid bronzes now adorn major museums. Others in this rich tapestry include Charles Lang Freer, an enlightened Detroit entrepreneur, two generations of Rockefellers, and Avery Brundage, the imperious Olympian, and Arthur Sackler, the grand acquisitor. No less important are two museum directors, Cleveland's Sherman Lee and Kansas City's Laurence Sickman, who challenged the East Coast's hegemony. Shareen Blair Brysac and Karl E. Meyer even-handedly consider whether ancient treasures were looted or salvaged, and whether it was morally acceptable to spirit hitherto inaccessible objects westward, where they could be studied and preserved by trained museum personnel. And how should the U.S. and Canada and their museums respond now that China has the means and will to reclaim its missing patrimony?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Toledo Museum of Art will return Astrolabe to Germany.

US museum returns War-looted piece
Toledo Museum of Art is returning to Germany a rare, 450-year-old astrological compendium. The Museum purchased for $6,500 in 1954. The return is due to the fact that documentation has shown it was probably one of many pieces of German art stolen after World War II.
The Toledo museum said it is making preparations to return it to Gotha Museum in Germany next month. The Gotha Museum contacted the Toledo museum about the piece in 2013, supplying what Toledo museum officials described as "extensive documentation, including photographs, which convinced TMA officials that the Toledo astrolabe was the same one missing since 1945." In return, the Gotha Museum said it plans to provide the Toledo Museum of Art with other unspecified pieces at a later date. 
 'Toledo Museum to return 450-year-old astrological tool to German museum', The Blade , February 19, 2015