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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Conflict with BM over Bark Art

Paul Daley - 'It taunts us spiritually': the fight for Indigenous relics spirited off to the UK ' The Guardian Saturday 14 February 2015

Three precious examples of bark art   – a shield, emu carving and a scene the British Museum controversially claims depicts a kangaroo hunt – taken from the Dja Dja Wurrung people in central Victoria in the 1850s were sold to the British Museum. Now these and other treasures could return to Australia – on loan only – as part of an exhibition :
They were taken by the Scottish settler John Hunter Kerr in the 1850s and sold to the British Museum. Bark art is usually synonymous with Indigenous people from northern Australia and the three Dja Dja Wurrung pieces from the comparative far south are believed to be the only ones of their period in existence. They may be precious to the British Museum but they are sacred to the custodians of the land around Boort from which they were taken. At least one of the barks is likely to be included in a forthcoming Australian exhibition of items from the British Museum’s collection. After five years of planning and extensive contact with Indigenous communities, the exhibition, Encounters, is due to open at the National Museum of Australia in November after a linked exhibition at the British Museum, which opens in April. In 2004, Murray, on behalf of the Dja Dja Wurrung, used the federal Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act to seize the barks while they were on loan to the Melbourne Museum (now Museum Victoria). After a protracted court case brought by the Melbourne Museum the barks were eventually returned to the British Museum, the repository of colonial treasure from all corners of the once-great empire it served.
More here...

Friday, January 23, 2015

Rapa Nui is Coming for the Moai

Rapa Nui people claim return of their Moai held in museums around the world

For generations, the people of Easter Island allowed several of its statues of volcanic rock to leave Rapa Nui and become museum pieces in distant places. But no more. Currently trying to arrange the return of some monuments scattered in the country, they contacted lawyers in Chile and the United States, and warned: "It is only the first step." [...] These other 11 pieces (between complete moai heads and pukao or hats) scattered in museums in North America, Europe and Oceania, represent 1% of the nearly eleven hundred monuments that have been identified so far in Rapa add Nui. Among these works are three parts in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC (an upright moai, a head and a pukao); two heads held by the French Louvre and Quai Branly, respectively; and moai in the of Liverpool and British museums.
The mysterious basalt sculptures with outsized heads were made some 500 to 750 years ago and have become a symbol of Easter Island, a territory annexed to Chile in the late 19th century. The current campaign is the result of concerns raised on the small island by plans to take one of the statues to France in 2010:
Italy's Mare Nostrum and France's Louis Vuitton launched the project to haul the Moai across oceans for public view in Paris two years ago. They aimed to introduce the island's culture to Europe in exchange for helping preserve its heritage with a fund that initially included half a million dollars. Archeologists and logistics coordinators had scoped out the site and preselected a statue five meters (16 feet) tall that weighed 13 tons. They had planned to insure it for two million U.S. dollars. The island's 4,000 inhabitants were informed about the project during public meetings before a referendum was held under the auspices of the International Labour Organization's convention on indigenous people. Out of 900 people who responded, 789 islanders said they opposed sending the Moai to France, while 94 said they supported the move.
Another focus of campaigners' attention re holdings of human skeletal remains removed from burial caves on the island, held in a number of museums.

Jorge Poblete and Alejandro Jiménez, 'Rapa Nui va por sus moai', Capital Online January 23, 2015

Graciela Almendras, 'France won't get Moai after Easter Island snub', AFP April 10, 2010.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Native Americans try to Block Another French Auction of Sacred Artefacts

What's left of Hopi and Navajo
An auction on Monday of sacred masks and objects in France has stirred fresh anger among Native Americans, with representatives of the Navajo people travelling to Paris to try and halt the latest sale. The Eve auction house has 270 Native American, Eskimo and pre-Colombian artefacts going under the hammer and the United States embassy has stepped in, urging a stop to the sale of items cherished by the Navajo and Hopi people. The sale is the fourth since 2013 that the southwestern Hopi people have tried to block of ceremonial masks and headdresses they consider to embody living spirits. All previous legal efforts to halt such auctions have failed, although a US foundation last year bought 21 of the masks at a Paris auction to return them to the Hopi people.
The name of the sellers or the buyers of the masks remain a secret (where are they all coming from?). If America was to implement the 1970 UNESCO Convention properly (with an export licensing procedure for such artefacts) then there would be no problem with stopping the sale of those that left the US after the date it was instituted. The problem is that the US does not want to protect this cultural property in such a way.

Indeed it is rather ironic that when a group of people from precisely the area occupied by these tribes were caught stealing artefacts, including sacred ones and robbing graves to obtain collectables, they got sentences no greater than a few months probation and the authorities that investigated, arrested and charged them received a lot of criticism for the way they did so.  It seems that illegal activities within the US concerning artefacts of precisely this region is not treated with any great seriousness.


Afp, 'Native Americans try to block French auction of sacred artefacts', 14 December 2014.

UPDATE 15th December 2014
Navajo officials won their bid to buy back seven tribal masks at a contested auction of native American artifacts in Paris that netted over a million dollars. Monday’s sale went ahead despite the best efforts by the U.S. government and Senator John McCain to halt it. The objects for sale at the Drouot auction house included sacred masks, colored in pigment, believed to have been used in Navajo wintertime healing ceremonies. The sale — which totaled 929,000 euros ($1.12 million) — also included dozens of Hopi Kachina dolls and several striking Pueblo masks embellished with horse hair, bone and feathers, the origins of which are unclear.[...] The lawyer representing the absent Hopi tribe, Pierre Servan-Schreiber, said the approaches of the Hopis and the Navajos were different — and said the Hopis see the sale as sacrilege. "Hopis were opposed to buying back their artifacts as they did not want to engage in the auction," said Servan-Schreiber.
Thomas Adamson, 'Navajos buy back artifacts at Paris auction', Salt Lake Tribune 15th December 2014.