Friday, October 28, 2016

British Museum Fouls Up

The piece itself,
one of a pair
Martin Bailey, 'Benin bronze, sold off by British Museum in 1950, returns to market' Art Newspaper  28 October 2016
A Benin bronze sold off by the British Museum for around £200 in the 1950s came back on the market at Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Virginia on 1 October [...] but failed to find a buyer. The 16th-century plaque [...] was among 500 objects offered from the collection of the New York-based African-American artist, collector, dealer and musician Merton Simpson, who died three years ago. [...] the British Museum acquired 203 bronzes [...]  In 1950, the museum’s keeper of ethnography, Hermann Braunholtz, suggested to the trustees that 30 plaques were “duplicate specimens” and that 10 should be sold to Nigeria for a planned museum in Lagos. Later that year, four further plaques were sold to the London dealer Sydney Burney for a total of £876; three others went in 1952 to the New York dealer John Klejman for £450 in a exchange deal. The British Museum would later much regret these sell-offs. In 2002, Nigel Barley, the museum’s Africa curator, described them as “a curse”, since the plaques had been designed to be displayed as pairs.
They SOLD the plaques to Nigeria? How utterly crass.Now, what was that we were hearing about the 'legal impediments' to deaccessing the Parthenon marbles from the national collection? Is it the case that as far as Bloomsbury Trustees are concerned they only apply to the sparkling white marbles of the supreme White European civilizations, but not the 'savage art' of the brown-skinned folk?

Now, what is Quinn's going to do with the unsold Benin bronze?  The decent thing?

1 comment:

  1. After all that has been written and said about the Benin Bronzes and the notorious British invasion of 1897,it seems to me there is only one way to deal with the Benin artefacts: return them to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin and the Benin Royal Family who hold the objects on behalf of their people. Any other way of handling these artefacts,including keeping them in the British Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Berlin Museum of Ethnology, Vienna Museum of Ethnology, or World Museum Vienna, would be wrong. This shameful event in the history of art cannot be forgotten however hard Westerners try. For once, scholars and museum directors must accept that they are also subject to law and morality.
    Kwame Opoku.