Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Thailand Claims Rights to Items Removed to Foreign Museums

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
from Northern Thailand.
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The Ministry of Culture in Thailand is intensifying its efforts to recover cultural property now housed in museums all over the world, primarily in museums in the US, the UK and Australia (Javier Pes, Thailand Is Ramping Up Efforts to Recover Cultural Heritage From US Museums, Including the Met. artnet News  November 6, 2018)
Thailand has stepped up its efforts to reclaim bronze and stone sculptures that have been in US museum collections for decades. The Kingdom of Thailand’s culture minister announced last week that the country is seeking the return of 23 antiquities, some of which have been housed in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art since the late 1960s. Unnamed Institutions in the UK and Australia are also in the Thai government’s sights as it intensifies its efforts to recover sculptures and other artifacts it claims were illegally removed from temples and archaeological sites. Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat is leading a task force to recover more than 700 artifacts in collections abroad that Thailand claims were stolen, the Bangkok Post reports.
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
from Northern Thailand.
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Among the works being contested are an 8th-century statue of the four-armed Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased in 1967,  and carved stone lintels in the collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. They came from temples in Northern Thailand (and include one from the collection of Chicago industrialist Avery Brundage whose vast collection was donated to the city in the 1950s and 60s on the condition that a museum was built to house it).  The Norton Simon Museum is also on the list and says that the works from Thailand in the museum’s collection “were properly purchased in the 1970s and 1980s or donated”.
 Joyce White, the executive director of the Institute for Southeast Asian Archaeology in Philadelphia, tells artnet News that the Thai government’s current push to recover objects they consider to have been illegally exported means that museums and collectors “can no longer assume disinterest on the part of the Thai concerning these activities.” She urges institutions to be more transparent about their past acquisitions, including by publishing collecting histories. “Shining a light on this murky area of the museum world will hopefully be a trend in the 21st century,” White says. “If museums have clear legal backing for particular acquisitions, they can make their case in a court of law. Transparency should not be a problem for them.”
We will see what documentation they produce.

Native American group denounces Met’s exhibition of indigenous objects

Wooden war club ('Anishinaabe or  Ojibwa')
Charles and Valerie Diker Collection
A new exhibition in the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Art of Native America: the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection) is provoking criticism (Gabriella Angeletti, 'Native American group denounces Met’s exhibition of indigenous objects', The Art Newspaper, 16th November 2018 ). The exhibition is assembled from more than 100 promised gifts and loans, as well as some items that have entered the museum’s permanent collection, from the collection of the two New York philanthropists. It was spun by Charles Diker as 'the first show of Native American works to be presented as American art rather than tribal art' (which if true in itself is pretty disgusting). But a Native American advocacy group is sharply criticising the exhibition contending that it violates ethical practices:
Shannon O'Loughlin, the executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA), argues that curators “did not consult with affiliated tribal representatives to perform their due diligence, but their first mistake was to call these objects art”. She adds, “Most of these items are not art: they are ceremonial or funerary objects that belong with their original communities and could only have ended up in a private collection through trafficking and looting”. The Met counters that it has regularly conferred with Native American representatives. [...] The museum did not specify which communities have been consulted. [...] O'Loughlin adds, “We’re past the time where institutions and archaeologists tell our story—museums should give us the basic respect to tell our own stories”.
Sylvia Yount (the Lawrence A. Fleischman curator in charge of the American wing of the museum), countered that the Met is “committed to representing cultures from around the world”.
 She adds, “The Met has a panel of tribal advisors who regrettably did not connect with the tribes and determine whether it was appropriated to show these works”. She invokes the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a law passed in 1990 that obligates museums receiving federal funds to have their holdings of Native American objects and human remains inventoried and to allow Native American tribes the right to repatriation. However, the law is not applicable to private collections or promised gifts and loans.
 The Association on American Indian Affairs has not yet received a direct response from the museum

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Saturday, September 15, 2018

'Surfaced' by 1955, Sotheby's Tried to Sell it

Not very nicely mounted
70cm tall head
In London, a lopped off Buddha head has been withdrawn from auction: (Simone McCarthy,'Buddha statue pulled from Sotheby’s auction on suspicion it may be from China Unesco site', South China Morning Post, 14 September, 2018). It looks like the head has been broken off a statue in the ancient Buddhist Longmen Caves, a kilometre-long system of grottoes carved in limestone cliffs in central China’s Henan province which is now aUNESCO World Heritage Site. The item was published by Japanese researchers    Tokiwa Daijo and Sekino Tadashi who documented the Longmen Caves in the 1920s and 1930s, (see: Cao Zinan, 'Chinese Buddha statue in Sotheby's resembles lost relic' China Daily 14.09.2018). In the catalogue, the broken fragment was said to have appeared  in 1955 in the auction catalogue of a French antique dealer that sells Chinese art, and was later bought by the US collector Stephen Junkunc. A large number of Buddha heads were stolen from the the Caves during the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and the Republic of China (1912-1949) period. According to estimates, 600 to 700 Buddha statues in the Longmen Grottoes have been damaged and stolen during the period. The estimate of this item indicates that its sellers were expecting it to raise  between US$2 million and US$3 million.
The cost of the art market to heritage values, Longmen Caves before and after
I do wonder, just where do dealers and collectors 'think' (I use the term loosely) that lopped-off statue heads like this come from?

[...] this case reflects a larger, ongoing conversation within China about the repatriation of a huge number of artworks and artefacts stolen or plundered from China by foreigners and foreign soldiers, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. Catherine Maudsley, a Hong Kong-based curator and art adviser, has observed the growing phenomenon over the years as collectors and institutions in China look to buy back artefacts which have left the country. “When a nation gains confidence, strength, and influence, it’s natural that looking into patrimony and repatriation will occur,” she said. Maudsley attributed this interest both to China’s economic and political strength, as well as to the vastly expanded digital access to collections of museums and galleries around the world. “Globally we are now more aware of what pieces are in what museums. Anyone with a computer can do this kind of research,” she said, explaining that this had raised awareness about how many Chinese artefacts were housed outside China.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Berlin Museum Returns Artifacts to Indigenous People of Alaska

From left, a wooden mask, painted; a wooden idol; and the fragment of a wooden mask, which were returned to a representative of the Alaskan Chugach people in Berlin on Wednesday.CreditEthnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Berlin Museum has returned nine artefacts to indigenous communities of Alaska. “The objects were taken from graves [in the 1880s] without permission of the native people, and thus unlawfully,” said Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Berlin's publicly funded museums. “Therefore, they don’t belong in our museums,” he added In front of members of the media, Mr. Parzinger handed a fragment of a large wooden mask to John F.C. Johnson, a representative of the Alaskan Chugach people. Both men, wearing white cotton gloves, held the mask between them for photographers.(Christopher F. Schuetze Berlin Museum Returns Artifacts to Indigenous People of Alaska, New York Times, 16th May 2018)
The items, which included several masks, a wooden idol and a baby basket, had been in the collection of Berlin’s Ethnographic Museum, though they were never exhibited publicly. Between 1882 and 1884, they were taken by Johan Adrian Jacobsen, a Norwegian adventurer and amateur ethnographer acting on behalf of the museum. [...] The return of the items comes at a time when European museums are being called on to put more effort into provenance research and to return objects acquired in ways that were unethical and would now be unlawful.[...] In Germany, where most provenance research has focused on art looted during the Nazi years of the 1930s and ’40s, the subject of provenance research into objects taken during earlier times has been the matter of some controversy. Although Germany’s empire was much smaller than France’s or Britain’s, it had several African colonies and acquired many objects for its museums from these territories, as well as from other parts of the world. 
 Once the objects get back to Alaska, they will be returned to the Chugach community displayed in community centers or local museums.

Germany Releases a Code of Conduct for Colonial-Era Artifacts

Germany  has just released a Code of Conduct for Colonial-Era Artifacts in an effort to correct a blind spot in its cultural policies.  The 130-page guidelines “Guide to Dealing With Collection Goods From Colonial Contexts” outline methodologies for provenance research and possibilities for restitution ( Kate Brown, ArtNet News 17th May 2018).
Since taking office for a second term, Grütters has made confronting Germany’s colonial history a centerpiece of her platform. Last month, she announced that the German Lost Art Foundation—originally established to investigate Nazi-looted art in public collections—would dedicate some of its funding and research to colonial-era objects. Her effort coincides with a similar push by French president Emmanuel Macron, who has been vocal about his support of the full restitution of African colonial-era artifacts. Public outcry over Germany’s forthcoming Humboldt Forum, which will hold its Asian and ethnographic collections in the reconstructed Prussian palace in Berlin, has also played no small role in instigating the German government to become more proactive about its colonial restitution policies. Still, some critics say the new guidelines represent more talk than concerted action. They note that the code is non-binding and largely only governs objects that violated the “legal and ethical standards” in former colonies at the time. [...]  Eckart Köhne, the president of the German Association of Museums, has said that he hopes the code of conduct will generate global discussion. The association is also soliciting input from other countries, particularly those in Africa, and plans to publish a revised version of the guidelines in a year and a half.
The guidelines will be published soon also in English and French,

Saturday, May 12, 2018

German museum to return stolen grave artifacts to Alaskans

Nine Alaskan burial artifacts brought to 19th century imperial Germany are to be returned next week to indigenous Pacific coast residents. A Berlin-based museum trust has long admitted that the items were stolen ('German museum to return stolen grave artifacts to Alaskans' DW 09.05.2018).
Germany's SPK Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation confirmed Wednesday that its president Hermann Parzinger would hand over the artifacts to envoys of the Chugach peoples due to visit Berlin next week. The items, including two broken masks, a child's cradle and what is thought to be a shamanic figure, originate from Chenega Island, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Anchorage, along the Pacific coastline of the US state of Alaska. Norwegian adventurer Captain Johan Adrian Jacobsen, who toured Alaska's southwestern coastline in 1883, brought them to the-then Royal Museum of Ethnology, the forerunner of Berlin's ethnological museum within the SPK foundation's cluster of Berlin-based institutions. "At the time, these objects were taken without the consent of the Alaska Natives and were therefore removed unlawfully from the graves of the deceased, so they do not belong to our museums," Parzinger stated last December. "From Adrian Jacobsen's travel journal, it is clear that the graves [on Chenega Island] were opened solely for the purpose of removing their contents, said the foundation in December when its board agreed on the returns.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Turkey seeking the return of more than 150,000 objects from Foreign Collections

Turkey is seeking the return of more than 150,000 objects, some exported hundreds of years ago, that are currently in museums and collections in Europe and the United States.
 A lot of items from Turkey have been stolen, now located in museums in the United States, England, Portugal, Denmark, France, Germany and Greece, one of the leading members of the repatriation commission, Serdal Kuyucuoglu, told Al-Jazeera Monday. [...]  In recent months, the Commission's members have visited museums and collections that contain items from Turkey.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Berlin Museums Chief Calls for Rules on Restitution of Colonial Artefacts

Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), has called for international guidelines to help museums handle collecting history research and repatriation of illegally acquired colonial heritage in public collections (Catherine Hickley, 'Berlin Museums chief calls for rules on restitution of colonial artefacts' The Art Newspaper 16th Feb 2018) . These guidelines would be the equivalent of the Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated art.* He postulates that international organisation such as UNESCO or the International Council of Museums (ICOM) should take the lead in organising conferences to devise the guidelines. The issue of colonial art in European collections is becoming increasingly uncomfortable in western Europe, for example in France, where President Emmanuel Macron has pledged “a temporary or definitive restitution of African heritage to Africa” over the next five years.

There has also been much debate on  the collecting histories of non-European artefacts from former colonies in Berlin, prompted by the construction of the new Humboldt Forum, due to open in 2019. The building will provide a new home for the SPK’s ethnographic and Asian art collections, the ethnographic collections of the former Prussian state.
Bénédicte Savoy, an art historian and member of the advisory committee of the Humboldt Forum, abruptly resigned from the board last July complaining about a lack of attention to provenance research. The German culture minister Monika Grütters agreed, saying that “we have for a long time paid too little attention to the subject of colonialism” and that the debate over provenance research “was absolutely necessary”. She pledged government funding for such research. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its potential coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, have agreed that investigating and coming to terms with the country’s colonial past is a priority for the new government. Parzinger, a founding director of the Humboldt Forum, says the new museum will seek to provide full information on the provenance of its exhibits for visitors who are interested. The SPK received funding last year for a project to transcribe and digitise all its acquisition documents for the Ethnological Museum from 1830 until after the Second World War. “This is an important step towards transparency,” he says. “The project has been approved for three years but it will take many more. Our collections of world cultures will keep us busy for many years to come.” The foundation is also working with curators and scholars from Tanzania on an exhibition of objects that were removed from the country at the time of the Maji Maji War, an 1905-07 rebellionof against German colonial rule in German East Africa. “If you are conducting provenance research, then you also have to expect that you will come across objects that came into the collection illegally, and you have to be willing to hand them back,” Parzinger says.

The Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated art were endorsed by 44 countries in 1998. They call for “just and fair solutions” to be applied to art in public collections that is claimed by the heirs of Jewish collectors who were allegedly robbed by the Nazis. They provide guidelines on provenance research on art in public collections and establishing processes to deal with disputes over claims. 

A Restitution Revolution Begins?

Bénédicte Savoy (professor at the Collège de France in Paris) has an opinion piece in Le Monde, reprinted in the Art Newspaper ('The restitution revolution begins ' 16th February 2018) arguing that France's President Macron is ushering in a new era for the return of displaced heritage
In two minutes and 33 seconds, on 28 November 2017, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, swept aside several decades of official French museum policy. He did it publicly, in the crowded lecture theatre of Ouagadougou University, in front of several hundred students, under the gaze of Burkina Faso’s president, Roch Kaboré, and the cameras of the news channel France 24. He did it in the name of youth—of his own youth, evoked seven times in the speech. “I am from a generation of the French people for whom the crimes of European colonialism are undeniable and make up part of our history, he said, adding: “In the next five years, I want the conditions to be created for the temporary or permanent restitution of African patrimony to Africa.” There were whistles and applause. On Twitter, the Elysée (the presidential office and residence) drives the idea home: “African heritage can no longer be the prisoner of European museums.” 
She hails this as the beginning of a revolution. The move has delighted those who have long called for the restitution of displaced heritage from Africa. In Berlin, Macron’s speech has added power to the 'heated debate about the colonial amnesia that seems to have afflicted the planners of the Humboldt Forum'. 'In a letter to Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, 40 organisations of the German African diaspora asked her to react to “the historic initiative of the French president”...'.
Although it concerns Paris and its prestigious collections of African art first of all, the Ouagadougou speech also implicates Europe and the colonial or missionary basis of all its ethnographic or “universal” museums. From the British Museum (which has more than 200,000 African objects) to the Weltmuseum in Vienna (37,000), the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium (180,000), the Humboldt Forum (75,000) and France’s leading ethnographic museum, the Quai Branly in Paris (70,000), the history of African collections is a shared European history—a family affair, if you wish, where aesthetic curiosity, scientific interests, military expeditions, commercial networks and “opportunities” of all kinds contributed to the justification for domination and national rivalries. The museums of our European capitals are brilliant conservatories of human creativity, but they also derive from a darker history of which we are not sufficiently aware. 
In the museum world, the mere word “restitution” 'sparks an almost kneejerk defensiveness and withdrawal'. Curators feel a certain unease, what if such acts become commonplace? Calls to repatriate items stolen in military actions and colonisation in the past  have been hotly contested by museums eager to hang on to such items:
No one in France has forgotten the trench warfare conducted by curators at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 2010, when, as a corollary to trade negotiations, the then president Nicholas Sarkozy ordered the return to South Korea of nearly 300 precious manuscripts deriving from a bloody French army expedition in 1866. No one in Italy has forgotten the 50 years of negotiations it took before the return to Ethiopia of the Axum obelisk, seized by Benito Mussolini in 1937. And no one in Berlin wants to return the massive fossilised skeleton of the world’s biggest dinosaur, Brachiosaurus brancai, to Tanzania, where it was taken in 1912 from territories then under the protectorate of the Reich.
She discretely fails to mention the Parthenon Marbles, mainly because, shamefully, they still have not been returned to Greece.

The time seems right for such a move. Interestingly, Macron’s proclamation in Ouagadougou —contrary to expectations— has not sparked the institutional outcry that we have been used to in recent years.
On the contrary: the president of the Quai Branly museum, Stéphane Martin, was pleased to bend in Macron’s direction, stressing that “nowadays we cannot have an entire continent deprived of its history and artistic genius”. So a second revolution, an institutional change, has taken place.
In the final part of her text she outlines how consensual restitutions of such artefacts should be 'motivated by the dual interests of peoples and objects' and in which the stake would be neither purely strategic nor political, but cultural. She urges a multi-sided dialogue, in which the parties listen to each other. There is no place for the object-centred lobbyists of the market countries dictating to the source countries how they should treat their own heritage, even if they do so masking their smokescreen as due to concerns for the 'safety of the objects':
we must listen to each other. And then we must be careful not to interfere in the decision-making remit of others. After Waterloo, when France returned the works removed to Paris during the Revolution and the Empire from other countries in Europe, it did not dictate to the pope and the sovereign states of Germany, Austria, Spain and elsewhere the proper way of looking after their collections. It often takes decades and much debate for “modern” heritage policies and suitable infrastructure to develop. In Berlin, for example, it was not until 1830 that the works France had returned 15 years earlier were displayed in a public museum. We must give time to those who recover works to find solutions that suit them.