Damage to Heritage in Gaza

Lauren Gelfond Feldinger has a report in the Art Newspaper to damage to Gaza’s cultural sites:

JERUSALEM. After a 3,500-year history of invasions, the latest war on the beleaguered coastal strip of Gaza has once again put historic sites at risk.

The fragile ceasefire in force at the time of writing has allowed some information to emerge about the fate of Gaza’s cultural heritage. Gaza’s only museum, a private antiquities museum run by Gazan contractor and collector Jawdat Khoudary, was badly damaged during Israel’s 22 days of air and land strikes. The glass doors and windows have been shattered and the roof and walls have been damaged. Roman and Byzantine pottery, Islamic bronze objects and many amphorae have been destroyed, initially during shooting 20m to 200m away, and later because of nearby shelling, with one direct hit to the museum’s conference hall, Mr Khoudary said. Amphorae, clay and ceramic vessels with two looped handles, were created in Gaza and the region during the fourth to seventh centuries for holding wine, olive oil and food and trading perishable commodities.

Meanwhile, anxieties are growing about the fate of the city’s antiquities. “I am very concerned: the entire Gaza Strip is an archaeological site,” Palestinian archaeologist Professor Moain Sadeq said.

Professor Sadeq founded the Palestinian Antiquities Department of Gaza in 1994, and is currently a visiting lecturer at the University of Toronto while in contact daily with Gaza. “Historical sites and buildings in Gaza are adjacent to urban areas, so any location that was hit as a target also put the nearby historical sites and buildings in danger,” he said. Major sites where damage is expected because of heavy fighting in adjacent areas include: Tell es-Sakan, an early Bronze Age settlement that is the largest and oldest walled Canaanite city in the local region, and the oldest Egyptian fortified site outside of Egypt; Tel el-Ajull, an important middle and late Bronze period city that was an important trade hub between ancient Egypt and the Levant; and the remains of Anthedon, a Hellenist port. The Byzantine church of Jabalya was also near heavy fighting, and was the site of partial damage by Israeli tanks during an incursion in 2005. Al-Zeitoun residential quarter in Gaza’s Old City, a medieval historic district, has also been largely destroyed, Professor Sadeq added.

Archaeologists are expecting assessment of all of Gaza’s historical sites to be slow. As humanitarian assistance is the urgent priority, serious archaeological surveys of historic sites will be delayed. “I hope that Israel and the Palestinians will work to restore the sites. I am worried about Gaza sites that were excavated and are above the ground because I am sure during the military activity that some sites have been damaged,” Dr Yigal Yisrael, of the Israel Antiquities Authority Ashkelon region and Western Negev said.

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All or Nothing

Rose Museum

Lots of very thoughtful reactions to the shocking decision by Brandeis University to shut down the Rose Museum of Art.  The Art Law Blog and C-Monster have all the links.  The best coverage comes via the Boston Globe and NPR

The decision is upsetting on two levels.  For one, the institution is deciding art does not have a place in its core education mission.  Second and perhaps more troubling, how many more Universities and museums will be confronted with similar difficulties in the coming years.  There was the rumored Iowa proposed deaccessioning, the LA MOCA debacle, the National Academy deaccessioning, and even the dissolution of 18 research positions at the University of Pennsylvania all signal a shift away from the arts and humanities. Endowments are way down for a host of institutions.  Given the economic situations, might these increase, rather than decrease? 

One of the potential avenues to block the closure, or at least guide it towards a more-acceptable resolution will be the Massachusetts Attorney General.  One wonders if in this climate, we may have to think about adopting the approach much of the rest of the World uses for cultural management, namely Government support and funding.  Much of the cultural management structures in the UK, such as the Waverley Export Process, were initiated in response to economic hard times, and the loss of art and world-heritage leaving the UK and heading elsewhere, namely to the US.  It might be worth remembering, that the Universal Museums in america were formed at the expense of other nations.  If a similar trend continues here in the US, might something like a Culture Cabinet Post become not just a nice idea, but a necessity?   

William R. Ferris, senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, made the case in an op-ed piece last month in the New York Times. It begins:

IN 1935, as part of the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Farm Security Administration, which reached out to rural families as they struggled during the Depression. Roy Stryker, who oversaw the agency’s photo documentary program, captured the strength of American culture in the depths of the country’s despair. The photographs of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks showed us both the pain of America and the resilience of its people.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson drew on his Texas roots when he created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, organizations that share America’s arts and humanities with the American people.

As we are entering another era of increased government programs, or so it would seem.  Might not a strong Cabinet-level advocate make very good sense?  I think it would.  

Turning back to the Rose decision, Donn Zaretsky beats me to the punch on one of my initial reactions to the decision.  Namely, the deaccessioning hurdles may perversely make it more feasible for an institution in financial or other difficulty to completely shut down, rather than sell parts of a collection. 

I wonder if the taboo against selling individual pieces might not have contributed, in some small way, to Brandeis’s decision to close the museum? If they could have sold five or ten of the most valuable works without controversy, might the trustees have reached a different conclusion?

Richard Lacayo offers more substance on this with an interview with Michael Rush, the Rose’s director:

“You can’t solve a shortfall problem by selling, say, our Lichtenstein and still maintain yourself legally and ethically as a museum. I think that’s what’s behind the decision to do something drastic and close the museum.

“Over the last couple of years we went through one very meticulous deaccessioning. It involved some art that was not part of our mission and had never been shown in the museum but that happened to be valuable. We got in before the market crashed. We went through several meticulous processes there, with donors, with boards, with lawyers, with the AAMD.

“So the university, from the top down, was intimately familiar with deaccessioning processes. And I think that, rather than go through the scrutiny that would accompany the sale of a few paintings, they decided instead on what I’m sure they felt would be a one-shot situation of horrible feedback over closing the museum. As draconian as it may seem, I think that closing the museum was what they were advised, legally, to do. You can’t do this piecemeal.”

All or nothing, that seems to be the ethical landscape.   

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

True/Hecht Trial Continues Slowly

The trial of Marion True and Robert Hect continued last week in Rome.  The prosecution is now in its fourth year.  From the New York Times:

Focus shifted to the dealer, Robert Hecht, who has been accused along with Ms. True of conspiracy to traffic in antiquities looted from Italian soil. Both defendants deny the charges. Daniela Rizzo, an archaeologist, presented documents and photographs of artifacts that prosecutors contend passed through Mr. Hecht’s hands. Mr. Hecht’s lawyer said his client disputed the case made by prosecutors for the provenance of each object. Several objects sold by Mr. Hecht to institutions like the Getty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been returned to Italy.

 Italian court proceedings can be extremely slow, so this may not be that extraordinary.  One wonders at this point though, what are the consequences for Italy and other nations of origin if the defendants are not guilty? 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"Treasure is Trouble"

£2.6 billion worth. From the Telegraph:

In a project shrouded in secrecy, work is due to start on recovering the cargo, which was being transported to the United States to help pay for the Allied effort in the Second World War…
In order to protect its find until the cargo is brought to the surface, the company that located the wreck has not released the name of the vessel or its exact location, but has given the ship the code name “Blue Baron”.
It says the merchant ship, which had a predominantly British crew, had left a European port, laden with goods for the US Treasury under the Lend-Lease scheme, whereby the American government gave material support to the Allied war effort in exchange for payments.
The Blue Baron first sailed to a port in South America, where it unloaded some general cargo, before continuing north in a convoy, heading for New York.
However, the company claim it was intercepted by German U-boat U87 and sent to the bottom by two torpedoes in June 1942, with the loss of three crew members. Their nationalities are not known.
Sub Sea Research, a US-based marine research and recovery firm, claims it has now located the wreck under 800ft of water about 40 miles off Guyana.

This could be worth as much as £2.6 billion, as the cargo included as much as ten tons of gold bullion, 70 tons of platinum, diamonds, and even tin and copper. Interesting that this was the expected payment for part of the lend-lease program. It is striking as well that there is very little mention of any archaeological study of the wreck, despite the very recent history, and mystery surrounding the sinking of vessel.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Fake and Stolen Dalis Seized

From the BBC:

Spanish police say they have confiscated dozens of suspected fake artworks by Salvador Dali that were to be sold in the town of Estepona.  More than 80 pieces were seized, 12 of which might be genuine, but are on Interpol records as having been stolen in Belgium, France and the US.  A fake 10ft (3m) Dali sculpture of an elephant was priced at $1.5m (£1.1m).

Police have arrested a Frenchman who transported the pieces from France for the sale. He was not identified.

The art includes sculptures, lithographs, engravings, cutlery and textile pieces.
Police also uncovered “20 certificates of authenticity” for sculptures attributed to the Spanish artist.  Police said their suspicions were raised because the Frenchman had not sought special security arrangements for the show.  Dali died in 1989, leaving a multi-million dollar estate, the exact value of which is difficult to calculate partly because of the widespread existence of forgeries.

The works were seized from the town of Estepona, a resort town.  Reminding us again, that when you’re on vacation, take extra care when purchasing art. Of the 81 seized works, 12 were thought to have been genuine.  The difficulty, it seems, is with the huge number of Dali works, and purported works.  From the Times

Dalí, who died 20 years ago tomorrow at the age of 84, was said to have flooded the art market with thousands of fakes. He is thought to have signed as many as 35,000 blank sheets of paper to which lithographs could later be applied at any time. Some auction houses will not touch his work
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Peter Sachs’ Nazi-Era Restitution Disptue

David Rising for the AP has the story of 71-year-old Peter Sachs and his attempts to secure his father’s 12,500 rare posters:

When Peter Sachs was only a year old in 1938, the Nazis seized his father’s collection of 12,500 rare posters on the orders of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

Sachs’ father, Hans — a Jewish dentist — was then thrown into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin. After his wife managed to secure his release, the family fled to Boston — leaving the posters behind.


Today, some 4,000 of the posters, worth at least euro4.5 million ($5.9 million), are in the possession of the German Historical Museum in Berlin, largely in storage. Peter Sachs goes to court Tuesday to try to get them back.


“I think that any disposition of the posters would be preferable to their languishing in a museum for 70 years without ever seeing the light of day,” Sachs told the AP in a telephone interview from his home in Sarasota, Florida.


The posters include advertisements for exhibitions, cabarets, movies, and consumer products, as well as political propaganda — all rare, with only small original print runs. One jewel of the collection was a 1932 poster for “Die Blonde Venus” — The Blonde Venus — a film starring Marlene Dietrich. It formed the basis for Sachs’ suit when he filed it last year, but museum officials say it is not part of the Sachs collection they have.


Only a handful of the posters on display at any given time but museum officials say they form an integral part of its 80,000-piece collection. The museum also points out that those in storage are regularly viewed by researchers.


The suit at the Berlin administrative court is the latest step in a case that has dragged over several years.


Sachs, 71, lost his first attempt to have the posters returned through a German restitution panel, known as the Limbach Commission, which ruled in 2007 that the museum was the rightful owner. But Gary Osen, Sachs’ Oradell, New Jersey-based attorney, said he is more confident of recovering the posters through the German legal system at Tuesday’s one-day hearing.

It could be a difficult claim for Sachs, as his father accepted compensation in the 1960s of approximately $50,000, and the elder Sachs apparently viewed the sum as an appropriate payment.  

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

China’s CPAC Request Granted

 China’s request for import restrictions of certain classes of China’s antiquities has finally been granted.  The Memorandum of Understanding is here, while the State Department Press Release is here.   Now prohibited, unless accompanied by a Chinese export license will be “archaeological material originating in China and representing China’s cultural heritage from the Paleolithic Period through the end of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 907), and of monumental sculpture and wall art at least 250 years old; including categories of metal, ceramic, stone, textiles, other organic material, glass, and painting”.

Randy Kennedy has an overview for the New York Times.  Professor Patty Gerstenblith thinks the decision “is a very appropriate way for the State Department to have applied the statute and the statutory requirements to China’s request”. 

James Lally, a New York dealer in Asian art was not quite as impressed, “It’s going to have a terrible effect on efforts to encourage new students to study Asian art and on collectors and patrons to become involved in the field …  They’ll say, ‘Well, I’ll just go to contemporary art or I’ll support the symphony.’ It sends the wrong signal.”
 
Peter Tompa has a thoughtful criticism on his blog as well,

I would, however, echo [other’s] concerns about fair enforcement, particularly when it comes to coins. Indeed, many Chinese coins of the types covered under the agreement have so little monetary value that it makes little sense for importers to go through the time and effort to secure the necessary certifications for licit import. For example, at the CPAC hearing in February 2005, I passed around a Han Dynasty cash coin from the 1st c. BC (bought for $2.25) and a Tang Dynasty cash coin c. 618-907 AD (bought for $8.00).

Such a problem presents some very difficult regulatory challenges, and goes I think to the heart of how we define cultural heritage or property.  I don’t envy the task of ICE agents, who are now charged with making sure these very small objects are not imported into the US. 

China has created a large heritage bureaucracy which does allow the purchase and sale of antiquities, but the government has  right of first refusal for all of these objects.  There is also a complicated ratings system, overseen by a government official in relics shops, which determines what is too important to sell, and what is not.  The system has been criticized for its potential for abuse, though what heritage policy in any nation isn’t. 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com