The Smithsonian Postpones Dhow Exhibition

Bronze Coins from the Tang Dynasty, Brought up from the 9th Century Wreck

In a move which shouldn’t be all that surprising, the Smithsonian has decided to postpone the exhibition of artifacts recovered from a 9th century shipwreck which sunk off the coast of present-day Indonesia. The wreck offered new insights into the trade between China and the Middle East. The exhibition was scheduled to begin next spring, but now won’t be rescheduled until 2013 at the earliest.

Archaeologists criticized the exhibition arguing that the objects were recovered without adherence to professional archaeological standards. Fishermen were looting the wreck, and in response the Indonesian government hired a salvage company to bring the objects up from the depths, and did employ a marine archaeologist. The objects were brought up quickly, but in the eyes of some, these objects were little better than looted objects. Archaeologists like Kimberly Faulk who call the salvage of these objects ‘looting’ are stretching the term. Michael Flecker, an archaeologist who worked for the commercial salvage operation published his findings:

  1. Flecker, Michael. “A 9th-Century Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesian Waters.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. Volume 29(2), 2000.
  2. Flecker, Michael. “A 9th-Century Arab or Indian Shipwreck in Indonesian Waters: Addendum.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Volume 37(2), 2008.

The open question though is what should happen to these 60,000 recovered objects. What about the next wreck fishermen are looting? These objects present a difficult dilemma. They weren’t taken in contravention of Indonesian law, these are legally-acquired objects. Indonesia may have done a poor job of protecting the underwater site, but in a world of finite resources, it seems to me being too critical of this exhibition sets a very high, nearly impossible to meet standard for exhibitions.

There may have been serious issues with the excavation undertaken by Seabed Excavations, the company hired by the Indonesian government to excavate the site. Yet, were those omissions sufficient to warrant this looting? Sufficent to preclude the display of these objects?This move may give the Smithsonian time to alleviate concerns of archaeologists, or more likely, may indicate a desire to avoid the entire controversy and cancel the exhibition without saying it outright.

Shipwreck Show Postponed – NYTimes.com

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

The Leopold Settles and Deaccessions

“Countess Kuefstein at the Easel” by Anton  Romako will  stay at the Leopold

The Leopold Museum in Vienna has reached an undisclosed settlement with the heir of a Jewish “construction entrepreneur”  who had his collection of art seized by the Gestapo some time before 1941. In order to pay the settlement and others, the museum will have to sell two other paintings by Egon Schiele. No one is talking of these sales in terms of deaccession, but that is what they are doing. Those Schiele works were surely in the public trust:

The Leopold Museum is selling an Egon Schiele painting, “Houses With Colorful Washing,” at a Sotheby’s (BID) auction on June 22. The cityscape is expected to fetch as much as $50 million, a record for the artist.
The revenue will help to pay for “Wally,” a portrait by Schiele that was the subject of a decades-long restitution dispute. In July last year, the museum agreed to pay $19 million to the heirs of the Jewish art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray to keep the portrait, which was stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s.
Last month, the Leopold Museum agreed to pay $5 million to the granddaughter of Jenny Steiner, a Jewish silk-factory owner, to keep in its collection “Houses by the Sea,” another Schiele painting that was stolen by the Nazis.
  1. Catherine Hickley & Zoe Scheenweiss, Vienna’s Leopold Settles With Heir on Nazi-Looted Paintings, Bloomberg, June 20, 2011, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-20/vienna-s-leopold-settles-with-heir-on-nazi-looted-paintings.html (last visited Jun 21, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Congratulations to David Gill

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has selected Dr. David Gill, Reader in Mediterranean archaeology at Swansea University and a writer of a related blog, looting matters, for the 2012 Public Service Award. Gill has been an outspoken critic of the antiquities trade and the looting of archaeological sites, his writing has made a direct connection between looting and the market in antiquities, and plays an important role in showing the scope of the problem. He does not propose solutions, rather his work offers a slow accumulation of anecdotal examples of the problem and the presence of looted antiquities in museums and auction houses. I wish him continued success and look forward to many more opportunities to discuss (and argue about!) these vexing problems.

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

Footnotes

Art connoisseurs have re-discovered this work by Van Dyck in Paris

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Student Note on Aid for Iraqi Cultural Heritage

Priscilla Singer haw written a student comment for Chicago-Kent Journal of International and Comparative Law titled “THE NEW AMERICAN APPROACH TO CULTURAL HERITAGE PROTECTION: GRANTING FOREIGN AID FOR IRAQI CULTURAL HERITAGE“. From the Introduction:

In reviewing the actions of the U.S. Department of State in response to the destruction of
Iraqi cultural heritage, I will first discuss Iraqi history and the background facts leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Next, I will discuss two separate events involving U.S.troops and the destruction of Iraqi cultural heritage: first, the initially passive response of U.S. troops to the obliteration of the Iraq National Museum and second, the U.S. occupation of the ancient city of Babylon. When dealing with each section, I will discuss basic facts describing American involvement in these events, American international law (or even domestic law) obligations when dealing with cultural heritage, and whether the U.S. lived up to their obligations. Finally, I will discuss current American operations at rebuilding and restoring Iraqi cultural heritage. I will analyze whether the current American approach falls into the American definition of foreign aid and what, if anything, will foreign aid do for fostering Iraqi identity.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Student Note on Aid for Iraqi Cultural Heritage

Priscilla Singer haw written a student comment for Chicago-Kent Journal of International and Comparative Law titled “THE NEW AMERICAN APPROACH TO CULTURAL HERITAGE PROTECTION: GRANTING FOREIGN AID FOR IRAQI CULTURAL HERITAGE“. From the Introduction:

In reviewing the actions of the U.S. Department of State in response to the destruction of
Iraqi cultural heritage, I will first discuss Iraqi history and the background facts leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Next, I will discuss two separate events involving U.S.troops and the destruction of Iraqi cultural heritage: first, the initially passive response of U.S. troops to the obliteration of the Iraq National Museum and second, the U.S. occupation of the ancient city of Babylon. When dealing with each section, I will discuss basic facts describing American involvement in these events, American international law (or even domestic law) obligations when dealing with cultural heritage, and whether the U.S. lived up to their obligations. Finally, I will discuss current American operations at rebuilding and restoring Iraqi cultural heritage. I will analyze whether the current American approach falls into the American definition of foreign aid and what, if anything, will foreign aid do for fostering Iraqi identity.

Is an Electrician the greatest Picasso Thief?

Pierre Le Guennec and his wife

It would be hard to top 271. Police in France have charged a man and his wife with selling 271 stolen Picassos. He claims Picasso gave them as a gift:

Pierre Le Guennec, 71, was caught and sued along with his wife when he contacted the late Spanish painter’s estate seeking to authenticate the works, which he had kept in his garage for nearly 40 years, Le Monde newspaper said.
The local public prosecutors’s office declined to confirm the report to AFP and Le Guennec and his lawyer could not be reached for comment.
The report said Le Guennec claimed Picasso and his wife and muse Jacqueline had personally given him the works when he was working at their farmhouse in Mougins, not far from his own home in Mouans-Sartoux, southeastern France.
Investigators found however that some of the works — which include collages, sketches and prints — disappeared from another location, Le Monde said. They seized the works and charged the couple with handling stolen goods.

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