"It’s about emotion, not airtight logic and consistent policy."

So argues Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times in describing the recent calls for repatriation of works of art.  He takes as examples the recent repatriation claims made by Egypt against Germany and France.  He makes two points that I’d like to draw out of the article.

First, he claims that globalization has intensified “cultural differences” between nations.  This allows nationalism to “exploit culture”.  He may be correct in some cases, but he fails to note that the frescoes returned by the Louvre had been purchased recently, with little history.  Given what we know about the antiquities trade, this means they were likely illegally exported or looted. 

Second, he argues these claims are often based on emotion.  That is certainly true in some cases, because after all works of art are often designed to convey emotion.  One example of this would be Scotland’s desire for the return of the Lewis Chessmen.  But not all of these claims are without merit.  Moreover, why is it that only claimant nations are “emotional”.  Are not museums and other groups “emotional” when they make arguments that works of art should stay where they are currently situated?  Kimmelman makes the argument that justice has shifted.  But I think that is a good thing.  We are closer to better justice for all nations, not merely the wealthier market nations via International treaties like the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and important decisions like the Schultz and Barakat decisions in the United States and the United Kingdom.   

Michael Kimmelman, When Ancient Artifacts Become Political Pawns, The New York Times, October 24, 2009.

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

Gerstenblith on Schultz and Barakat

Patty Gerstenblith has posted a recent article, Schultz and Barakat:  Universal Recognition of National Ownership of Antiquities, which appeared in the recent issue of Art, Antiquity and Law, Vol. 14, No. 1, Apr. 2009.  She discusses the two recent cases in the United States and United Kingdom which lay out the requirements for how courts in these two nations view national ownership declarations of art and antiquities by other nations of origin.  Here is the abstract:

Two decisions, one in the United Kingdom and one in the United States, decided just about five years apart, are significant for universalising the principle that vesting laws – laws that vest ownership of antiquities in a nation – create ownership rights that are recognized even when such antiquities are removed from their country of discovery and are traded in foreign nations. This basic principle has proven to be very controversial in the United States and has been subjected to bitter criticism; yet virtually the same legal principle, when decided in a British court, received little comment or criticism. Compounding the interest of these two decisions is that, although both decisions came to virtually the identical conclusion, they did so utilizing different methods of analysis.

Although laws regulating cultural heritage have a long history, nations have enacted national ownership laws since the nineteenth century for the dual purposes of preventing unfettered export of antiquities and of protecting archaeological sites in which antiquities are buried. When ownership of an antiquity is vested in a nation, one who removes the antiquity without permission is a thief and the antiquities are stolen property. This enables both punishment of the looter and recovery of possession of the antiquities from subsequent purchasers. By making looted antiquities unmarketable, these laws reduce their economic value. National ownership laws thereby deter the initial theft and the looting of archaeological sites that causes destruction to the historical record and inhibits our ability to reconstruct and understand the human past. While reinforcing these goals, the Schultz and Barakat decisions also bring uniformity to the national treatment of this central legal principle.

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

US Criminal Penalties and Antiquities


To a casual observer, the recent searches in California would perhaps indicate that American criminal prosecutions and investigations can have a substantial impact on the illicit trade in antiquities. I certainly think they are a welcome sign, and hope that more of them will be supported by investigators and prosecutors. However, that investigation took five years to materialize, and there is still no indication if there will be any arrests. It certainly seems likely, but even this dramatic show of force and investigative might will not, I think, end or even put a substantial dent in the illicit trade. The current regulatory framework in both nations of origin and in market states puts far too much pressure on customs agents, prosecutors, and investigators.

At least that’s what I argue in my now-available article in the Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal, WHY U.S. FEDERAL CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR DEALING IN ILLICIT CULTURAL PROPERTY ARE INEFFECTIVE, AND A PRAGMATIC ALTERNATIVE. 25 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L. J. 597-695 (2007)

The pragmatic alternative is the approach in England and Wales with its Treasure Act, Portable Antiquities Scheme, and limited export restrictions. This legal framework and attendant cultural policy is unique, in that it effectively incentivizes obeying the relevant cultural heritage laws. It adopts a carrot and stick approach, while many nations use too much of the stick. I argue that the criminal penalties can be brought to bear in cases of clear and egregious violations, or where there are a great deal of investigative resources available. Such was the case in the California searches, in which an undercover agent posed as a buyer. However, it took five years of investigations, and it’s still not clear what the result of these investigations are.

The image above is an Egyptian antiquity which Jonathan Tokeley-Parry bought and sold to Frederick Schultz, who later sold it for $1.2 million in 1993. It’s an image of 18th Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III (ca. 1403-1354 B.C.). Tokeley dipped the sculpture in clear plastic and painted it to resemble a cheap tourist souvenir. I discuss prosecutions of both men, which took place in England and the US respectively in the article. A lot of articles discuss the Schultz prosecution, but surprisingly no articles have discussed in any real detail the corresponding prosecution of Tokeley-Parry in England, which I think is key to understanding the international nature of the illicit trade, and the kind of complex multinational criminal investigation which is difficult where criminal investigation and prosecution are time-consuming and expensive. Not to mention the substantial pressures of other and often more-pressing matters such as drugs, violent crime, terrorism and the like.

I would be quite eager to hear any comments or reactions to the piece at derek.fincham “@” gmail.com.

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