Comic Books, Myth and Cultural Policy


I’ve been thinking about what may seem a curious intersection in recent days. Namely the creation of modern myth and the connection between comic books and antiquities. I’ll first argue that comic books are nothing more than today’s modern myths, and then show how this relates to the summer Met exhibition, as well as dispute the claim that we are “losing” our connection to ancient mythology.

If you’re paying attention, comic books have a lot to teach us. Sure, they’re fun, and they for kids in many cases, but they also reveal deeper truths. As David Edelstein pointed out in his review of Iron Man, every age gets the super hero which will assuage its fears. Superman was a midwest farmboy, which was a product of major migration from “heartland to city”; similarly, Batman gained popularity in the 70’s with the “surge in urban crime”.

In Iron Man, Edelstein worries we might be glossing over the unpleasantness of our Military-Industrial complex, and its actions in Afghanistan. Iron man first appeared, in 1968, when the US was in the midst of the Vietnam War. He says “But at a time when America is viewed around the world as arrogant, will the picture be seen as another in that long line of Hollywood superhero movies aimed at making Americans feel better about themselves?” That’s a pointed question, as America is in fact the weapons maker to the world. But we don’t get to that deeper question if we can’t at least see the value in these myths, which are slick, and certainly very accessible.

There are other examples of course. Godzilla is a product of Japanese unease in the 1950’s following the dropping of the atomic bomb. Spider Man is the first superhero whose skin we can’t see in his costume, because in the 1960s Stan Lee wanted to create a superhero for all races. It’s hard not to see the struggle of World War II in Tolkien’s work. Now, perhaps I’m just an aging fanboy whose read too much Joseph Campbell, but is the story of the Odyssey really that different from a comic book? The point, I think, is not to choose ancient myths over modern pop culture, but to see how the two inform each other. David Simon has openly acknowledged that the Wire is nothing more than Greek tragedy, save instead of gods and goddesses he substitutes in their place modern institutions like police departments, the media, and the school system. If you’re paying attention, I think this nexus between Simon’s depiction of the Baltimore drug trade with ancient tragedy can inform both our understanding of urban cities, and realize that many similar struggles existed thousands of years ago.

Through September, the Met will be showing Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy.

C-MONSTER has photos, and Lee Rosenbaum is not a fan. Though she admits some of her complaints may be sour grapes, she expresses frustration at the fact that Philippe de Montebello, the “dean of American art museum directors” has tarnished his reputation by writing a Forward for the Met’s catalogue. Now, I’m out of my league if I attempt to unpack Rosenbaum’s argument from a scholarly curatorial perspective. However, she seems to strongly insinuate that comic books are for the uneducated, and beneath the lofty de Montebello. I couldn’t disagree more. I haven’t seen the the exhibition, and can’t speak to it’s merit, but the idea on its face strikes me as a good one. Why can’t we take comic books and superheroes seriously? The pop artists played with comic book forms and style to great effect didn’t they? Granted, the Met is trying to please its audience, perhaps blatantly so, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take this stuff seriously right?

This brings us to the comments of Charles K. Williams II in the recent The Acquisition and Exhibition of Classical Antiquities, edited by Robin F. Rhodes. Williams argues “Note that modern mythology is being manufactured at such a rate and in such quantity in the United States and norther Europe that it appears, at least to me, to be wiping out the need or desire to know, even less to understand, ancient epics, myths, and fables.” I don’t think the creation of modern myth is necessarily a bad thing. Williams, an esteemed field archaeologist argues we should ensure people can continue to view these objects around the world to maintain our connection with ancient myth. He argues we need more responsible international loans and a responsible international movement of objects. I agree.

To the unreasonable skeptic, both the labors of Hercules and the efforts of Tony Stark may seem childish, but if we are paying attention, putting the two side by side can teach us a lot about the darker side of powerful civilizations, the US and ancient Greece (and later the Roman empire).

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

Repatriation and Universal Museums

Drake Bennett has a good article in yesterday’s Boston Globe titled Finders, keepers. It’s a lengthy overview of the back and forth between museums and nations of origin regarding looted artifacts, and other objects taken during colonial times. It’s worth a read, as it features comments from James Cuno, the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ricardo Elia from the archeology department at Boston University, and others.

Cuno gets featured prominently, perhaps because of his strong arguments that many objects should remain in museums in market nations. He also extends the argument of the late Paul Bator, who in his seminal “An Essay on the International Trade in Art” 34 Stanford Law Review 275 (1982), argued that many restrictions on antiquities, including strong export restrictions serve to increase the black market.

Bennett’s piece is a good overview, and a good introduction to some of the core debates in the antiquities trade. By necessity he paints many of these restitution claims with too broad a brush though. He writes

Along with Italy, the governments of Greece, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, Turkey, China, and Cambodia, among others, have pushed to reclaim prized artifacts from collections around the world. They have tightened their laws governing the export of antiquities or intensified the enforcement of existing laws and international agreements; they have made impassioned public cases on the world stage.

I don’t think these nations of origin have in fact increased their domestic legal schemes; in nearly every case he mentions here these nations have had very strong legal regimes for many decades, some dating to the very beginning of the 20th century. Italy for example has a national patrimony law dating to 1939. In some cases they are working more closely with the US State Department under the Cultural Property Implementation Act. However, the main difference is the prominent Italian claims of late, which were the result of one fantastically successful criminal investigation which implicated an Italian dealer named Giacomo Medici, and by association his buyers Robert Hecht, Marion True, the Getty, MFA Boston, and the Met.

This allowed for the return of these implicated objects; of course the claims for return were bolstered by photographic evidence of many of the Nostoi objects, which clearly indicated they were illegally excavated on a massive scale. This is a far different argument than the one for say the return of the Parthenon Marbles, or other objects acquired during colonial times, or for the return of other objects which may have been acquired legitimately. I think we need to be particularly careful not to lump too many of these restitution arguments together, and indeed to be honest about how and why objects are returned. The salient issues remain: how are nations of origin protecting sites domestically, how do market nations respond to illegal activity, how are museums acquiring new objects, and is the market conducting the needed provenance checks? That is the only way to prevent future illegal activity.

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

The Uneasy relationship between Scholarship and Journalism (UPDATE)


Lee Rosenbaum, arts journalist and fellow blogger at culturegrrl has an Op-Ed in today’s LA Times titled “Make art loans, not war” in which she argues for increased loans from Italy and Greece, a more collaborative relationship between North American “Universal” museums, and an increase in what she calls “citizen archaeology” along the lines of the portable antiquities scheme in England and Wales.

It’s a well written piece, but it strikes me as a compilation of a lot of other scholarship. I suppose it’s a journalists prerogative to take the work of scholars and researchers and reconfigure it in a more digestible (i.e. better written) form, but it does strike me as a bit unfair that she gets to take credit for some ideas which have been persuasively and compellingly articulated elsewhere. I’d like to point out some of the theoretical foundations for the ideas that Rosenbaum articulates.

John Merryman has long been a champion of “cultural property internationalism“, and Kwame Anthony Appiah also made a compelling argument for a similar kind of idea in his recent work, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.

Antiquities leasing is a particularly interesting idea, and it’s one that’s received some interesting attention recently, including an article by Peter Wendel, a law Professor at Pepperdine University, as well as a recent working paper by Michael Kremer and Tom Wilkening who argue from an economic perspective that long-term leasing of antiquities would allow source nations to earn much-needed revenue from their antiquities, but would preserve their own long-term ownership interests. I’ve even argued here that the agreements forged by the Getty, the MFA Boston, the Met, Princeton, and Yale with Peru are essentially leasing agreements between the two sides. Clearly, the custom established by these agreements leads to the idea of leasing as a workable solution to these intractable disputes.

I found Rosenbaum’s argument for citizen archaeology particularly interesting:

More controversially, I believe that source countries should consider training and licensing citizen archaeologists. The antiquities police can’t hope to end all the looting or shut down the black market completely. But if those who make finds are compensated for reporting them and perhaps trained to help excavate them, midnight marauders who mangle masterpieces and destroy archaeological context may become less numerous and destructive. One precedent for the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach is Britain’s financial compensation of metal detector-wielding amateurs who turn over significant finds including gold, silver and prehistoric objects to the proper authorities.

This is a subject upon which I’ve written, and what she’s referring to here is the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the Treasure Act. Their flickr site is particularly interesting, which is where I found the image above of a Roman horseman found in Cambridgeshire last year. The PAS operates only in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland is not a part of the scheme. Unfortunately the PAS is in danger due to budget restrictions and funding for the London Olympics.

I discuss the PAS and the idea of rewarding finders of objects in some detail in my recent article 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 (2007), available on Lexis and Westlaw. I think she may be under a mis-impression regarding the scheme. The PAS encourages voluntary reporting of finds for those objects which fall outside the scope of the Treasure Act. The scheme has created a massive community archaeology project for objects which are found on private lands and do not belong to the Crown. There has always been a requirement in England and Wales to return valuable metal objects to the Crown, however the introduction of the scheme dramatically increased compliance with the law. Based on this, I argue that it’s not enough for a source nation to declare ownership; to effectively protect sites it must also erect appropriate mechanisms to promote compliance with those ownership declarations. When a metal detector finds a valuable piece of gold on private land (detecting on scheduled monuments is strictly forbidden) the finder is entitled to an award, which thus encourages the reporting of finds. However, such a system may not work in all source nations, as you do not want to encourage haphazard looting. As a result the PAS and the Treasure Act are important policy solutions to consider, but are not a cure-all for the antiquities trade.

In short, there has been a great deal of attention placed on the return of objects to Italy, but nearly all these returns, and certainly the most valuable and significant objects, were returned based on substantial evidence, often photographs, which indicate the objects in question had been illegally excavated. The Medici Conspiracy details the investigation. These returns to Italy are the product of a massive investigation of a single commercial stream (albeit a substantial one) from Italy to North America. The challenge for cultural policy makers is to think about the other source nations and other transactions. Rosenbaum rightly points out some of the innovative
potential solutions to these dilemmas, I just think it’s regrettable that the Op-Ed forum doesn’t allow her to reference some of the important work she may have relied on to formulate her thoughts.

UPDATE:

Rosenbaum responds to me here, and also posts reactions from a “prominent curator” and David Gill.

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

Shelby White Returns 10 Antiquities


In a move that had long been suspected, Shelby White has agreed to return ten antiquities from her private collection to Italy. Elisabetta Povoledo has a summary in today’s New York Times. David Gill, who has long been asking about this collection has a summary and helpful links at looting matters as well. Nine of the objects, including this fresco, were given to Italian authorities earlier this week, while a 5th Century BC Greek vessel will be returned in 2010.

The reason these objects were returned is, of course, that photographs show these objects in highly suspicious circumstances. They were discovered in the massive investigation of Giacomo Medici broken and in some cases still encrusted with dirt. They were almost certainly looted. The broader question again is, have future philanthropists been discouraged from acquiring illicit antiquities? Will Shelby White acquire antiquities differently in the future? As a private individual, it’s difficult of us to expect her to adopt an acquisition policy, but to guarantee more acquisitions like this don’t take place there needs to be a continued push for market reform.

Given the impression given by news reports, I find it highly unlikely that White intended to acquire looted objects; however the market fails to effectively distinguish illicit or looted objects. A better system would take the interest and capital of a collector like Shelby White and ensure a substantial portion of those proceeds go towards future excavations and protection of sites. However the current state of the antiquities trade makes that nearly impossible.

White, and her late husband Leon Levy have long collected antiquities, and supported research and other causes. White gave $20 million to the Met to construct a new Greek and Roman Gallery which opened last year. They have also supported antiquities digs in “Israel, the Aegean, Iran, turkey, the Balkans and elsewhere” according to the NYT piece. White won’t be receiving anything in return for her agreement to relinquish these ten objects, save an agreement that Italy will not seek other objects in her collection. However, that may not be such a bad thing, as Lee Rosenbaum pointed out yesterday by showing what the Met got in return for the Euphronios Krater, where it displayed the three loaned objects, and why perhaps it didn’t make much of an announcement about them.

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

Repatriation of the Krater


Pictured here is the Euphronios krater, one of the finest known antiquities. Created in 515 BC, it is the only known complete example of a work painted by Euphronios. The krater was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a then-record $1 million from Robert Hecht. Suspicion was aroused as soon as the work was purchased about the provenance of the piece, where it was discovered, had it been in an existing collection etc. The most likely explanation now indicates the krater was purchased from Giacomo Medici, an Italian who was convicted of selling illicit antiquities on 2004. A 2004 article on artnet by the Met director at the time, Thomas Hoving, details his account of the acquisition of the krater. The krater was almost certainly illegally excavated. As a result we know nothing of its archaeological context.

As a result these questions, Italy and the Met agreed to arrange the return of the krater in exchange for other long term loans. Sunday will be the final day to see the krater at the Met before it is returned to Italy’s “Nostoi” exhibition championing the recent repatriation efforts.

In exchange, the Met will be receiving a terracotta cup depicting gods on Mt. Olympus signed by Euxitheos, a jug shaped like a woman’s head, and another krater made in southern Italy. I’ll leave to the art historians and others the question of whether this is a fair bargain, and how much the Met’s antiquities collection has been diminished.

Does this exchange remedy the earlier illegal excavation? The answer is no, it seems to me. It does not punish the illegal excavators. We still do not know anything about the krater’s context. More than anything, this seems to indicate that the Met and other institutions will think long and hard before making another similarly dubious acquisition in the future. That I think is the real relevance, and its one I think has not been discussed amid the retirement of Philippe de Montebello and the stories about these returns. The salient question remains, are there ways to ensure antiquities are licit? The answer it seems to me is still no. Sites are still vulnerable, and the antiquities trade does not promote the careful scientific study of sites. Amid all of this controversy after returns by the Met, the MFA Boston, the Getty, and the University of Virginia, a fundamental conundrum remains. Should the antiquities trade exist in some form? The discussion should, I think, focus now on the next Euprhonios Krater. Is it being protected? Are there new acquisition policies which are sufficient? Will more institutions abroad adopt the standards of the Getty or the Indianapolis Museum of Art? Are source nations effectively regulating their sites? Are they promoting compliance with these regulations?

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

Nostoi (UPDATE)


The Nostoi (“Returns”) epic is mostly lost, but the bits and pieces which have survived indicate it tells the story of the return home of the Greek heroes after the Trojan War.

It is perhaps apt then that Italian authorities on Monday called the display “Nostoi: Returned Masterpieces” when they unveiled 68 antiquities which have recently been returned to Italy. Soon to join the list is the Euphronios Krater, which is slated for return from the Met in January.

Livia Borghese and Jason Felch have the story in the LA Times. Elisabetta Povoledo has a similar story in the NY Times, including a slide show by the AP and Italian Culture ministry. This image may be my favorite of the bunch, the Griffins attacking the doe. Objects were returned from the Getty, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Princeton, and the Met. Also, some objects from the Royal Athena Galleries in New York were returned as well.

As might be expected, Francesco Rutelli the Italian culture minister and vice prime minister was quick to point out the significance of these returns saying, “The odyssey of these objects, which started with their brutal removal from the bowels of the earth, didn’t end on the shelf of some American museum… With nostalgia, they have returned. These beautiful pieces have reconquered their souls.”

Ultimately, the display shows the results of the Italian campaign which by necessity eschewed international law, and American law and instead went right to the heart of the matter using public pressure and the media along with the high-profile and ongoing trials of Marion True and Robert Hecht. At the press conference, Rutelli claimed that this strategy has “[brought] about radical changes in the trade of looted antiquities”. That may be true in a limited sense I suppose, but only I think when the antiquities are backed by strong political will in source nations. What about the trade in antiquities from South America or Iran and elsewhere? I’m not sure this strategy will impact those objects. I’m not sure either that this new strategy will alter the idea of the Universal Museum, which seems largely at odds with the policy of many source nations. Ideally the Italian accords will continue to allow the US and Italy to work together to continue to share objects but also to prevent the acquisition of illicit antiquities in the future.

UPDATE:

Sarah Delaney has more in yesterday’s Washington Post, with more pontificating by Rutelli including this: “if we dry up the waters of illegal art trafficking it will be much more difficult for tombaroli and others to operate.” He praised as well the “new standards of ethics that American museums have adopted”. First among these is the Getty’s stringent new acquisition policy. Also, museums who cooperate will earn continued loans.

David Gill has more on the official handlist of objects in the display, including where objects came from, and a breakdown of the type and composition of objects. As he points out, “15 pieces were represented by South Italian pottery.”

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

Catching Up

Noteworthy items from the last week:

  • A former employee of the State Museum in Trenton New Jersey was charged with stealing a rare atlas worth $60,000.
  • Charles McGrath of the NYT speculates about who will succeed Philippe de Montebello at the Met.
  • Shaila Dewan, also of the NYT looks at the interesting litigation surrounding the Gees Bend quilters in Alabama.
  • Black College Wire looks at the possibility of the return of more vigango to Africa.
  • Tom Flynn of ArtKnows looks at the growing market for Aboriginal art.
  • Another instance of theft of public art, this time in Wisconsin.
  • Bucky Katt of Get Fuzzy “found” a new Monet.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Update on the True/Hecht Trial in Rome

Over the weekend, Elisabetta Povoledo of the New York Times updated the antiquities trial underway in Rome. Daniela Rizzo, an archaeologist who featured prominently in Peter Watson’s “The Medici Conspiracy” testified that the antiquities trade “was a sophisticated method of laundering,” in which private collectors would acquire looted antiquities and donate them to museums.

As Povoledo states, “None [of the private antiquities collectors] are on trial here. None have been legally charged with any wrongdoing. Nor do Italian prosecutors contend that the collectors had evidence that certain objects had been looted. Yet the prosecutors have clearly adopted a strategy of calling attention to collectors, especially well-heeled Americans, with the implicit message that every player in the global antiquities trade is within their sights.”

Apparently the prosecutors are attempting to send an international message to collectors: check your provenance or risk future prosecutions. That seems a noble goal at the macro level. However in this case, the defense attorney’s are angry at this tactic as Francesco Isolabella, one of True’s attorney’s said it was beyond Ms. Rizzo’s purview to “come up with inductive or deductive theories”, and she was making “evaluations that only a prosecutor can make…She should stick to identifying Etruscan vases.” The True/Hecht trial will drag on, but I think there has been a gear-shift in the way the antiquities market seems to operate, at least in some sectors.

Last week, a bronze sculpture of artemis was sold by the Albright-Knox museum for $28.6 million at an auction, a record for both sculpture and antiquities. One of the main factors in the high selling price may have been the sculptures clean provenance, which was purchased from a Manhattan dealer in 1953, long before the 1970 UNESCO Convention which is often used as a benchmark for provenance.

Both the Met and the MFA Boston agreed to return antiquities to Italy. Italy wants the Getty to return 52 objects in its collection, and the Getty has offered to return many of them, but Italy wants all of them back and won’t accept a so-called partial repatriation. Private collectors donated many of these works to these institutions, and in exchange they get considerable tax benefits. If the Hecht/True trial results in a conviction, I would anticipate more prosecutions and threats of prosecutions by other collectors and dealers.

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

Shelby White at the Met

Kate Taylor, of the New York Sun, has lengthy and extremely interesting article on Shelby White, a generous benefactor to the Met, who has also been accused by Italy of purchasing unprovenanced antiquities. The article notes that Michael Steinhardt, a friend of White’s (and who also is a proprietor of the Sun) believes White’s collection has been singled out by Italy for 2 reasons: her collection is published which allows the authorities to check the antiquities against criminal investigations, and she and her husband have been very generous.

Steinhardt is quoted as saying “She and her husband, Leon, have been generous to a fault to all sorts of institutions… Therefore she is a ripe target. Those people who are pursuing her don’t seek justice; they seek victory… Further, I would say, Shelby has stood alone, and was not as strongly defended as she should have been by those very institutions to whom she had been a too-generous donor.”

Steinhardt is not exactly an impartial actor here though. A phiale was seized from his home in 1997 because the customs declaration form was clearly misstated. Interestingly, had the customs form been accurate, and even if it was conclusively shown the phiale had been illegally exported from Italy, there would have been no legal claim for the objects return. The phiale was seized because the customs form was incorrect.

In any event, the article on White highlights the tension Museums are now facing as they change their acquisition policies, and that may require them to refuse donations from wealthy benefactors who have been collecting for many years, many times without being careful about the provenances of objects which they have acquired.

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

No More Unprovenanced Antiquities in Indianapolis

Yesterday the ArtNewspaper published an excellent article by Maxwell Anderson, the ceo and director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art titled “Why Indianapolis will no longer buy unprovenanced antiquities”. Following in the footsteps of the British Museum, he reveals that “The Indianapolis Museum of Art recently decided to impose a moratorium on acquiring antiquities that left their probable country of modern discovery after 1970, unless we can obtain documents establishing that they were exported legally.”

That is an excellent decision I think, and one which should be praised. Why did they choose 1970? That was the year the UNESCO Convention adopted the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. It is seen as a watershed moment in which the international community began to shift its thinking on the cultural property. Nothing legally requires them to pick 1970, but it is an important symbolic date, and that is what this measure essentially is. One would hope that the Museum wasn’t purchasing unprovenanced antiquities anyway, and if they did the trustees or museum director could be violating their duties.

Of course an interesting upshot will be that the decision will “prevent our curators, particularly those in the fields of Asian and classical art, from soliciting or accepting gifts from generous donors who bought works of art in good faith.” This refers to the situation which seems to be plaguing the Met as Shelby White has donated many outstanding antiquities for display, but there are concerns that many of them may have been illicit. Anderson speaks to this:

As a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1981-87, I helped to cultivate the support of two couples whose personal collections of classical antiquities became among the world’s foremost: Leon Levy and Shelby White, and Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman. In neither case did I suspect then or now any malevolent intent on the part of these couples in pursuing objects of great quality. On the contrary, I knew them to be drawn to the remarkable breadth of the classical imagination, and by obtaining works of consummate beauty, they were proud to share their commitment with others. I wrote entries in the catalogues of their respective collections, long after leaving the Metropolitan, out of a sense that the works illustrated in those publications were better off known than suppressed. I maintain that position to this day: forswearing the publication of antiquities lacking comprehensive provenance penalises the works and their makers, and does no service to any potential claimants.

It is, instead, the act of purchasing unprovenanced works that connects with a chain of events leading back to their possibly clandestine removal from a country of origin. I believe that it is essential for all of us who care for the evidence of the past to take no actions that might unwittingly contribute to such removals.

Another important factor in the decision is the IMA’s reluctance to be involved in repatriation or title disputes which have plagued other institutions in recent years. As Anderson rightly points out, this legal wrangling prevents institutions from focusing on the art and studying and appreciating it. However, I wonder if this decision might be challenged by friends of the museum or other donors when an institution refuses to accept an unprovenanced, but very valuable or important gift? The possibility seems remote, but there seem to be a growing number of suits challenging the decisions of museums and other cultural institutions as evidenced by the recent controversies in Philadelphia and Buffalo.

In the end, Anderson is arguing for a better museum and collecting culture. One in which the repurcussions in source nations of collecting and curating are taken into account.

He imagines a situation which I think would be ideal, “Our collective goal should be to persuade art-rich countries to join Great Britain, Japan, Israel, and other nations in the creation of a legitimate market in antiquities. Archaeologically rich countries could use funds realised from the open sale of documented antiquities to bolster their efforts to police archaeological sites, and to support research, conservation, and interpretation in museums, while sharing their heritage the world over.” To better accomplish this he advocates a greater use of International Loans, similar to the long-term lease idea which I discussed yesterday.

He also proposes a radical idea, which is that unprovenanced works should be donated to the Smithsonian, which would then be solely responsible for the repatriation and other controversies, thereby eliminating many of these headaches for other museums. That is an interesting idea, but do we really want the Smithsonian, the only real National cultural institution in the US to be associated with illicitly-gained objects; especially given its recent high-profile problems?

In any event the article is fascinating, and I really recommend giving it a read. The move is ultimately a symbolic one, but one that may lead to continued reform of the cultural property trade.

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