Sunday, January 31, 2010
The article also touches on patrimony issues, explaining that
"Eastern European countries consider the scrolls their cultural property and severely restrict their export."
Yet, the article also notes that
"Many state museums and archives in Eastern Europe -- including some in former monasteries -- do hold hundreds of scrolls. And half a dozen major Jewish organizations, backed by the U.S. State Department, have been pressing governments in the region to return them to Jewish hands in an orderly fashion."
[How odd then that another part of the State Department (the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) is working to repatriate other Torah scrolls to a far more unfriendly area these days for practitioners of the Jewish faith-- Iraq. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/05/emergency-restrictions-on-iraqi.html and http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/01/iraqi-authorities-continue-erasure-of.html
And it should be noted that the Rabbi's other efforts included helping to rescue just such a Torah from Iraq before these restrictions were put in place. See http://www.thejewishbugle.com/community-news/a-400-year-old-sifrrei-torahs-journey-from-iraq-to-am-2.html.]
In any event, other publications and blogs have already taken notice of the Washington Post story, and have more clearly suggested outright fraud may be involved. See http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/torah_trouble_for_rabbi_indiana_97SmMclAEhNXC8zolKW47H and http://blogs.jta.org/telegraph/article/2010/01/25/1010309/is-the-holocaust-torah-rabbi-a-fraud
Others, however, are a bit more charitable. In closing, the Washington Post quotes one such expert as saying,
"As for Youlus's Torah rescue stories, Berenbaum came to his own conclusion. "A psychiatrist might say they are delusional. A historian might say they are counter-factual. A pious Jew might call them midrash -- the stories we tell to underscore the deepest truths we live," he says. Midrash, in this context, refers to the ancient tradition of rabbis telling anecdotes and fables to convey a moral lesson. "Myth underscores the deepest truth we live," Berenbaum says."
Friday, January 29, 2010
As the editorial states,
Best practices in England and Wales show that it helps to have an amended legal framework that is accommodative and forward-looking. They also demonstrate that the practical way to enhance protection is to involve communities in reporting and protecting artefacts. The Portable Antiquities Scheme, implemented in England and Wales, is one of the biggest success stories of recent times. The scheme encourages local communities to voluntarily report and register the discovery of artefacts with the help of experts. The resulting data base is placed in the public domain. So far it has documented 400,000 archaeological finds, including the remarkable eighth-century Staffordshire Hoard. The functional features of such schemes can be modified to suit Indian conditions but there must be sincere and diligent implementation. Efforts in Italy demonstrate that enhanced and dedicated policing and the aggressive pursuit of stolen antiquities abroad is equally necessary. In 2009, Italian art police recovered about 60,000 pieces of looted antiquities and helped reduce art theft by 14.5 per cent from the previous year. Comparable results can be achieved in India if protective measures are professionalised and creative partnerships developed with local communities.
I'm pleased to see this Indian publication is advocating use of the "carrot" as well as the usual "stick."
Thursday, January 28, 2010
According to a press release,
SAN FRANCISCO – A panel discussion titled Collectors, Dealers, Museums & the Law, a highlight of Arte du Monde Week, will take place Feb. 11 beginning at noon Pacific at the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael.
The panel features members of the judicial, academic, law enforcement and art dealer communities. Aimed toward collectors, dealers and the general public, the purpose of the discussion is to increase awareness of cultural property laws as well as the legal responsibilities of collectors, dealers and museums.
This discussion is sponsored by the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association and coincides with the San Francisco Bay Area Arte du Monde /Tribal Arts Weekend.
Kate Fitz Gibbon is a Santa Fe, N.M., attorney specializing in cultural patrimony issues. She is the author of Who Owns the Past? Cultural Policy, Cultural Property, and the Law published by Rutgers University Press. She served on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the U.S. President from 2000 to 2003.
Steven F. Gruel is a former federal prosecutor from the Northern District of California. In addition to serving as chief of the Major Crime Section, he received numerous awards for his work from U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Directors Louis Freeh and Robert Mueller. In 2005 he started his own law firm concentrating on criminal defense and business litigation.
Mark Johnson is a Los Angeles Tribal Art dealer considered one of the principal specialists in the United States on the Tribal Arts of Indonesia and Southeast Asia. He is the official advisor on Indonesian Tribal Art for the Mingei International Museum in San Diego.
A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service law enforcement officer.
Admission to the panel discussion is free, but space is limited. For reservations, call (415) 925-3717 and leave a message.
The panel discussion will take place in the Exhibit Hall of the Marin Civic Center, 10 Avenue of the Flags in San Rafael, Calif.
The event is part of the of the Arte du Monde/Tribal Arts Weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Weekend (actually two weekends) is anchored by three major art shows that attract a local, national and international audience of approximately 15,000. More than 400 top international galleries and dealers participate each year in the shows.
Participating art fairs are:
San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, opening night preview Feb. 4, Feb. 5-7;
San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, opening night preview Feb. 11, Feb. 12-14;
Marin Show: Art of the Americas, Exhibit Hall, Marin Civic Center, San Rafael, opening night preview Feb. 12, Feb. 13-14.
On Tribal Arts Weekend (Feb. 12-14) visitors will be admitted to both the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show and the Marin Show: Art of the Americas with the purchase of one ticket ($15) at either show.
Tickets are available at the door.
For details visit the Web site www.artedumondesf.com.
Read more: http://acn.liveauctioneers.com/index.php/features/shows-events#ixzz0dwEJAoGX
Read more: http://acn.liveauctioneers.com/index.php/features/shows-events#ixzz0dwEJAoGX
As the report states,
In case after case, the plaintiffs say little has changed since the Bush administration years, when most began their quests for records. Agencies still often fight requests for disclosure, contending that national security and internal decision-making need to be protected.
FOIA expert (and attorney for the numismatic groups in the pending FOIA appeal) thinks the article focused too much on numbers, and not enough on the underlying issue. In his own blog, he states,
I think the real (and more interesting ) story would be why haven't certain agencies implemented policies reflecting the President's FOIA statements and what has the Department of Justice done about this?
I can't agree more. That certainly applies to the US State Department Bureau of Educational Cultural Affairs and its continued intransigence in supplying information about import restrictions-- even when it comes to Cultural Property Advisory Committee Reports that are supposed to be provided to Congress and which have been voluntarily produced in the past.
As I have also observed, if anything, the State Department has a special obligation to be as transparent and accountable as possible. State Department officials-- including Secretary Clinton-- have certainly preached the virtues of transparency and accountability to other governments. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/11/so-much-for-transparency-and.html
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Dr. Cuno recounted the themes expressed in his book, "Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage." See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/07/kudos-for-cuno.html
As in that book, Cuno explained how:
- Source country nationalism rather than a desire to protect archaeological sites motivates most efforts to seek repatriations or import restrictions.
- Source counties should return to the practice of allowing "partage" in return for help in excavating archaeological sites.
- Archaeologists are dependent on source countries for excavation permits. Self-interest or fear of offending their hosts has led to unqualified support for source country rights over cultural artifacts even when that results in the neglect or destruction of those same artifacts.
- Whoever made a cultural artifact, it certainly was not made for a modern nation state.
- Some source countries unashamedly assert rights over cultural artifacts of peoples and cultures they actively seek to subvert.
- Encyclopedic museums have become a target for source nations and archaeologists because they stand in opposition to the nationalization of culture.
- The trend of repatriations and import restrictions runs counter to the even more powerful trend of globalism.
Cuno illustrated his lecture with examples to drive home these points:
- Images of Italy's trophy art display at the Italian President's flag-draped residence made clear the nationalistic impulses behind Italy's repatriation efforts.
- Yale's trouble with Peru over Machu Picchu relics can be plotted against declining poll numbers for the Peruvian government-- there is no better way to divert attention from the troubles at home than to go after the most Yankee of institutions in court and the press.
- Chinese complaints about artifacts stolen by colonial powers must be judged against China's own treatment of its own minorities, i.e., the Tibetans and Uighurs.
- The cargo from an ancient Turkish shipwreck underscores that artifacts cannot easily be tied to a single culture.
- An image of a Chinese tea pot shaped in an Indian inspired form with English silver inlays demonstrates that artifacts are created from a mix of cultural elements.
As an antidote to cultural property nationalism, Cuno advocated:
- A rethink of national cultural property retention statutes to allow partage and licit markets.
- The creation of encyclopedic museums in countries like China and Greece.
- The recognition that encyclopedic museums help popularize the culture of countries like Italy, China, Peru and Greece and help keep immigrants visiting these museums attuned to the culture of their home.
Also of interest was Dr. Cuno's self-effacing style, complete with some humorous quotations from some of the more colorful reviews of his book.
For more about upcoming lectures in this series-- including ones by Patty Gerstenblith and Malcolm Bell, see http://www.gwu.edu/~csll/museums.html
Friday, January 22, 2010
Unfortunately, there apparently was no real debate on the amendment: Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities Pharaoh, ensured the proposal was promptly shot down.
Interestingly, however, Al-Masry Al-Youm took the debate to the streets. The responses to the media outlet's question are interesting-- as is the percentage of government employees that participated in the canvass.
Cultural Property Observer would be particularly interesting in how the poll question was phrased. It would also be interesting to learn whether the MP's proposal specifically addressed sales of artifacts of a sort that exist in multiples, and are likely never to see the light of day out of storage.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Is it Better to Require All Collectors to Disclose All They Have or for the Police to Disclose What is Missing?
A car is stolen in a large city. To recover the car, would it be better for (1) the police to post a photo of the missing car on line, or (2) the owners of every car in the city to post pictures of their car(s) on line? Which approach would best help recover the stolen car and which approach would best help car thieves?
Or, try this:
A child is kidnapped. If one was serious about recovering the child, would it be better for (1) the police to post a photo of the missing child on line, on milk cartons, etc., or (2) parents to post photos of all their children on line with the hope that someone finds the missing child among that group? Which would be better for the missing child and his parents, and which would be better for child abductors?
Anyway, something to think about. Comments, of course, are welcome.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
On the Today Show, Senator Elect Scott Brown recognized that public dissatisfaction with Washington's ways made his surprise win possible.
He stated, "[P]eople are angry. They’re tired of the back room deals. They want transparency, they want good government, they want fairness and they want people to start working to solve their problems.”
Come to think of it, that is all ancient coin collectors want too.
They are angry at the bureaucrats in the State Department. They are tired of back room deals like that apparently involving former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/08/nicholas-burns-philhellene-cultural.html They want transparency. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/search/label/transparency They want fairness. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/01/another-perspective-on-cpac-and-interim.html They want common sense solutions to cultural property issues that encourage cooperation not conflict. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/09/massive-anglo-saxon-hoard-reported.html
Hopefully, Judith McHale, Undersecretary for the State Department Bureau of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and Judith Ann Stewart Stock, nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, will take some notice.
In so doing, he posted but did not directly answer the following question:
David- Could the release of this material be a response to Bill Pearlstein's complaints during the interim review of the Italian MOU that the Carabinieri and US Customs were playing "gotcha" with American auction houses and collectors? See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/11/gotcha-italian-style.html
Instead, Gill reiterates the AIA line that auction houses (and collectors) should only collect artifacts with a solid pre-1970 provenance. But, of course, this does not account for what to do about "orphan artifacts," and, in any event, a 1970 provenance is no "safe harbor" for the likes of Zahi Hawass and friends.
A knowledgeable collector of Greek vases has proposed something more modest. Why can't the Carabineri post images of this material on-line and make it easy for collectors, auction houses, dealers and museums to check whether they have inadvertently purchased artifacts with a questionable provenance?
"Cultural Property Observer" supports that idea, and also asks, "Why does it always seem that that ideology must trump common sense?"
Saturday, January 16, 2010
According to the Jerusalem Post,
For centuries Jews, Christians and Muslims came to Al-Kifl, a small town south of Baghdad, to visit the tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel and pray.
The distinctive Jewish character of the Al-Kifl shrine, namely the Hebrew inscriptions and the Torah Ark, never bothered the gentile worshipers. In the 14th century a minaret was built next to the shrine, but the interior design remained Jewish. The vast majority of Iraq's Jewish community left some 60 years ago, but Shi'ites took good care of the holy site.
Recently "Ur," a local Iraqi news agency, reported that a huge mosque will be built on top of the grave by Iraq's Antiquities and Heritage Authority, while Hebrew inscriptions and ornaments are being removed from the site, all as part of renovations.
I first heard the news of tomb desecration from a friend of mine who is a German scholar. After visiting the site he called me and said that some Hebrew inscriptions on the grave were covered by plaster and that a mosque is planned to be built on top of the tomb. He told me that he found the changes at the tomb disturbing and warned me that I'd better act quickly, before any irreversible damage will be inflicted," Moreh said.
"I had contacted Mr. Shelomo Alfassa, US director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, and told him about this situation. Then I saw the report from the Ur news agency, mentioning the decision of the Antiquities and Heritage Authority to build a mosque and to erase the Hebrew inscriptions and ornaments," Moreh said.
He asked friends to check out the developments at the site. The most recent to visit the shrine said that some of the inscriptions are now hidden by a layer of plaster.
Iraqi press reports claim that the building must be destroyed because of its poor condition. However, Alfassa believes that Iraq's Antiquities and Heritage Authority "has been pressured by Islamists to historically cleanse all evidence of a Jewish connection to Iraq - a land where Jews had lived for over a thousand years before the advent of Islam."
According to the Baghdad-born Moreh, many of the Muslims who visit the tomb today are unaware Ezekiel was a Jew.
Iraq, the biblical Aram Naharaim, is rich in Jewish religious sites. Not only Ezekiel is buried there, but also Ezra, Daniel, Nehemiah, Nahum and Jonah. (Another tomb attributed to Ezekiel is located in Dezful, in southwestern Iran.)
Soon after the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi authorities indicated that they intended to take good care of the Jewish sites, which might become an powerful tourist magnet. In May 2009, the Tourism Ministry declared that it intended to preserve all of Iraq's heritage sites, regardless of creed, and would soon begin the renovation of Ezekiel's tomb.
But the future of Jewish sacred sites looks grim in the intolerant current climate of post-Saddam Iraq, where only eight Jews are left, the Christian minority is severely persecuted by the fundamentalists and ancient Shi'ite mosques are blown up.
"Let's hope that the Jewish sites will be spared, but someone must intervene before it's too late," Moreh warned.
For more about efforts to repatriate Torah scrolls and continued anti-Semitism in Iraq, see: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/search?q=torah
For a thoughtful critique of the modern Iraqi State's claims to Jewish artifacts, see also
This story was reported on the Iraq Crisis List here: https://lists.uchicago.edu/web/arc/iraqcrisis/2010-01/msg00007.html
Addendum: Coincidentally, the Washington Post on 01/17/10 has reported about Iraq's efforts to repatriate a Jewish archive that the US Army rescued from the bombed out headquarters of Saddam Hussein's secret police. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/16/AR2010011602583.html?sub=AR
It seems odd to me that our government would even consider returning artifacts presumably confiscated by the Iraqi Secret Police from fleeing Iraqi Jews to a nation that continues to erase them from the archaeological record. Even if the director of the Iraq National Library is well meaning, recent history as recounted above suggests that these newly restored artifacts will not be cared for and may even ultimately be destroyed. Under the circumstances, wouldn't they be better off with an Iraqi Jewish group in in exile?
Archaeologists often claim that collecting is the driving force behind looting. I would instead suggest that looting is far more likely to be a byproduct of development. When roads or dams are built, unofficial "salvage archaeology' often takes place, which in fact may save some of the artifacts (if not their context) from destruction.
Now, a noted Israeli archaeologist has now also stated that
The truth is, with the possible exception of Iraq, ... most damage and destruction of antiquities has been caused by development in all countries, under their governments' auspices.
Instead of blaming collectors-- who share their desire to preserve, study and display artifacts from the past-- archaeological groups should acknowledge that development has led to the loss of archaeological context and the appearance of fresh artifacts in the trade. Once this fact is acknowledged, archaeologists should then change their focus to working with finders and source governments to ensure that such artifacts are at least properly recorded. The current operating assumption that what is deemed to be looting relates to criminal activity has only driven this activity underground.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Import restrictions on ancient artifacts from Italy (excluding coins) have been in place since 2001. Such restrictions (and their shifting of the burden of proof onto collectors, museums and dealers importing cultural goods) are meant to be a temporary measure to give the source country in question time to gain control of its looting problem.
With Italy's successes, one wonders why we are even talking about extending import restrictions under the Italian MOU. Hasn't the time come to again allow Americans to enjoy imported ancient artifacts from Italy ("documented" or not)-- just as fellow collectors do in the EU?
Thursday, January 14, 2010
I particularly wonder about the fate of Haiti's magnificent early 19th c. Fortifications. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citadelle_Laferri%C3%A8re The Citadelle Laferrière or, Citadelle Henri Christophe, located in the northern part of the country, was built to hold off the French, who never came as anticipated. It has already withstood a number of earthquakes. Time will tell it it has also withstood this terrible quake that has taken the lives of so many Haitians and has certainly also damaged much of the country's cultural heritage.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
On the morning of November 13th, I had the opportunity to attend and give an oral statement at the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) hearing for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Italy. This hearing was conducted at the Department of State, Annex Building, in Washington, DC. The MOU with Italy is up for renewal in 2010, and this hearing was one of the preliminary steps in the process, an “interim review” as it has been deemed by the U.S. State Department.
This was the first such hearing that I have attended, and it was an interesting, albeit a bit frustrating, experience. I came away from this hearing with the strong belief that the odds are against the ancient coin collecting community in receiving a “fair shake” from the U.S. Department of State, specifically its Cultural Heritage Center office, at these CPAC hearings.
The three speakers representing collectors and dealers were invited to speak first, each speaker was limited to five minutes, and we were informed that this would be strictly enforced. William Pearlstein, an attorney that represents certain New York City antiquities dealers, spoke first, and was dutifully cutoff at 5 minutes. Peter K. Tompa, representing the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) and the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), was next, and he did an excellent job of both summarizing his position paper, and casually passing around to the CPAC members a late Roman bronze of Licinius I, vetted through the British Portable Antiquities Scheme, and then legally imported into the U.S.
Next up was yours truly (representing the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild), and though I entered the hearing with a bit of trepidation, the hearing’s casual atmosphere had a calming effect on my nerves. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to finish reading the two-page statement that I had prepared, and after answering a couple of questions from the committee, I walked back to my seat thinking that this was the fastest five minutes I had ever experienced. Later, several people commented to me that they believed I had been cutoff before the end of my allotted time.
As the morning progressed, the members of CPAC heard statements from four speakers representing the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), four speakers that spoke on behalf of the archaeological community, and finally, Dr. Stefano De Caro, from the Italian Ministry of Culture, gave a long, perhaps 30 minutes, presentation on behalf of the Italian government. (At this point, it was obvious that the five-minute rule had been abandoned, at least for those that spoke in favor of import restrictions.)
Finally, although the Public Notice for this CPAC hearing specifically stated that “oral comments must be limited to Article II of this MOU” with Italy, which deals with the implementation and obligations of the Italian government in respect to the current MOU, speakers from the archaeological community were allowed to lobby for the inclusion of ancient coins, presently exempted, in the renewal of the MOU with Italy.
Based on this experience, I now know that the best option that the ancient coin collecting community has for a “fair hearing,” where we won’t be limited to five minutes or less, is through the court system. This is the option that ACCG is currently pursuing, the option that we have conducted two successful benefit auctions for so as to raise much needed legal funds, and unless there is a dramatic “shake-up” at the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center office, it is the only viable option that is available to us in the foreseeable future.
Comment: Maria Kouroupas, CPAC's executive director, kept time and dictated when the allowed 5 minutes had elapsed. In my opinion, it is wrong to invite citizens to travel at the cost of significant time and some expense to Washington, D.C. to speak for such a short time and then rudely cut them off--- particularly when the "5 minute rule" is not applied equally.
In any event, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affair's Cultural Heritage Center is already widely perceived in the collecting community as completely biased in favor of archaeologists and repatriation hungry foreign governments. Experiences like those of Kerry Wetterstrom can only confirm that perception in the eyes of many "cultural property observers."
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Even in a recession, this "must attend event" is quite expensive, particularly for coin dealers who can spend over a week in the City. As a result, these small businesses must sell a fair number of coins just to break even.
Under the circumstances, I find it particularly troubling that the dealer who sold the ACCG coins for its test case had his coins delayed at Customs for some four days. This meant he missed almost half the show. I understand his Customs broker could not fathom the reason for the delay, and when the coins were released no reason was given for the delay.
One would hope that our Customs service did not purposefully delay this dealers' coins for the show just because he provided other Cypriot and Chinese coins for the ACCG's test case. Suspiciously, however, the dealer in question also indicates that other shipments to the United States have also been delayed since the ACCG imported its coins back in April.
Still, is it all just a coincidence?
If not, it certainly does not speak well for officials at the US Customs Service.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The ACCG press release notes that a wide gulf exists between the Obama Administration's rhetoric about "open government" and how the Obama State Department has defended and continued the secretive processes of the Bush State Department. A cynic might also wonder the extent to which a desire to protect the reputation of former Undersecretary of State and Obama supporter Nicholas Burns has entered the mix. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/08/nicholas-burns-philhellene-cultural.html and http://www.newsweek.com/id/165650
For more about Judge Leon's ruling, see http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/11/so-much-for-transparency-and.html
Monday, January 4, 2010
In the last decade or so, the Chinese art market has become "hot," not only for antiquities, but for modern art as well.
The press may focus on masterpieces, but China's rising middle class is also starting to purchase such art along with consumer goods. To meet this demand, Chinese auction houses like China Guardian have also become increasingly prominent. They view their mission not only to sell artifacts in all price ranges, but also to repatriate important ancient works to China through sales of such artifacts to prominent Chinese collectors. See http://www.cguardian.com/english/about.php