Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Will Return of Khmer Statue Back to Little Known Ruins Lead to Economic Development?

One can empathize with the Cambodians interviewed by the VOA who hope that the repatriation of a statue back to ruins in the area will lead to a tourist driven economic renaissance. See http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com/2012/04/voa-visits-cambodian-statues-original.html However, is this a realistic hope?

If one operates under the assumption that antiquities should be "saved for everyone" doesn't it instead also follow they should then be displayed in places where the most people will have an opportunity to see and enjoy them?

That is the point in this interesting comment I received from a knowledgeable individual after he reviewed the report:

Many of the local people in small towns in Italy, Greece, Turkey and elsewhere are convinced that having their own museum would be a panacea for all their ills. This, is in fact, never the case. That Getty statue found in the sea is often claimed as 'our' statue by the local villagers in the town where it was landed because they firmly believe that their town would become prosperous from all the visitors who would come to see it. This was also the case with the Riace bronzes, which the local people feel has been robbed from them because they are exhibited in Reggio. In Turkey they returned the Lydian Treasure to some dinky town museum in Usak which, according to that book on the treasure (by some woman I forget), received a total of 1000 visitors in the 5 years it had then been opened for. The fact that 1000s of people would see it per day in NYC versus 1000 in 5 years in Turkey is not a reason to accept illegal excavations, but it is, in a sensible way, justification for them!

If more Turks would view the items in the US than would ever see them in Turkey, well, this is a factor. The Melfi Sarcophagus is one of the top 10 or 20 of all Roman sarcophagi - found in 1856 it was for years stored in the Bishop's garage in Melfi (and had paint dripped on it when they painted the roof) but was removed to a new museum in the castle in 1976. How many people see it per year? If it had been found earlier and removed to Naples by the Bourbon kings, and put on display there how many more people would see it and how much better known would it be?In fact very few people travel to Melfi to see this object and few people leave any of their money there. Another perfect example of an object that is in an obscure place that you have to make a pilgrimage to see is the Vix Krater in the museum of Chatillon sur Seine. It is thelargest surviving ancient metal vessal and is super spectacular (I've actually seen it). But how many people actually get to see it? I am sure one can find out and I am sure that many,many more do go there than go to Usak or Melfi (and there is bound to be a restaurant nearby that has to be better than anything near either U or M). Thus, comparing a well run small museum in an out of the way place with totally useless small museums, brings up the question:if one of the basic tenets against private collecting is that the objects are for "everyone to enjoy", how can they do so if they are put in places that no one goes to?You can say that having objects from Turkey in the Metropolitan in NYC means that more people will see them (and 'enjoy' them) in a week than will see them in their place of origin in a year (or more), but this is very politically incorrect. But if they go on and on about how they are for everyone, it is thus better to have them where everyone is, rather than where they aren't.

While I actually think that major antiquities can be a draw for local tourism, I also believe for that to happen there needs to be an infrastructure in place, and that often takes substantial money that is well spent, and not wasted through poor planning or corruption.

And that is the real challenge, particularly when overgrasping cultural bureaucracies seek control over anything and everything old, rather than focusing on what is most important.


Voz Earl said...

The return of the statues will generate little to no increase in tourism; they simply aren't that spectacular.

Notice in the VOA story when they interview the old man he says he's lived in the area all his life and never saw the statues. Apparently even before they were stolen the locals couldn't be bothered to go see them! lol

That having been said I am sympathetic to their cause. This seems a fairly straightforward case and it would be a shame if the statues were not reunited with their feet.

Voz Earl

Cultural Property Observer said...

I agree. Am sympathetic too. Tougher to argue for removal of statuary and the like than for a few old coins! On this one though, troubled by the staleness of the claim and the likelihood it was sold off by what passed for the government at the time.

And are we that sure that the feet match up-- or is this another case if the feet don't fit you must acquit?