Sunday, June 1, 2008

View from the Turkish Daily News: Let's Sell Redundant Samples

Western museums often deaccession artifacts. Here, a Turkish newspaper is making the same suggestion for some of the mass of redundant material subject to theft or decay in Turkey's grossly underfunded museums. This sounds like a "no brainer," but unfortunately nationalistic ideology usually trumps common sense in places like Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey.

I am quoting this article in full because I am not sure how long this link will remain active:

'Let's sell redundant samples'

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Turgay Artam, owner of the Antik A.Ş., one of Turkey’s prominent art auctioneers, says it is possible to earn income by selling redundant samples of historic artifacts displayed in state museums rather than allowing them to decay in museum storehouses.

Eyüp Erdoğan

Thousands of historic artifacts cannot be exhibited and languish unseen due to space limitations in Turkey's museums.

The Istanbul Archaeology Museum has a total of 1 million works, a large number of which cannot be displayed. In two big museums located in the center of the Mediterranean province of Adana, only 3,000 artifacts of a total 26,500 ancient coins and 17,000 archaeological artifacts are on display for visitors.

Likewise, the Archaeology Museum in the western province of Uşak is home to 39,000 artifacts, including coins, seals and ethnographic works, but there is room to display only 10 percent of them in the museum. The situation in the Archaeology Museum of the Mediterranean resort town of Antalya is no different, where about 30,000 historic artifacts are kept in the museum's storehouse.

There are 185 museums in Turkey, all of which operate under the supervision of the Culture Ministry. But the ministry must distribute a small budget amongst a number of different museums that all require funding. Museums the ministry cannot afford to properly fund cannot, therefore, take the necessary care of the archaeological artifacts they are supposed to protect.

Bad preservation conditions

The failure of museums to properly protect archaeological artifacts arises from financial restrictions. While some parts of museum collections have been stolen due to loose security measures, many other precious artifacts are decaying in storehouses because of bad preservation conditions. Even newly unearthed archaeological artifacts cannot be protected well. In Turkey, where thousands of artifacts emanate from every corner of the land, the Culture Ministry, unfortunately, does not have the budget needed to purchase all unearthed archaeological artifacts and put them on display in museums. Additionally, many people who discover archaeological artifacts sell them illegally rather than submitting them to the Culture Ministry because it pays very little for many such finds.

The question: Is there any solution to this serious problem in Turkey? Turgay Artam, owner of the Antik A.Ş., Turkey's leading art auctioneer, has an idea. “State museums own hundreds of samples of a certain type of artifact. World museums sell from time to time redundant samples of artifacts and buy new unique ones instead, thereby enriching their collection,” he suggested.

“Some redundant artifacts in state museums can be sold to art collectors upon the condition of not moving them abroad. This would save from decay thousands of artifacts in museum storehouses and bring an income of $10 billion,” he added.

Artam argued that state museums should also sell archaeological artifacts to art collectors in Turkey. “This would prevent smuggling of historic artifacts.”

Need for private museums

For Artam, if state museums were to sell artifacts to art collectors, this would contribute to the formation of a private museum business in Turkey.

According to 2008 figures provided by the Treasury, Turkey's foreign public sector debt is about $7.4 billion. Thus, Turkey has a foreign debt of more than $7 billion, while there is a huge corpus of historic artifacts valued at around $10 billion that is simply decaying in museum storehouses.

‘10 times the number of exhibited artifacts in museum storehouses'

Dikran Masis, owner of Eskidji, another prominent auction house in Turkey, said 10 times the number of artifacts exhibited in museums are kept in museum storehouses in poor conditions.

“I do not see any problem with the sale of these artifacts to art collectors in the country,” said Masis, adding one condition – that the artifacts not be taken abroad.

“Museum storehouses are in a bad condition in Turkey. They have difficulties preserving the historic artifacts,” he argued.

For Masis, the Turkish economy can benefit from the sale of those artifacts to art collectors. He cites the Japanese case. The Nezu Museum in Japan sold some redundant samples of its clock collection composed of pieces dating from the Chinese Empire, and used the income it earned from that to enrich its porcelain collection. If a museum has a redundant selection of pieces of the same type of historic artifacts, it can sell the unnecessary ones and preserve unique samples, said Masis.

“If museums in Turkey apply that method, the Turkish economy will gain a considerable amount of income,” he added.

“Chinese porcelain at Topkapı Palace are very famous, and as far as I know, many of them are kept in the palace's storehouse. With the income earned from the sale of these items, Turkey could have another Topkapı Palace,” he said.

Museum storehouses often contain an abundance of similar types of coins dating from the same time period. According to Masis, some of these coins could be sold to art collectors, and the state could gain a large income from the sale.

Masis notes that the sale of historic artifacts, even to museums abroad, does not necessarily show disrespect to Turkey's history. “A latest circular banned the sale of some paintings of master Turkish artists to museums in other countries. But seeing the work of the grand Turkish painter Osman Hamdi at a U.S. museum makes me more proud. Can you think that Spain imprisons Picasso within its borders?” emphasized Masis.

“Art cannot be imprisoned inside national borders. We can buy Napoleon's pocket watch in France, but a German cannot buy a pocket watch of Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecit in Turkey and take it to Germany,” he said.

Japanese sell for charity

Japan is a country where museums sell redundant samples of same types of historic pieces. The Nezu Museum in Japan has put up for auction 15 precious clocks dating from the time of the Chinese Empire through Christies, the well-known art auctioneer. If all the pieces are sold, an income of more than $4.5 millions will be earned. The income will be donated to victims of the latest Chinese earthquake.

Similar Chinese clocks – around 1,500 items – are exhibited at the Palace Museum located in the Forbidden City in China.

Some pieces stolen from Turkish museums within the last 10 years

A winged sea horse brooch that belonged to the ‘Treasures of Kharun' was stolen from the Uşak Archeology Museum.

Four precious handwritten Koran copies stolen from the Süleymaniye Historic Manuscripts Library.

A Head of Hermes was stolen from the grave stele in the garden of the Bolu Museum.

A Byzantine column heading, a Roman column heading and a grave head stone stolen from the Milas Museum.

Five-hundred-and-fifty-four coins and a stone inscription stolen from Kahramanmaraş Museum.

A copper plate stolen from the Hazeranlar Mansion in Amasya Museum.

A grave bas-relief stolen from the Sart Gymnasium in the Salihli district of Manisa .

Fourteen strings of a gold necklace that was stolen from the Afrodisias Museum.

© 2005 Dogan

Daily News Inc.

No comments: