Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hypocrisy and Cronyism on Display at US Embassy in Cyprus

The Director the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) and the US Ambassador to Cyprus have dedicated a display of unprovenanced antiquities at the US Embassy.

The artifacts were apparently registered with the Cypriot authorities before they were displayed, but are said to be gifts from Cypriot citizens. There certainly is no suggestion that they are the products of scientific archaeological investigation.

Of course, CAARI has bragged that it was instrumental in lobbying the State Department for import restrictions on behalf of the Cypriot Department of Antiquities and the Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, approved the ban on US collectors obtaining such material from abroad.

Yes, hypocrisy and cronyism are indeed on display at the US Embassy in Cyprus along with those cases of unprovenanced Cypriot antiquities.


Wayne G. Sayles said...

Peter, you hit the nail on the head. The U.S. Government's Cultural Property Policy is a disgusting and arrogant display of hypocrisy and cronyism laced with elitist pedanticism. Yes, that's a quote, and I'm quite happy to stand by it—happier yet to defend it. When Jay Kislak called CHC activity unAmerican, I was still clinging to a shred of patriotic delusion, hoping it wasn't true. In retrospect, he was prophetic. We should always listen carefully to what those WWII veterans have to say. They have a way of slicing through the chaff and assessing the situation.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Alan Walker sent me this interesting email:

This press release tells us that these artifacts (the Embassy Amphorae Collection) were donated to the US Embassy on Cyprus over the past 50 years to celebrate Cypriot-American friendship. I think that is wonderful, don't you? That means the first of these items must have been given to the US shortly after the island became an independent state.

The article states that all the items were registered with the Cypriot State (but it doesn't say when - one presumes at the times of their donation) and that members of CAARI identified the objects (implying they were not identified
before) and conserved them. One also gets the impression this was done recently (but they don't say). Does a donation by a local person to the US Embassy in Cyprus, a donation that has been correctly registered with the Cypriot State, mean that the object automatically becomes American property and automatically can be exported without any formalities? I would assume (perhaps wrongly) that anything that is the property of an US embassy in any country is actually the property of the US and has a sort of extra-territorial status. Or is this incorrect?

If this is the
first time they are on public view, how were they kept over as many as 5 decades before they went on display? Is there a break down by year of donation? If these antiquities are so vital as evidence of the past, shouldn't they have been recorded much earlier? Or is the fact that all of the antiquities involved (presumably but almost surely) are of types that are well known from pieces already in Cypriot museums (or in London, New York, etc) and are, in themselves, of no real importance other than artistic or historic?

As for provenances, has CAARI provided a catalogue of these precious objects listing their origins? Or are the origins listed in the registration papers? Or are some listed in a simple manner, a la "A gift from M. Manodakis in honor of...etc., blah..." but with no origin at all, except for the obvious fact that the object comes from Cyprus? Or does it say, "Found in Famagusta/Nicosia/Aghia Stefanos" etc.

If these
items have no exact archaeological provenance many would say their scholarly value is compromised and they are only "orphaned works of art". If so, as we have heard so often, they do not deserve being appreciated or valued. But now they are on display in the US Embassy! How does that effect the views of the local population? Does it make having a collection more acceptable? Should it make American citizens wonder why it is ok for their own embassy to own and display antiquities (some of which are surely 'orphans') but not for American citizens in the USA?

By the way, can one
buy antiquities in Cyprus, apply for a permit and then, getting it from a cheerful bureaucrat, export the object; or is it, in fact, extremely difficult if not impossible to legally export an antiquity (howsoever it is defined) from Cyprus?

Sorry for all these questions but it is interesting.

As to his question about export licenses, it is my understanding Cyprus does not issue them for objects for sale. The Embassy is sovereign US territory, but presumably these artifacts would not be allowed out of Cyprus either unless they were going on display somewhere else before being returned.