Sunday, April 21, 2013

Comment to Chasing "Chasing Aphrodite" for Answers

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this comment to Jason' Felch's answers to CPO's questions, but "Blogger" but would not me allow me to do so due to its length, so I post it here. As Arthur has "gone on tour" with Chasing Aprhodite, his response to Jason's post is worth considering.     

Peter, I was so glad to see Jason's responses to your questions. I have spoken about them to a friend with an incisive mind, who somewhat shockingly said that in view of his reputation as a responsible journalist, Jason's answers reveal a master of evasion, denial, mendacity, willful ignorance and upended logic. They are particularly strange, since Jason is himself could be a looter, having scattered through his blog photographs that he may not have permission to use. That's just plain theft, as you know. Jason the picture-picker.

Well, I guess my friend's comments are true. Still, they are pretty tough on my poor young friend Jason. So I decided to help our here a bit, and give you the answers that I believe he really meant to provide -- not those he felt compelled to give. Here they are:

1. You’re an award winning investigative journalist, but also an advocate for archaeologists and source countries. Do you see any contradictions between those two roles?

Peter, I could tell you that I reject the premise and say I am not an advocate, but that would be both an evasion and an egregious untruth. The truth is that I am certainly an advocate for the interests of other countries but it doesn't really bother me at all. I mean, I've been entertained and applauded in Italy, and that makes me feel good, and it really doesn't matter what journalistic ethics might exist, since I can say anything I well please on my blog and not have some damn editor or fact-checker looking over my shoulder.

2. Do you truly believe that unprovenanced objects are illegitimate? If so, please say how you come to this conclusion.

You know, I could say that "illegitimate" means "looted" but that would be an evasion -- sort of twisting the question, no? So let me tell you what I really think, which is that I have no idea how I got to that conclusion. I've always been a bit muddled about what is legitimate, but it seems to get people excited when I throw allegations like this around, whether I can substantiate them or not. Actually, as we both know, most unprovenanced objects are totally legal, whether they are owned by Americans, or in private collections in Italy or whatever. To think they are anything else is poppycock.

3. Do you think the same rules should apply to the $1 million dollar vase as to the $10 ancient coin?

Golly, I could go off on a really nutty tangent and tell you about rules and the law -- which I've never really understood -- and morality and ethics, which I am on firmer ground about since I can say almost anything I want and someone will agree with me. Also I got a C in my ethics course, so I'm qualified, no? Anyway the short answer to your question is yes, of course. But don't ask me why, since I really don't know how I got there. It's all a bit confusing to me.

4. The State Department has been criticized by both academics and former CPAC members for a lack of transparency in its decision-making concerning import controls on cultural goods. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

CPAC has turned into a bunch of rubbish. They stopped following the law -- the CPIA -- decades ago. As someone once said -- who? -- "government, like the art market, festers in darkness." I don't really know what that means, but it sounds good, so I agree with it. And I'd have to agree that CPAC festers. Very noisome.

5. During a Chasing Aphrodite lecture I attended, I was surprised to hear Gary Vikan, the Walters’ then Director, say that it is “none of our business” what happens to artifacts that are repatriated. Do you agree or disagree and why?

Sure. Why not? Let the little devils destroy their heritage. Blow up the Bamiyan Buddhas. I mean, who really cares about the Getty Aphrodite, or whatever it is, now that it's in, where? Aidone? I mean, who's ever heard of the place? And you can ask me about Fano the next time around. ("Fano" you ask? You might as well want to know where the Villa Guilia is. Who goes there, anyway?)

6. Greece, Cyprus and to a lesser extent Italy are suffering from an economic meltdown that by necessity will impact these countries ability to fund preservation efforts. Do you believe that this budget crisis calls into question the “state control over everything old” model advocated by the archaeological community?

I really believe there's room for creative thinking here. Like these and other countries like the UK and Israel letting their antiquities loose on the market, so that collectors and museums that can take care of them can buy them up. Now, I could take this moment to give you a preachy little lecture about Winston Churchill and democracy, but that's a bit trite and worn out, so I won't go there.

7. Your WikiLoot proposal has been criticized for promoting “vigilante justice.” Please explain the concept, where the proposal stands, and respond to that criticism.

Of course it's vigilantism -- I mean who in their right might would want a bunch of unknowledgeable people running around and pointing their fingers at things and whining, "loot, loot!" and believe it's for real? It sounds, well, irresponsible, even absurd, heh? But it gets people excited to think that I can then write them up in Chasing Aphrodite, and expand my readership. Sex sells. So does vigilantism. Pretty neat, no? But no one seems to want to pay for it, so we're getting a little desperate for money. Do you think you could pony up something to help?

8. Italian authorities have been criticized for playing “gotcha” with auction houses and collectors when Medici material comes up for sale. What do you think of these tactics?

Well, you know the Italians! When it comes to self interest, you know, some people think they are real masters of denial, mendacity, willful ignorance and upended logic. I've learned quite a few things from them. You could too!

I could end this by misquoting my friend Houghton who I think I recall advising that one should stay clear of antiquities that are missing a documented ownership history. But I would be wrong if I did that. Houghton never said such a thing. I've been in contact with him recently and can tell you his advice is to buy, buy, buy, as long as it's legally on the market and there is no likely comeback by putative source-country owners. Build collections for museums and privately that can go into museums and be exhibited, studied, and educate the public. That's what it's all about Houghton says. And I must say that I agree with him. In fact, I've almost always agreed with him.

Warm best wishes, and keep up the good work.


(Note Arthur is speaking for "Jason")

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