Sunday, May 4, 2014

Museum Immunity Bill: Who Are You Going to Believe?

There seems to be a lack of consensus amongst ardent repatriationists over a measure aimed at immunizing art imported from abroad for purposes of  museum exhibition from seizure.  For example, while Rick St. Hilaire sees its merit, Tess Davis is dead set against it, claiming with little, if any, real analysis that the legislation will allow U.S. Museums to knowingly exhibit "stolen" art.

So who is correct here?  The one who seems to believe the U.S. Government right or wrong or the one who seems to be with the source country right or wrong?

 CPO is with St. Hilaire on this one; it seems like Ms. Davis relies on more than a few bogeymen to make her point.  In fact, that seems to be an unfortunate hallmark of her otherwise excellent writing these days. Indeed, one really has to wonder whether she works at a foreign research center as is claimed or one specializing in anti-American repatriationist advocacy.  If one has a legitimate claim here, why not make it in the country where the art resides before it is sent for exhibition in the US?

Update:  Derek Fincham has also written a blog questioning Ms. Davis' and Mr. Masurovsky's provocative views.  It can be accessed here.


Unknown said...

Hi Peter: Thanks for complimenting the writing, if not the message! In our piece on the Conversation, Marc Masurovsky and I obviously did not have the space for a full legal analysis, but it has been done elsewhere. For that, I direct you and your readers to the Holocaust Art Restitution Project ( The Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation also voiced similar concerns about H.R. 4292's predecessor S.B. 2212 ( We look forward to hearing your thoughts on these. Tess Davis, Affiliate Researcher, University of Glasgow

Cultural Property Observer said...

Hi Tess, thanks for your note. And yes, I think you are a fantastic writer. And yes, perhaps I was a bit too colorful in charaterizing the nature of your organization-- but what happens in the US seems to be a focus of it. Still, my concerns relate to the fact that you seem to be raising unrelated topics to make your point. I understand the US is often a plaintiff friendly venue in the cultural property arena and elsewhere, but if there is a legitimate claim, why not make it in the country where the art normally resides? Most art that would be the subject of any dispute resides in European countries that have well functioning legal systems. The only real effect of an immunity statute such as this is to force the claimant back where he or she probably belongs in the first place. Best, Peter