The Archaeological Institute of America's recent comments to the Art Newspaper along with its vociferous opposition to the decision of the AIA's St. Louis Society to deaccession some well provenanced Egyptian artifacts has again raised serious questions about the AIA's position on collecting antiquities.
Just a few years ago, we were told the AIA wasn't against collecting, "only" the collecting of material that could not be traced back before the 1970 UNESCO Convention was promulgated. Of course, this was not much solace to ancient coin collectors, as well as collectors of many other portable antiquities. The vast majority of ancient coins and presumably equal percentages of minor antiquities simply cannot be traced back anywhere near that far. But this claim did have some resonance with some wealthy antiquities collectors, who could afford to purchase only antiquities with documented pre-1970 provenances. They could then sit back secure in the knowledge their well-provenanced material worth thousands upon thousands of dollars would likely not be subject to the same level of scrutiny in the archaeological blogosphere as the random $50 ancient coin.
“We are strongly opposed to the proposed sale [of well provenanced material]”, says Ann Benbow, the executive director of the AIA, in an email to The Art Newspaper. 'If [it] goes forward, it will tarnish the long-standing reputation of the AIA, which has a strong stance against the sale of antiquities… Archaeological artifacts should be cared for and made available for educational purposes, not put up for auction.'”
CPO has commented previously that any supposed "safe harbor" was always an illusion-- good only until some foreign potentate wanted US government help to repatriate yet another ancient goodie as a trophy.
Now, it appears the AIA may be formally jettisoning it.
If so, high-end antiquities collectors beware and be complacent no more.