Wednesday, October 22, 2014


It appears that German collectors and auction houses are now getting "the treatment" from access journalists who make the inflammatory claim that Western collectors are supporting terrorism in Syria and Iraq.

 Even with rudimentary knowledge of German, sophisticated collectors who have seen it all before will recognize the usual cheap tricks—shots of a well-known auction house juxtaposed with scenes of war and looting.  And then there are the interviews with some of the usual suspects—Van Rijn, Muller-Karpe, Bogdanos, etc. who apparently readily agree about a link between terrorism and collecting.   The underlying premise is that that collectors and dealers are funding ISIS and the only way to stop it is to suppress collecting.   

Amusingly, the filmmakers' camera keeps focusing on two solitary lots of early Middle Eastern objects in a German auction—as if all the air time they receive makes up for the lack of hard evidence supporting the filmmaker's thesis.  And, of course, no good propagandist will fail to mention the decade old looting of the Iraq Museum whatever its current relevance.

So what we have is more of a morality play than a true documentary. The heroes, of course, are archaeologists, the Caribinieri (who selflessly help countries like Iraq) and local cops while the villains are terrorists, looters, auction houses, and the shadowy collectors and dealers who support them. 

But this tale is at best incomplete.  Nowhere does anyone pause to consider whether looting is an expression of hatred for the repressive governments that have appropriated the past for their own nationalistic purposes.  And what of the roles of cops and archaeologists in these repressive regimes?Doesn't their unqualified support for nationalistic laws that declare anything "old" to be state property make them partly responsible for the unfolding tragedy?   

Oddly, the filmmakers appear to be operating on much firmer ground in Lebanon than in Germany. Some of the best footage depicts what Lebanese authorities have seized.   Still, CPO can't help wondering if any of the icons that are shown were confiscated from Christian refugees who have escaped with their lives and a few treasured possessions from ISIS.  If so, the filmmakers would be callously adding insult to real injury-- but do they really care given the point they intend to make? 

For what appears to be an English-language short of the same film, see here.


kyri said...

hi peter,one thing i would say is that german auction houses are light years behind the uk ones when provenance/due diligence is involved.they have become a clearing house for looted/stolen antiquities coming from and through turkey.this has been the case for years now and its about time the german authorities did something about it.maybe its because of the strong links germany has with turkey[there are over 3 million ex-pat turks in germany]its no coincidence that allot of looted and stolen pieces end up there.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Thanks Kyri- Hopefully any regulation will not be "one size fits all" and will take into count the type of artifact.

Not sure I personally know enough about German auction house practices to comment further on their due diligence standards.

John H said...

It seems as though German collectors are getting 'the treatment' not only from documentary makers - whose guiding equation is, viewing figures + advertising revenue = prime time TV - but also from kyri whose unfounded and sweeping allegations bear all the hallmarks of the apocryphal.

That kryi equates the numbers of ex-pat Turks in Germany, to the sale of Turkish antiquities (legal, or suspected otherwise) is not only extraordinary, but fairly typical of the Barford/Gill mentality.

Very best wishes

John Howland

kyri said...

sadly john you havent got a clue on what is going on in german auction houses/dealers.some of the most high profile retunrs of looted/stolen antiquities have been from germany,the weary herakles returnd by boston MFA being just one of hundreds of returns that we know of.they publish next to nothing about collecting history in their catalogues the reason being that i would say at least %40 of the pieces are fresh to the market.i know allot of pieces consigned to german auctions are by uk dealers because most of the uk auction houses wont touch them.equating the very large number of turks in germany to the scale of the smuggling is not rocket science.the smugglers have deep contacts in germany,relatives ,friends thousands of people drive between the two countrys every day,thousands of lorys,trade ,its an easy smuggling route for them."unfounded and sweeping allegations" no john,im dealing in facts,thousands of proven cases of stolen icons,mosaics from cyprus finding their way ,through turkey to germany,not one or two pieces,thousands.pieces stolen from museums,published pieces,from kosovo,cyprus and turkey turning up in german auction houses.i myself have bought many times from german auction houses but only when the provenance was cast iron although even i was a victim about 6 years ago,i bought one piece and later found the provenance was "made up".after i received the piece i wasnt sure about it and showed it to a few dealers i know the conclusion was that it was a fake[i paid nearly 5000 euros],after some stern emails i got a refund but i never bought from them glad you read davids and pauls blogs,its not a bad thing to get the bigger picture.they both have many posts on german auction houses,you can learn a thing or two there.
ps,i dont think german collectors are getting the treatment,i would say the majority of pieces sold in germany go abroad.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Kyri, it's true there are a lot of Turks in Germany and it's also true that Turkey has a looting problem exacerbated by poor stewardship at home as well as corruption. That has probably led to Turkish material ending up in the German market over the years, but that does not necessarily mean Syrian material is ending up there now in quantity. The problem I have with this documentary is all the jumps in logic, and if this documentary is the evidence that Syrian material is reaching Western collectors in quantity, that is pretty poor evidence. As for the Cypriot mosaic case you mention, that was years ago at this point. And again, the real issue is the Turkish military occupation of N. Cyprus and the Turkish military evidently looking the other way when Greek Orthodox Churches were desecrated. I'm still waiting for someone in the archaeological community to stand up to say Turkey can do more. That should be the focus before the witch hunt starts in Germany.

John H said...

My apologies kyri.....your comments are muddled and confused, I've lost your train of thought along with your plot. In short, please put your case in terms that are not only readable but understandable.

I know exactly what's going-on and your comments about the Turks are bordering on racist. Don't bring the Greek/Turk animosity to this debate!

I grew up in Cyprus and know only too well the Greek/Turkish scenario!

Get a grip! You are still prostituting the Barford/Gill garbage.

Best wishes

John Howland

kyri said...

hi john,im sory if you are having trouble understanding my comments,i did write it rather quickly,some of us work for a living and cant spend hours on a a nutshell,you dont want to understand and thats keep the blinkers on and live in your little bubble.
"your comments about the turks are bordering on racist"??? just because i have greek ancestry doesnt mean i hate turks,i have many turkish are a bit out of order suggesting that but i forgive you.
if you grew up in cyprus your father must have been stationd there in the 50s,am i right.
why is it that everyone who expresses an opinion is "prostituting barford and gill"i buy from german auction houses,i have over 150 german auction catalogues and follow every sale,i dont need david or paul to tell me what is going on,i have eyes and ears even if you dont want to use yours.
peter,i agree that the turks are turning a blind eye to the looting,i saw a news report where a looter was saying as much but it still does not excuse the poor due diligence done by the auction houses.collectors rely on them to buy in good faith,no one wants to have a purchase confiscated.they simply cannot be make my point when you say "the cyprus mosaics were years ago" thats just it nothing has changed.i can accept john making silly comments because he is talking about something totally out of his field but you should know that returns from germany are frequent and some are very recent.
ps,when the coins were stolen from a colorado museum by the curator,over $500k worth were sold in german auctions because no one cared where they came from.