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January 2016 - Elginism

Showing 5 results for the month of January, 2016.

January 28, 2016

Is not knowing an artefact was Nazi loot an excuse to retain it?

Posted at 2:47 pm in Similar cases

The Musée des beaux-arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland has been in the news recently, for their refusal to return a Constable painting looted by the Nazis to the heirs of the rightful owner.

The excuse given by the museum is that they did not know that they purchased the item in good faith. Further to this, they also argue that as a neutral power in the Second World War, their history is unencumbered by the holocaust.

Neither of these reasons holds much credibility for me though. If the legitimacy of a purchase is merely down to good faith, then surely this leads us down a route where nobody asks awkward questions when making a purchase. Even if the due diligence process was thorough, this should not be an acceptable excuse. although perhaps there is an argument that some compromise could be made – either between the museum and the rightful owners, or potentially the governments of countries that expect their institutions to be able to do the right thing. There is no precedent for the second argument – that Switzerland had no involvement in the situation that led to the looting. Britain was actively fighting against the Nazis during the Second World War, arguably giving it a stronger claim to this than Switzerland, but various institutions have already made restitutions in similar cases and the right to do this is enshrined in law by the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act.

Despite all the above though, what this article skips over, is that the Holocaust is not a special case in this regard. Museums should make far wider examinations of provenance and their justifications for ownership. The Benin Bronzes and the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum are just some of the many other cases currently outside of the legal frameworks that allow for the return of Nazi loot, meaning that the institutions that hold them feel little need to argue a case, as they know that there is no legal way for the items to be deaccessioned from their collections at present.

John Constable’s Dedham From Langham, 1813

John Constable’s Dedham From Langham, 1813

From:
Guardian

Why a Swiss gallery should return its looted Nazi art out of simple decency
Jonathan Jones
Wednesday 27 January 2016

Memory has many colours. A work of art that survives the centuries is an embodiment of history, marked invisibly by all the hands that have held it. Who owned it? Where did it hang? These are not just arcane questions for scholars but the network of human experience that haunts works of art in museums and makes them richly alive.

The hunt for works of art looted by the Nazis matters. Researchers who discover the true owners of a painting stolen in wartime Europe and later acquired innocently or knowingly by a museum or gallery are piecing together shadowy stories of oppression, injustice, murder and destruction. Why did the Nazis loot art from Jewish owners? It was not only greedbut an ideological belief that Jews contributed nothing to European civilisation and did not deserve to share in it.
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January 27, 2016

Time to fight back against terrorists destroying cultural heritage

Posted at 2:12 pm in Similar cases

In the face of increased ISIS attacks against the ancient heritage of the areas that they occupy, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova outlines the three ways that she believes the world must fight back against such acts.

  1. Fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects coming from Iraq and Syria
  2. Reinforce preventive actions
  3. Strengthen international cooperation
The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

From:
World Economic Forum

Terrorists are destroying our cultural heritage. It’s time to fight back
Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO
Monday 18 January 2016

At this very moment, the invaluable legacy of humanity’s common heritage is under attack in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Heritage sites are destroyed and looted to finance terrorism, individuals are persecuted on religious and cultural grounds, cultural diversity is targeted.

The destruction of culture has become an instrument of terror, in a global strategy to undermine societies, propagate intolerance and erase memories. This cultural cleansing is a war crime that is now used as a tactic of war, to tear humanity from the history it shares.
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Switzerland returns looted Etruscan treasure to Italy

Posted at 2:02 pm in Similar cases

Its great to see that Switzerland is finally doing something to clear up the murky world of artefacts smuggled via the Free Port in Geneva.

An Etruscan sarcophagus is among stolen ancient artworks that Switzerland has returned to Italy

An Etruscan sarcophagus is among stolen ancient artworks that Switzerland has returned to Italy

From:
The Local (Switzerland)

Switzerland returns looted Etruscan treasures to Italy
Published: 14 Jan 2016 16:18 GMT+01:00

Switzerland has returned to Italy 45 boxes of ancient Etruscan art stolen during illegal excavations and stashed away for more than 15 years, including two rare sarcophaguses, authorities said on Thursday.

“The antiques were given back to Italian authorities today,” a statement from Geneva’s public prosecutor’s office said.
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Osborne makes crass Parthenon Marbles quip to Varoufakis

Posted at 7:55 am in Elgin Marbles

Those in the UK who are opposed to the return of the Parthenon Sculptures (I think we can make a safe guess that this is the camp that George Osborne sees himself in), never seem to see it as a serious issue. More often than not, any questions about the sculptures are brushed aside with a quick joke – nine times out of ten, referring to someone having lost their marbles.

It might have been vaguely amusing the fist time – but its not like the quip has not been made thousands of times before. Further to this, campaigners have also pointed out such remarks stigmatise mental health issues.

Perhaps the lack of concern for the Parthenon Marbles stems from the fact that knowledge of them amongst many people is in fact fairly limited. They hope that distracting discussions with a joke hides their own ignorance.

UK Chancellor George Osborne

UK Chancellor George Osborne

From:
Independent

Yanis Varoufakis and George Osborne exchange blows over the Elgin Marbles
Jon Stone
Tuesday 19 January 2016

Yanis Varoufakis has hit out at George Osborne after the Chancellor made a joke about a contentious marble sculpture taken from Greece to Britain in the 19th century

During an exchange with shadow chancellor John McDonnell in the House of Commons Mr Osborne referenced the fact that Mr Varoufakis would be speaking at a series of events organised by Labour.

“Today he says he is going to tour the country with former Greek finance minister Mr Varoufakis to educate us all about economics. The one thing they’ve got in common is they’ve both lost their marbles,” the chancellor said.
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January 26, 2016

Could House of Lords push UK to ratify 1954 Hague Convention

Posted at 1:56 pm in Similar cases

As I wrote last time the 1954 Hague Convention came up in the news, I’m not holding my breath on this one. Its been talked about so much, but with very littel sign of actual action.

Recent events in Syria & Iraq have helped focus people’s minds on the issue though, although the looting of Iraq over ten years ago ought to have been enough for Parliament to see the benefits of ratifying the convention.

The House of Lords

The House of Lords

From:
Art Newspaper

Lords put pressure on UK government to sign Hague Convention this year
by Anny Shaw
21 January 2016

Members of the House of Lords and leading cultural heritage experts are again calling on the government to ratify the Hague Convention seven months after it agreed to sign the international agreement. If parliament swiftly ratifies the treaty’s two protocols before any of the other five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the UK will also be in a position to set up a headquarters in London for the Blue Shield, the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross.

During a debate in the House of Lords on 14 January, Baroness Andrews said there was a “growing sense of urgency” to sign the convention following “grotesque failures in Iraq” and “the increasing barbarity in Syria”. She added: “The events of the past six months have, I believe, changed the game.”
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