Quote of the Day

For us, even a gram from the Parthenon equals thousands of years of world history.

Giorgos Voulgarakis, Former Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture

September 11, 2005

Scottish museum to open archives to public

Posted at 8:53 pm in British Museum

Scotland’s National Museum is opening its archives to allow the public a greater level of access to them than ever before. This is a very positive move, which puts this institution many steps ahead of the British Museum. If a museum is publicly funded (as most in Britain are) then surely all of their collection should be visible to the public?

From:
Scotland on Sunday

Museum to open Aladdin’s cave of treasures to the public in £4.6m project
WILLIAM LYONS
ARTS CORRESPONDENT

THE National Museum of Scotland is preparing to permanently throw open its doors to let the public discover its unseen collection.

Regarded by historians and scholars as one of the finest in the world, the collection is presently housed in a series of warehouses on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It contains more than three million objects and specimens from across the globe which, because of a lack of space, cannot be displayed in the museum.
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September 7, 2005

The British Government & the 1954 Hague convention

Posted at 10:09 pm in British Museum

After many years of refusing the sign up to the treaty, the British Government finally decided last year to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention. This is an act, that is designed to protect valuable artefacts during wars & is in many ways a precursor to the later UNESCO conventions dealing with cultural property & its destruction / trafficking within a much wider scope.
If only we took as much care in preserving other countries culture in-situ, as we are in protecting our own.

From:
The Guardian

In case of war: nominations sought for list of cultural treasures to be saved at all costs
Owen Bowcott
Wednesday September 7, 2005
The Guardian

Ever considered saving for the day after Armageddon? That opportunity has now arrived. To preserve the nation’s heritage in the event of war, the government yesterday launched a consultation process.

Nominations for the country’s most valuable cultural treasures are being sought so they can be protected by a blue shield emblem – theoretically powerful enough to ward off marauding enemies.
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The scale of the illegal antiquities trade

Posted at 8:48 pm in Similar cases

UNESCO has revealed that trafficking cultural property illegally is second only to international drug trafficking in terms of the amounts of money involved. Unfortunately, Britain is still one of the major international centres for this trade.

From:
Navahind Times (India)

Wednesday, September 7, 2005
Trafficking in art objects next only to narcotics trade: UNESCO

UNI New Delhi Sept 6: Terming trafficking in cultural property a “seamless trade” and pegging its value at US $6 billion annually, a high-profile United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation meet here today revealed that it was next only to narcotics trade worth $7 billion.“Trafficking in cultural property has assumed the dimensions of a seamless trade as drug cartels peddle art objects for ploughing the huge monetary gains in their narcotics trade and also for arms dealings,” Dr A Galla, vice-president of World Council of Museums, told the UNESCO’s workshop for the Asia-Pacific region on ‘illicit trafficking of cultural property’.

Dr Galla said the nefarious trade in art objects had transcended the national and regional boundaries to emerge as an international phenomenon, and could be effectively curbed only through collaborative international ventures.
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September 6, 2005

The benefits of surrendering artefacts

Posted at 8:32 pm in Similar cases

Amongst so many stories about looting of ancient sites that one hears about, it is heartening to read one written from the opposite perspective. In this article, the professor who discovered an ancient coin on a site in Turkey, describes how for him it was a pleasure to be able to had it over to the local museum, enhancing its collection.

From:
Ascribe – The public interest newswire

Tue Sep 6 08:56:53 2005 Pacific Time
Art Professor Finds ‘Priceless’ Artifact in Turkey
RICHMOND, Ind., Sept. 6 (AScribe Newswire) — It turns out the 500-year-old Ottoman Empire coin that Earlham College art history professor Julia May found during her May term course in Turkey this year isn’t worth very much. Even when it was minted during the reign of Emperor Beyazid II (1481-1512), the small copper disk was roughly the equivalent of its modern day U.S. counterpart: a penny. But to May, the experience of finding the coin was priceless.

“It’s definitely one of the highlights of my career as an art historian,” says May, who discovered the coin during a visit to the ancient Roman ruins of Pergamum (or Pergamon), near the current Turkish city of Bergama. Perched on a hillside, the site is best known for its dramatically pitched outdoor theater constructed in the 3rd century B.C.E. with seating for up to 10,000 people.
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September 5, 2005

Enlightened museums?

Posted at 10:59 pm in British Museum

Amid extensive publicity, that has been building up in recent months, the British Museum’s latest exhibition Forgotten empire: The World of Ancient Persia will open next week.
The exhibition raises a number of interesting points about the operation of the museum & the creation of major exhibitions. Firstly, in exchange for the many artefacts that Iran is lending to the British Museum, the museum is lending the Cyrus Cylinder (possibly the earliest declaration of human rights) to Iran’s National Museum. A loan that conveniently skims over what the Cylinder is doing here in the first place.
Next, there is always the issue with temporary exhibitions of organisation & co-operation. For many people, these exhibitions are what keep them returning to the British Museum – to see something that they have not already seen. Not only this, but they are the one part of the museum that charges, so are potentially a major source of revenue for the museum. Read the rest of this entry »

September 4, 2005

The Soviet return of looted artworks from Dresden

Posted at 5:48 pm in Similar cases

This week is the fiftieth anniversary of the return of many artworks to Dresden by the Soviet Union. These pieces had all been looted in the final stages of the war, but 10 years later, Nikita Khrushchev saw potential political benefits in the act of returning these works.
I would not go far as this article does though in describing the act as a “generous gesture”, bearing in mind that they had stolen these pieces that they were returning only a decade earlier.

Anniversary of the return of masterpieces to Dresden Gallery
02/ 09/ 2005

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Anatoly Korolyov.) –Fifty years ago this week the Soviet Union returned the paintings the Red Army had taken as trophies after the victory over Nazi Germany to the Dresden Gallery.

In that distant year of 1955 no one could force the Soviet Union to do anything against its will.
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August 29, 2005

How safe is the universal museum?

Posted at 9:26 am in British Museum

The argument is often put forward that artefacts are safer in the British Museum than they would be in their countries of origin. This article looks at it from a different perspective though, where the larger a museum is, the more appeal it might have to terrorists as a relatively easy target – destroying parts of a culture. So are smaller regional museums or those for specific collections safer than the universal museum in today’s world?

From:
The Boston Globe

MICHAEL O’HARE
Are museums safe from terrorism?
By Michael O’Hare | August 27, 2005
THE MUSEUM of Fine Arts is planning a $100 million expansion. Exciting, but all in all, maybe not such a good idea to further concentrate cultural treasures in one place.

Disagreeable as it is, let’s try to think like a terrorist, especially an Islamic terrorist, flying over Boston in a stolen corporate jet with a load of fuel, who wants to deliver it where it will create the most damage to the evil society below it.
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August 25, 2005

British government places export ban on coin

Posted at 12:42 pm in Similar cases

The main point of interest in this story is the language used in the official explanation given for the export ban on the coin: […]The committee ruled the coin was so closely connected to England’s history and national life that losing it would be a misfortune, that it was of outstanding aesthetic importance[…] Surely points that could also be applied equally or more to the Elgin Marbles. It seems that when it is about our own heritage though the situation is different obviously.

From:
Bedford Today

Export ban on £230,000 coin
10 August 2005

A gold coin found in Biggleswade and sold for a record price has had a temporary export ban placed on it.
Culture Minister David Lammy has placed the ban on taking the coin out of the country following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art.
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August 24, 2005

British Museum to lend disputed artefacts to African nations

Posted at 12:31 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

There are Many African items in the British Museum’s collection over which the ownership is disputed. A few of these artefacts are now being lent to a temporary exhibition that is going on display in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda, giving a chance for these the people of these countries to see their own Heritage (albeit only for a short period of time).

From:
The East African

UK to lend stolen artefacts to EA for six months
BY JOHN KARIUKI
The EastAfrican

The British National Museum has agreed to return on a six-month loan hundreds of artefacts taken away from the three East African countries during the colonial period.

The collection of historical and cultural material will be used for an exhibition based on the history of East Africa which will be held in April next year at the old Nairobi PC’s office.
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August 21, 2005

Italy protects heritage from terrorism

Posted at 5:32 pm in British Museum

The argument is often put forward by the museums of the west, that they are keeping artefacts safer than they would have been in their original locations. Italy’s moves to guard against terror attacks in their monuments or museums make you wonder how much safer the artefacts really are over here after all. Although institutions such as the British Museum ask people to leave large bags in the cloakroom, there is no control over who is wandering in & out of the building & what they are bringing in with them.

From:
The Guardian

Italy moves to protect its heritage from terror
Colosseum to be cordoned off as threat of attack forces authorities to increase security around monuments and galleries
Barbara McMahon in Rome
Saturday August 20, 2005
The Guardian

The Colosseum in Rome is to be cordoned off to the public behind metal barriers as Italy moves to protect its cultural heritage from the threat of terrorism.

Heightened security at the 2,000-year-old amphitheatre is among a number of preventive measures being implemented across the country after last month’s terror attacks in London.
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The museum & the empire

Posted at 12:46 pm in British Museum

Many of the greatest ethnographic collections in museums in Europe were created as a consequence of the empire building by various countries at that time. In many ways, the British Museum & the Louvre could be seen as archetypal examples of this trend.
Collectors traveled through countries such as Egypt & India taking whatever artefacts they could fins back with them. A new book by Maya Jasanoff looks at how the way in which these collectors operated could often be seen as a metaphor for the formation of the empire itself.

From:
The Guardian

The collectors
Maya Jasanoff has discovered an entirely new dimension to our understanding of Britain’s imperial expansion in her study of European collectors, Edge of Empire, says Richard Gott
Saturday August 20, 2005
The Guardian

Edge of Empire: Conquest and Collecting on the Eastern Frontiers of the British Empire, 1750-1850
by Maya Jasanoff
416pp, Fourth Estate, £25

Each generation concerned with the history of the British empire seeks to reassess it according to the demands of changing attitudes and circumstances. Today’s emphasis on otherness and fusion, on border-crossing and multiculturalism, has favoured a revisionist and more benign recollection of the past, particularly noticeable in studies of 18th-century India. The stark vision in the historical kaleidoscope of imperial red banners confronted in battle by the green flags of Islam has given way to a more nuanced shade of grey.
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August 15, 2005

Preventing the trade in looted artefacts

Posted at 9:13 am in Similar cases

The trial of Marion True has brought the acquisitions by museums under public scrutiny. What we really need though, is a more organised way of tracing which artworks are of dubious provenance before they are acquired, so that they don’t even enter museums in the first place. High profile prosecutions against individual institutions might create attention, but they are of limited use at actually solving the problem.

From:
The New Statesman

To catch a thief
Monday 15th August 2005
Observations on art treasures by Phil Chamberlain

When it comes to the search for ancient antiquities, forget Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. Think instead about the Italian tombaroli. These poor labourers earn pennies raiding tombs for relics that are eventually sold overseas to museums and private collectors for thousands of pounds. Almost every country with ancient artefacts has its own tombaroli, stripping sites of treasure to feed a ready market in the west.
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