Quote of the Day

We do not want to empty the shelves of foreign museums. We want Greek antiquities to continue being ambassadors of our country around the world, But the antiquities trade must abide by ethical codes and legal rules.

Giorgos Voulgarakis, Former Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture

September 25, 2005

Leaked documents reveal that Getty knew artefacts were looted

Posted at 4:57 pm in Similar cases

Attorneys for the Getty Museum have determined that half the objects in the museum’s collection were acquired from dealers who are under investigation for looting. This comprehensive article looks back at the history of the Getty’s current troubles & the indicators that point to looted pieces in their collection.

Los Angeles Times

September 25, 2005
Getty had signs it was acquiring possibly looted art, documents show
Museum attorneys say half the masterpieces in its antiquities collection can be traced to suspect dealers. Italy seeks return of 42 items.
By Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, Times Staff Writers

Attorneys for the J. Paul Getty Museum have determined that half the masterpieces in its antiquities collection were purchased from dealers now under investigation for allegedly selling artifacts looted from ruins in Italy.
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September 18, 2005

Jackie Chan & the British Museum

Posted at 6:15 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Internationally renowned star of many action films, Jackie Chan speaks out about the injustice of items kept by the British Museum rather than in their countries of origin.
In an interview with the Malay Mail, the Hong Kong based actor stated “No one can go to another country and steal their national treasures and say that they are temporarily keeping them. They are actually claiming it as their own and this is a despicable act.” He went on to say “After watching my movie, the British Museum might decide to return all the exhibits from China back to its homeland. That would be great.” Both these statements are relating to the story behind his new film The Myth, but this is not the first time that Chan’s films have made references to artefacts from other cultures held in the museums of the west. A couple of examples that instantly spring to mind are Jui Kuen II (In The Legend of the Drunken Master) where there are scenes where The British are trying to steal Chinese artefacts to sell them to the British Museum. Around the World in 80 Days contains a scene where Chan takes a jade Buddha from the British Museum to return it to his village in China.

Malay Mail (Malaysia)

Cover Story: Myth with a message
Chow Ee-Tan
Sept 16:
Hong Kong heavyweight Jackie Chan returns to the screen in ‘the myth’…, pens CHOW EE-TAN.

A JACKIE Chan movie is always entertaining and full of action. But hardly thought-provoking.

Perhaps he’s getting wiser as he gets older – in his latest movie The Myth, Chan has a message he wants the world to hear.
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September 11, 2005

Is the British Museum condoning the Chinese destruction of Tibet?

Posted at 9:06 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

A pair of articles here highlight an interesting aspect of international loans of artefacts by the British Museum. The British Museum has just arranged a groundbreaking deal with China to exchange artefacts between the two countries for temporary exhibitions. The question this raise though, is whether this agreement entered into by the British Museum is in some ways condoning China’s ongoing destruction of artefacts in Tibet. While the arrangement of cultural exchanges by the British Museum if in theory an admirable approach to introduce its collections to a wider audience, should it be arranging such exchanges with a country that has a record of continuing to destroy its own culture?

The Guardian

London and Beijing to exchange archaeological treasures
John Ezard
Tuesday September 6, 2005
The Guardian

London and Beijing capped their status as Olympic cities yesterday by announcing an unprecedented exchange by loan of archaeological treasures over the next five years.

This could lead to one or more of China’s world-famous terracotta warriors going on show at the British Museum and to Chinese crowds having their first chance to see Egyptian mummies and cuneiform tablets from London.

The directors of the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum, who are in China with Tony Blair, unveiled the exchange deals after two years of secret preparations.
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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?

Scotland on Sunday

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

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.

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.

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.

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?

The Boston Globe

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.

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).

The East African

UK to lend stolen artefacts to EA for six months
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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