Quote of the Day

The request for the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles is not made by the Greek government in the name of the Greek nation or of Greek history. It is made in the name of the cultural heritage of the world and with the voice of the mutilated monument itself, that cries out for its marbles to be returned.

Evangelos Venizelos, Former Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture

June 15, 2005

China continues campaign to buy back looted artefacts

Posted at 10:21 pm in Similar cases

Zhang Yongnian continues his project to buy many of the artefacts looted from China between 1840 & 1949. As I have previously indicated, this method of retrieving the artefacts is one that few western museums would consider ethically acceptable even if they did have the money available to carry out such a plan.

From:
China Daily

Reclaiming cultural relics from overseas
China Daily Updated: 2005-06-14 06:02

Cultural relic experts and NGOs have set the wheels in motion to begin reclaiming China’s national treasures from abroad, said an article in Beijing Review. The following are excerpts from the article:

On April 11, the China Cultural Relics Recovery Programme, funded by the China Foundation for the Development of Folklore Culture announced a large-scale programme to reclaim Chinese cultural relics scattered around the world.
Read the rest of this entry »

Pressure to allow deaccessioning grows

Posted at 10:14 pm in British Museum

Following the Feldmann case that highlights the poorly thought out nature of the anti-deaccessioning clauses in the British Museum Act, a report by the Museums Association highlights the same issue, but for entirely different reasons.
Museums collections are getting larger & larger with every new acquisition that they make & the amount of the collection that is never seen by the public also grows.
With museums that are funded by public money, is it acceptable for so much of their collections to be inaccessible the people who are paying for it? Should people be questioning the money spent on new acquisitions, while they only have the space to display a small percentage of what they already own?

From:
The Times

June 14, 2005
Let your treasures see the light of day, museums told
By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

TOO many museum collections are stashed away in storerooms, according to a damning report published yesterday.

Museums are failing to realise the full potential of their collections and must ensure that they really are for everyone, a study by the Museums Association concluded. Jane Glaister, chair of the report’s steering committee, said: “If an object sits in a store for ten years, without anyone looking at it, and if it is not published or made available on the internet, can that museum be realising its responsibilities towards the object and towards the public?”
Read the rest of this entry »

June 11, 2005

Ethiopia, repatriation & cultural memory

Posted at 2:43 pm in Similar cases

Following the request by Ethiopia for the return of many of their cultural treasures, now held in European museums and Institutions, Richard Pankhurst has written an article refuting some of the anti-restitution arguments put forward by the west.
Whils I have always argued that every restitution case is different, many of the concepts he describes are universal & apply just as much to the Elgin Marbles as they do to Ethiopian Manuscripts.

From:
Addis Tribune (Addis Ababa, Ethipoia)

Some Thoughts on Repatriation and Cultural Memory
By Richard Pankhurst

People who live differently, as we know, think differently.

Thieves and robbers think differently from the people from whom they have stolen and robbed.

And more relevant to today’s Reflections:

Those whose countries have inherited loot from other countries tend to be complacent, and to think differently from those whose ancestors were plundered.
Read the rest of this entry »

Vijay Mallya & the re-acquisition of Indian artefacts

Posted at 2:18 pm in Similar cases

The Times of India has been following the actions of the wealthy Vijay Mallya as he tries to acquire treasures that once belonged to Tipu Sultan, but were taken from India by the British.
The articles are interesting, not just in the parallels that they draw to Elgin Marbles, but also in the almost identical arguments used against the return of artefacts to India.
The three articles fit into the categories of Θέση, Αντίθεση, Σύνθεση (the argument, the counter argument & the sum of the arguments – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – a phrase used by Nikos Kazantzakis in the book Αγγλία where he describes his visit to the British Museum)
In many ways though the cases are completely different; Vijay Mallya is an individual repurchasing items that left the country but have been made available at auction. There is dispute over the legality of how the articles left India originally & who they should belong to (as described in the first article). However, there was an opportunity for the artefacts to be re-acquired by India when they were auctioned on the open market – something that has never been a possibility with the Elgin Marbles.

From:
Times of India

Tipu is the Sultan of Sotheby’s
IANS[ THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2005 08:10:49 PM ]
LONDON: Sixty-four artefacts belonging Tipu Sultan fetched ₤ 1.23 million after some hectic bidding at a controversial Sotheby’s auction.

The chief attraction, a gold-inlaid sporting gun belonging to 18th century Indian ruler and decorated with his signature, the roaring tiger, was sold for ₤ 100,000 to an anonymous telephone bidder.
Read the rest of this entry »

The Elgin Marbles & the 2012 Olympic bid

Posted at 11:16 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

There was an interesting letter in The Times yesterday about the return of the Elgin Marbles. The writer is suggesting that Britain’s bid for the 2012 Olympics would be the ideal time for Britain to return one part of Greek culture at the same time as they are hoping to represent another part of Greek culture.

From:
The Times (London)

June 10, 2005
Olympian ideal
From the Reverend Dr Nicholas W. S. Cranfield

Sir, If London is determined to stage the Olympic Games in 2012, it might now behove Her Majesty’s Government to make a suitable propitiatory sacrifice to the gods.

To return the Elgin Marbles at this juncture would be a gesture of generosity consonant with the ancient Greek understanding of hospitality.
Read the rest of this entry »

June 10, 2005

Acropolis restoration needs another €70M

Posted at 1:07 pm in Acropolis

The current restoration of the Acropolis has now been underway for 30 years, but there is still a huge amount left to complete. The fact remains though, that although €70M is a large amount, it is no more than is spent on the construction of many luxury hotels nowadays for instance, yet the Hellenic government is very reluctant to give the project the funding that it requires. Yet the importance of the project can not be under estimated; not only is it one of the largest scale, most technically complex & most technologically advanced restoration projects anywhere in the world, but the Acropolis itself is the symbol that everyone identifies with Greece.
Tourists complain about the scaffolding, but it is far less obtrusive than the scaffolding in the interior of Aya Sofia for instance. Perhaps in their photos, the building will not look as pristine as they wanted to imagine it, but without the restoration it would not be there at all.

From:
The Guardian

Repair of Acropolis started in 1975 – now it needs 20 more years and £47m
Helena Smith in Athens
Friday June 10, 2005
The Guardian

It is meant to be the highlight of any trip to Greece: climbing the “holy rock” in Athens to see the marvels of the ancient Acropolis. But visiting the place that Le Corbusier, the pioneer of architectural modernism, called the most “ruthlessly flawless” monument in the world is not what it used to be.

Parts of the Acropolis have been dismantled. Other areas are shrouded in scaffolding and overshadowed by a crane.
Read the rest of this entry »

June 9, 2005

New laws needed to deal with looted art

Posted at 1:04 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

An analysis of the Feldmann case in Forward looks not only at the case involving the British Museum Act, but also at the wider context of looted art from that period, how different countries laws deal with the problem & highlights again the inaction of the British Government since acknowledging that the law needed revising in 2000.
Interestingly at the end, the British Museum denies that the Feldmann case could have any connection to that of the Elgin Marbles, but for a completely different reason to those that I outlined here.

From:
Forward

British Museum in Moral Quandary Over Stolen Art
By NATHANIEL POPPER
June 10, 2005

The British Museum wants to return a set of drawings stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis — but in this case, doing the “moral” thing is against the law.

At stake are four old master drawings that were taken in 1939 from the Feldmanns, a Czech family, and sold to the British Museum after the war for nine guineas. The museum has stated its “moral obligation” to return the drawings, but last week a judge in London ruled that the British Museum Act of 1963 does not permit the museum to part with most objects in its collections, including the Feldmann drawings.
Read the rest of this entry »

June 4, 2005

Peter Hitchens supports the return of the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 11:47 am in Elgin Marbles

In 1997, Christopher Hitchens wrote “The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned to Greece? “, a very well reasoned & persuasive account of why he felt that the Parthenon Marbles should be returned.
Christopher Hitchens has a less internationally known brother Peter Hitchens who agrees on very little with his brother. Reading their articles, it has always appeared that there is little common ground between the two of them.
At the Hay on Wye Literary festival last week though, during a joint interview session it transpired that one of the few subjects on which they do both agree is that the British have little right to keep the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.

From:
The Guardian

[…]
Ian Katz (Guardian features editor): I want to ask you about a quote that has cropped up in the pages of various magazines in the conversations that you two have had around the world. [To Peter] you said to the Guardian, ‘being Peter Hitchens is about not being Christopher Hitchens, which is true to some extent, as Canada is about not being the United States. But it doesn’t mean I spend my whole time thinking: Christopher thinks this, how can I differentiate myself from him?’ Does that mean you spend some of your time thinking about it?
Read the rest of this entry »

June 3, 2005

What does the Feldmann case verdict mean for the Elgin Marbles

Posted at 8:15 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

A lot of the articles appearing in the press in the last week about the Feldmann case & the subsequent verdict have made a connection between this case & that of the Elgin Marbles. Both cases after all involve artefacts in the British Museum that people are campaigning to be returned. In reality though, how relevant is the Feldmann case & the subsequent verdict?

Points arising from the Feldmann case

On Saturday, the story was in the following papers:
Guardian, BBC News, The Scotsman, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times
Syndicated versions of the article from Bloomberg, AFP, AP & Reuters appeared in many US, Canadian & Australian Papers.
Copies of all these versions appear in the previous posts about the case during the last 2 weeks.

In total the story has been on over 25 different news sources in one form or another.

From reading through the articles there are a number of relevant points that I have noticed & summarised below. Some of the background details come from earlier articles from 2002 onwards. Anyway, there are some quite interesting points that we can get from this case & the media’s reaction to it.

Details of the case:
The case is HC04CO3885 : Her Majesty’s Attorney General v The Trustees of the British Museum.

Background:
The case was the first claim against a British collection demanding the return of artworks looted by the Nazis (there was a previous case against the Tate, but the owner’s descendents were seeking financial compensation rather than restitution.)
Read the rest of this entry »

Artefacts from German Museums now in Russia

Posted at 8:11 am in Similar cases

After the Second World War Russia had accumulated a lot of artefacts that were previously in German Museums. Germany has requested them back for a long time, now Russia is further antagonising Germany by putting many of these items together in an exhibition. One does wonder though how legitimate all the original acquisitions of “valuable pieces of Greek, Italian, Cypriot and Etruscan art” by German Museums were.

From:
The Moscow Times

Spoils of War
An exhibition of ancient artworks – once kept in Berlin museums, then seized by Soviet forces in 1945 – has revived an old dispute between Russia and Germany.
By Anna Malpas
Published: May 27, 2005

The statues and frescoes survived thousands of years, only to be smashed and burned in the aftermath of World War II. Now a collection of antiquities taken from Berlin by Red Army troops in 1945 has been restored and put on display in Moscow, opening up old wounds on both sides.
Read the rest of this entry »

The Looting of Iraq & what we should be doing

Posted at 8:10 am in Similar cases

The British Museum is putting pressure on the British Government to do more about the looting of the museums & archaeological sites of Iraq. Whilst this an admirable cause & has recieved less media attention since the initial looting after the fall of Baghdad, is it really that different from what the British were doing in many places in the last couple of centuries (with the results of this looting on display in the British Museum.)
I am certain that in response to this argument Neil MacGregor would argue that we have moved on from that phase. This is completely true, as we now have a greater awareness of these issues. However, the British People have moved on, but the British Museum does not. Neil MacGregor often speaks of the “Universal Museum” a concept of the age of enlightenment out of which the British Museum was born. On reflection though is it not also the right time to move on from this dated concept of the universal museum, to let it evolve into a new type of universal museum, one that is relevant to today’s values, understandings & the paradigms under which today’s society operates?

From:
The Art Newspaper

The UK government must act now
The director of the British Museum reflects on the looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, and what now needs to be done
By Neil MacGregor
Director, The British Museum

Another day, another report of death in Iraq. Or probably, several. As I write this review, the German press has announced that Fuad Ibrahim Mohammed, head of Baghdad University’s Institute of German Studies, who for the last two years has been working to re-build its library, destroyed by artillery when American troops entered Baghdad, has been murdered by unknown killers on his way to work. It happens all the time. It is hardly even news. The human cost of rebuilding Iraq’s cultural patrimony is, and will be, immense and is shamefully under-reported in the outside world. This is the context in which readers of The Art Newspaper must address The looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, which tells once again the familiar events and gives some idea of what will one day need to be done as a consequence.
Read the rest of this entry »

June 1, 2005

Further media coverage of the Feldmann case verdict

Posted at 12:26 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Following the judgement at the end of last week, there has been extensive media coverage of this case both in the British & International press.
I’ll post a summary / analysis of this shortly.

From:
The Guardian

3.45pm
Ruling tightens grip on Parthenon marbles
Press Association
Friday May 27, 2005

The British Museum is barred by law from handing back four Old Master drawings looted by the Nazis, the high court decided today, in a ruling that may obstruct Greek efforts to reclaim the Parthenon marbles.

The vice chancellor, Sir Andrew Morritt, ruled that the British Museum Act – which protects the collections for posterity – cannot be overridden by a “moral obligation” to return works known to have been plundered.
Read the rest of this entry »