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

May 26, 2005

Seminar on War & Cultural Heritage

Posted at 9:25 pm in Similar cases

The Institute of Art & Law has organised a number of seminars on cultural property in the past & this sounds like it will be a particularly interesting one, focussing on what is currently a very relevant subject. Of particular note is the fact that one of the speakers is from the British Museum. Unfortunately due to it being mid afternoon on a weekday I will be unable to attend.

Institute of Art & Law

Forthcoming Seminars
War and Cultural Heritage

A Seminar to be held in association with the international law firm, Clyde & Co

Monday 6th June 2005, 3pm

In April 2003 the world was shocked to see the scenes of the looting of the Iraq National Museum. In fact, over the past decade the world has witnessed many scenes of cultural vandalism – the destruction of the Neretva Bridge of Mostar and the destruction of the Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan being just two such examples. As a result, the ability of international law to protect cultural heritage in times of armed conflict has assumed even greater importance.
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Iran requests return of artefacts from Chicago Oriental Institute

Posted at 9:02 pm in Similar cases

Part of Iran’s ongoing attempts to recover items from their country that are held in foreign museums. This case is particularly disturbing, in that Iran lent the artefacts for 3 years to be studied in 1963, but they have still not been returned by the institute.

Mehr News

Iran seeks return of artifacts from Chicago’s Oriental Institute

TEHRAN, May 25 (MNA) — Iran has renewed efforts to recover historical artifacts which were discovered in the Choghamish region of Khuzestan in 1963 and entrusted to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago but never returned to the country.
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Australia to return artefacts to British Museum

Posted at 8:53 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The case of the aboriginal bark etchings, has been going on for the last year. They were on loan in Australia from the British Museum, but prevented from being returned by the aboriginals. It seems now though that the state of Victoria has ruled that they should be returned to the British Museum.
In many ways this is a sad decision for the aboriginal tribes involved. However on the other hand the way that they went about achieving their goals by trying to retain the items while they were on loan could only have served to make the British Museum far more wary of loaning items in the future had they succeeded.

ABC (Australia)

Thursday, 26 May 2005, 06:46:15 AEST
Artefacts decision ‘costs Indigenous people’

Victoria’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Gavin Jennings, has refused to prevent three Indigenous artefacts being returned to institutions in Britain.

The items were on temporary loan from the British Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens in London.
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May 25, 2005

Atorney General would have final say in restitution cases

Posted at 12:49 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

This article from Reuters about the Feldman case adds an interesting point to the statements from the Attorney General’s Office. At the end it adds: “But final permission for any works to leave the country would always lie with the Attorney General”. This alters the situation somewhat from what was suggested in the other articles, as it means that although the legal framework might be there to allow a return without an act of parliament, it would still always be the government that would make the final decision.


Nazi case may open door for Elgin Marbles’ return
Wed May 25, 2005 11:12 AM BST

LONDON (Reuters) – A British court case over art looted by the Nazis could pave the way for Britain to return Greece’s Elgin Marbles, whose ownership the two countries have long disputed.
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May 24, 2005

More on the Feldmann case

Posted at 10:20 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Three more sources are covering the story now – interesting if for no other reason than having that number of papers documenting a relatively obscure legal judgement.

The Times

May 25, 2005
Elgin Marbles cast dark shadow over looted art
By Sean O’Neill
MINISTERS could stop the British Museum returning artworks looted by the Nazis to a Jewish family because of fears that they might pave the way for Greece to make a legally binding claim on the Elgin Marbles.

Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, asked the High Court to clarify whether the museum could exercise a “moral obligation” to return improperly obtained property.

The specific case at issue is a claim by the heirs of Dr Arthur Feldmann for the return of four Old Master drawings taken from the Czech lawyer’s home in Brno by the Gestapo in 1939.
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Moral obligations of British Museum could overrule the British Museum Act

Posted at 8:00 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

One of the arguments used by the British Museum for why they can’t return the Elgin Marbles to Greece is the British Museum Act 1963. This is the act of parliament that defines many aspects of the way the British Museum operates. It defines things such as how the Museum’s trustees are appointed. It also sets out the rules on how the Museum can remove objects from its collection (or in most cases, how it can not). The act states that the only way that items can be removed from the British Museum’s collection is if they are either duplicates of other items in the collection, or are deemed worthless as a result of damage or similar. Originally this served the purpose of safeguarding the collections within the museum & stopping them from getting broken up. These safeguards are not unique to the British Museum, but are a relatively common feature in the charter of museums to prevent deaccessioning (the term used to describe the removal of items from a museum or libraries collection).
The British Museum regularly uses this Act as part of their reasoning that they can not return the Parthenon Marbles, suggesting that the act means that they can not be removed from the collection without a change of the act, & that a change of the act would be a decision made by the government. This conveniently means that they can divert questions about the return of the marbles to being the responsibility of the government. (lets not forget though then when it suits them it is possible to bend / ignore the British Museum Act – the deaccessioning of some of the Benin Bronzes, as exposed by the Art Newspaper, was either a strange interpretation of the act, or a case of total incompetence by the museum in understanding the contents of its own collections). The reality is that any decision would probably have to be agreed by both the Museum & The Government).
All this could change however, as a court case underway at the moment could rule that the moral obligations of the museum in cases of restitution can over rule the anti-deaccessioning provisions of the British Museum Act. The Attorney General has acknowledged that the outcome of this case could have implication for other cultural property cases, specifically mentioning the Elgin Marbles as an example. It will be very interesting to see the conclusions of this case.

The Scotsman

Tue 24 May 2005 4:23pm (UK)
Court Battle Could Decide Fate of Elgin Marbles
By Stephen Howard, PA

A court battle over Old Masters drawings looted by the Nazis could decide the fate of the Elgin Marbles.

Senior High Court judge Sir Andrew Morritt was today asked to rule whether the “moral obligation” of the British Museum to the true owners of looted works of art overrides laws forbidding the break-up of its collections.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, has asked the court for clarification of the law because he says there are “strong arguments” that the moral merit of a claim cannot override an Act of Parliament which bars the museum from disposing of its collections.
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Over 8000 treasures looted from Iraq Museum still untraced

Posted at 1:08 pm in Similar cases

Despite the huge public outcry around the world about the looting of Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad, most of the items taken are still missing. Over the next few years, a lot of those that were not destroyed will probably turn up in the hands of unscrupulous private directors, but the museum itself is unlikely to recover most of those that are still missing.

The Independent

At least 8,000 treasures looted from Iraq museum still untraced
By Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent
24 May 2005

Evidence of how quickly and irretrievably a country can be stripped of its cultural heritage came with the Iraq war in 2003.

The latest figures, presented to the art crime conference yesterday by John Curtis of the British Museum, suggested that half of the 40 iconic items from the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad still had not been retrieved. And of at least 15,000 items looted from its storerooms, about 8,000 have yet to be traced.
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Britain is still a key player in the trade in looted artwork

Posted at 1:01 pm in Similar cases

The trade in looted cultural property continues today, although nowadays more of it goes on between Private dealers & collectors, unlike in the past, when large museums were happy to acquire many items of unknown provenance on a regular basis. Despite plans by the government to cut down on the amount of looted artwork being trafficked through Britain. The Cultural Objects Offences Act of 2003 put in place the legal framework to do something to prevent this, but from this article it appears that there also needs to b more action, to actually prosecute those involved. The claim in the article that “Most antiquities on the market nowadays are either stolen or forgeries.” really does put the level of the problem in perspective.

The Independent

Art market scandal: British Museum expert highlights growing problem of fake antiquities
By Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent
24 May 2005

Most of the antiquities on sale in Britain are either stolen or fakes, a leading museum scientist has told a national conference on art crime.

Paul Craddock, a scientist at the British Museum whose work involves checking the authenticity of artefacts, said international legislation had so far “proved toothless” at fighting the burgeoning problem.
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The British Museum & restitution claims

Posted at 12:52 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Kenya is organising an exhibition of artefacts from Kenya & neighbouring countries. The British Museum is lending them a large number of items temporarily to display in the exhibition, which they seem to feel is a very positive move – in many ways it is, as it shows greater co-operation with other museums. On the other hand it raises again the question of why these countries should have to go pleading to the British Museum for the loan of objects whenever they want an exhibition in their own country. The British Museum thinks that this is the best way of doing things (well they would wouldn’t they) but it seems to me tat however much the British Museum co=operates in this way, the other institutions abroad are still at the mercy of the British Museum for the eventual decision for what artefacts they will have or not.
Neil MacGregor (director of the British Museum) hopes that by sharing artefacts, the disputes about ownership will be less acute. “What is the real question: ownership or use of objects?” he asks. The fact is though, that the British Museum, as the owner & user of the objects will always have the upper hand in these situations.
The situation is getting more positive in a lot of cases, but other points in the article just highlight the problems with the attitude of the British Museum.

Financial Times

British Museum blazes a trail to the exhibition rooms of Africa
By Frederick Studemann
Published: May 24 2005 03:00 | Last updated: May 24 2005 03:00

When Kiprop Lagat, a senior curator at the National Museum of Kenya, was seeking artefacts for an exhibition exploring the relationship between his country and its immediate neighbours, his search took him thousands of kilometres away from east Africa to central London.

There, in the ordered neoclassical confines of the British Museum, he spent a year searching through the 12,000 objects in its Africa collection.
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May 22, 2005

A scaffolding free Acropolis?

Posted at 10:56 am in Acropolis

For as long as I have been visiting Athens, the Parthenon & many other parts of the Acropolis have been covered in scaffolding as part of the extensive restoration works. Greece has appealed for private funds to accelerate the restorations, although in some ways it is not as simple as this, as there is a limit to how many people can work on the site & is generally impossible to use any sort of heavy machinery there.
Anyway, the Parthenon could be free of scaffolding as early as 2006, based on the EU funding that they were guaranteed for the project last week.

Yahoo news

Acropolis to be free of scaffolding by 2006, restoration experts say
Tue May 17,11:52 AM ET
ATHENS (AFP) – Ongoing restoration work on the Acropolis will be completed on schedule, and all scaffolding currently encumbering the ancient citadel will be removed by 2006, Greek archaeologists supervising the project have said.

“The Acropolis works…are proceeding rapidly,” Acropolis Restoration Service (YSMA) director Maria Ioannidou told an annual conference on the project’s progress Monday.
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May 21, 2005

Follow up to Sunday Telegraph article

Posted at 6:14 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Following the article in last Sunday’s Telegraph about the previously unpublicised instances of damage to the marbles in the post war period, the British Museum has released what they say is the complete list.

British Museum website

Parthenon Sculptures: Record of incidents following their re-exhibit ion after the Second Wor ld War 1949- present

This list brings right up to date the record set out in I.D. Jenkins, Cleaning and Controversy: The Parthenon Sculptures 1811-1939 (British Museum Occasional Paper no. 146, London 2001) by listing all incidents since their re-display in September 1949.

South Metope XXVI.
Two schoolboys scuffling; one fell and knocked off part of a Centaur’s hind-leg.
Leg came away at an old break and was replaced (it was not possible to replace two small chips
of marble at the back of the leg).
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Banksy & the British Museum

Posted at 11:29 am in British Museum

Banksy, the legendary British graffiti artist / art prankster has targeted the British Museum with his latest hoax. Following on from fake exhibits in the Natural History Museum & in the Tate Modern, he has placed a cave painting of a man with a shopping trolley in one of the galleries at the British Museum. From pictures it did look similar in appearance to the surrounding artefacts, so I can understand how people might not have spotted it. It was up for two days in the museum before anyone spotted it (& this only appeared to happen after Banksy had mentioned it on his own website.

BBC News

Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Cave art hoax hits British Museum
Fake prehistoric rock art of a caveman with a shopping trolley has been hung on the walls of the British Museum.

The rock was put there by art prankster Banksy, who has previously put works in galleries in London and New York.
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