Two recent auctions of disputed cultural property have drawn media attention to items that few people knew about previously. In both cases though, an added dimension has been created by attempts by the selling party to agree some sort of conditions under which they might be able to solve the dispute. This could be seen as an implicit acknowledgement that the restitution claims carry a level of validity, but in each case it has been used as a means to try & push a political agenda.
Standing back from the cases & temporarily setting aside the way in which the artefacts were acquired, it comes across as artefacts being taken, but then they can be returned to the original owners if they meet certain conditions. One has to ask, whether it is right for these selling parties to try & grab some small chunk of moral high ground (that they are prepared to negotiate – return the artefacts) where in reality they are holding the pieces to ransom as a means of trying to resolve other entirely unrelated issues. Whether or not the issues need to be resolved should not be the question & the setting of arduous preconditions to negotiations is merely a means of avoiding discussions that the sellers were never really interested in in the first place. The British Museum has in the past tried to attach similar preconditions to entering negotiations on the Elgin Marbles – as a barrier to prevent any sort of negotiations taking place.
Chinese bronzes, Gandhi’s glasses in art tussle
updated 8:47 p.m. ET March 8, 2009
Art auctions becoming battlegrounds over rights to world’s culture
LONDON – A bronze rabbit’s head was the first to go under the hammer, then came Mohandas Gandhi’s glasses and sandals.
Auctions are becoming a new battleground for art dealers, activists and aggrieved countries dueling for plundered antiquities and lost pieces of heritage.
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