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Stolen artefacts to travel from one Universal Museum to another

The Universal Museum concept [1] has not been without its critics [2]. Now it seems that (where large sums of money are involved), artefacts can move from one such institution to another, but the possibility of returning them to their original owners is an entirely different issue that should never be considered.

Modern Ghana [3]

By Dr. Kwame Opoku
Sun, 29 Jun 2008
Feature Article

Although the Art Newspaper published the details of the arrangements on Friday, 27 June, 2008, the contract between Abu Dhabi and France on the creation of Louvre Abu Dhabi was signed last year. See Tom Flynn, Getting ahead in the sand: universal museum in the age of neo-liberalism

If you ever thought there was no money in the museum business and that museums dealt only with artefacts and dead bodies, as one lady told me, the news below should make you reflect. You will perhaps realize that the so called “universal museums” are making huge profits from their stolen art objects. Not only do they keep their entrance fees (where this is required) but also charge for the use of images of the stolen objects by way of copyright. They also sell the expertise they develop through their possession of thousands of objects from all over the world and indeed charge some of the deprived countries for supplying knowledge about their own culture. The report below shows that the Louvre is reaping huge benefits from Abu Dhabi for the use of the name “Louvre”. Part of the fame of the Louvre surely comes from its possession of stolen art made possible by French imperialism. The French boast of using their expertise in building a “universal museum” in this part of the world. One cannot deny the undoubted expertise and experience of the French in establishing a “universal museum”.http://www.archives.premier-ministre.gouv.fr. The financial obstacles outlined in Universal Museum Starter Kit may not apply here but what about the legal and political objections?

It should be noted that this project will be supervised by a new International Agency for French Museums that includes the Musée d’Orsay, the Georges Pompidou Centre, the Musée Guimet, the Château de Versailles, the Musée Rodin, the Musée du Quai Branly and the Louvre.

Some of these museums are well-known for the stolen cultural items they have in their possession. Three out of the eight of the sections of the Louvre have art from the Middle East and North Africa that are classified as such: “Near Eastern Antiquities,” “Egyptian Antiquities” and “Islamic Art”. It would be very surprising if the various objects there did not include stolen art or at least objects of doubtful provenance. The Musée Guimet and the Musée du Quai Branly have also objects of doubtful provenance or were stolen from Africa and Asia. It would be interesting to see how Zahi Hawass will react if some of the Egyptian objects he is reclaiming from the Louvre were sent on long term loan to Abu Dhabi. Will the other “universal museums”-British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The State Museums, Berlin, and The Art Institute of Chicago – also be lending art objects to the Abu Dhabi Louvre? Will Nefertiti be soon going to Abu Dhabi even though she was reported too fragile to travel to Cairo? Will the Rosetta Stone one day be seen in Abu Dhabi?

Once the museum is ready and its long term loans are known, many of the Asian and African States which are at the moment not very active in restitution matters will most probably realize the need to start proceedings. Questions will be asked whether Abu Dhabi is willing to endorse post facto colonial aggressions against African countries by accepting on loan stolen art objects acquired in the colonial period by the French, British and the Germans.

To avoid any possibility that some owners of stolen items may try to bring legal action to recover objects in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the French have ensured that all items loaned to the new museum will be immune from seizure within Abu Dhabi. Whether the protection foreseen will be enough will depend not only on the arrangements between the parties but will also depend on the judges before whom an aggrieved plaintiff brings his or her case for recovery.

The rulers of Abu Dhabi are the only ones who can determine the best use of their resources but one may wonder at such a contract and arrangement where the French appear to be the obvious beneficiaries. It would be interesting to know what the Abu Dhabi population thinks of such arrangements. Whether this arrangement is all for the sake of art or whether there is more to it, only the future can tell. It will be interesting to know how and at what level the “dialogue between civilisations” will take place. Can such a dialogue ever take place when the masterpieces of some cultures are hijacked by the guardians of other cultures who make business out of their illegal possession?

Kwame Opoku, 29 June 2008.

Revealed: details of contract between Abu Dhabi and France for the creation of a Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Art Newspaper obtained a copy
LONDON. The Art Newspaper has seen the contract signed on 7 March 2008 between the governments of Abu Dhabi and France for the creation of a Louvre Abu Dhabi.
It reveals that a relatively small number of works will be lent, with a “reasonable number” coming from the Louvre’s collections. At the launch of the new museum in 2012, it will be 300 works; four years later, 250 works, seven years later, 200. After ten years, the loans will cease. All works loaned to the museum will be indemnified from seizure within the UAE.

The Gulf emirate is paying E1bn ($1.6bn) over 30 years to a new body, the agence France-Muséum, that will administer this capital sum for the benefit of a consortium of participating French museums, which includes the Louvre with a share of 40%. The income is to benefit “new scholarly projects” in these museums “without any reduction to their current financing”.

The contract reveals more details about how the new museum, by Jean Nouvel, will look. Over 3,000 sq. m of display space will be ready to show “comparisons between works of various periods and geographical origin, with an emphasis on the dialogue between civilisations” and arranged thematically: landscape, funerary art, the portrait etc. A “smaller proportion of this space” will be devoted to contemporary art, “to resonate with older works and demonstrate the continuity between different periods and the way in which our view of older art is conditioned by contemporary perception”.

No similar operation may be set up using the name of the Louvre with any of the other emirates of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran or Iraq.

The agence France-Muséum will be the operative partner with Abu Dhabi and will supervise all aspects of the building of the museum and training of the museum’s curators. It will suggest an acquisitions policy and draw up an ethical charter, with all works having to demonstrate an unimpeachable provenance.

Abu Dhabi contracts to provide E40m ($62m) for the acquisition of the collection, but Sheikh Sultan Al Nahyan, chairman of the emirate’s tourism authority, under whose aegis the museum is being developed, has told The Art Newspaper that, “if we want, we can spend more than this.” The annual budget for exhibitions will be E13m ($20.2m). In addition to the E400m ($620m) the Louvre gets for the use of its name, it will receive E25m ($39m) to develop part of its Pavillon de Flore, a wing of the Paris museum which houses paintings, while the agence France-Muséum will be paid E165m ($256m) for its services over and above E1bn for the whole project.