Monday, January 30, 2012

Sedate West and Wild East

Are traditional views on cultural security limiting the economic potential of art in the West? The western art world is no less vibrant but there seems to be a flair, or "wildness" if you will, in the East.
Collectors in China are buying back traditional pieces, such as a reported $83 million paid for a Chinese vase, and investing in contemporary artworks by Chinese artists (see Misdirection of "Cultural Security"). The contemporary art market in India burgeons and reports of smuggling through the Sunderbans suggests an active illicit market in artifacts. In the Middle East, the translation of Sarah Thornton's "Seven Days in the Art World" into Arabic indicates an interest in learning about, if not adopting, western wiles of the art trade.
So, the West is demonstrating a sincerity and earnestness in cultural security from a traditional point of view i.e. returning cultural property to regions of origin and deterring trafficking in art, antiquities, and artifacts, while the East seems to be seeking innovation in cultural security by buying back cultural patrimony, actively exploiting the economic potential of contemporary art, and all the while showing willingness to appreciate western market know-how.
As much as it's right to commend western efforts, is it not difficult not to admire eastern initiative?

Financial Security Through Art

Despite the economic recession numbers indicate that the art market is booming. Reports from Deloitte Luxembourg and ArtTactic indicate that in 2011 the assets in investment funds in art rose 26% from 2010, totaling $960 million. Sales at the leading auction houses (Sotheby's and Christie's), meanwhile, rose 35% from 2010, totaling $1.7 billion in 2011.
While in 2008 the art market experienced the same downturn as the rest of the markets, the record-breaking deals over the sale of artworks has resuscitated the art market.  Artwork is considered a tangible item, and is therefore a more stable investment in times of economic turmoil.  In response to their fear that the stock market will continue its downward spiral, those who can afford to have invested increased amounts in art.  Market sentiment to prepare for the coming rise in inflation suggests investment in "hard assets"; the wealthy have therefore diversified their investment strategy to include the purchase of big-ticket artworks.
In light of this booming art market in an otherwise economic downturn and stagnation, we are prompted to revaluate the meaning of art.  What value do we, as a culture, place on art? Has the commodification of art exceeded its aesthetic value?  Has art become more of an investment than an object of talent and beauty? How will the "value" of art be determined in the future, and what will constitute a "worthwhile investment" in art? And, most importantly, what implications will this have on future security of art and culture?
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on

Sunday, January 29, 2012

New African Union headquarters

On 28 January 2012, after three years of construction, China’s most senior political adviser, Jia Qinglin handed over a golden key to African leaders outside the Chinese-funded African Union’s new headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The 100m-tall building is a symbol of the commitment China is making to improve trade and develop African infrastructure.  While the West has regularly withheld humanitarian aid to Africa until governance issues were addressed, China’s relationship with Africa is purely business.
Trade between China and Africa increased more than six-fold in the past decade, up to 120bn USD in 2011.  Jia Qinglin noted, “The towering complex speaks volumes about our friendship to the African people, and testifies to our strong resolve to support African development.”
Chinese goods, including cars made from Chinese parts but assembled in Ethiopia, flood the African market.  How will the influx of Chinese products shape Africa’s growing middle class?  What is the cultural security impact?  Exposure is traditionally welcomed, but how will exposure and access without corresponding improvements in governance and civil society influence future generations?  African businesspeople note that they don’t mind who it is that brings direct investment to Africa, as long as it does not hurt the local community.  Can new foreign businesses function consistently without changing local political, improving education, and increasing civil society participation?
China’s involvement in Africa is worth observing.  Cultural Security is a perception that insofar as it deserves both expansion and refinement so must we struggle to predict its direction and protect its integrity.  How is this done between those that are best equipped to give and those whose role it is to receive?
Originally posted by Yasmeen Hussain on

Cultural Security News (Jan. 22 - Jan. 28)

Western Returns and Eastern Advances
Detail of the stolen Pissarro.From a traditional standpoint, the return of a stolen Pissarro from the U.S. to France proved significant as news in cultural security in the past week. Also, agreements between the Princeton University Art Museum and Italy and between the U.S. and Cyprus reflected a continuing trend of returning cultural property to regions of origin. In the East, on the other hand, cultural security manifested as economic advancement and financial investment. Sarah Thornton's "Seven Days in the Art World" has been published in Arabic, the reported purchase of a Chinese vase for $83 million reflected a continued appetite for art by new wealth in China, and the market for contemporary art in India burgeons. The story of a priest caught looting in Greece lies somewhere in the middle of the east-west phenomena.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chicken or Egg?

Let’s take a breather from the heating up of the art market in China, online art market, and royalty laws to think about recent intersections of politics and cultural property. In particular, news on the finding of “ancient” Jewish scrolls in Afghanistan potentially expands on a brewing controversy over archaeological finds in Israel.
The controversy over ownership of artifacts (e.g. Parthenon Marbles and Inca relics from Machu Picchu) has been stood on its head. Reportedly, both Israel and Palestinian authorities have recently laid claim to archaeological finds in disputed territories. It would seem that the controversy over rights to cultural artifacts has been coupled with controversy over rights to geographic regions. So, might resolution of disputes over origins of artifacts act as evidence in disputes over the land in which the objects were discovered? It’s quite important and relevant, but is anyone else getting dizzy?
What implications does the finding of Jewish scrolls in Afghanistan hold? Not to mention that the value of the scrolls has been estimated at $5 million. Looks like we’re back to the market.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Transnational "Cultural Exchange"

Art from/in China appears to be having a push-pull effect in/on the western art world. Push: According to, "The Zhong Gallery in Berlin will open its doors on January 21 as Europe's first gallery for contemporary art founded by Chinese gallerists."  Pull: Reportedly, the owner of Art Basel purchased a majority stake in ArtHK (Hong Kong International Art Fair).
Mind you, the above are tactics of the traditional art world, whereas the virtual world holds another set of implications.
The potential of Artprice's online auction, Artfire, (see entry "Virtual Security") coupled with SplitArt gives new meaning to the concept of cultural exchange. A recent article in BLOUIN ARTINFO discussed SplitArt as "in the process of being approved by regulators and could be the world's first regulated art exchange that securitizes artworks and sells shares to investors."
Online auctions have secondary implications for the rate of exchange of traditional and contemporary art from China, and the prospect of an art exchange may have tertiary implications. Will 2012 see China's presence in the market go from squared to art cubed?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cultural Security News (Jan. 15 - Jan. 21)

Two Sides of the Same Coin
The economic success of artworks belies the challenges of conservation of cultural property. Against the backdrop of continued news coverage of the expansion of the art market, nations with a wealth in cultural patrimony struggle to manage adequate measures of protection of historic sites. This past week, reconstruction of a legendary toy shop, Detsky Mir, in Moscow and white-washing of frescoes in the Mansa Devi Temple in Panchkula, India drew protests. Reports continued on looting of archaeological sites in Egypt and in Israel from the ancient community of Hurbath Umm Al-Amad. On the other side of the coin, Greece scored a victory in the return of a rare ancient silver coin from Italy, and authorities in the U.S. tracked down the perpetrator of a heist from an American Numismatic Association's museum.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

All’s well that ends…well, not really

Italians are known throughout the world for their laidback, relaxed way of life. There’s even an Italian phrase to describe this pleasant idleness: dolce far niente. In one particular case, doing “nothing” didn’t turn out to be so sweet.
Following six years of legal antics, the trial of the American art dealer Robert Hecht ended the week of January 16, 2012 due to the expiration of the statute of limitations on his alleged criminal activities: the same “judgment” that Hecht’s co-conspirator, the former curator of antiquities at the Getty Museum Marion True, received in October of 2010. Of the three primary accomplices in one of the most infamous cases involving the illicit trafficking of antiquities, only Giacomo Medici was convicted by an Italian court.
Following these miscarriages of justice, certain questions arise. Should the statute of limitations be increased for the trade of illicit artifacts? Do such results necessitate change in the Italian legal system? Should the United States, or other nations for that matter, be permitted to prosecute Hecht, True and Medici? At least one positive outcome resulted from the conspiracy, trials and surrounding media coverage—the long-overdue alteration of acquisition guidelines adopted by many American museums.
Thank you, Robert Hecht! Thank you, Marion True! Even you, Giacomo Medici. Your ignominious acts have unintentionally aided the fight to secure our cultural heritage for the foreseeable future.
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Returns + Royalities = Finanical Security?

Is art developing into a bone fide investment instrument, and as such might it provide financial security? If so, cultural security may expand into the economic realm.
2012 has started with a series of headlines about the financial potential of art. Firstly, several major financial publications reported that the art market has outperformed the stock market for a second year running. Secondly, the firm, Artprice, launched an international on-line art auction on January 18th, and thirdly, laws that enable artists, or their descendants, to collect royalties on resale of artworks have made news in the UK and U.S.
The commodification of art also has implications for cultural security in a different respect. Will the art market, traditional and on-line, attract speculators and opportunists who do not necessarily appreciate the aesthetic properties of artworks and exploit art as cultural currency? If so, then an increasing market value and viability of art as a financial instrument may pit the pragmatics of art production and consumption against the emotions of creation and appreciation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Pocket Change"

We trust our museum professionals to preserve and protect our cultural treasures. Perhaps we should be less trusting.
While serving as collections manager of the American Numismatic Association's (ANA) Edward C. Rochette Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Wyatt Yeager absconded with approximately 300 coins and other numismatic objects valued at $984,740, according to a January 12, 2012 press release issued by the ANA. Yeager, who pleaded guilty on January 12, 2012 to one felony count of Theft of a Major Artwork, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. During a mere three month tenure from January to March, 2007, Yeager embezzled $492,205 in rare coins that he then sold in 2007 through several auction houses, including ones in St. Louis, Baltimore and Melbourne, Australia, as well as an additional $492,535 worth of coins and other numismatic materials that were sold in 2008 by Kanker Auctions of Germany.
Although this extraordinary case seems to involve only one criminal mastermind, many more individuals and institutions should be held accountable for their arguably "criminal" activity: the auction houses in St. Louis, Baltimore, Melbourne and Germany that each sold a portion of the stolen coins without performing the due diligence expected of such organizations; the in-house security team charged with protecting and preserving the Money Museum's collections; as well as the museum's staff who failed to discover the theft until October 2007, more than six months after Yeager's departure from the museum, which provided the former collections manager ample time to sell many of the coins at auction.
The ANA has vowed to upgrade its security systems, but has the damage already been done? As of January 12, 2012, only 32 of the coins had been recovered. Yeager's actions, along with the inaction of many others, have resulted in the alteration, perhaps permanently, of the numismatic cultural heritage of not only the United States, but of other countries throughout the world whose coinage was represented in the Money Museum.
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Misdirection of "Cultural Security"

While officials in China employ rhetoric of "cultural security" as an indication of concern that western pop art and music adversely affects traditional culture in China, contemporary artists in China have made inroads into markets traditionally dominated by western artists.
The headline, "Chinese Artist $507 Million Ousts Picasso as Top Auction Earner," in Bloomberg Businessweek makes a dramatic point, and the article goes on to quote Artprice, which reportedly stated, "The change reflects China's growing strength in the global art market. Of the approximately $11 billion total world revenue for fine art last year, China's share was 39 percent, up from 33 percent the year before..."
The combination of contemporary artists in China gaining ground on western icons of modern art and the increasing market share of China in the international art market gives pause to considering whose "cultural security" is at risk. In view of the above statistics should, in fact, the west be concerned about "cultural security?"

Friday, January 6, 2012

Virtual Security

Next week, cultural security will extend in the web with a new technology for on-line art auctions. The introduction of Artfire, an offering of Artprice, reportedly “offers a 100% guarantee of security and payment for buyers and sellers” who trade art over the web. Such technology has the potential to further globalize the art trade.
As on-line auctions establish and gain trust, what are the implications for the institution of the auction house, which has been a significant part of the culture of the art world? Does security of on-line trades threaten the traditional culture of the art world? On the other hand, through integration with stolen-art databases, such as that of INTERPOL, the on-line auction might bring greater transparency, which increases perceived security. It seems that pursuit of due diligence and trust in transactions may ironically compromise the institutions that traditionally offered that sense of security.
The image depicts the “burning man” of the festival by the same name held annually in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada in the United States.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

China's art market

Simultaneous to rhetoric about China's cultural security, China's art market has emerged as a source of financial security. Reportedly, China's art market has been expanding since 2008 in response to the global economic downturn, and 20ll reportedly marked the second consecutive year of global dominance of China's art market.
While not necessarily influenced by western culture, contemporary art in China may still pose a threat to "cultural security" as prescribed by officials in China. It's not uncommon for contemporary art to challenge preexisting notions of aesthetics and thereby "threaten" traditional cultural ideals. On the other hand, the market for contemporary art seems to be offering a source of financial, and thereby broader sense of, security.
In short in the context of an expanding art market, suggestions that challenges to traditional cultural ideals pose a security risk place financial or economic security at odds with cultural security.

Phore Sale

Note a picture taken in the middle of nowhere, California, where someone had spray-painted what was supposed to be an advertisement on the side of what may have been a brick outhouse. There are “achers” “phore sail” on a few “loughts”. Many issues at different levels may be explored here:
1. Identity: Are people proud to come from the middle of nowhere? ie Is this a ‘God Bless America’ call to go back to any down-home proverbial roots where we milked our own cows and grew our own crops? Or is this about escaping places like these, where a basic level of inattention to grammar is too much to expect?
2. Nation: It’s notable that there are areas of the United States where inhabitants remain so (and yes this is an assumption here) ignorant of the things that so many of us take for granted.
3. Culture: What happens in our education system that people slip through the so-called cracks? What of our sense of civic duty, that we spray paint advertisements on the sides of outhouses? Is this a security issue?
4. Security: This picture was posted to shock. It was posted for us to laugh at the terrible misfortune that lack of education produces in the backwoods. What does that say about our sense of cultural security? How is commerce influenced by the participation of this segment of society?
Ponder and let me know.
Originally posted by Yasmeen Hussain on

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"Cultural Security" in China

Chinese officials once again made headlines with rhetoric about "cultural security". Since the banning of some western pop music titles last August and the October meeting of the Party Central Committee, the phrase "cultural security" has appeared in English language publications of news on China. Today, Hu Jintao reportedly indicated that the West and China are engaged in a "cultural war", and China's cultural integrity should be defended.
The rhetoric seems not only to suggest culture as a battlefield but also to stake claim to the concept of "cultural security", and therein lies a contradiction. Identifying culture as medium for conflict automatically has implications for the meaning of "cultural security" beyond simply securing national culture from external influence. Is culture transforming from a cause of conflict into an instrument of war?
The image shows the "Backstreet Boys'" whose music achieved popularity in the 1990s, while more recent music by artists such as "Lady Gaga" also fell subject to banning in China.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dimensions of Cultural Security - Physical

Physical protection of cultural property closely aligns with traditional definitions of security. Protection of historic structures and religious monuments secures culture by enabling future generations to appreciate and learn about their heritage. Conversely, the destruction of cultural property compromises culture.
Non-state actors have exploited cultural property to strategic and tactical advantage accordingly. In particular, ideological conflict of the post-Cold War has led to targeting of religious monuments in acts of political violence.
The Taliban's destruction of the giant statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan in 2001 serves as a poignant example of targeting. The image shows the cavern left after the demolition of one of the statues. The figures at the base of the cavern provide perspective for the immense height of the statues. The size of the statues and drawn out threat of destruction increased the strategic value of the act of political violence against 'the other'.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dimensions of Cultural Security - Economic

The economic significance of cultural property creates another dimension of cultural security. As one example, the potential for tourism monetizes cultural patrimony. Successful excavation and development of sites of cultural heritage, such as Tikal, Guatemala and Angkor Wat, Cambodia, demonstrate the value of cultural property to emerging economies. Successful development of cultural sites as tourist destinations creates derivative value in the form of political capital.
An increasing market value of artworks and antiquities has expanded the economic dimension of cultural property in financial investments. Investments in art have emerged as relatively stable in the recent otherwise unpredictable economic climate. Additionally, quickly emerging economies, such China and India, have simultaneously developed markets for contemporary art that challenges the dominance of the United States and Europe.
The image shows a piece from the 'Bactrian Hoard' of Afghanistan. Soviet archaeologists discovered the 2,000-year-old treasure in the late 1970s. Presumed lost again during the 1990s, the treasure of 22,000 objects reemerged in 2003.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dimensions of Cultural Security - Perception

Cultural identity plays a role in how individuals perceive themselves and provides a sense of belonging to a community. Self-perception and a sense of belonging provide a perspective from which to consider external influences. In effect, a cultural identity offers a defense against potentially damaging extremist ideologies.
Artworks and historic structures serve as a medium for discussing cultural identity in the present and passing cultural heritage between generations. Museums not only create a structure for the communication medium but also can represent the resilience of cultural identity.
The image shows the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, which suffered looting during the succession of conflicts in the the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. International initiatives to recover the lost objects illustrate the potential role of artworks in garnering cooperation in the interest of securing cultural identity.