Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Protection or Progress

It seems that just as progress is being made with the protection of cultural artifacts, collecting of fine art is at risk.
The past half-century has realized gradual progress in minimizing destruction of monuments and historic structures during armed conflict and in returning artworks to heirs and cultural artifacts to regions of origin. The 1954 Hague Convention specified  protection during armed conflict and the 1970 UNESCO Convention specified prevention of illicit transfer. Since then, nations have taken care during military intervention, collecting nations have taken more responsibility to check provenance, and source nations have succeeded in reclaiming cultural artifacts.
With the expansion of the art market and the development of the internet, however, traditional art collecting seems on the cusp of change. The advent of online, international auctions such as Artfire and art exchanges such as SplitArt, which were announced this year, challenge not only the traditional venues and methods but also the spirt of art trading. Traditionally the balance of collecting and investing was towards collecting, but the increased access and fluidity of online auctions, not to mention exchanges, temps an investing motive. While auction houses may have been viewed as a businesses, collectors were still, more typically, viewed as lovers of art. The modern accessibilty of art trading may increasingly blur the distinction between collectors and lovers of profit.
Interestingly, collectors were at odds with the protection of cultural patrimony. In other words, some collectors viewed due dilligence in legitimate provenance as an impediment to the trade of artworks. So, in that case, protection stood in the way of progress. Now collectors themselves are threatened by an external culture of investors. Will collectors try to protect their particular culture of the art market or will they accept the presence of investors as progress?

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