Thursday, May 31, 2012

Deposed Tunisian Dictator Linked to Looting…Again

The family of former Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who has been accused of robbing the country of its cultural heritage through the looting of archaeological sites such as the ancient city of Carthage, faces prosecution yet again.
Ben Ali’s son-in-law, Sakher el-Materi, has been on trial in Tunisia since December for "trafficking in archaeological finds, illegal transfer of protected property, and possession of unregistered archaeological finds and excavation of mobile and fixed ruins without a license." El-Materi has found sanctuary in Qatar, though he is being tried in absentia.
Among the 164 looted artifacts found in the former home of el-Materia and his wife, Nesrine Ben Ali, is a 700-plus-pound sculpture depicting the head of a Gorgon, a Greek mythological figure.
The marble statue, which was unearthed in 1930 during excavations conducted in the ancient city of Hippo Regius (modern Annaba, Algeria), was stolen from Algeria in 1996.
The Tunisian minister of culture confirmed that the “Gorgon’s Mask” will be returned to Algeria following the completion of legal proceedings against el-Materi.
As the inhabitants of Arab Spring countries continue their struggle for freedom from political and social tyranny, the region’s cultural heritage continues to suffer irreparable harm. The imminent return of the “Gorgon’s Mask” offers a glimmer of hope in the fight for cultural security in the embattled nations of North Africa and the Middle East.
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on
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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cultural Security News (May 20 - May 26)

Asian Art
It's difficult to escape news about China in the art market and Asian art in general. Art HK, reportedly, featured 266 galleries from 38 countries which showcased works from 3,500 artists. Both Western and Eastern artists fared well with sales, but The Art Futures award for best emerging artist went to Lee Kit of Hong Kon. Lest the West be forgotten, next year, the fair will be re-branded as Art Basel Hong Kong. Chinese customs authorities arrested employees of Integrated Fine Art Solutions (IFAS) for undervaluing artworks shipped from Hong Kong to the mainland. While Art HK shows top-dollar artworks, next week, Affordable Art Beijing (AAB) makes acquisitions accessible to a broader range of collectors. In the meantime, the art market in India showed continued and accelerated growth.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Update on Mali: New Security Measures

Following the damage afflicted on mausoleums—including the desecration of the graves of the revered Muslim Sidi Mahmoud—UNESCO and the Government of Mali are collaborating to protect Mali’s World Heritage sites.  A few weeks ago UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, stated, “This cultural heritage is our common property, and nothing can justify damaging it.”  New security measures thus have been defined, with Mali and UNESCO agreeing to take the following steps:
1) Mali will finalize its accession to the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.  This will allow Mali to appeal for additional protection to cultural properties.
2) The government of Mali will request that the World Heritage sites of Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger.
3) Mali will draft a complete report regarding priority measures to preserve Mali’s World Heritage sites, and will appeal for both technical and financial aid from UNESCO and the international community.
In addition, UNESCO will proceed with the following steps:
1) UNESCO will present to the World Heritage Committee a report on the state of conservation of the sites in Mali, including the measures taken by the Government of Mali to protect these sites.
2) UNESCO will help the Government of Mali in safeguarding the cultural properties essential to the preservation of Mali’s culture.
3) UNESCO will raise awareness in Mali’s neighboring countries and in the international community to help combat the illicit trade in artifacts.
4) UNESCO will collaborate with the U.N. organizations engaged in humanitarian efforts in Mali to ensure the protection of Mali’s cultural property.
(For more details on these measures, see the link below.)
These emergency measures are the first cultural response to the crisis in Mali.  In April UNESCO expressed its concern for Mali’s World Heritage sites; a few weeks ago these concerns escalated as mausoleums were purposely damaged by rival forces.  While damage has already done, perhaps these measures will prevail and show that collaboration between UNESCO, national governments, and U.N. organizations can provide results.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Risk of Art Market Derivatives

The momentum of art sales, from record-breaking prices for masterworks to opening of western auction houses and galleries in China, has created a positive feedback loop that strengthens the security of art as an investment, but the expansion of the art market also has consequences for other facets of the art world.
How is the draw of artfairs in lucrative markets, such as in Asia,  affecting smaller fairs? The announcement to cancel the Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair (SOFA) in Santa Fe suggests that the security of local arts culture may be at risk. Cancellation by European galleries, due to economic troubles in the EU, and the possibility that the fair may simply have run its course contribute to decreased participation in SOFA Santa Fe, but a shift in the function of art fairs may also be a factor. In the spectrum from art lovers to those seeking social advancement to investors the balance may be shifting to right, and smaller fairs that depended on enthusiasm for art per se may not be able to compete.
Rising art prices also have an effect on the insurance industry. The vulnerability of artworks in museums and private collections to damage and theft affects insurance premiums, and the risk of forgeries on the market challenges valuation of artworks. Art as an investment, it turns out, creates another, less obvious risk. In the extreme case, investors store artworks in free ports to minimize taxation. Major free ports in nations such as Switzerland and Singapore, reportedly, hold an average of $10 billion in artworks. While protected against theft, the facilities are vulnerable to destruction, such as a plane crash or even a terrorist attack. The resulting risk assessments will require new strategies, and potentially higher premiums, for insurers to remain effective.
The culture of collecting is changing. Does the threat to smaller art fairs have implications for the long-term viability of the art market, or will changes in art insurance affect the burgeoning art market?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cultural Security News (May 13 - May 19)

Disparity of Interest in Art in Africa
As the expanding art market in China continues to illustrate the dichotomy of perceived financial security in the art as an investment and threats to cultural heritage in regions of conflict, a similar disparity takes shape within the African continent. Basically looting in Northern Africa continues to threaten cultural heritage sites, while other African nations endeavor to take part in the economic benefit of the art market. In Egypt, criminals have continued aggressive looting of historic landmarks such as the pyramids at Giza, and UNESCO warns that in Mali rebel groups, including Tuaregs and the al-Qaida-linked Ansar Dine, threaten to loot cultural treasures such as in Timbuktu. Meanwhile, a book titled, Contemporary Nigerian Art in Lagos Private Collections, promises to increase the accessibility of Nigerian art to collectors, and Zimbabwe reports a growing number of self-taught and trained visual artists.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

When Revolution Leads to Robbery and Death

In times of political chaos and uncertainty, thieves find a way to thrive. Egypt is no exception.
Nearly a year and a half after President Hosni Mubarak resigned amid protest from the populace, Egypt faces an ever-increasing threat to its cultural heritage.
Illegal excavations have become rampant across the country, many of which are focused upon treasured landmarks, such as the pyramids at Giza. According to the Egyptian Interior Ministry, 5697 illicit digs have been carried out since early 2011, one hundred times more than the previous year.
At least 35 people have lost their lives partaking in such illegal activities, including ten who were buried alive in March when the pit in which they were digging caved in. Countless others have been killed while protesting against police brutality and military rule.
As the country’s police and security forces sit idly by watching thieves and opportunists rob Egypt of its national heritage, who can the country and its people turn to for cultural security?
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on
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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cultural Security News (May 06 - May 12)

Global Disparity in Protection of Artworks
iol scitech may 4 syria artefactsThe contrast between risks to cultural heritage in regions of conflict and the burgeoning art market was quite stark this week. In Syria, bombing of monuments has given way to armed looting of artifacts, in Mali, desecration of the graves of Sidi Mahmoud by the Ansar Dine group threatened the cultural heritage of Timbuktu, and in Egypt, looting of pharaonic heritage continued to spread since Hosni Mubarak was deposed. Egypt was not without good news, however, in that 80 smuggled objects were returned from Brussels to Cairo. Also, reportedly, Jammu and Kashmir have 69 protected cultural sites, and Columbia and China signed co-op agreements including protection of cultural property. The picture in the art market was quite different. The sale of a painting by Mark Rothko set the record for a contemporary work at auction and illustrated the continued flow of investment into art. Artnet's launch of an index for modern and contemporary art emphasized the financial side of the art market, and a report of a Chinese collector building a museum to house his acquisitions reflects investment in cultural property quite different from protection of cultural sites in regions of conflict.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Economic (In)Security of the Art Market

News about the booming art market keeps coming. Sales of modern and contemporary art made headlines by referring to multi-hundred-million-dollar auction results as "middling" in New York (Christie's $338.5M and Sotheby's $266.6M). While rising prices suggest the security of art as an investment, speculation on the reason for acquisitions suggests a sense of economic insecurity.
A number of paintings, such as "Orange, Red, Yellow" by Mark Rothko, made records by selling for well over estimates at the recent auctions in New York. The increasing value of artworks has inspired high-end alternatives to traditional investments. For example, art funds, such American Masters Collection and Twentieth Century Masters Collection by The Collectors Fund, reportedly have $100,000 and $500,000 entry levels.
The phenomenon of art as an investment is global. Reportedly, Chinese collectors account for at least a part, if not a majority, of the influx of cash into the art market. As an example, prominent Chinese collectors have endeavored to build private museums to house acquisitions. But where is all of this spending on art heading?
The recent announcement of artnet's indexfor modern and contemporary art underscores the investment aspect of the art market. Quantitative analysis of the value of art enables an objective approach to purchases but contrasts with irrational art appreciation that, at least at one point, was the primary basis for acquisitions. On a more practical level, some speculate that soaringprices of artworks not only ignores but also may hinder a still-recovering economy while ironically compromising the significance of art.
In the end, uncertainty in financial markets may create security in the art market, but art as an investment may ultimately put economic and cultural security at risk.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Disaster in Mali

UNESCO is increasingly concerned by the growing threats to cultural heritage in Mali.  Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, has called upon the internationally recognized obligation of countries to safeguard their heritage in times of war, urging both the Malian authorities and the rebel forces to respect Mali’s heritage.
According to Malian reports, this past Friday--May 4th—the Ansar Dine group desecrated the graves of revered Muslim Sidi Mahmoud, burning the entrance to the mausoleum and preventing worshippers from gathering.
Following this event Bokova stated, “This cultural heritage is our common property, and nothing can justify damaging it.”  How true this is.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cultural Security News (Apr. 29 - May 05)

Three Dimensions of Cultural Security in Focus
The Fitzwilliam Museum has released these photos of some of the stolen artifacts in the hopes someone will come forward with information leading to their returnEvents of the past week offered particularly clear examples of the different aspects of "cultural security." In physical security, thieves targeted Chinese artifacts in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University, and gunmen looted the historic Krak des Chevaliers in Syria. In economics, the sale of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" for $120 million affirmed the financial security of the art market by setting a new auction record, while a politically induced exodus of oligarchs threatened the security of the contemporary art market in Russia. In diplomacy, reportedly, artists from the Middle East express cultural identity in works they create while abroad, and Italy vigilantly pursued repatriation of the bronze statue of a "victorious athlete" from The Getty. In the meantime, "cultural security" was in the news with a Judiciary Chief in Iran urging that "cultural security is the most important kind of security" and an academic in Lithuania contending that "unease of the academicians should be called the issue of demographic and cultural security."
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Asia's Heritage in Peril

The Global Heritage Fund has released a list of the ten most endangered cultural heritage sites in Asia. “The report highlights 10 of Asia’s most significant archaeological and heritage sites facing irreparable loss and destruction due to five accelerating man-made threats: development pressures, unsustainable tourism, insufficient management, looting, and war and conflict.”
Topping the list is Ayutthaya, Thailand, the former capital of the kingdom of Siam (pictured above). Renovations of the 14th-century city, which was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767, began in 1969 and intensified in 1976 when the site was converted into an historical park. Ayutthaya was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1991.
Unlike UNESCO, which devotes the majority of its funds to the protection of cultural heritage in the world’s wealthiest countries, the Global Heritage Fund focuses its resources on the preservation of archaeological and heritage sites in developing nations. Such countries often face economic, political and martial conditions that make protecting cultural heritage exceedingly difficult.
Perhaps UNESCO should follow the lead of the GHF and concentrate more of its resources on protecting those nations that cannot protect themselves. 
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Russian Art Angst

Against the backdrop of the record-setting selling of the “The Scream,” a report from Russia had arguably equally significant implications for the market. Apparently, Russian citizens are leaving the country in response to the return of Vladimir Putin as President. The exodus has left gallery owners concerned over the future of contemporary Russian art.
Coincidentally, the imagery of angst of “The Scream” matches the apparent sentiment of gallery owners in Moscow. With wealthy patrons leaving the country, artists and galleries anticipate tough times while Vladimir Putin is in office. Reportedly, bureaucrats will replace the oligarchs as the wealthy class and not express the same interest in modern and contemporary art. The consequent threat to the security of contemporary art in Russia has implications for economic security.
Russian entrepreneurs who collected contemporary art reinvested their new wealth in local artists and as a result supported economic development. Namely, the galleries that represented the artists shared in the success and promoted the development of a local art market with initiatives such as the launch of the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art in 2003. Such events provided international exposure for Russian artists and developed the cultural credibility of the nation.
The sale of “The Scream” also illustrates a contrasting movement in emerging economies of China, India, and the GCC states. Entrepreneurs turned art collectors led to the dominance of China’s share of the international art market in 2011, and investment in contemporary art in India is thriving. The Royal Family of Qatar demonstrated the strategic importance of art with the acquisition of “The Card Players” by Cezanne for a record-setting $250 million private sale in 2011, and the Royal Family is also rumored to have acquired the “The Scream” for the record-setting $120 million at auction.
If a change in leadership does compromise the advancement of contemporary artists, Russia stands to lose the benefit of what is the emerging political economy of the art market. Also, emigration of wealthy arts patrons begs the question of where they are going and if they will invest in art when they get there.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Booming Sales!

The Art Market is BOOMING.  At yesterday's Sotheby's auction Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” sold for $119.9 million.  The auction—which lasted 12 intense minutes—surpassed the previous record for an art sale:  the 2010 sale of Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust” for $106.5 million.
Can this trend continue?  Some speculate that the auction houses’ hyped-up PR will put the entire art market at risk.  This has already been seen this spring in the sale of Cezanne’s “Card Players,” which was promoted with an estimate of $15-20 million and realized $17 million.  While this is by no means a small sum, the auction of “Card Players” has been described as “anemic”—devoid of all suspense and excitement.
In any case, the trends of the art market—and the reactions of the public—provide truthful glimpses into the economic world.  A $120 million art sale indicates that there is a great deal of surplus capital ready to be invested in such assets, and the outpouring of “tweets” via Twitter demonstrate the public’s investment in passing along the news of this extraordinary sale. 
We must wait and see if/how the art market will alter.  It is important to consider whether a decrease in the valuation of art will be reflected on cultural artifacts.  How will a shift in the art market factor into the assessment of cultural security?
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
Learn about the framework for Cultural Intelligence.