Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Poland pressures US to return Holocaust monument

After more than twenty years on loan to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C, Polish officials are demanding the return of a barrack that formerly housed Jewish prisoners at the Nazi extermination camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland. At issue lies the fragility of the structure, the transportation of which, Holocaust museum officials stated to the Associated Press, “presents special difficulties, including potentially damaging the artifact.”
The barrack, currently on display at the Washington museum, falls under a 2003 Polish law that requires the return to Poland every five years, at least temporarily for inspection, of historic objects of cultural significance.
By refusing to return an object on loan, the Holocaust Museum could face challenges in the future when requesting loans from other institutions. The loaning of objects is a vital component of museum success and inter-museum relations. In addition, museum loans allow members of the public who might otherwise never see a particular work of art or culturally significant artifact, such as the Auschwitz barrack, access to that object, if only for a brief period of time.
Although Holocaust museum officials surely feel a moral duty to take the necessary steps to prevent damage to the barrack, their fiduciary duty to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and to the Polish people should outweigh this sentiment.  
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on CulturalSecurity.net.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Diverse Effects of the Power of the Book

The violent reaction to burning of Koran texts in Afghanistan seems to be exacerbating an already delicate situation as foreign nations draw down troops. The unfolding tragic events poignantly demonstrate the symbolic power of religious texts. Fortunately, the power can work to positive effect as well.
Coincidentally, other stories about religious books made the news recently. In 2009, a 1000-year-old copy of the Koran was discovered in Dongxiang, of northwest Gansu province of China. Recently, officials from Dongxiang indicated that construction would start this year on a modern museum to house and preserve the ancient book.
Turkey recently recovered a 1500-year-old Bible in the Mediterranean from smugglers, who were also charged with looting and trafficking in antiquities. Reportedly, the Vatican has requested to view the Bible. Perhaps the interest, in part, stems from the rumor that the book might be a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas.
The contrast of conflict over mistreatment of copies of the Koran and cooperation on preservation of a Koran illustrates a range of potential for religious texts to play a role in security. The cause and effect of recovering a Bible and engaging in a dialogue with the Vatican speaks to the influence of religious texts in diplomacy.
With religion as part of culture, each incident further develops the concept of cultural security.

Cultural Security News (Feb. 19 - Feb. 25)

The Power of the Book
Violence lit off by the burning of the Koran in Afghanistan coincided with another incidence of the symbolic significance of books that represent cultural heritage. The Vatican requested to inspect a reportedly 1500-year-old Bible that was seized from smugglers by Turkish authorities in the Mediterranean. In returns, sunken treasure is being repatriated from Florida, USA to Spain, and in reconstruction, the Iraq town of Madain seeks to recover a tourist industry after suspicions of being a biological weapons site under Saddam Hussein and serving as an Al-Qaeda stronghold. In museum administration, Timothy Potts, the incoming Director of the Getty Museum, reportedly seemed unclear on the institution's acquisition policy, while in an interview, Dan Monroe, the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, indicated a changing role from acquisitions to access.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tainted Histories and Market Values

It appears that it is, in fact, possible for the value of an artwork to rise once it becomes the subject of a malevolent plot.  Referencing back to the blog entry on Patricia Cohen’s New York Times article “Mrs. Lincoln, I Presume? Well, as It Turns Out…”, posted on 2012-02-12, recent news in the art market once again raises the question, can it be that some people might find an artwork more desirable because of its “tainted” history?
The Independent’s Nick Clark reports that Edvard Munch’s The Scream is anticipated to sell for upwards of $80m at auction this spring.  While The Scream’s value is definitely attributed to its status as a “true icon” and to the fact that it is, as Sotheby’s suggests, perhaps second only to the Mona Lisa in terms of most recognizable artworks, we must also factor in its history of theft and recovery.  Munch painted four versions of The Scream, with his 1895 version going up for auction.  In 1994, the 1893 version was stolen from, then returned to, Norway’s National Gallery.  In 2004, the 1910 version of this artwork was stolen and it was not until 2006 that the work was recovered and returned to the Munch Museum in Oslo.  
Here, we explore the correlation between fame (in this case, acquired through high-profile art theft) and market value.  It appears that celebrity—beyond that of creative originality and aesthetic appeal—does correlate with market value.  The Scream’s “sketchy past” makes it a lucrative sale and certainly accounts for a least part of the $80m estimate.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on CulturalSecurity.net.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cultural Security News (Feb. 12 - Feb. 18)

Destruction, Theft, and Hope
The week did not go so well. Riots against austerity measures in Greece resulted in destruction of cultural property including neoclassical structures. Reports in the Maldives blamed "Islamic fundamentalists" for destruction of Buddhist and Hindu idols in museums. Also, it's roughly the year-anniversary for authorities in Bahrain razing the Pearl Monument, which has become a symbol of freedom and resistance. Greece also suffered an armed robbery at the Olympia museum. A theft at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was finally publicized. Reportedly, last October, Roman (1st century AD) and Persian (5th century BC) objects were taken. As a sign of hope, a GBP1m grant from the European Research Council will help a team at Glasgow University study the illegal trade in antiquities.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Afghanistan’s Children

What happens to a society when its youth die? In the warzone that is Kabul, a family of eleven has been reduced to three. Savid and his wife Lailuma lost their three month old son Khan Mohammed on the morning of 8 February, the eighth of their nine children to perish.
War refugee camp elder Mohammed Ibrahim blamed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government for neglecting its people.French group Solidarit├ęs International surveyed mortality rates and concluded that 144 out of every 1,000 children under 5 are dying in these camps. The cold alone has claimed a confirmed 28 children in the past month.
When children die, there results a two-fold mourning: firstly, for the emptiness left by a missing human being in our world; secondly, for the loss of what we instinctively understand as our Future. The death of so many children in Afghanistan lends itself to a terrible but crucial examination of the effect of the loss of the next generation on cultural security.
Cultural security includes the protection of traditions, knowledge, practices, and beliefs. Without a mouthpiece, especially in villages where oral rendition remains a key element of legacy, the thread that connects people to their pasts and secures them to their futures is broken. Afghanistan is torn. What will be left in this country tomorrow, without the children?
Originally posted by Yasmeen Hussain on CulturalSecurity.net.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Preserving Buddhist and Hindu culture in an Islamic Republic

The Maldives’national museum reopened February 13th less than a week after a gang of suspected Muslim extremists stormed its doors and destroyed around thirty five exhibits of pre-Islamic art. According to the institution’s director, Ali Waheed, nearly all of the museum’s pre-Islamic artifacts from before the 12thcentury were destroyed.  The attack coincided with political protests that called for the reform of the government’s economic policies and the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed, who was forced to surrender his office last week.
Although the Maldivian constitution prohibits the practicing of any religion other than Islam, the museum’s recently destroyed collection of Buddhist and Hindu imagery and artifacts celebrated the early history of the island, when the majority of its residents practiced one of those two religions.
Despite claims made by newly appointed President Mohammed Waheed Hassan that “there is no extremist violent action in this country,” recent events suggest otherwise. We can only hope than Hassan makes more of an effort than his predecessor to protect and secure what little remains of pre-Islamic cultural heritage in the Maldives.
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on CulturalSecurity.net.

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?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

“Mrs. Lincoln, I Presume? Well, as It Turns Out..”

What makes an artwork worthy of our admiration?  What qualities must it possess to be considered a part of our cultural heritage? In contrast, What is a fraudulent work of art? When considering these questions, it becomes clear that artworks cannot be evaluated solely based on aesthetics; indeed, for an artwork to be of particular value it must possess “authenticity.”  For years forgers and hoaxers have attempted to dupe the art world with their frauds.
Patricia Cohen explores this topic in her recent New York Times article, “Mrs. Lincoln, I Presume? Well, as It Turns Out …”. This case study involves the portrait supposedly depicting Mary Todd Lincoln and attributed to Francis Bicknell Carpenter, the distinguished painter who resided in the White House during Lincoln’s presidency.  According to its “documented” history, Mrs. Lincoln commissioned this portrait as a surprise for her husband.  President Lincoln, however, was assassinated before he received it.  The portrait was purchased by Lincoln’s descendants and later donated to the Illinois historical library in the 1970s.
While undergoing cleaning, however, it was revealed that both the painting and its story were false:  the portrait is of an unknown woman, and was created by an anonymous 19th century artist.  The deception, however, dates to the 20th century when Ludwig Pflum (Lew Bloom) painted over the portrait to pass it off as a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln.  According to James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln library and museum, “It was a scam to defraud the Lincoln family.”
It is clear that the artist’s intent was to deceive.  Bloom’s recasting of the portrait into “Mrs. Lincoln” included altering the woman’s facial features, painting over accessories, and adding a brooch with Lincoln’s picture.  He then fabricated the sad tale to go along with the painting and unjustly attributed the work to renowned 19th century painter Francis Carpenter.  Bloom even went so far as to attach a notarized affidavit attesting to the portrait’s false history.  It is even possible that this is an example of an artist exploiting history:  taking Lincoln’s assassination as an opportunity to commit this fraud. 
Fraudulent artworks have fooled experts and the public for years.  How do these fakes tamper with the public’s perception of art? What impact do they have on cultural history?  According to the Lincoln library and museum, having been restored to its original state the portrait of the now unknown woman has lost most of its monetary, and perhaps all of its cultural, value.  However, could it be that some people may find the portrait even more valuable given its tainted history?
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on CulturalSecurity.net.

Cultural Security News (Feb. 05 - Feb. 11)

Digging in the Past and Buying for the Future
The excavation of a Buddhist monastery that sits on a wealth of copper in Afghanistan offers one of the more dramatic images of the week. Archaeologists race against time as Chinese commercial interests seek to develop the site as a mine. To the west of Afghanistan, the modern art market boomed in Turkey, and to the east, China reportedly now holds a top position in a global auction market that exceeded $11 billion in 2011. Meanwhile in the West, Gerhard Richter was assessed as the world's greatest living painter. Questions still linger whether investment interests of the wealthy or online industrialization of the art market account for recent gains. Sadly, Robert Hecht, of controversial antiquities trading, passed away. On the lighter side, the Beirut Art Fair will include an exhibit on comic sketches of political, social, and economic situations.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Was Robert Hecht good for the art world?

The recent demise of the controversial American antiquities dealer Robert Hecht Jr., who died in Paris on Wednesday at the age of 92, prompted us to consider whether Hecht’s allegedly nefarious activities have had an inadvertently positive effect on art and antiquities. The notoriety and publicity surrounding Hecht’s trial, along with those of his alleged co-conspirators Marion True and Giacomo Medici, have led countless museums in the United States and throughout the world to alter their acquisitions policies and repatriate objects that were attained under dubious circumstances.
In addition, the media attention paid to Hecht’s trial has brought the illicit trade of art and antiquities to the forefront of the minds of not only members of the international museum community, but also private collectors, galleries and the public. Hecht’s 1972 sale of the so-called Euphronios krater to the Metropolitan Museum in New York for one million dollars—then the record price paid for an antiquity—ushered in an era of exorbitantly high prices paid for ancient art works at both auctions and private sales. Most importantly perhaps, at least from an archaeological standpoint, Hecht’s actions have led the Italian government to enact more stringent measures to prevent the illegal looting of ancient tombs and excavation sites.
No matter how we view the arguably beneficial results of his actions, Hecht has left an indelible mark on the art and antiquities markets. His legacy, however, will likely remain a dubious one.  
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on CulturalSecurity.net.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Poker or Chinese Checkers?

What is the significance of a quarter-billion-dollar painting? Not only does the sale of “The Card Players” by Cezanne for $250 million eclipse the previous record of $140 million, but also it brings 19th-century works back into the ranks of the most highly valued artworks.
Records were set in 2006 by 20th-century works with sales of paintings by Klimt, de Kooning, and Pollock. The range of $135-140 million solidly surpassed the $100 million mark, which the sale of Picasso’s “Boy with a Pipe” had broken in 2004. The prices of the 20th-century works also overshadowed prices of Van Goghs, which had held records for 19th-century works. In 1990, “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” set a new record at $82.5 million and still fares well when adjusted for inflation. Interestingly, the Van Gogh went to a collector in Japan, and the Cezanne went to the Royal Family of Qatar.
With Hong Kong developing as the third major city in art trade and eastern wealth increasing the value of western art, the art market takes on evermore transnational dimensions. Will the globalization of the market turn art into a bone fide investment instrument, or is it still too early in the game to tell?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Protecting Cultural Heritage Goes Mainstream

In our mission to secure cultural history we are faced with countless challenges.  For example, how can we ensure that artifacts are safeguarded against theft and vandalism? That they retain their integrity as pieces of cultural history? What are the optimal, and feasible, methods of protecting and conserving these cultural entities? Artifacts preserve culture, and as artifacts are a means of learning about, revering, and remember our pasts, artifact security is of paramount importance.
On February 3, Arab News reported that the national campaign to recover the Kingdom’s antiques and heritage pieces has elicited a remarkable response.  The efforts of the campaign prompted citizens to come forward and return artifacts to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).   
According to the Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper, the citizens were proud that they had returned these historical pieces; the initiatives taken by the tourism authorities and the Prince Sultan bin Salman (president of SCTA) have effectively encouraged citizens to take part in the national duty of securing the Kingdom’s rich heritage and making it available for display to citizens and tourists.  These artifacts will be showcased at the National Exhibition for Retrieved Artifacts, held at the National Museum in Riyadh.  According to Ali Al-Ghabban, vice president of the antiquities and museums sector at SCTA, the hope is that the exhibition will “…convey a strong message to all people who smuggled artifacts out of the Kingdom to return them.”  The positive response of the citizens is indicative of their growing awareness to preserve their cultural history.  So far, SCTA has retrieved about 14,000 artifacts from abroad.
Damage to cultural heritage is rampant.  Illicit artifact trade, propagated by the demands of the arts market, transport systems, opened borders, and political instability, is a transnational crime and has severe implications for cultural security.  While we must work towards stronger and more effective legislation for cultural property laws and practices, we must also be realistic.  While ideally we would stop looting at its source—archaeological sites—or at least secure borders against the transportation of artifacts from their countries of origin, the resources to do so are just not available.  So, what are our options? 
From the example set by SCTA it seems that, for the present, the protection of cultural heritage comes down to education and ethics.  By raising awareness regarding the importance of cultural security individuals will, hopefully, play their part in putting an end to illicit trade and vandalism.  We must take preservation of cultural history seriously and continue to brainstorm ideas to ensure the protection of cultural heritage worldwide.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on CulturalSecurity.net.

Cultural Security News (Jan. 29 - Feb. 04)

Records and Wreckage
While the sale of Cezanne's "The Card Players" occurred in 2011, publicizing of the price and buyer made headlines this past week. Reportedly Qatar purchased the painting for $250M, which if accurate, not only breaks but eclipses the previous record for a single painting, which was around $140M. Bonhams activity in India and Art Hong Kong 12 characterize continued news on the potential of the art market in the East. Lest the successes of the art market eclipse other types of cultural property, a range stories from Africa to Sri Lanka to China serve as reminders of the threat to cultural heritage in the path of progress. Monuments in Zimbabwe and landscapes in Nigeria are at risk, while the "Shrine of the Innocents" disappeared in Sri Lanka. In China, the home of a renowned architect couple was, ironically, demolished in the path of a "building frenzy".
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

“United, we can succeed.”

What is the relationship between the media and cultural security?  How far does the media highlight or obscure, and to what end?  How seriously must we take media insinuations and data culled from web logs - when it comes to evaluating news related to cultural security?  How are our cultural security perceptions influenced by media reports?
On 29 January, the NY Times reported that Greece’s Prime Minister Lucas Papademos seemed to have overcome some of the objections from Socialist predecessor George Papandreou, conservative leader Antonis Samaras and right-wing leader Georgios Karatzaferis, against the next round of austerity measures proposed by the troika.  Kathimerini, one of Greece’s leading papers, reported on the “absolute convergence” among the leaders regarding structural reforms necessary to keep Greece afloat.  The articles cited three disagreements with the troika’s proposed measures:  1. Cuts in private sector salaries; 2. Decrease of the minimum wage; and 3. Increase in European oversight of Greece’s budget.  PM Papademos heads to Brussels noting, “We are fighting hard together to secure the country’s position in Europe and the euro, and the community of developed countries.  United, we can succeed.”
But this was not Kathimerini’s number one story on its e-English edition.  Also dated 29 January, Kathimerini’s number one “Recent News” was that PAOK beat AEK, 2-0 to go to the third place among Greek football teams, spots one and two held by Panathinaikos and Olympiakos respectively.
I’m hard pressed to justify the importance of football over the drum roll of a nation creeping towards bankruptcy.  Shouldn’t Papademos’ talks with Greek leaders and his impending trip to Brussels have been the number one story on Greek minds?  (Just in case you’re wondering, the most popular story on the Greek edition of Kathimerini was the VAT raise in France.)
What does this mean and how does it touch upon and affect cultural security in Greece?
a. Greeks use sports and French news to distract themselves from their own issues and troubles
b. Greeks care little for their crisis because they’re either apathetic or defeated by the current state of affairs; Greeks realize that caring doesn’t mean a difference will be effected… so what’s the point?
c. Greeks care a whole lot but their media doesn’t adequately reflect it
d. Most Greeks – like most French, English, or Americans – are relatively unconcerned with political affairs enough to pore over the global crisis:  they’re too busy hosting dinners or working late shifts to do more than glance at sports scores
e. These papers target foreigners or people untouched by Greece’s deteriorating state of affairs; in reality, there is another forum that speaks to those affected and upset by these issues
What other options are out there?
Originally posted by Yasmeen Hussain on CulturalSecurity.net.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cultural Intelligence Imperative

Does the explosion of news on the art market in January hold significance beyond the art world? Perhaps so. The simultaneous expansion of the art market on-line and into the financial industry and the quickly emerging contemporary art markets of China and India reflect a broader phenomenon of the relationship between culture and security.
In a world in which transportation and communication have made national boundaries more permeable, culture has become a de facto boundary. Or thought of in another way, the softening of national boundaries has increasingly exposed cultures to outside influence. Be it the fall of the Berlin Wall, the expansion of the European Union, or the ubiquity of the internet, freedom of movement of individuals and information increases outside influence on local culture. Witness the now oft quoted “cultural security” in translations of statements by officials in China. Whether one considers the change a cause for concern or a catalyst for innovation, increased interaction furthers the need for understanding foreign cultures.
Cultural intelligence has gone from an altruistic aspect of foreign interaction to a practical necessity. Whether it’s human terrain mapping in military deployment or managing an increasingly multicultural populous in an ever more globalized world, knowledge of cultural sensibilities has become critical to domestic and foreign policy. In the face of emerging eastern economic powers, cultural intelligence may well become essential to national security from an economic standpoint.
Can the rapid changes in the art market and the effect on the art world serve as a model for collecting and applying cultural intelligence?