Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Motives and drivers in a political economy of cultural property

The diagram illustrates interactions that create a political economy of cultural property. The large colored ovals designate major dimensions—politics, economics, security—and associated motives for exploiting the perceived value of cultural property i.e. artworks, antiquities, and monuments. The smaller, grey ovals identify manifestations of art and culture. The central, overlapping oval depicts how laws on art and cultural property and actors in the art world interact to develop the “Perceived Value” of cultural property.
In politics, repatriation and activism draw on the perceived cultural significance of cultural property. Nations such as Italy, Greece, Turkey, Peru, Nigeria, and Cambodia exploit international sentiment on repatriation of cultural property to challenge prominent museums over possession of prized antiquities and ancient art. Insurgents such as Ansar Dine in Mali target cultural property of opposing ideologies in acts of political violence.
In economics, tourism and the art market serve as sources of revenue for nations. The potential for museums to draw tourism motivates nations to aggressively pursue repatriation of cultural property. The worldwide $60 billion market for art has implications for economic development, and emerging nations such as Bangladesh foster local artists by hosting art fairs. While contemporary art can represent, and may inspire, political dissent, the financial gains from export of works by local artists requires nations to balance the net potential benefit.
In security, the perceive value of cultural property puts nations with a wealth in cultural heritage at risk. The Taliban’s destruction of the giant statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan in 2001, looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad in 2003, and a worldwide multi-billion dollar illicit trade in fine art and antiquities security threat that precipitates from the perceived value of culture property and puts cultural identity at risk.
The arrows represent interconnections between the motives for exploiting the perceived economic and political value of cultural property. The inner triangle of arrows illustrates the cycle of looting leading to repatriation which leads to tourism that inspires collecting that, through the market for cultural property, motivates looting  The outer triangle of arrows illustrates that the perceived political value of cultural property motivates targeting of religious monuments and historic structures in acts of political violence and that the success of contemporary artists can not only foster economic development but also support political activism. Also, the illicit trade in art has political ramifications when market demand for antiquities motivates looting in regions of conflict such as Syria, Mali, and Afghanistan.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cultural Security News (Oct. 21 - Oct. 27)

Forgeries and looting overshadow political tension and economic progress
In politics, tension developed in the Caucasus with Azerbaijan claiming that Armenia is pursuing an aggressive cultural policy in Shusha, a city of Azerbaijani heritage. In Europe, Hindus welcomed the overdue completion of the Berlin Holocaust memorial for Roma and Sinti people, in South America, Peru claimed the title of “world leader in repatriation” for itself by noting the recovery of 2,700 objects over the past five years, and in Africa, Botswana has started the process of becoming a signatory of the 1970 UNESCO convention countering the illicit transfer of cultural property.
In economics, estimates of the $60 billion worldwide art market indicate that the art acquisitions account for more than 20% of items in the same category such as wine and diamonds. Correspondingly, the art market is reportedly in the midst of a dot-com boom. Examples of on-line presence range from marking tools for established auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's to new, exclusively web-based, ventures such as Saffron of India. Artnet is forging ahead in on-line auction space, and a range of websites appeal to new collectors with a blend of educational and marketing content and innovative discovery such as
In security, the booming market for fake art India includes sculpture as affordable art, and former clients of Knoedler & Company of New York charged that the gallery had dealt in forgeries from a mysterious collection. Over the past month, a couple of news stories in Macedonia reported that US citizens had been caught and detained for attempting to smuggle antiquities, and reportedly, Bangladesh suffers from looting of large volumes of Buddhist artifacts with allegations of complicit political figures.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What will it mean to acquire art in the 21st century?

In the last decade, the art market and the trade in antiquities experienced radical change. Collecting of “affordable” art, acquiring art purely as an investment, and negotiation over possession of antiquities have changed the balance of power in the art world. Will globalized acquisition of artworks and agreements to share ownership of antiquities normalize the prestige of possessing specific objects? In short, expansion and transparency of the art market has made collecting a less exclusive practice.
Why do individual artworks command 10s of millions of dollars at auction and 100s of millions of dollars in private sales? A number of articles have questioned the financial value placed on works by artists such as Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, and Mark Rothko. Are the aesthetic qualities and cultural significance so distinct, or does a limited supply of works by revered non-living artists create competition between collectors or museums seeking cultural prestige?
What about the investment potential of art? Works by living artists, such as Gerhard Richter,have made headlines in the context of being, relatively, safe investments. Statistical analyses of the art market suggest that investments in artworks are competitive with securities, but strategies for selecting artworks to minimize financial risk are still developing. Not surprisingly, the increasing value of, and expanding interest in, art is not lost on forgers, and reports of fakes introduce another source of risk to collecting as a financial investment.
On the other end of the spectrum, affordable art is making headlines worldwide. Art collecting has broad appeal, and the resulting demand is serviced by various means such as art supermarkets in China, printmaking in India, and high volume retailers in the United States selling limited edition runs of works by famous artists. In some cases, such as India, collectors prefer to buy known fakes of well-known artists. The quality of the fakes is high enough to appreciate the aesthetics of the original works, but the collectors risk less in the event that works by a particular artist lose market value.
Both the expanding demand for affordable art and appreciation of fakes suggest that, for many collectors, acquiring art is less about the prestige of pedigree and more about personal appreciation. Further, affordable contemporary artworks are, in fact,originals. As possession of original artworks becomes more common, perhaps collectors will feel less reliant on public or professional opinion of aesthetics and more interested in personal appreciation of art.
The ability to discover, learn about, and acquire art through the web enables new collectors to develop a sense of appreciation on their own.  Especially with the aid of social networking, new collectors can seek feedback to explore and refine their taste without retaining a professional art advisor. With such newfound freedom, collectors worldwide will redefine what it means to acquire art in the interest of appreciating culture of the 21st century.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cultural Security News (Oct. 14 - Oct. 20)

Worldwide Contrasts in Markets and Politics
In the art market, a painting by Gerhard Richter fetched in excess of 21 million GBP. The sales price is particularly noteworthy for a living artist and suggests that collectors consider works by Richter a secure investment. On the other hand, on the other side of the world, collectors shied away from investing in Aboriginal art and left more than half the lots at Sotheby's Australia, which fell well short of half of a low estimate of $1.3 million for the auction.
A Syrian rebel (rear) walks inside a burIn cultural heritage, the United States strengthened ties with Morocco with an Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation to renovate historically significant cemeteries of various faiths (e.g. Islamic, Christian, and Jewish). In contrast, in China, authorities in Quang Ngai took measures to prevent fishermen in Binh Chau and Binh Son Districts from looting a 500-year-old shipwreck containing antiquities. At the same time, an international training program of the World Heritage Impact Assessment opened in Lijang. In the Middle East, destruction continued in Syria where one estimate of looted antiquities reached $2 billion, while an international conference on conserving Petra opened in Amman, Jordan.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A New Coat of Paint

Does art have the potential to revive depressed economies? The booming art market is evidence that art can thrive even in times of economic decline.  And it seems that art has the ability to turn the tide for towns in a slump!
Detroit’s Heidelberg Project—an artistic creation by Tyree Guyton that spans two-blocks of downtown Detroit—is just one example of artistic city projects being used to “heal” neighborhoods that are down on their luck.  The healing power of art also has been applied to the entire façade of Tannersville, a small town in the Catskill Mountain region of Upstate New York.  Like many of America’s Main Streets, this small town was doomed to perish from economic decline; Tannersville’s fate, however, was turned when the entire town itself became a work of art.
The “Tannersville Paint Program” is the vision of local artist Elena Patterson.  The program was implemented by the Hunter Mountain Foundation back in 2003 and has thrived on the support of corporate sponsors and local residents.  Elena’s mission was to spruce up the town with vibrant colors and dramatic paint schemes.  The painted town—in which color is splashed across signs, buildings, trashcans, and rocks—drew the attention The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, NBC’s Today Show, and numerous local Albany networks.  The Paint Program appears to have had a great impact; as Elena remarked, the village has been freshened up, the streets are livelier, the restaurants fuller, and people are driving up to take a look at “Tannersville, The Painted Village.”
Can art help to revive local economies? It seems so.  It is true that Tannersville still suffers from economic hardships; Greene County was hit hard by Hurricane Irene last year, and the mountaintop village—whose economy is predominantly based on the ski industry—has experienced several meager seasons over the last few years.  However, Tannersville prompts us to consider the impact art can have on the economy.  Perhaps what this town needs is just a new coat of paint? We can hope that this story of the healing power of art will inspire even more innovative projects around the globe.
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Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

$Billions in antiquities and art reflect the pull of cultural property

The politics and economics of cultural property made headlines with a $2 billion estimate for looted antiquities from Syria  and a $1.5 billion estimate for the offering of art at London’s Frieze week.  The illicit market in antiquities and the art market not only indicate a demand for cultural property but also indicate initiative to steal and create to meet the demand. The market demand, such as illustrated by Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, reflects the pull of cultural property in international affairs.
In politics of the past week, cultural heritage provided a means of diplomacy in two volatile regions that have ramifications for international security. In Iran, Director General of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) met with Deputy Director of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) in Tehran. ICCROM agreed to assist CHTHO by training groups of Iranian experts. In Korea, France agreed on shared ownership of cultural patrimony that had been looted the mid-1800s. The repatriation of Joseon-period royal texts from France to Korea in the form of a long-term lease shows innovation in resolution of ownership disputes. At the same time, the United Nations announced access to worldwide cases and analyses of organized crime operations. As a result of a joint effort of the Italian and Colombian governments and in coordination with Interpol, the collated material will provide a valuable source for research on contraband including trafficked cultural property.
In economics, the art market flourishes at both ends. At the high end, debate surrounds the perceived value of works by Gerhard Richter. Paintings by the living German artist fetch in excess of 20 million pounds. The success and safety of Richter’s works as investments has been recognized by celebrities such as Eric Clapton and attributed to the transnational appeal of colorful abstracts. At the affordable end, US-based Costco, the seventh largest retailer in the world, has resumed selling limited edition prints of well-known artists such as Warhol and Matisse with prices ranging below $1000. While the “art for everybody” concept has origins with Sears in the 1960s, perhaps Costco’s international presence in countries such as South Korea will effectively exploit expanding interest in art collecting. In a similar vein, India has “re-invented” printmaking to service budget collectors.
In some cases, the integration of politics and economics has ramifications for security. The wealth of looted cultural material from Syria echoes the severity of the conflict and raises concern over cultural cleansing that may also fund the conflict. On the upside, cooperation on the protection of cultural property improves relations between nations and increases the potential for tourism. Preserving cultural heritage in Iran and returning cultural patrimony to Korea provide a basis for developing museums and other cultural institutions. Cultural institutions both attract tourism and propagate identity that plays a role in social and political stability.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cultural Security News (Oct. 07 - Oct. 13)

Celebrity of Repatriation and the Value of Artworks
The increasing potential for repatriation of cultural patrimony and the influence of celebrity provenance on the market value of artworks illustrate the political economy of art and culture. Turkey made headlines, once again, on assertive repatriation, which reflects a growing international sentiment for the return of cultural patrimony independent of the circumstances under which objects left a nation.
The art factoryOn market value, an Australian blog suggested a trend in the relation between celebrity ownership and dramatic increases in the market value of artworks. In economics, as the domestic art market of China continues to spur production, Chinese auction houses, such as Guardian, begin an expansion with sales in Hong Kong to compete with major international auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's. At the same time, art dealers from United States made news with a presence in London ahead of the Frieze Art Fair, which boasts an offering of $1.5 billion in artworks.
An insightful editorial in Pakistan keenly tied the politics and economics of cultural property together by reviewing looting and destruction of Buddhist relics and inferring the ramifications for cultural security of the region. In a nuance of cultural security, an article on the seizure of smuggled Islamic artifacts in Egypt indicated demand from Gulf states and other Muslim nations for such cultural artifacts.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Perspectives on the Political Economy of Cultural Property

Against the backdrop of Turkey's continued assertive campaign of repatriation and a reported $1.5 billion in artworks at London’s Frieze Week, events in the world of cultural property provided a different perspective. Over the past week several news articles offered novel insight into the political economy of art and culture and the ramifications for security.
In Egypt, testimony to the Committee of Culture, Tourism and Media alleged misuse of antiquities as gifts to foster foreign relations. The article specifically pursued answers to the question, "Did former president Hosni Mubarak offer a segment of Egypt's archaeological heritage to foreign countries for political purposes?" A source within the Faculty of Tourism and Hotels at Mansoura University made a number claims of unauthorized gifts to foreign presidents including reference to a "notorious" case in which 48 artifacts disappeared from the Egyptian Museum.
In South Korea, the government established the Art Bank to oversee the acquisition and distribution of artworks to government agencies. The Cultural Minister hoped that the Art Bank would "improve the quality of the government art collection and stimulate the art market." The state collection comprises more than 2,500 artworks, and the Ministry of Culture plans to acquire 500 million won ($449,000) worth of artwork still this year.
Finally, in Pakistan, an opinion piece on the integration of politics and looting of antiquities illustrated a security aspect of the political economy of art. The article referred to the well-known multimillion-dollar illicit trade in Buddhist relics from Pakistan and cited an Associated Press article that referred to the government's lack of "funds, resources and political will to protect the hundreds of Buddhist monasteries." The author offered the observation, "As Pakistan’s history is being rewritten to service a violent, exclusionary narrative of Muslim identity, we have to embrace our cultural heritage as a reminder of our pluralistic past," which keenly identifies the ramifications for regional security.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cultural Security News (Sep. 30 - Oct. 06)

Contemporary Sales and Ancient Losses
Aleppo Citadel's outer gateA report from Artprice indicated that the contemporary art market is resisting the economic crisis, in that sales only showed a small decline from last year. Major market forces such as Qatar help. The Royal Family continues to outbid competitors for masterworks after a precedent of the $250 million acquisition of Cezanne's The Card Players last year. The market also finds support in emerging areas such as India where an independent art fair in New Delhi enables collectors to interface directly with young artists. Also, in the United States, the Cherokee Art Market of Catoosa, Oklahoma displayed the talent of Native American artists nationwide, and compliments from Paris bolster the image of Los Angeles as a capital for contemporary art.
The news is not as uplifting for antiquities. A recent report on looting in Syria suggested that antiquities are traded directly for arms by dealers in Jordan and Lebanon. Also, Pakistan struggles with the production of fakes and with trafficking in looted Buddhist relics that fetch multimillion-dollar prices at auctions abroad. Trafficking augurs repatriation, and, in fact, Turkey remains assertive in calling for the return of antiquities from museums worldwide.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Political Economy of Cultural Property

When Edvard Munch's The Scream fetched $120 million at Sotheby's in New York in May, the painting, with its angst imagery, made headlines as the most expensive artwork sold at auction. The sale also highlighted that the art market continues to draw attention as a type of alternative investment that may offer refuge in times of economic anxiety. At the same time, the broader world of cultural property is developing political angst.
While artworks become financial assets, antiquities are taking on political liability. “Source nations” are gaining confidence in challenging museums in “market nations” over the return of antiquities with questionable provenance. With past successes, such as the repatriation of the “Lydian Hoard” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the 1980s, Turkey has made headlines recently for aggressively approaching several museums in the United States and Europe about a number of antiquities.
An expanding art market and evolving precedents for repatriation reflect the financial and political value of cultural property. Unfortunately, the value motivates looting of antiquities worldwide and targeting of historic structures and religious monuments. A recent example is the destruction of mausoleums of Sufi saints by Ansar Dine in Timbuktu, Mali. UNESCO raises awareness of the extent of looting and destruction, but awareness does not seem to draw the necessary support quickly enough. Perhaps not enough parties have, or realize, a vested interest.
In some cases, the financial and political dimensions of cultural property intersect to form a security risk. Recent rumors of a trade in arms for antiquities from Syria epitomizes a tragic aspect of the political economy of cultural property. Might the financial significance of artworks and the political clout of cultural patrimony expand the range of stakeholders in the protection of cultural heritage?