Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hypocritical Perceptions, or Shifting Stances?

A recent news article posted on discusses the dismay felt by art experts over the Fred L. Emerson Foundation’s decision to sell a valuable Thomas Cole Painting from the Seward House Museum in Upstate New York.
“Portage Falls on the Genesee” has been with the Seward family or in the museum that was once the home of William H. Seward—and abolitionist, governor of New York, a U.S. Senator, and Secretary State—since 1839.  Seward John Driscoll, president of Driscoll Babock Galleries in New York, is quoted as saying, “This is cultural property.  You do not take cultural properties and removed them from their place of origin.  It just isn’t done.”
But it IS done.  It is interesting how one’s viewpoint may change when one is no longer acquiring but being forced to relinquish an item of cultural importance.  Such instances illuminate the stark contrast that can exist in people’s minds when it comes to issues of cultural “ownership” and repatriation.
As in many cases of cultural property “protection,” the Thomas Cole painting was removed as a precautionary safety measure; the painting could not adequately be protected in a house museum. There are innumerable cases in which this argument as been used; a popular example is the British Museum arguing that the Parthenon Marbles would not have survived if they had not been "protected"--brought to England--by the Earl of Elgin 200 years ago. Of course, it must be noted that in the case of the Thomas Cole painting the Seward Museum is choosing to deaccession and sell cultural property. An important underlying factor, however, is the question, “Who owns cultural property?”
Then again, perhaps this notion that appears to assert “what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine as well” is not quite so hypocritical; perhaps—dare we hope?—this may be a sign of shifting stance on the value of cultural property remaining  in their places of origin. Last September the University of Pennsylvania relinquished the treasure of Troy back to Turkey; Yale University has returned the last batch of artifacts taken from Machu Picchu; the Getty has been returning objects to Italy for the last number of years. It does appear as if the tides are turning.  Hopefully repatriation continues on this upward trend.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
Learn about the framework for Cultural Intelligence.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cultural Security News (Feb. 17 - Feb. 23)

Looting continues in Syria, but the Czech Republic has strong sales at auction
In politics, the European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani moved to improving on existing legislation for Member States to pursue repatriation of illicitly removed cultural patrimony. Turkey reported substantial statistics on recovery of cultural property from abroad over the past five years and ambitions to confront France and the Louvre. In Russia, Vladimir Putin openly opposed the restitution of property that Soviets had nationalized after 1917, at least for the present.
In a crossover of politics and economics, China’s Party-run auction house, Poly Auction, continues to thrive and serve as an indicator of vested interests in the state-run economy. In Russia, reportedly, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, contemporary art became the most affordable and led to an “overheating” of the market from 2000 to 2008. While promoting trade with India, David Cameron denied calls for the return of the famed Koh-i-Noor diamond.
In a crossover of politics and security, in Cambodia, sculptures of lions indicate cultural exchange with India prior to the presence of the animals in the nation and the development of the “beast” into a symbol of protection.
In economics, in London, reports of sales at Christie's and Sotheby’s indicated active interest of international bidders in the high-end market. The Czech Republic also reported record turnovers at auction in 2012, and Chinese acquire modern Chinese art in the Czech Republic. Artprice partnered with Artron, a leading art market information provider in China. India announced a first contemporary art biennale.
In a crossover of economics and security, in Egypt, funding for protection of cultural heritage, such as the pyramids, depends on revenue from tourism, which the current turmoil impairs. In London, a pilfered Banksy mural appeared at auction without concern.
In security, Syria's head of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, reported on the extent of looting from tomb-robbing to artifacts from cultural institutions, and an article indicated that the perpetrators appear to be small-scale gangs.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shifting policy on cultural property

Is the protection and possession of cultural property doomed to contention, or is cultural property policy evolving? Mali and Syria have certainly proven clear examples of threats to cultural property in conflict. Religious monuments are targeted in political violence, antiquities are looted and trafficked for financial gain, and cultural heritage in general suffers as collateral damage of armed conflict. Meanwhile nations, such as Nigeria and Turkey, continue claims for repatriation of cultural patrimony against foreign resistance. Over the past week, however, a couple of stories suggest political shifts in favor of less contentious treatment of cultural property.
Nigeria-hosts-foreign-museums-2Al-Qaida leadership may realize the political advantage of preserving religious monuments despite perceived violations of Shariah. A letter recovered in Timbuktu, Mali, provides evidence that a senior commander of al-Qaida’s branch in Africa considers the strategic value of local cultural heritage when taking control of a city or region. “The letter also shows a sharp division within al-Qaida’s Africa chapter over how quickly and how strictly to apply Islamic law, with its senior commander expressing dismay over the whipping of women and the destruction of Timbuktu’s ancient monuments.”
“Source nations” may also realize the need for adjusting political strategy in effective pursuit of repatriation. The success of Turkey’s assertive tactics notwithstanding, Nigeria has demonstrated an interest in pursuing a more diplomatic approach. In fact, for the third consecutive year, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) will host representatives of foreign museums that hold looted objects that Nigeria considers cultural patrimony. While the previous similar meetings were held abroad, in Austria and Germany, the upcoming event is planned for Benin.
Both cases: 1) a more measured approach to treatment of cultural property in religious conflict and 2) diplomatic engagement in the interest of repatriation indicate increasingly sophisticated cultural property policy that integrates with foreign and security policy.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cultural Security News (Feb. 10 - Feb. 16)

Christie’s and Sotheby’s report gains, while Mali and Syria suffer loses
In politics, in Washington D.C. the Chinese Embassy, which, established in 179, represented a time of developing Sino-American relations, was razed to make way for a new building. A decision by the French Ministry of Culture to return artworks to Jewish families has implication for the return of objects from museums in the UK as the Arts Council of England prepares to consider new claims. At the same time, Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments hosted representatives of foreign museums that hold looted pre-19th century cultural objects of Nigerian heritage. Cambodia requested that a Sotheby’s executive who is on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee recuse herself from the case of the mythic warrior statue.
a crossover of politics and economics, in Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, chaired a session in which the Council of Ministers facilitated a government stake in a private company that will develop state-owned heritage buildings. In Canada, if the Cultural Property Export Review Board certifies an artwork as a national treasure, then the artwork can qualify as a cultural gift, which avoids capital gains tax, when gifted to designated instructions.
In a crossover of politics and security, Raul Grioni, president of Venezuela's Cultural Patrimony Institute, expected to engage the U.S. Department of State over the return of a stolen painting, which is by Henri Matisse, to the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art. The return of the Buddha statues that were stolen from Japan and found in South Korea is pending an investigation of the circumstances under which the statues came to be in Japan. Asmaa al-Ghoul reported on how “pillaging” of artifacts from the Gaza strip by Israeli authorities has erased Palestinian history, and Palestinian officials criticized the transfer of objects from the West Bank for an exhibit of Herod the Great in Israel’s national museum. A report on a document from an al-Qaida leader indicated an interest in preserving cultural heritage in Mali and criticized destruction of monuments and manuscripts.
In economics, an article in Forbes shed light on record prices for artworks by women artists against the backdrop record prices in the art market. The fifth India Art Fair caused some controversies over misleading information about the number of installations and entry hours, but the quality of the available art and the sales demonstrated a viable market. In New York, auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s had record sales for individual works and generated about $170 million in total sales, and in London, a Sotheby’s auction achieved a second-highest ever total of $116.4 million. Speculation continued over a correction in China’s top rank in the art market. The Nigerian market for artworks and artifacts continued to show promise in 2012.
In security, Syria's Antiquities Directorate reported on continued destruction and threats to cultural heritage, and UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture, Francesco Bandarin, made a statement about the illicit market for artifacts from Syria. UNESCO also convened a meeting of international experts to provide insight into the damage to cultural heritage, and to promote protection thereof, in Mali. In Jordan, UNESCO provided regional training for awareness of trafficking in antiquities. Jordanian police seized a large cache of Syrian artifacts in Amman. A article out of Sri Lanka reported on well organized plundering of cultural artifacts by gangs across the island.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Looting-Trafficking-Repatriation Cycle

Looting of cultural property and the repatriation of antiquities represent the beginning and end of a cycle that has been occurring for centuries if not millennia. In the present, reports of looting of manuscripts in Mali and repatriation of Nok statuettes to Nigeria reflect the overt parts of the cycle, while the interim parts remain less visible. How does cultural patrimony come to be in the museums and private collections from which the objects are returned to the source nations?
In some cases, the antiquities are transferred with the consent of the source nations or purchased legally with complete provenance. In other cases, the antiquities are trafficked. The latter method of transfer has been receiving increasing attention over the past decade. The UNESCO 1970 Convention was a watershed in: raising awareness of trafficking in cultural property, placing responsibility of due diligence on the purchaser, and enabling source nations to make claims for repatriation. Since then, the questions of repatriation simmered until coming to a boil in 2005 with the publicized claims that Italy and Greece made against high-profile museums in the United States.  
Recent reports on a wave of repatriations and the seeming political power of source nations reflect a shift in attitude on the part of museums in “market nations,” as do initiatives to raise the standards of due diligence for acquisitions by museums. But what’s the effect on the illicit market in antiquities, especially since the standards for private collectors remain less transparent?
Mideast Jordan Syria.JPEGA few reports over the past week would suggest that the looting and trafficking are thriving. For example, Jordan and Oman are suspected of serving as transfer points in the traffic. The common border with Syria makes Jordan a point of transfer for the looting that has been occurring amidst the conflict, and Oman’s director general of archaeology and museums at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MoHC) concedes the nation’s geographically strategic location for international smuggling.
The looting and trafficking indicate an active market, which suggests that some private collects are not following the example of museums in adopting higher standards of due diligence. The increased awareness of exploitation of cultural property by non-state actors seems, however, to inspire news coverage of looting. Recently, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture Francesco Bandarin was quoted as having "information that some (Syrian cultural) items are beginning to appear on the market.”
The reporting does offer progress in shedding light on the trafficking part of the cycle.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to “Play the Art Market”

We hear about the “big ticket” sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s of Rubens and Botticellis, and we see the rising values fetched by post-war and contemporary art by de Kooning and Diebenkorn. Given what is hot on the market—whether it be the “enduring appeal” of the limited Old Master works or the “dynamic energy” of the new and upcoming—it should come as no surprise that the work of notorious street artist Bansky is such a phenomenon. Rachel Corbett of Blouin ArtInfo writes a very compelling article describing just how Banksy has pulled it off.
Unlike the intricate techniques and palettes characteristic of the Renaissance or the energy and vivacity seen in many contemporary works, Banksy uses stencils, as they are “quick, clean, crisp, and efficient.”
Banksy takes an economical approach to art; according to him, “The ruthlessness and efficiency of it is perfect.” This is quite humorous given that his studio-painted canvases now fetch upwards of $1 million. His anonymous street art has bolstered his fame such that collectors pay to have Banksy’s street art carved out of the structures on which it is painted.
Why is Banksy so famous? Namely because he has no name.  The  tagger once known as Robin Banx “wove anonymity with celebrity, irony with accessibility, and street art with high art to create the global Banksy brand.” Banksy capitalized on the untapped demographic of the young, would-be collectors who were not going to the galleries.  By shunning the art dealers, Banksy and his colleague Lazarides essentially circumvented the typical art market and instead completely controlled the distribution of the works; in effect, they created their own market for street art. Interestingly, this has opened up the art market within eBay and even within auction houses, as the artwork is snatched up literally off the street.
What is it about a certain type of artwork that makes it “hot”? It seems nigh on possible to distinguish any particular characteristics or qualities. One thing is for certain—the art world will continue to grow, and will always hold surprises. All art, it seems, has the potential to become a “big ticket” item. The artist just has to know how to “play the art market.”
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
Learn about the framework for Cultural Intelligence.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cultural Security News (Feb. 03 - Feb. 09)

Hope for manuscripts in Mali and correction of the art market in China
In politics, in the United States, a Civil War Trust worked to preserve the historic site of the Battle of Gettysburg. A number of letters to the editor in The New York Times reacted to potentially misleading aspects of Hugh Eakin’s commentary, “The Great Giveback,” on trends in repatriation of antiquities from museums to “source nations.” Simultaneously, a commentary raised concerns over the full effect of a recent announcement by the Association of Art Museum Directors on higher standards for museums to publicly justify acquisitions of objects with incomplete provenance. Meanwhile, Russia countered claims for financial compensation and the return of the Schneerson collection to the United States.
In a crossover of politics and economics, an article out of New York echoed the logic behind modernizing tax law, such as a resale royalty, for the art market, while Forbes reported that the IRS strives to ensure fair treatment of art collectors through an objective Art Advisory Panel. Reuters reported that “Pakistan plans to build a $30 million amusement park and outdoor activity centre on the edge of the northwestern town of Abbottabad, where U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden…” An article in ArtInfo, revealed the commercial tactics of the renowned street artist, Banksy.
In a crossover of politics and security, the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon visited Tyre in the interest of initiatives, such as the Ambassador’s Fund, to protect cultural property. In Mali, questions arose over the whereabouts of 15th-century manuscripts in Mali after the retreat of extremists from Timbuktu.
In economics, an article in China covered previously raised questions over practices of third-party guarantees at art auctions, while anticipation of art auction statistics for 2012 predicts a downward adjustment of China’s rank in the global art market. At the same time, ArtInfo, speculated on the positive effects of a correction to the art market in China. Art Stage Singapore, on the other hand, has continued to expand over the past three years. In India, art also seems to have a future as an investment, and an obscure valuation technique prices artworks by the square inch. Overall, high-end art collectors apparently remain unhindered by the weak global economy, and the CEO of The Fine Art Fund Group predicted that the “top end of the art market will continue to boom for the next ten years.”
In security, an article on preservation in Oregon held optimism for the protection of Rock Art worldwide. While commentary continues on the political and cultural ramifications for destruction in Mali, a number of reports indicate that security measures may have saved some cultural treasures in Mali. Oman announced plans to form a committee to counter trafficking in cultural property.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Contrast in Protection of Cultural Property: Mali and Nigeria

The security of African cultural heritage continued to take on political significance over the past week. Events in Nigeria stood in stark contrast to the destruction of monuments and manuscripts in Mali. Nigeria has a history of looting and consequent efforts to repatriate cultural patrimony. Over the past week, the efforts continued in two separate instances. In both cases the preservation of cultural property was a subject in African affairs, and both cases involved France.
The first report indicated that objects, which were seized by France’s Directorate-General for Customs and Indirect Duties in 2010, would be returned to Mr. Yusuf Abdallah Usman, Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). While in the possession of France, the Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Quai Branly and Louvre museums enabled the determination of the origin of the artifacts. In this case, France not only honored the interests of Nigeria through the repatriation but also invested in understanding the cultural significance of the artifacts.
The second report indicated that the French Ambassador, Jacques Champagne De Labriolle announced the expected return of soapstone statuette of Esie origin. Nigeria’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, High Chief Edem Duke elaborated on the collaboration of France and Nigeria under the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, which complement one another in countering the illicit trade in cultural property. The French Ambassador also commented on coordination between the French Customs and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to return seized artifacts to Nigeria and in general to cooperate with source nations to counter trafficking in cultural property.
In two separate articles, Nigeria announced increased efforts to protect antiquities and cultural heritage sites in the nation. The NCMM appealed to communities to protect cultural patrimony in the interest of future generations. Director-General Usman in particular urged traditional rulers to ensure the preservation of cultural identity through the safeguarding of antiquities. The Director-General backed up the appeal with announcement to employ “600 security personnel and craftsmen to monitor” cultural heritage sites.
The close geographic proximity of Mali and Nigeria emphasizes the contrast in effects of foreign cooperation on the protection of cultural heritage. Despite that France and Mali are both States Parties to the 1954 Hague Convention, military intervention in Mali had the unfortunate coincidence of additional destruction of cultural property. In contrast, repatriation of cultural artifacts to Nigeria honored the 1970 UNESCO Convention and complemented local initiatives to preserve cultural patrimony.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cultural Security News (Jan. 27 – Feb. 02)

Repatriations and Arrests for Smuggling Antiquities are up
In politics, a commentary in The New York Times discussed the power of “source nations” in reclaiming antiquities. In some cases, the museums in “market nations” conceded to claims for repatriation without the need for legal proceedings. In a similar vein, France returned statuettes of the Nok civilization to Nigeria, and the French Ambassador announced plans for the return of another set of artifacts. In Brazil, a citizen identified and voluntarily returned a Roman sculpture to Egypt.
In a crossover of politics and security, in Egypt, a series of crackdowns on comedians and journalists may put contemporary artists at risk as well. The Association of Art Museum Directors in the United States raised the standards for due diligence in acquisitions of antiquities that have incomplete provenance. In Nigeria, The National Commission for Museum and Monuments (NCMM) appealed to communities to take initiative to protect antiquities for the benefit of future generations, while Yemisi Shyllon spoke on the need to preserve artistic heritage.
In economics, an article in the Business Times of South Africa cautioned against prematurely perceiving art as an asset class. In Singapore, Chinese artists formed the second largest group at Art Stage Singapore, after local artists. In New York, Sotheby’s featured Indian art in an auction, while in India, upper-middle-class families appear to value art in wealth management. Indian art prices reportedly remain depressed but show signs of recovery.  An article in ArtInfo commented on the ephemeral market value of works by artists who were recently considered a “sensation.” A London art fair for “affordable art” will have a presence in Hong Kong in March.
On Friday, the first day of the fair, some galleries said they had made sales ranging from a few lakhs of rupees to `10 crore. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
In a crossover of economics and security, an article in The New York Times revealed the lack of regulation in the art market against the backdrop of record prices and the seeming impunity of galleries to some existing regulations. In Mali, artists receive support from North Korea and China to create monuments in the vein of the foreign culture.
In security, destruction continued in Mali as rebels retreated from Timbuktu. In particular the burning of a library, Ahmed Baba Institute, brought the security of historic manuscripts into question. In Nigeria, the NCMM announced plans to employ 600 security personnel to monitor cultural heritage sites. In Romania, authorities arrested three people who were transferring masterworks that disappeared from the Netherlands in January. In Iraq, Missan Police seized 27 antiquities that were in route to leave the nation illicitly, the Israeli Antiquities Authority caught three robbers in the act of looting a burial chamber, and authorities in South Korea arrested five Korean men on suspicion of smuggling Buddhist statues from Japan.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.