Sunday, September 25, 2022

Cultural Property III

This is going to be my last Missive in my Cultural Property Series for the time being. As important as the issues of International Cultural Property are, I believe, one has to be sure to cover issues at home before trying to change things abroad.

Having lived now in the American Southwest for a substantial amount of time my regular readers know of my interest in Native America. In the westward expansion of the United States Native Americans were treated almost as badly as any indigenous group anywhere in the world. It has surprised me how well they have adapted to the dominant Anglo world and still been able to retain their own cultures.

Anglo contemplating Hopi Katsina Doll

The United States Government has created some laws to protect Native American property. Neither Canadian nor American Indians are able to own land on their Reservations, so they cannot build equity. Reservation land is held “in trust” for Indians by the federal government. The goal of this policy was originally to keep Indians contained on certain lands. Now, it has shifted to preserving these lands for indigenous peoples.

You may have heard of “unceded land”. It means that the American Indians and First Nations (as the Canadians refer to their Indigenous people) never ceded or legally signed away their lands to the government. This fact has been recently admitted in statements like the bronze plaque The Metropolitan Museum of Art added to its fa├žade on May 11, 2021, which acknowledges the homeland of the Indigenous Lenape diaspora.

It follows that tribal cultural property is also not individually owned but held in trust by an authorized Native American caretaker or caretakers for the tribe as a whole. Under traditional tribal law, these caretakers have no rights to sell the property in their possession.

The United States has laws of recent vintage to protect Native American art and artifacts. The Archeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA), 1979, addresses taking or dealing in material from Federal or Indian Lands. Another is The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), 1990, which mandates the return of Native American human remains, therefore requiring archeological exploration before building on land that is likely to have had burial grounds. Additionally, NAGPRA establishes the right of repatriation from museums of sacred objects and those claimed as cultural patrimony taken from tribal lands. It also covers areas of unceded land that First Nations (read Native Americans) traditionally occupied. The United States and Canada, naturally have a great deal of land that qualifies.

Both laws cover roughly the same material requiring respectful treatment of human remains and returning them to an individual or tribe. They also cover “but are not limited to pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, weapon projectiles, tools, structures or portions of structures, pit houses, rock paintings, rock carvings, intaglios” etc.

As I have said, none of this is simple. For instance, a Katsina is a spirit being in the religious beliefs of the Pueblo peoples. Small wood sculptures made in their image orginally served as teaching tools for the young but developed into collectibles for Anglos. For more information click on this link published by the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona that has one of the great collections of Native American Art. The museums in Santa Fe have collections of Katsina “dolls” but will no longer display them because some of the subjects are considered sacred. Still, there is no law preventing their sale by galleries and directly by Hopi and Zuni artists participating in various markets. Here you can see some of the Heard Museum’s collection on display. As this museum is in Arizona, it has not been subject to the political pressure of the New Mexico pueblos.

Misrepresenting works as Indian made, if they are not created by a Native American, is another matter and a problem for both artists and collectors. The 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act was passed by Congress to address the issue. However, it has proved difficult to enforce as can be seen by the number of misidentified offerings in certain Santa Fe tourist shops priced below authentic Indian works.

Needless to say, there are many different interest groups: those who keep the religion and history of the tribe, the artists from that tribe, the gallery owners and the collectors. This last sentence can be expanded into at least one chapter or a book, but the point is that it is always imperative to try to understand from where each constituency comes and then work to arrive at an equitable solution.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Cultural Property II

You probably caught on from last week’s Missive that I was going to continue on the subject of Cultural Property.

Coming back to a paper I wrote in 1997 and mentioned last week, Is the Collecting of Works of Art a Legitimate Pursuit? “Trading in artifacts may not claim to be the world's oldest profession, but it is certainly among the oldest," so commences John Walker, former director of the National Gallery in Washington DC in his introduction to the catalog “Expert's Choice: 1000 Years of the Art Trade, the 1983 exhibition at The Virginia Museum of Art.

I will reprise what I wrote on the subject in 1997: ”Collecting can be documented for thousands of years in China, Sumaria, from ancient Egyptian times and traced through Greece to Rome. The sacking of Corinth by the Romans in 146 BC led to one of the first and certainly one of the greatest auction sales in history. At the time it was, of course, celebrated not condemned.

Collecting has always been associated with political power and financial means. Art has been collected through commission, purchase and plunder by Emperors, Kings, Popes, Robber Barons and most recently by heads of corporations.”

The tide began to turn in 1815 when the Horses of St. Marks that had been taken by Napoleon for his Louvre Museum were retured to Venice. In the past half century the tempo of change has increased with Ethics, Morals and Mores holding sway. Still it has taken some time for the collecting public and even the public institutions to recognize the fact. During this relatively new century institutions and individual collectors are coming to accept and act on new rules of engagement.

When I opened my computer exactly one week ago today and was about to start writing, sure enough there were a couple of new articles on this subject.

One from NPR had the provocative headline, “A Kidnapped Goddess Returns Home, After Prosecutors Expose Art Thieves”. Another from Hyperallergic was titled, “a Small Community in Nepal Wants Its Stolen God Back”. These are unrelated stories and each could be the subject of a an entire book or movie.

In the Hyperalergenic article Emiline Smith tells the story that in 1999 a sculpture representing Aghoreswora (Nil Bahrahi), dating from 1636, was one of four lingas stolen from the house of their caretaker. As they are central to local celebration of a holy festival it was replaced with a replica. Only recently was the Aghoreswora identified through a posting on Facebook and traced to the Asian Civilizations Museum, part of the Singapore National Museum of Asian Antiquities and Decorative Art. Its repartriation had not been settled as of last week’s article.

In the case of the NPR story also written about in the New York Times the Marble Head of Athena was one of 74 pieces taken out of Italy by a well-known smuggler who was caught decades ago. Through a dealer known for being a middle man and advanced technology allowed the identification and tracing of works he handled. The New York Times story by Tom Mashberg and Graham Bowley reported the return to the countries of origin of 27 antiquities from Rome, Greece and Italy after seizure from the Metropolitan Museum by the New York District Attorney executing search warrants. In an official statement the Met specified that the investigators’ information had only recently been made available to them.

It seems likely to me that many of these works would have been sold by legitimate dealers who were fed a bill of goods by corrupt middlemen. At this point, I do not know. If the case can be proven that pieces were actually the exact same ones stolen and/or illegally exported, the country of origin has every right to get them back.

It is interesting that I grew up at a time that I thought it was inevitable for there to eventually be a one world community. That has obviously turned out to be a huge fallacy, yet in the world of cultural property we are beginning to understand what is important to others. The words in the Met’s recent statement on repatriation is certainly true: “The norms of collecting have changed significantly in recent decades”.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Cultural Property

After 13 years of sending out these Missives it is sometimes hard to remember that I had a life before. Reading an announcement from an Anthropological Institute and Museum that a member of their board of trustees had been appointed by President Biden to CPAC, no not The Conservative Political Action Conference but The President’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee! It brought to mind my own appointment to that Federal Committee by William Jefferson Clinton in 1995. “The Cultural Property Advisory Committee advises the President of the United States on appropriate U.S. action in response to requests from foreign governments for cultural property agreements. Cultural property agreements with other countries are collaborative tools to prevent illicit excavation and trade in cultural objects.”

For over 30 years in one form or another I was involved in the subject of Cultural Property. Being an art dealer and a board member or President of several art dealer associations, I was in a position to defend the profession as a legitimate one. Over the years the subject has become increasingly important as a hot political topic. Recent repatriations to a myriad of countries testify to that fact.

In July 2020 the Yale Law Review published an article by Nikita Lalwani called “State of the Art: How Cultural Property Became a National-Security Priority”. It explores the legislative history surrounding the passage of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (1983), which implemented the (1970) UNESCO Convention in the United States. Lalwani states “the final version of the law reflected a compromise between those who wanted strong cultural-property protections and those who favored weaker ones”. In one case i testified before Congress on an issue related to these discussions. This quote from that article states one of my arguments: “… art collectors and others argued that the bill would do a disservice to great works of art. Great art might be destroyed if the bill forced the United States to return cultural property to its country of origin. According to Gerald G. Stiebel, a former president of the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America, for example, “the market place”—as opposed to the U.S. government—was best placed to protect art. Art collectors were willing to “make the financial commitment” to ensure high-quality care, he said, and works that ended up in a museum would be safeguarded and preserved for the edification of the public.”

“Is Collecting Works of Art a Legitimate Pursuit” is the title of paper I wrote in 1997 after participating in a 5-day seminar on Cultural Property at the School for Advanced Research. In the excerpt below I again expressed my opposition to the principle that all art should be returned to its country of origin but do explain the other side of the argument.

“With the increased demand for archeological material by collectors and museums, the archaeologists became alarmed. They joined forces with governments in calling for the preservation of cultural heritage thus giving additional legitimacy to the concept that artifacts should not leave their country of origin. The archaeologists' argument is that when artifacts are removed from a site it destroys their context and therefore leaves the site incomprehensible for the purposes of understanding the past. While the archeologist has a valid claim that the context of an artifact should not be lost, to deny that an object can have aesthetic and even educational value on its own is being disingenuous.”

This Missive merely sets the stage for more blogs on the subject in the future. Who knows… maybe next week!

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Crime in Museums

Only recently have I focused on crime in museums, though I know it is nothing new. What grabbed my attention were articles that appeared some months ago about the director of, arguably, the museum with the most name recognition in the world, the Louvre. Jean-Luc Martinez, director of the Louvre from 2013-2021 was charged this year by a French court with complicity in a criminal scheme involving fraud and money laundering in which five illegally exported objects from Egypt were sold to the Louvre’s branch in Abu Dhabi. The French press inferred that he may have turned a blind eye to falsified export documents.

The Associated Press reported in 2014 that In 1999 or 2000 a Henri Matisse painting hanging on the walls of the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art was swapped out for a copy and the museum only realized it in 2002…so much for the watchful eye of the museum staff. Eventually the original was retrieved when there was an attempted sale in Miami in 2012 and repatriated to the museum in 2014. The image on the left is the original and one the right the replica.

At the end of June of this year the director of the Orlando Museum of Art was replaced after a raid by the F.B.I. where 25 works were seized after the opening of an exhibition of the life and work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. In the F.B.I.’s affidavit evidence was sited pointing to possible crimes of conspiracy and wire fraud, but no charges have yet been filed in the case. The New York Times reported that the investigation revealed “attempts to sell the paintings using false provenance and bank records show possible solicitation of investment in artwork that is not authentic”.

It is not just art museums. In 2003 during a routine audit the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, near Wichita found that objects were missing. In 2005 the Hutchinson News broke the story that Max Ary, who had been director of the museum for 27 years and in 2002 had become the director of another Space Museum, was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison for his role in stealing and selling space artifacts some of which were on loan from NASA… were they marked “Top Secret”?!

One of the most notorious alleged crimes involving another world-renowned museum, The Getty, was continuously in the news. In 2010 a decade-long investigation and trial in Rome finally ended. Marion True, former curator of antiquities at the museum had been accused of knowingly acquiring for her institution ancient works of dubious origin. The trial ended when the court noted that the statutes of limitations had expired on all charges against Dr. True. I am guessing that the Italy’s objective was to set an example forcing American Institutions to create new rules regarding more careful scrutiny of provenance in their acquisitions. The Metropolitan Museum was the first to make a deal to return 20 works of art to Italy, including the famous Euphronios Krater acquired in 1972, in exchange for some long-term loans from Italian museums. Before it went home note the label for the Euphronios Krater says “On Loan”.

I guess crime always makes news because it is titillating wherever you find it.