• Loans of Archaeological Material

    The acquisition of antiquities during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s has turned sour. One of the lessons from the recent returns of archaeological material to Italy is that museums need to check the documented history of objects before the pieces are purchased.

    And so a new era has dawned. An era when there are more rigorous acquisition policies.

    But is there a loop hole?


    I know that the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued guidelines on the loan of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art in 2006. But can archaeological material from controversial private collections end up being displayed in public institutions without the same scrutiny as a formal acquisition?

    What do you think?

    Express your view over the loan of a bronze krater from the Shelby White collection. Vote now.

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  • A Different View of Art Theft

    In light of the recent high profile theft from a museum in Switzerland there have been a variety of articles and opinion pieces about the theft and what is all means to the Art world in general.

    Overall the consensus has been that art thieves aren’t a very bright lot. The thefts are sadly not terribly difficult (museum security naturally being woefully inadequate, given the value of the items) and therefore do not require intense strategic masterminding, nor are the paintings liable to be resold at anywhere near their market value, given the high profile nature of the works themselves.

    There has also been quite a bit written about the unlikeness of the Dr. No theory that assumes that some evil genius has commissioned that specific theft for his private collection.

    Putting aside the evil masterminds and incompetent crooks, there is a very interesting interview on a website called Foreign Policy that deals with the very practical, lucrative and relatively simple way of handling stolen art.

    The interviewee is Art Hostage, an anonymous former stolen art dealer who writes a blog and provides a very different viewpoint for art thefts. His interview shows that there is indeed money to be made from art thefts and that the thefts are often part of a darker criminal underbelly. This is an aspect of art theft that is alluded to from time to time but rarely ever fleshed out.

    He also talks about the difference between the high profile cases that make headlines and the numerous every day thefts that occur from private homes and smaller galleries that fuel the stolen art market. These rarely make the mainstream media but are nevertheless important to the black market.

    Though these insights are generally applied to paintings it is not hard to make the comparison to the black market in stolen antiquities

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  • A New Way Forward for U.S. Museums

    The following article is published at the request of its author, Thomas Noble Howe.There is currently exhibit of some 70 repatriated art objects in the Italian presidential palace, mostly from the Getty, Metropolitan and Boston Museums (“Nostoi, Capolavori ritrovati”, at the Quirinal Palace, Rome, 21 December-2 March, 2008, ).

    It has a distinctly triumphal quality to it (not without some justification) but as in any Roman triumph, there are losers. Although I am primarily an archaeologist, the first impression was the loss of the great amount of work that it took those museums to gather funds, seek and assemble objects into parts of a coherent collection. But the second impression—the archaeologist speaking—was to see that around every object on display there is a penumbra of destruction: looted tombs, lost association with other objects, dating material, findspot and hence cultural context.

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