• Charges of looting used to punish environmental activist?

    In an interesting report from AP:

    A Tibetan environmentalist once praised as a model philanthropist was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday on charges of grave robbing and dealing in looted antiquities, in a case supporters said was aimed at punishing his activism.

    Would or could an environmentalist rob tombs and engage in the black market trade of antiquities? The relationship between natural and cultural heritage has been discussed on this blog and certainly elsewhere. As Paul Barford points out, Archaeological Looting is an Environmental Issue.

    We obviously do not know all the facts of the case in question and we may never find out, but anyone who acts to protect the environment should understand that cultural heritage is everyone’s birthright, as are clean air and fresh water.

    (MORE ...)
  • Buyers Beware

    Related to the New York Times story commented here, it’s disheartening to see that nothing has changed since Roger Atwood’s 2007 critique regarding U.S. media coverage of antiquities issues.

    Trophy Hunters With Their Eyes on Interiors” is a puff piece that glorifies adventurous exploits in search of the “ultimate” authentic-looking old objects. The story advertises and promotes architects, designers and contractors, and justifies their if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-them fees. Instead, the Times could have told its readers and trophy hunters alike a cautionary tale, which would be much more useful to everyone.

    First, importing certain antiquities from countries which have signed bilateral agreements to restrict importation of antiquities is against the law. Not only that, buyers may have to return their coveted purchases to their countries of origin.

    At the very least, the article could have mentioned the numerous international and local governmental and non-governmental efforts underway in these ready-for-the-taking-third-world-countries to PRESERVE their remnants of the past.

    Finally, genuine history cannot be bought. It is lived. Rich people who seek rich-looking items might do better to live rich lives. Their cobblestones WILL in time acquire “just the right” moss. Theirs too will have the smoothness, color and patina that come from aging. In time, they too could have rich history to leave behind.

    (MORE ...)
  • NYTimes Home & Garden FAIL

    I realize that Home & Garden isn’t the section of The New York Times racking up the most Pulitzers, but that’s no excuse for what was published there. In a piece entitled “Trophy Hunters With Their Eyes on Interiors,” the reader is acquainted with a handful of daring “ultra-high-end contractors” who are tasked by their demanding clients to find all manner of old, ancient, antique, distressed and generally “very aged”-looking building materials all over the globe, preferably in third-world, war-torn countries. These include architectural elements, wood and stone reliefs, sculpture in the round and raw materials, such as stone and wood. Why? These (in at least one case) self described “modern-day Indiana Jones” contractors report it is mostly because you can “‘get the merchandise for less money.'”

    Heritage ...

    (MORE ...)
  • Oil in the Wake

    Since April 20, 2010 the world has been reeling from the shock of a massive disaster. Not a natural one, but one inflicted upon us by our own greed and desire to satisfy our way of life and need for petroleum. This disastrous oil spill was caused by British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that sank after exploding.

    President Obama has been vocal about his interest in addressing efforts to clean up the mess. Additionally, the press has splashed the controversy across the headlines. We at SAFE wonder what steps have been taken to protect the archaeological heritage of the Gulf region?

    The National ...

    (MORE ...)
  • SAFE congratulates Bob Wittman on "Priceless"

    Robert K. Wittman, who recently retired as Senior Investigator and Founder of FBI’s Art Crime Team, has given us decades of service recovering stolen art and antiquities. He has now also told his story.

    The new book takes the reader away from Hollywood fantasies and academic theories to the harsh, gritty reality of art crime. Described by Wittman as “a memoir, not an autobiography or exposé”, Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures highlights the fact that the theft of cultural property is anything but a victimless crime. And Wittman’s book recounts them all: from individuals, institutions, states, governments, countries, to history, memory and identity.

    Deftly written by Wittman with John Shiffman, the book offers case studies of successful recoveries. And like every human story, it also includes disappointments and regrets. The trials and tribulations of undercover work are portrayed in a matter-of-fact style that is all the more remarkable given the accolades Wittman has received. The Wall Street Journal called him “a living legend.” The London Times dubbed him “the most famous art detective in the world.” But don’t let the self-effacing style fool you. Priceless is full of valuable information rarely known outside the field, and insights only someone who has “been there and done that” could offer.

    No wonder AP calls Priceless “absolutely, hands down, the best book ever written on art crime.”

    (MORE ...)
  • Christie’s: "we plan to proceed with the sale of these lots"

    Dalya Alberge has written about the forthcoming antiquities sale at Christie’s New York for the Wall Street Journal (June 3, 2010). She quotes Paolo Ferri, the Italian prosecutor, on the three lots that appear to have similarities with objects featured in the Medici Dossier.

    (MORE ...)
  • Will museum displays tell it as it is?

    Derek Fincham’s post Paracas Textiles makes an interesting point about an exhibition of endangered textiles from Peru in the Museum of World Culture, Gothenburg, Sweden. Entitled “A Stolen World”, the exhibition not only highlights one of “the most sought-after heritage objects in the illegal market”, it describes how the textiles were looted and donated to the Ethnographic Department of Göteborg Museum. In plain, simple language. No disguise, no nonsense.

    When will the Museum of World Culture’s U.S. counterparts follow suit? We think that they could do a better job educating the public simply by telling us what the museums themselves already know. One such rare example is described here where provenance was the topic of exhibit discussion.

    The recent SAFE Tour led by Haidy Geismar brought this deficiency into sharp focus. The newly renovated Pacific Hall of the Rockefeller Wing at the Met is filled with objects with virtually no descriptive text about the people, and how the objects were used, or are still being used. A tiny map on the wall of one of the entrances is hardly visible and mostly overlooked. Left without information, a visitor can only respond to superficial qualities. If something pleases the eye, one can then imagine how an object would look in their home. Not much more.

    Museum visitors deserve more. “All that matters is how it looks” doesn’t work anymore.

    Phoot: Museum of World Culture

    (MORE ...)
  • Shelby White’s Foundation Expansion

    In February 2010 the billionaire Shelby White created a selected group of individuals to function within the Leon Levy Foundation, its purpose to “make available information” from excavated sites that have not been published. But information only from nations having a partage system at the time of excavation, i.e. a division of finds between the host nation and the excavators, are eligible. But archaeologists—the Foundation’s new group excepted—knowledgeable of Plunder Culture actions are aware that they consider plundered antiquities to be a “partage,” exploiting its neo-logistic coinage by J. Cuno. An example is White’s refusal to return to Turkey half of a statue of Herakles plundered from Perge, purchased from an antiquity dealer, thus normal partage to this group. The Foundation’s statement suggests that the publication of unexcavated plundered antiquities will not be excluded from funding.

    The Foundation’s new group has ten members. White is an antiquity collector, who is the Chair, determined by her financial gift. The other members include four museum ...

    (MORE ...)