• Museum Objects Waiting for the Right Label

    In “The Don’s Life” blog published by The Times Literary Supplement, Cambridge professor Mary Beard has posted a cogent (and blessedly brief) observation and commentary on the corrosive effect of fakes and forgeries while viewing a rogues gallery of bogus objects that purport to be ancient, now on display in a glass case at the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels. “Once you had seen the ‘fakes’ case, everything [on display in the adjoining ancient art galleries in the museum] started to look not quite right … They can’t all be fakes, but once your suspicion has been aroused — it spreads. Were they all waiting to be part of a big exhibition of fakes, and just hadn’t got their labels yet?” Then Professor Beard quickly adds, “I don’t want to give the wrong impression of the museum.” Certainement pas. But let’s back up.

    Professor Beard poses an excellent question. How many forgeries, or old objects that have been “improved” in modern times to make them more palatable to the modern eye (hence more profitable at the point of sale) can be found in the galleries of today’s great museums, waiting for the right labels to be applied? Another question: how many similarities do the forgeries that Professor Beard discusses, have in common with the unprovenanced (probably looted) artifacts that exist in many museums today? Similarity Number One (in a long list of parallels): both the forgery and the looted artifact have no origin or find spot, no circumstance of manufacture, no provenance or history that the museum wishes to share with the public. Relegated to the lowest and most transitory rung of understanding (“aesthetics”), the forgery (or looted artifact) remains mute, while the viewer, seeing no fact or story worth remembering on the nearby gallery label, turns and walks away.

    Photo: Fakes

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  • Some Looted Antiquities Return to Nineveh

    . Alaa al-Din Burhan, spokesperson for the Department of Antiquities in Nineveh has announced that today (18th August) they have received 23 Antiquities that were stolen after the looting that occurred after the U.S. invasion in 2003. Security agencies seized the antiquities in the possession of a smuggling gang that was recently arrested in Mosul. He added that in July:

    107 artifacts out of 1,200 stolen pieces held by Washington were returned to Baghdad and these are now being redistributed to their original provinces. Some of the pieces received from Washington date back to the Babylonian times, including necklaces and painted pottery.

    Rizan Ahmed, ‘Looted antiquities returned to Nineveh‘, AK News (Kurdistan News Agency), 18/08/2011.

    Map: Nineveh in Nineveh province (in the ‘Kurdish’ region) near Mosul (BBC – edited)

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  • Connecticut: FBI Investigate Stolen Tang Chinese Heads

    . The FBI is investigating, but mystery surrounds two Chinese Tang dynasty sandstone heads of Lohan “valued at $800,000 each” which were recently stolen from a US private collection:

    The two Louhan sculptures, which are approximately 1,000-years-old, were stolen from an undisclosed location in Westport, Connecticut. The sandstone works of art are two of only a handful known to exist and both date to China’s Tang Dynasty. The sculptures are 15 inches high and 15 inches long and weigh between 55 and 70 pounds each. Westport is a coastal town of about 25,000 residents and one of the wealthiest locations in the US. Police are not disclosing when the sculptures were taken or the exact location of the private collection.

    The story has attracted no little attention in the newspapers, even reaching the daily main in the UK. Most of the attraction seems to be that items like this which, from the photos at least, are singularly unattractive to look ...

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