What do fakes have to do with the problem of looting? Fakes and unprovenanced, authentic antiquities often turn up together in collections because neither was found through the transparent process of archaeological excavation. They flock together. Collectors might think their connoisseurship protects them from fakes, but they get hoodwinked all the time. This is not a sign of denseness or gullibility, necessarily; it just comes with the territory if you’re in the business of acquiring undocumented antiquities….
Has the collector gained a tax benefit for the donation of what are quite possibly, if the Walters’ analysis is correct, worthless fakes? Why is it even showing them?
Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World questions the integrity of Walters Art Museum’s Bourne Collection in a Chasing Aphrodite post. Atwood is also critical of the exhibit’s lack of information, presumably, because the objects were:
all purchased from the cast of looters, dealers and assorted hoodlums that make up the supply end of the Latin American antiquities market. Whatever information those sellers claim to have on the origin of the artifacts they sell is usually conjecture or lies.
The Baltimore museum’s web site states:
The Walters Art Museum preserves and develops in the public trust a distinguished collection of world art from antiquity to the 20th century….Since its opening, the Walters has been a national leader in scholarship, conservation, and education.
The Walters Art Museum brings art and people together for enjoyment, discovery, and learning. We strive to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. We are committed to exhibitions and programs that will strengthen and sustain our community.
How well does the Maryland museum serve its stated mission with the Bourne collection?
Indeed, the Walters is not alone in what amounts to a breach of public trust, as Atwood reveals in his 2004 Stealing History which “contributes more than any other publication in more than 30 years to an understanding of the devastation to cultural heritage caused by site looting and to the search for solutions.” Patty Gerstenblith writes in an American Journal of Archaeology review. Atwood was awarded a SAFE Beacon Award for Stealing History.