Sunday, 18 February 2018

Lending Artefacts to US Museums Can Be Risky

Lobbyists for the US antiquities trade demand that when the US signs an MOU aiming to curb the entry of smuggled artefacts into the USA that it is made conditional on the partner countries allowing more artefacts into the USA on loan to public collections. A recent story illustrates why some of them might be reluctant to do so. Chinese authorities are calling for a heavy punishment for an American man charged with stealing a thumb from an ancient terracotta warrior statue on display at a museum in Pennsylvania. They have also demanded compensation for the damage caused to the US$4.5 million relic (Kinling Lo, 'China urges US to get tough on man who stole thumb from US$4.5 million terracotta warrior on display in a Philadelphia museum' South China Morning Post , 18 February, 2018).  The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia had borrowed ten statues from the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Centre. They have been on show in Philadelphia since September, and are part of a clay army of about 8,000 soldiers, charioteers and horses unearthed in Xian, capital of northwestern China’s Shaanxi province in the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang (210-209BC). According to figures from the FBI, they are potentially worth US$4.5 million apiece.
Michael Rohana, 24, was charged earlier this month with breaking off and stealing the left thumb of the 2,000-year-old sculpture [...] on December 21. [...]  Rohana, who comes from the US state of Delaware, was attending an ugly Christmas jumper party at the museum when he and two associates managed to make their way into the “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” exhibition, the door to which was unlocked, the Beijing Youth Daily report said. According to surveillance camera footage, after the two other party guests had left the room, Rohana took a selfie with his arm draped over the shoulder of one of the statues. He then snapped off one of its thumbs, put it in his pocket and left. The theft went unnoticed until January 8, at which time the museum sought help from the FBI’s art crime team, who traced Rohana to his home on January 13. He was subsequently charged with the theft and concealment of a major artwork, and released on bail.
The cultural centre said it had loaned its exhibits more than 260 times to 60 different countries over the past 40 years, but had never before experienced “such a noxious incident”, according to the newspaper report. One also wonders about a museum's fake security which means that three people could be where they were not supposed to be (what, no alarms in your galleries Philadelphia?) and this was not detected for 18 days? This was on a day when there were people in the galleries (?) holding an 'ugly jumper party'? What kind of dumbdown 'museum event' is that? And the door to the closed gallery was unlocked? Why?

PAS Database Down: British Museum Unable to Curate Finds Data Unaided?

Visitors to the public-funded PAS database, wanting to use the material recorded there as a 'permanent record' at not inconsiderable public cost from two decades of searching and pocketing bits of the archaeological record by artefact collectors, will be disappointed. Someone has let the SSL certificates expire and the data are not visible and the link to a database containing sensitive findspot and personal information is insecure, the PAS database is currently classified as potentially a malicious site:

This raises a question, what mechanisms are in place to ensure that the PASD is actually a permanent record accessible to the public? As loss of evidence from the archaeological record gathers pace, how will that Database keep up and how will access of the public stakeholders to the information about what private individuals have taken away be maintained in the future? What will happen when the database instead of a source of institutional pride becomes a liability? The BM has scored a massive fail in firing the person whose creativity and input made the database possible, how are they going to ensure its maintenance when they cannot even get a simple thing like this right?

The PAS has been informed, let us see how quickly proper access is restored, and then let us see how long it is before there is another breakdown.

UPDATE English language version
I apologize to those of you who 'cannot read Polish' - I did not notice. So here, by courtesy of an English reader is what the notice says:
Your connection is not secure
The owner of has configured their web site improperly. To protect your information from being stolen, Firefox has not connected to this web site.
This site uses HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) to specify that Firefox only connect to it securely. As a result, it is not possible to add an exception for this certificate.
Learn more…
Report errors like this to help Mozilla identify and block malicious sites

Thanks Nigel 

Why Collect?, a report on museum collecting in the UK

Ferens Art Gallery, Hull
A new report out reveals the dire situation of museums in the UK (Art Fund and Wolfson Foundation publish Why Collect?, a report on museum collecting in the UK, Art Fund 15 February 2018). In the report, which calls for increased investment in museums and their collections, its principle author, historian Sir David Cannadine highlights a 13% fall in public spending on museums and galleries in England from 2007 to 2017, the imbalance of funding for museums inside and outside London, the poor salaries in the sector and the pressures faced by the Heritage Lottery Fund because of declining National Lottery income.
The report highlights the ever-widening gap between the spiralling prices of works on the international art market and the limited acquisition funds available to museums and galleries in the UK. It calls for increased investment in museums and their collections, as public spending on museums has decreased by 13% in real terms over the last decade. It is, writes Cannadine, a report that 'instead of giving comfort and reassurance, expresses anxiety and concern.' Cannadine's analysis of museum and gallery collecting traces its history from the 1830s to the present day and is accompanied by 11 case studies which explore various facets of the social and cultural impact of collecting. This is supported by statistical evidence from a national survey involving 266 collecting institutions. The report was undertaken to address the question of how, why and on what scale publicly funded museums and galleries continue to expand their collections. 
The report also discusses the question of  museum collecting and display and notes
- Many museums and galleries only display a fraction of their holdings – often less than 10% – and the report references recent arguments for making their stored collections more publicly available [...]
-  The digital revolution has enabled entire collections to be accessed and viewed online and ‘the more that we can learn about collections from exploring them online, the more we are likely to want to go and visit them in situ’.
- Only half of the 266 UK museums and galleries surveyed, had a specific budget allocation for collecting, and in most cases it was rarely more than 1% of the overall amount that was spent. Although almost all of the respondents had been able to add objects to their collections over the last five years, gifts and bequests were the most frequently used methods. The survey results demonstrated that, except in the case of the national museums, collecting for most museums and galleries is no more than a marginal activity.
The report criticised Northampton Museum and Art Gallery’s sale of its Egyptian statue of Sekhemka. Northampton “was a complete override of all of our professional standards ... it was an absolute tragedy in terms of damaging public trust for the rest of us. It will take a long time to forgive them.”

The problem caused by metal detecting Treasure hunters and the rising costs of antiquities through artefact hunters flogging off their finds is not mentioned. Only case study five - the Staffordshire Hoard touches on the issue:
Within four months of valuation the funds for the joint purchase had been raised, and the Hoard was formally acquired in June 2010. A public fundraising campaign led by Art Fund raised £900,000, the largest amount ever given by the public to a heritage appeal; a third of donors were from the West Midlands, indicating the regional pride felt for the endeavour. Support also came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (£1.285m) and Art Fund with the support of the Wolfson Foundation (£300,000), with a further £600,000 from trusts and foundations, £100,000 from Birmingham City Council, £100,000 from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, £80,000 from Staffordshire County Council, £20,000 from Lichfield District Council and £20,000 from Tamworth Borough Council. 
Obviously the few dozen cases (assiduously chronicled by Bloomsbury's Treasure Registrar to create a rosy picture of their 'partners', the Treasure hunters) is just a drop in the bottomless bucket of funds-gobbling treasure hunters, taking money from the purchase of other items.

The report is also discussed by the Arts correspondent for the Guardian (Mark Brown, 'UK museum collecting at risk from lack of funding, report warnsInvestigation by Sir David Cannadine for Art Fund paints ‘deeply depressing’ picture' Guardian Thu 15 Feb 2018)

You can download the full report here.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Antiquities Smuggling Attempt Foiled in Kirkuk

Kirkuk and Kurdish region

According to Iraqi News:
Iraq has foiled an attempt to smuggle antiquities worth millions of dollars to Turkey, its interior ministry said on Saturday. The ministry’s general inspector said in a statement, quoted by Alforatnews, that ministry teams in Kirkuk blocked the transfer of scriptures and antiquities worth USD13 million to Turkey, which were in the possession of two people. Those, the statement revealed, included scriptures and a bust. It added that the suspects confessed to agreeing with another party in Turkey on the handover of the pieces. They said they were also expecting to receive more items while waiting at the Turkish borders, including jewelry belonging to the wife of late president Saddam Hussein worth millions of dollars.
Mohamed Mostafa, 'Iraq foils smuggling of USD13 mn antiquities smuggling to Turkey', Iraqi News Feb 17, 2018,

Friday, 16 February 2018

Friday Retrospect: The Witschonke Premise

The Witschonke Premise.

Russia interferes with US elections, US has ambitions to interfere with everything else, including how distant sovereign states look after their own heritage.

German Collections: More Research Needed on Collecting Histories

Hermann Parzinger (left), more research
 on collecting histories needed
Berlin Museums chief calls for rules on restitution of colonial artefacts Hermann Parzinger wants more research on collecting histories to be carried out in German collections:

Art Newspaper

Cultural Property Repatriation News and Issues Blog


Argentina Seizes Package of Nazi Objects

Artefact collectors tend to think they have a 'right' to buy whatever they want, but some countries draw firm lines about what can be brought within their national borders. In the latest of recent confiscations of such items in the country, Argentinian police have seized a package containing objects adorned with Nazi symbols sent from the USA to the northwestern Argentine province of Salta (Luc Cohen, 'Argentina seizes package of objects adorned with Nazi symbols' UK Business Insider/Reuters Feb. 14, 2018).
Police raided the home of the individual who picked up the package from a post office, the Ministry said, adding that the person was cooperating with authorities. "There is no room in Argentina for these types of expressions, which make reference to a tragic era in human history," Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said in the statement. [...] Last June, police seized a cache of Nazi artifacts hidden behind a library in the house of an art collector in Buenos Aires. 
Vignette: Nationalist ideologies can lead to extremism and dehumanisation and need to be contested wherever they occur.

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