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We Can’t Stop Being Surprised by Classical Statues in Color

CCP contributor Mariam Hale asks why. November 19, 2017.   The November 2017 opening in San Francisco of a world-traveling exhibition, an updated version of the 2003 Munich Glyptotek’s Bunte Götter or Gods in Color, was a shock to the senses of museum viewers. The original Glyptotek show was the first major public exhibition of recreations of classical statues in their original colors. Greek and Roman artists did not consider their sculptures complete until they had been brilliantly painted. The ancient Greeks would have found the stark white marble sculptures displayed in our museums as disturbing as these paint and plaster reproductions are to modern audiences. Innovative techniques pioneered by Vincenz and Ulricke Brinkmann, along with an international team of researchers, revealed the original condition of once-painted sculptures that have long since worn down to bare marble. Analysis detected not just remnants of pigment on statues, but traces of decorative patterns on their surfaces. The researchers’ findings allowed them to create a series of colored reproductions of ancient statues, in strict compliance with the evidence they found. The lurid colors and psychedelic patterns of the clothing and lifelike flesh of the reproductions are a far cry from the calm, cool white marble we associate with classical art. Museum visitors, curators, and art historians alike were astonished by what they saw in Munich. And they have continued to be astonished. For more than thirteen years, variations on the exhibition have toured the world, and met with shock and awe at every location, from the Vatican to Athens, and from Istanbul to Madrid. This autumn, the exhibition opened at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Max Hollein, curator of the exhibition, anticipates that attendees will be “shocked and startled” by the sight of Greek and Roman statues sporting their original colors and patterns. Judging by the precedent set by earlier exhibitions, he is probably right. Yet the fact that Classical statuary were colorfully painted ought not to be so surprising. For centuries, scholars have known that the Greeks and Romans always finished their magnificent carvings with a layer of brilliant color. In 2008, Smithsonian Magazine published an article on the Brinkmanns’ work, and pointed out that the true nature of classical statuary has been an open secret for centuries. In 1869, Victorian painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s depicted the famous marble frieze as it might once have been, fully colored in deep reds and ochres, in his work Phidias and the Frieze of the Parthenon. His contemporary, sculptor John Gibson, produced a Tinted Venus (1850-51), which emulated the coloring practices of the ancient Greeks. Long before new scientific techniques could be brought to bear upon surviving statuary, it was possible to observe remnants of pigmentation on some of the more porous pieces of surviving statuary. Depictions of painters applying color to statues appear on Greek pottery. Written evidence for the practice also existed, notably in Eurypides’ play, Helen of Troy, in which the title lady laments, “If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect/The way you would wipe color off a statue.” Despite the long-standing and widely accepted evidence to the contrary, our conception of classical art remains monochromatic. This persistent misconception, as well as the surprise with which the painted reproductions are constantly greeted, are understandable. The vast majority of classical art in museums is blank stone. There are exceptions: the aforementioned porous works in soft stone or pottery with patches of surviving color, and other pieces in bronze, or colored marble and granite. Yet overall, white predominates in our halls of classical statuary, in our textbooks and...

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Pakistan National Museum Throws Gandharan Buddhist Statues in Trash

November 18, 2017.  “For the last many months I have seen these sculptures lying in the garbage.” National Museum employee. The fate of ancient Buddhist artifacts in Pakistan’s museums once again made headlines in Pakistan after Gandharan period stone statues were discovered in a rubbish pile, visible from the street, at the National Museum in Karachi, Pakistan. Said to be from the Gandhara civilization about 1,500 years ago, the statues have traveled from their former place of worship, to recovery from a Pakistani smuggling ring in 2012 in Awami Colony in the Korangi sector of Karachi, to the trash heap at the National Museum.  Two of the five statues were used to decorate the doorway of the antiquities director-general’s personal office, the others were tossed into a rubbish heap outside.  There was no information on what happened to the other 390 “rare objects” recovered in the Awami Colony raid. The museum left the sculptures in the trash heap despite thinking that the works were authentic. It simply did not bother to care for them. Stated National Museum director Mohammad Shah, “We believe this sculpture dates back 1,500 years and it will be given an original look when we wash it.” The five Buddhas, ranging between three and four feet in height, are made of black schist stone.  Questioned by Hafeez Tunio in The Express Tribune, the director, Mohammad Shah, said “We have put these sculptures over there ourselves.” He claimed that they were naturally protected from the elements by the black schist stone they were constructed from. Tunio writes: “Unfortunately, these sculptures are facing the same fate as hundreds of other artefacts and dozens of archaeological and heritage sites, which are in an absolute shambles due to the archaeology and antiquities departments’ neglect.” According to an employee at the National Museum in Karachi, who requested anonymity, the treatment of the Buddhist statues highlights the general neglect and abuse of antiquities and cultural heritage sites rampant under the archeology and antiquities departments of Pakistan. Not only the Buddhist statues, but many other artifacts have been neglected through improper storage methods. The employee elaborated, “no one has looked after them for years and many are now rusted and stained. I cannot tell you how pitiful the condition of the rare objects inside the museum is.” It seems that the items in this case were lucky even to make it to the museum’s garbage pile. Other seized antiquities from 2012 were smashed while in police custody. There, according to the Express Tribune, sweating laborers argued whether the items were Hindu or Buddhist, ignoring the fact that their rough handling was breaking them: “The work, which began at about 8am turned the Awami Colony police station into a mangled museum of Gandhara art of over 30 pieces. “We’ll open a museum right here,” joked one of the police officers. “Here, you want to take one home?”” A Committee for Cultural Policy article, The Dolorous Case of Pakistan’s Museums, April 8, 2016, noted that: “Despite the hard work of a small number of dedicated academics and archeologists, museums and ancient monuments in Pakistan are generally as moribund as cemeteries for art and artifacts. Pakistan’s cultural institutions have also been victims of the cupidity of several generations of corrupt officialdom. In March 2016, the anti-corruption department in Peshawar announced that it was launching an investigation into the replacement of original sculptures and coins from the Peshawar Museum by fakes.” However, as CCP stated earlier, the 2016 investigation was too little, far too late, as  visiting foreign experts have long held that a good portion of...

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2017 STOP Act Would Overturn Federal Policies on Indian Art

November 16, 2017.   Will Senate Criminalize Export, Rollback Private Property Protections for Collectors and Museums? On November 8, 2017, three organizations representing the interests of collectors, the art trade, and museums gave written testimony to a hearing at the Senate Committee for Indian Affairs. The Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2017, or STOP Act (S. 1400, HR 3211) would affect thousands of collectors of American Indian art, Indian artisans, and businesses throughout the Southwest. ATADA, the Committee for Cultural Policy, and Global Heritage Alliance provided critical perspectives on the bill, which threatens the trade in Native American art, and will hamper museums in their efforts to protect and share Native art and culture. If passed, STOP would impose broad restrictions on the circulation of tribal art and fundamentally alter Congress’ past support for private and public collecting. Committee for Cultural Policy Testimony on STOP Act Global Heritage Alliance Testimony on STOP Act ATADA Testimony 2017 STOP Act While supporting respect for tribal patrimony, restoring communally owned, inalienable objects to tribes, and protecting archaeological sites from looting, the three organizations argued that the STOP Act will not achieve these goals. The Act is harmful to both tribes and Southwestern states and unconstitutionally fails to give notice of what would be illegal to export. Although the legislation was triggered by French auctions of tribal artifacts, no proponent of STOP has shown how it would change the operation of French law. France is currently a market center for international tribal art from nations in Africa, Asia, and South America that already have export laws. Paris annually hosts the largest tribal art fair and market in the world, the Parcours des Mondes. How Would a Person Know When They Were Breaking the Law? Lack of notice to US citizens of what would violate the law and trigger a 10-year penalty was a key issue for Senate Committee members. Although Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman John Hoeven of North Dakota asked, if information on what is sacred and inalienable is secret, how would a person know when they were breaking the law, the question went unanswered. Acoma Governor Kurt Riley’s testimony to the Senate Committee acknowledged that the law would forbid the export of undisclosed items stating: “The types of cultural items the Pueblo is attempting to protect are difficult to fully describe and publicly identify,” but later asserted NAGPRA makes clear what is covered. (NAGPRA does not actually identify what is inalienable or what is sacred, and after 27 years, there is still no standard for museums to follow under NAGPRA.) Governor Riley also stated that if in doubt, collectors could contact tribes. However, many, including Acoma, do not release information on what is sacred, or which items are inalienable from the community. Key Issues The three organizations raised the following concerns with the STOP Act: The STOP Act is redundant. “Trafficking” in violation of NAGPRA or ARPA is unlawful, and 18 U.S.C. § 554 already prohibits export from the United States of any object contrary to any law or regulation of the United States. The STOP Act discourages ALL Indian art sales, including contemporary jewelry, ceramics, etc. It states that it is official U.S. government policy to return ALL “items affiliated with a Native American culture.” The STOP Act fails to explicitly place the burden of proof on the federal government, giving Customs broad discretion which in the past has led to due process abuses. The STOP Act imposes 10 years’ jail time for violations of less than $1 value. The STOP Act could destroy the value of Americans’ private property, threatening...

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100 Years of Negotiation Don’t Quite Bring Library Home

November 12, 2017.  RUSSIA WILL KEEP JEWISH COLLECTOR’S LIBRARY, BUT PERMIT DIGITIZATION When Russian Zionists bought Baron David Günzburg’s collection of 2,000 manuscripts and 14,000 books from his widow in 1917, they had no idea it would take one hundred years for the collection to come close to residing in a Jewish academic institution, in accordance with the Baron’s wish. Three generations of the Günzburg family assembled the collection: Joseph Günzburg (1812-1878), his son Horace (1833-1909), and most significantly, Horace’s son, Baron David Günzburg (1857-1910). Baron David Günzburg was an Orientalist and Jewish community leader. His wide-ranging interests in Judaic studies, philology, medieval Arabic poetry, and Hebrew literature inspired him to develop the library into “one of the largest and most important private collections in the world”.  After David Günzburg’s death in 1910, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) of America in New York City was the first to negotiate to buy the collection from his widow. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War I prevented the seminary’s representative from making the journey to St. Petersburg to retrieve the library. In 1917 a group of Russian Zionists (the group’s official designation is not stated) signed an agreement with Günzburg’s widow to buy the collection for the Jewish public library in Jerusalem. The onset of Russian Revolution once more kept the purchasers from traveling to the country to secure the library. Around 1920 the Soviet government appropriated the Günzburg collection, moving it to the State Library in Moscow, where it has since remained. Many people, including Albert Einstein, have tried over the years to convince Russia to honor the Russian Zionists’ purchase agreement. Nevertheless, the Soviet Government refused to recognize the purchase agreement or to consent to the library’s removal. Finally, in on November 7, 2017, Russia and Israel signed an agreement for Günzburg’s extraordinary collection to be digitized. The physical collection will remain in the Russian State Library in Moscow, but the digital copies will be shared with the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Russian billionaire Ziyavudin Magomedov’s Peri Foundation made a gift in an undisclosed amount to fund the project. Relations have warmed between Russia and Israel since the elections of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Putin’s alleged pro-Israeli perspective and Netanyahu’s personal intervention urging digitalization of the collection are said to have facilitated a belated agreement between the Russian State Library in Moscow and National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Once it is digitized, the collection will be accessible online at the National Library of Israel’s digital manuscript archive, the “Ktiv” project, launched earlier in 2017. The collection includes a remarkable range of documents, from Aristotelian treatises to mystical works of Kabbalah. Rare and as-yet unpublished manuscripts, including Talmudic commentaries, responsa to Jewish religious law (Halakha), and an almost unknown commentary on Ptolemy’s Almagest, will make the collection an invaluable resource for researchers in many branches of history, not only Judaic studies. Although the physical collection of books and manuscripts will remain in Moscow, the spirit of David Günzburg’s intention to have the collection in a Jewish academic institution will be fulfilled through its digitization. Some in Israel’s government have not yet given up hope of securing the physical collection itself. However, the head of Israel’s National Library collections, Aviad Stollman, says that for now, “we’re putting aside the question of ownership and looking...

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CCP Testimony to Senate Indian Affairs on STOP Act – S. 1400

Committee for Cultural Policy[i], Written Testimony submitted to U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, on the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2017 S.1400 (STOP Act) S. 1400, November 8, 2017 Mr. Chairman, my name is Kate Fitz Gibbon and I am the Executive Director of the Committee for Cultural Policy, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the American public and urging an open discourse as the foundation of a balanced cultural policy in the US. The Committee for Cultural Policy supports museums and the museum mission to preserve, research, and display art and artifacts for the public benefit. We support the lawful circulation of art and artifacts, as Congress did in enacting the 1983 Convention of Cultural Property Act and the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). The Committee for Cultural Policy (CCP) has identified a number of key concerns with the STOP Act: The STOP Act will discourage collecting and trade of lawfully owned Native American objects, undermine cultural tourism, which is an economic mainstay of several Western states, and create legal uncertainties for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have collected Native American art and artifacts for generations. The STOP Act fails to define the difference between ceremonial and non-ceremonial objects, and it leaves the definition of “Native American cultural objects” subject to export prohibitions open to new tribal interpretation for each Native American object seeking export. The knowledge of what is communally owned and inalienable is privileged information, and may be known only to initiates within each tribe. The Stop Act would violate the individual right to due process under the Fifth Amendment by making it illegal to export certain items without giving the individual proper notice of what items are illegal to export. The STOP Act is unnecessary because ‘trafficking” in violation of NAGPRA or ARPA is already unlawful, and 18 U.S.C. § 554 already prohibits export from the United States of any object contrary to any law or regulation of the United States, and imposes ten years’ jail time for a first offense. The STOP Act establishes as official U.S. government policy the return of all “items affiliated with a Native American Culture” to the tribes, which would include millions of objects currently in lawful circulation in the US, and millions more in American museums. We have highlighted the following issues in the STOP Act that are of particular interest to American museums and the collectors that support them. The STOP Act makes it federal policy to encourage the return of all Native American-affiliated objects to tribes. This could damage cultural tourism, particularly in the West, eliminate a major form of art collecting and art appreciation, and destroy hobbyist activities that are legal, educational and give pleasure to hundreds of thousands of Americans.  ` The STOP Act’s federal returns program is based on a new and dangerous federal policy to encourage the return of all Native American-affiliated items to tribes, even when ownership and trade in such objects is perfectly legal. STOP Act fails to address what the repercussions will be for “collectors, dealers, and other individuals and non-Federal organizations that hold such heritage” who do not to engage in the returns program and attempt to sell or donate these legally-owned objects to a museum or other organization. The “tangible cultural heritage” protected by the STOP Act’s returns policy extends beyond any individual’s reasonable expectations because this policy seeks to curb the trade of any “culturally, historically, or archaeologically significant objects, resources, patrimony, or other items that are affiliated with a Native American culture,”[ii] regardless of an object’s legal title, cultural significance, economic...

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