In depth discussion of important cultural policy and arts issues affecting museums, collectors, the art trade and the public.
August 30, 2016. It is shocking to see the website of the Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs announce a “celebration” of the 15th anniversary of the the bilateral agreement banning the importation of ancient art from Italy. Since when are continuing restrictions on the free flow of art into the US regarded as cause for celebration? Congress recognized that import restrictions are a loss to the US public’s interest in a free trade in art. Under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA), signed into law in 1983, agreements with foreign nations restricting the importation of antique and ethnological material are a special and drastic remedy to be applied in situations of looting that place…read more
Updated, July 30, 2016. Vincent Geerling, Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA), granted CCP permission to print his text (below) and link to the video of his presentation, “Collecting ancient art, an old tradition under attack.“ Mr. Geerling lectured at the ArtConnoisseurs 2016 series, held in conjunction with Cultures – The World Arts Fair in Brussels in June 2016. The presentation sheds new light on the history of the legal antiquities trade, the actual size of the antiquities market, and the supposed ISIS/antiquities connection. Mr. Geerling began collecting ancient art 40 years ago. In 1995, he made his personal hobby his career and founded Archea Ancient Art in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Mr. Geerling…read more
Transcription of Rethinking Antiquities: Restitution and Collecting in the Time of ISIS, Tuesday, March 1st, 2016. Sponsored by the Cardozo Law FAME Center and the Committee for Cultural Policy, Inc. The program was moderated by Judith H. Dobrzynski, an independent journalist who writes for many publications including the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times; formerly a reporter and editor at The New York Times; senior editor and writer for Business Week; and a former executive editor of CNBC. Panelists were Randall Hixenbaugh, owner of Hixenbaugh Ancient Art New York-based antiquities dealer and member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, James McAndrew, Forensic Specialist, Grunfeld, Desiderio, Lebowitz, Silverman & Klestadt LLP; Former Head of the U.S….read more
Commentary: Sarah Parcak’s TED Prize – Can International Crowdsourcing Replace Source Country Commitment?
February 24, 2016. By Kate Fitz Gibbon. Speaking in Vancouver on February 16, Dr. Sarah Parcak proposed using her $1 million TED Prize to build an online “interactive citizen science program” to engage the public in monitoring archaeological sites and to share the information gathered with archaeologists and local authorities. Parcak, an Egyptologist, is known as a “space archaeologist” because she uses infra-red imaging techniques on NASA and commercial satellite images to identify potential archaeological sites on the ground. Chemical changes on the ground surfaces that are visible at infra-red light levels show that there are man-made objects and structures buried underground. Dr. Parcak now wishes to share the millions of global satellite images available with the public and to use…read more
2015’s Top 5 Questionable Claims on ISIS and Syrian Antiquities: To Hopes for More Accuracy and Less Hype in 2016
By Peter K. Tompa Reprinted with permission of the author from the Cultural Property Observer (CPO), published January 6, 2016. Knowledgeable cultural property observers have been frustrated that questionable claims about Syria, ISIS and antiquities trade continue to be actively promoted as part of the archaeological lobby’s campaign in support of H.R. 1493/S. 1887, problematic legislation that purports to address protecting cultural property in times of war and civil strife. In honor of the New Year, CPO counts down the top five (5) dubious claims made in 2015 in support of this legislation that would create a new State Department coordination and enforcement bureaucracy and place what amounts to permanent import restrictions on Syrian cultural goods. Hopefully, questions about the accuracy…read more
Commentary by Kate Fitz Gibbon, December 6, 2015. Ben Taub’s New Yorker article, The Real Value of the ISIS Antiquities Trade, blows apart the State Department, Department of Justice, and Antiquities Coalition claims that ISIS is raking in tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of antiquities. Some archaeologists and cultural heritage specialists have spoken out to agree with Taub: Neil Brodie and Derek Fincham have disowned the ludicrously exaggerated numbers claimed by federal agencies and appear ready to abandon the claim that ISIS is receiving significant funding from looted antiquities. Why promote this phony story in the first place? One obvious answer is that much ISIS funding is coming from illegal oil sales from captured…read more
Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, H.R. 1493/S.1887: Saving Syrian Antiquities or Crushing the Legitimate Art Trade?
Commentary by Peter Tompa and Kate Fitz Gibbon November 30, 2015. The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, which purports to “protect and preserve” antiquities in regions of crises, needs serious reworking before the Senate takes up the measure. As it is written, the bill does not have a firm factual basis for its assumptions – and without the real facts it will never be able to achieve its worthy goals. In short, by accepting without question the media hyperbole and discredited, phony numbers for ISIS’ trade in looted art – Congress will let slip the opportunity to focus on the true funding sources for terrorism. H.R. 1493/S.1887 opens the door to a one-sided US policy that ignores the…read more
November 13, 2015 By Peter K. Tompa*. The archaeological lobby and the media, particularly CBS News, have pushed the story that antiquities provide a major funding source for ISIS. While ISIS is probably making at least some income from either antiquities sales or from taxing looters, the amounts that it has derived from these sources probably amount to no more than 1-2% of its estimated total funding of from $1-2 billion dollars. A CBS News Report, “ISIS Cashing In on Selling Plundered Antiquities to Fund Terror,” CBS News, September 29, 2015, has been a major source for these claims, but the report is deeply flawed. The report is purportedly based on documents seized from ISIS financier, Abu Sayyaf, who was…read more
John Henry Merryman, the world’s greatest scholar of art and cultural property, died on August 3, 2015 at the age of 95. Merryman grew up in Portland, Oregon during the Depression and entered college as a chemistry student because, he said, chemists could get jobs. He literally worked his way through the University of Portland as a jazz pianist; he arranged to give the school half of what he earned playing nights in his dance band, John Merryman and His Merry Men. He took a Master of Science at Notre Dame, then pursued a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Chicago, where he realized that he did not want to spend his life in a laboratory, and determined to…read more
Commentary by Kate Fitz Gibbon* The Twitter discussion linked here asks, in light of the recent Ivory Crush in Times Square, where a ton of ivory objects were fed into a wood chipper: “Would we consider destroying undocumented artifacts to remove them from the market?” The answers from the discussants, who included archeologists and a well-known academic specializing in cultural property issues, range from a firm “no… because any artifact is a “unique and essential source” of information, to an astonishing “yes, perhaps with an out if the object merits saving,” to the national-retentionist, “reminds me of French law for destruction of fakes. Legally it’d be hard unless the country destroying was the owner.” One has to ask, “What were…read more