Friday, April 16, 2010

Who Protects Antiquity? Panel Discussion Video Now Up Online

Thanks to CUNY's crack team, led by Michael Washburn, this panel on April 7, 2010 went off well, and the video is now available. A couple of things stand out for me reviewing the tape. First, James Cuno responds positively to my suggestion that a "polluters pay" tax on antiquities purchases could be instituted to generate funds that then would be funneled to site protection efforts of various kinds. I was expecting a peremptory dismissal. Also surprising was Cuno's acceptance of the need to retire the term "partage". Second, the comments by Philippe de Montebello (unidentified and invisible in the video, he is the first questioner) showed how touchy museum directors are at any imputation that they might still be accepting dodgy antiquities, even as gifts. I was not trying to suggest that at all, as I made clear. I was, of course, disappointed that Montebello sees no benefit to taxing the trade here based on his assessment that no one buys antiquities in the US or Britain anymore. He is no doubt right that there is a lot of money in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere around the world competing for artifacts. But he still needs to explain $57 million at auction in New York for that Mesopotamian figurine; the buyer might well be non-American, but the sale is made here, and those sorts of sales though rare will certainly recur. And antiquities dealers on Madison Avenue continue to ply their trade. The tossed-off "99% of the trade is now outside of the US and Europe" reminds me of the similarly unsupported claim Montebello and John Boardman used to make that 99% of what we know about the ancient past comes from studying the objects themselves, only 1% from the findspot context.

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