Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Turkey's Ministry of Culture has decided that "artifacts which have been brought to museums and have not been claimed by valid owners... can be valued by a specially formed commission and sold." That should make private collectors happy, at least Turkish ones (I do not know off the top of my head what the export rules are in Turkey), but it is, like deaccessioning in general, a loss to the public whose interest in access to antiquities museums ought to be protecting. The public interest could be protected and indeed enhanced if museums adhered to a policy of selling deaccessioned pieces only to other museums where they can be curated and displayed.

The Ministry's response to criticism seems to track this consideration:

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism defended the new measures in a press release which expressed the ministry’s hope that the changes would allow for a better management of artifacts and avoid situations where items are forgotten or lost track of. The aim of the change in law is not to ship off items for cash, but to open new avenues for the exhibition of artifacts which are not being put to use or valued in other institutes, the statement said.

The translation is a little ragged, but if sales are only to other "institutes" rather than to private collectors, it might not be such a bad thing, even if it does do some harm by sending a price signal to looters as well. On the other hand, there is a real possibility that museums might get hooked on the income generated by deaccessioning looted-but-recovered antiquities, and one can imagine a nightmarish situation of corruption developing in which secondary sites are looted to provide a stream of disposable pieces, with the looters being paid off by kickbacks from curators after the pieces sell.

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