A new anti-art collecting campaign has begun, coordinated by the usual interest groups and government agencies. The groups that have pushed so hard for ending the international trade in art have based previous arguments on claims that the art market was funding terrorism. These claims have been debunked by experts, although they are still repeated in the press. Since the facts don't support the claims, the interest groups are struggling to find another narrative.
As Gary Vikan notes, “For me, the clearest evidence that the old system is dead is that antiquities are not coming out of war-ravaged Syria. Virtually nothing of any monetary or cultural significance is now on the US art market from that troubled region.” Vikan argues instead for a lawful, regulated trade in antiquities. He, and other supporters of lawful trade, have placed a variety of proposals on the table and urged that there be serious discussion with all parties in order to find solutions based in the real world - on facts, not fantasy.
But a very different paradigm is now heard from the podium at international conclaves and resounds through proposed legislation.
Essentially, this new theme is that heritage is at risk and that source countries lack the will or the resources to fight back. The art trade is a blot on the social landscape and serves no good purpose. The only way to stop the destruction of heritage is to “decapitate the market."
According to this new narrative, not only will ending the art market halt looting, but also, art is bad for you, unless you live in the country where it was produced. The world should not be concerned with saving art which belongs to all humankind. It is "national heritage" that counts - a phrase that implies governmental control and ownership, and can be politically and geographically defined. Without the explicit permission of source nation governments, art should not circulate.
This is a bad argument. Consider the fact that almost all ancient and ethnographic art (in circulation and in our museums) lacks the documentation that would make it legitimate in the eyes of extremists - such as receipts going back half a century, or an export permit from a country that has never issued them.
Consider that many new proposals under EU regulation, UN resolutions, and US legislation would not distinguish between artworks that are actually stolen and artworks that left a source country many decades ago, and would treat all of them as "illicit."
And remember what archaeologist Neil Brodie has written about the trade in "illicit" cultural property*:
“The threat of criminal prosecution should also extend to professional experts such academics, museum curators and conservators whose knowledge and expertise is crucial for establishing the monetary value of illegally-traded cultural objects in private possession, thereby facilitating their acquisition and disposal and thus profit-taking...” “…The risks of job loss and obloquy would cut through the self-serving and obfuscational narratives of justification and denial.”
This is the new paradigm, which demands an art "pollution tax" and advocates treating museums like criminals.
So, here’s our message: CCP is committed to fighting policies that countenance academic censorship or set the goals of nationalist regimes above the international interest in the circulation of art. We welcome your support. We need it!
Contact us at email@example.com.
Reproduced by permission: Committee for Cultural Policy (CCP),
* Syria and its Regional Neighbors: A Case of Cultural Property Protection Failure?, Neil Brodie, International Journal of Cultural Property, 22:317-335 (2015).
The Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art (ADCAEA) was formed to give dealers and collectors a voice. We support the CCP and continue to fight for the responsible and legal trading of ancient and ethnographic art.
CCP write the anti-art collecting campaign has begun, we believe it is in full swing. Comment on this post, like our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/adcaea/) and join ADCAEA today.