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Cultural Property News: CPAC Reviews U.S. Agreement with Italy; NY Times vs. Hawass, Continued


At its meeting on Friday, the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee heard testimony from museum directors, archaeologists and representatives of dealers and collectors as part of its interim review of this country’s Memorandum of Understanding with Italy. The best summary I’ve found of these proceedings is on the Cultural Property Observer blog of Peter Tompa, an advocate for coin collectors and dealers and one of those who testified.

I’m hoping that the Association of Art Museum Directors (which has posted members’ CPAC testimony in the past) will provide links to the full testimony of its director/representatives who spoke Friday in Washington: Maxwell Anderson, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Gary Vikan, Walters Art Gallery; Michael Conforti, Clark Art Institute (and AAMD’s president); Kaywin Feldman, Minneapolis Institute.

According to Tompa’s account, Feldman told CPAC that “her institution is the poorer because it had to return a long-term loan
of “orphan artifacts” under the AAMD’s new provenance rules and due to
current restrictions, that void remains at her institution.”

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has recently added 10 objects—mostly Greek and Roman coins—to AAMD’s registry for recently acquired objects with uncertain post-November 1970 provenances. It joins the Metropolitan Museum and Portland Art Museum in this effort to provide greater transparency.

Meanwhile, the NY Times continues its campaign against Zahi Hawass‘ reenergized campaign to repatriate objects to Egypt. (Give him a few fragments, he asks for Nefertiti.) In today’s paper, science writer John Tierney picks up where Michael Kimmelman left off. But Tierney goes further, indiscriminately swallowing the entire James Cuno argument.

Tierney argues:

Restricting the export of artifacts hasn’t ended their theft and
looting any more than the war on drugs has ended narcotics smuggling. [By that logic, should we therefore also end the war on drugs? And what about the effect of export restrictions combined with greater enforcement efforts to curtail looting?]….

Dr. Hawass may consider the Rosetta Stone to be the property of his
government agency, but the modern state of Egypt didn’t even exist when
it was discovered in 1799 (much less when it was inscribed in 196 B.C.,
during the Hellenistic era). The land was under the rule of the Ottoman
Empire, and the local historians were most interested in studying their
Islamic heritage. [Does this mean that modern-day Egyptians have no legitimate interest in preserving and studying the ancient cultural heritage of their region?]

I’m not saying that Hawass should get whatever he’s seeking. I’m just saying that many of the arguments that have been advanced by “universal museum” proponents are specious.

The Hawass watch continues with Ian Parker‘s Letter from Cairo: The Pharaoh, a New Yorker profile that makes him seem like a megalomaniac, with an emphasis on the latter part of that word.

Although we haven’t heard much about this lately, our country hasn’t been exempt from Hawass harassment. The last time I looked, however (just nine days ago), this radiant lady was still safely ensconced in St. Louis (and posed serenely, behind glass, for her CultureGrrl photo):

Mummy Mask of the Lady Ka-nefer-nefer, Dynasty 19 (1307-1196 B.C.), from Saqqara, St. Louis Art Museum

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