Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Zealand joins the club: Antiquarius

I can now report that there is at least one well-established source for illicit antiquities in the country of New Zealand, a country that is generally seen as being even more "off-radar" on the world scene than the major galleries of Australia. This time I'm specifically referring to "Antiquarius," a dealer with an online presence since 1980. Robert and Jenny Loosely, according to their website, both received their start in the antiquities business under the watch of Seaby Limited, the London based numismatists in operation since 1969, founding Antiquarius in 1980. This would explain, then, why the very same "About Antiquarius" page of their website makes it clear that their specialty is "ancient coins and classical antiquities," with a market of "predominately Australasian clients." As expected, this implies that they regularly face something of an isolation by distance problem when it comes to getting access to new "merchandise," requiring regular travel to Europe and the US. Of course, the "authenticity" of all purchases is stressed up front, with certificates provided, and FREE shipping and insurance.

What really surprised me, however, was the statement that "Antiquarius is New Zealand's only official valuer for the Commonwealth of Australia..." Really? The "expert appraisers" over at BC Galleries weren't available? This 'outsourcing' by the antiquities trading community in Australia suggests to me a closer connection between operations in the two countries than suspected. The contacts page directs you to Mr. Loosely's P.O. Box in Auckland (suggesting it is this city that operations are based out of), but, for a limited time only, the Mark Hutchins Gallery, a contemporary art gallery out of Wellington, will host an exhibition of choice Classical World artifacts juxtaposed with locally produced modern art; for example, this South Italian pelike (from an "old English collection." Really? Which one? Whose? Where and when acquired?). From the website, it does not appear that these artifacts are available for on-the-spot purchasing, thus it seems to me that exposure is the goal.

Their catalogue is divided into the following categories: "Antiquities" (with Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Cypriot, Near Eastern, Far Eastern, Jewelry, and "Under $200" subcategories), "Coins" (Greek and Roman),"New Items," "New Coins," and three somewhat odd sounding subcategories under the heading of "Themes" ("Wine," "Animals," and "Cults & Religion"). One may search the website, or invent a username and password to receive updates and browse more freely. The vast majority of artifacts proffered as catalog entries merely list their price and a brief description of form, function and/or chronology, with a zoom-able photograph available. For examples, see this pair of "Late Dynastic Period c. 600BC" gold earrings, or this rare "Old Babylonian cylinder seal c. 1850-1650BC). No supporting documentation or information provided up front. For all intents and purposes, it is arguable that they have just 'surfaced'! While some larger, more bulky items are for sale, such as this Han Dynasty horse sculpture from China (which would have required much more preparatory work to smuggle into the country, even if the purchase that exports it again is well-documented), the majority of the rather modest collection viewable online is of small, easily transportable items, such as coins, or this "pleasing"(!) Roman North African sherd decorated with a goat motif.

Two other aspects of this antiquities dealership, as self-advertised via their website, surprised me. The first is the near-complete lack of Asian (let alone Southeast Asian) artifacts on offer. While the web-site does imply that Antiquarius seeks to be affiliated first and foremost with the Classical antiquities trade (in which the Loosely's received their start), bypassing the much closer source of antiquities emanating from Southeast Asia, countries with substantially looser borders in this regards, seems to me unusual. Perhaps they realize that other galleries, in Australia and elsewhere, have the market cornered? Of course, it might be that numerous Southeast Asian artifacts are waiting in their storerooms to be eventually rotated into the online catalog, but it seems doubtful. The second is an even more troubling thought. As their website states, they are "Advisers to Australasian museums and universities" as well. This begs the question: What otherwise reputable academic and professional institutions are they connected to? Perhaps, as claimed, they merely share their acquired "appraising" expertise. If, however, artifacts are loaned for display, teaching purposes, or are bought and sold between countries, what does this say about the complacency behind the modern-day antiquities trade, globally and in the Southern Hemisphere?

New Zealand, like Australia, is a signatory of both the Antiquities Act of 1975 and the UNESCO and UNIDROIT Conventions, which allow New Zealand to reclaim "protected objects" greater than 50 years old from other countries, AND all other signatory countries to do that same if their cultural property is currently being illegally held in New Zealand. The open sale of extra-local antiquities with no clear or stated original provenance, or supporting documentation, provided on the catalog, flies in the face of these conventions, and requires much greater attention from all concerned.

1 comment:

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