Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Back From the Dead

Greetings all! I know that I usually don't put personal news on this blog, but I figured an update is warranted. I have recently returned from my two month trip to the UK and the US, enjoying every moment of my travels and learning much in a part of the world (the UK) that I've wanted to visit since childhood. To anyone who's been there, I don't even have to begin to describe the gorgeous scenery, dynamic cities (with, to me, a wonderfully "gritty" feel about them; so steeped in history as they are), and the unique musical culture that seems to exist everywhere. Intangible heritage anyone? All in all, I loved it and really can't wait to return some day!

As mentioned in my last post, numerous museums were also visited on this trip. Most of them, like the Museum of London, the Musical Instrument Museum, the National Museums of Ireland and Scotland, the American Museum of Natural History, Page/La Brea Tar Pits Museum, etc., I found to be quite thorough and engaging all around. Even those museums or exhibits that dealt with the archaeology or history of a specific place tended to demonstrate real effort in presenting clear displays involving numerous multi-media components in order to place artifacts into full context. Some of the smaller museums, such as the Arizona State Museum (full disclosure, a former employer of mine) often made the best efforts to publicly state all information on provenance, provenience, whether or not an artifact was a bequest or gift, who from, when, etc.

Maps, video of excavations, well-done artistic renderings of scenes of daily life or reconstructed tomb or village dioramas, interviews with team leaders, etc. The Museum of London stands out especially for this. Of course, having top notch displays says nothing about the legality and documented provenance of every piece in their collections, but paying great attention to detail and, in my opinion, making this detail accessible and memorable, allows these museums to be true role models.

Other museums, such as the British Museum and the Met (with all its recent controversy), seem to rest much more firmly on their laurels. Sure, they are definitely worth seeing once, and are absolutely overwhelming and humbling in their encyclopedic grandiosity, but the semi-educated visitor can't help but feeling like they just walked through a slide-show. Yes, there is worth in being able to see the genuine original version of so many important and world-renowned artifacts (e.g. The Rosetta Stone), but I couldn't help wondering more about the effort if would have taken, back in the day, just to transport these pieces (whole obelisks?!), let alone build a museum around them and maintain their upkeep.

In the case of the Met, efforts by the curatorial staff to increase the implementation of due diligence is definitely an improvement, but more needs to be done to contextualise the artifacts and provide more than just artifact identification services to members of the public (especially nascent collectors). In the case of the British Museum, I know less about any recent changes to its acquisition process, but never forget, colonial-era looting is still looting, even if no laws existed to break and know archaeological science existed to inadvertently hinder... Just my two cents.

Even more disconcerting (but unsurprising) for me was the sizable number of antiquities and ancient coin shops (with only one noted to be devoted solely to selling replicas). Perhaps ADA membership kept them legal and a long history in the business has instilled honesty and full attention to the law in these particular dealers, but I am convinced that proximity to the BM and Christie's has fueled "no-questions-asked" sales... More than that I can not say.

The other BIG piece of news I am happy to share is that, barring minor corrections to be made, I am now the proud possessor of a PhD! To my ever-lasting surprise, this major chapter of my life can now more or less close, and close triumphantly! And now, as I slowly begin to settle into life in Sydney, fill out job applications, continue to work on various publications and develop potential research projects to keep my momentum going post-PhD, I can reassure you that more regular blogging will resume.

As a token of good faith, here's a link to an ICE/HSI news story detailing another antiquities seizure allegedly tied to Kapoor. Two statues (one 3rd century, one 10th), were lent (key word being lent, not sold) to a so-far anonymous hotel by Art of the Past, but seized on the 23rd October. They will join the growing body of evidence weighing against Kapoor, but as always with these cases, plenty of work remains... Stay tuned!