April 11, 2008


Show and sell

Two very good articles just appeared in The Art Newspaper about the open-to-abuse relationship between museums and dealers, this time concerning a particularly egregious case of a major exhibition of modern Chinese art. It was accompanied by serious catalogues (= imprimatur of quality and authenticity) and the whole lot was being arranged for sale while still on exhibit.

Show and sell: Sotheby’s announces auction of Chinese art just two days after museum display. The Estella collection will be sold in Hong Kong this month following exhibitions at leading institutions, by Georgina Adam | 8.4.08 | Issue 190

Museums should beware of being used as marketing tools, by Adrian Ellis | 8.4.08 | Issue 190

This only reminds of similar shenanigans closer to home, i.e., archaeological collections "on loan" at museums but destined for the auction block.

April 09, 2008


Exhibition, book and symposium in Chicago

The Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago will present an exhibit Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past in Chicago from April 10 to December 31, 2008. The opening date, April 10, marks the fifth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad.

The looting of the Iraq Museum was widely publicized in the international press. However, it is less well known that ongoing looting of archaeological sites poses an even greater threat to the cultural heritage of Iraq. The exhibit “Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past” and the April 12 symposium (see below) examine the ongoing destruction and looting of Iraq’s cultural heritage.

Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia, is the cradle of civilization, the region that spawned the seminal inventions of writing, the calendar, the wheel, and even the concept of cities. The history of the world quite literally begins in Mesopotamia, making the loss of its cultural patrimony a loss for all humanity.

Archaeologists involved with the exhibit include McGuire Gibson, University of Chicago Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology, Geoff Emberling, Director of the Oriental Institute Museum, and exhibit co-curator, Katharyn Hanson

The exhibit is organized around the following themes:

- The importance of archaeology to history and identity: Why does the past matter? What can it tell us about ourselves and our community?
- Looting and damage to archaeological sites: dramatic photographs, including recent satellite images, show illicit looting and destruction of sites.
- The threat of war: combat damage and the more significant construction damage being done by the US military at important sites including Babylon, Ur, and Samarra
- The importance of archaeological context: how much context can tell us about an object and about the culture from which it came.
- Looted artifacts: the routes that looted artifacts take from Iraq to art markets around the world, and where seizures have been made.
- The Iraq Museum five years later: what in fact was looted and the progress of recovery efforts to date.
- What has been done and what can be done? The exhibit examines what efforts are and can be made to stem the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq and on a local and national level throughout the world

A goal of the exhibit is to encourage people to think about the importance of archaeology and cultural heritage throughout the world, to ask questions such as: Why is archaeology important? What does the past mean to me, my family, my community and my nation? What can be done to preserve the past? How can individuals and communities as well as larger bureaucratic organizations safeguard the records of the past?

Thursday, April 10 at 6:30 pm: Opening of the exhibit at the Oriental Institute will feature a lecture by University of Chicago Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology, McGuire Gibson, followed by a candlelight vigil commemorating the five years since the looting of the Museum in Baghdad. The vigil is one of many being held throughout the world, coordinated by SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving cultural heritage worldwide. Free and open to the public.

The Oriental Institute announces the publication of a new title, both in print and on-line
(as part of its Electronic Publication Initiative). The printed copy is
available from the David Brown Book Company/Oxbow Books: http://www.oxbowbooks.com.

Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq's Past

Edited by Geoff Emberling and Katharyn Hanson

Oriental Institute Museum Publication 28
Chicago: The Oriental Institute
ISBN-10: 1-885923-56-2
ISBN-13: 978-1-885923-56-1

With an introduction by Professor McGuire Gibson, this up-to-date account describes the
state of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad and chronicles the damage done to
archaeological sites by illicit digging.
Contributors include Donny George, John M. Russell, Katharyn Hanson, Clemens Reichel,
Elizabeth C. Stone, and Patty Gerstenblith. Published in conjunction with the exhibit of
the same name opening at the Oriental Institute April 10, 2008, this book commemorates the
fifth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq National Museum.

Pp. 88; 48 illustrations, most in color

- Foreword. Gil J. Stein
- Preface. Geoff Emberling
- Map of Iraq
- Time Line of Events
- The Looting of the Iraq Museum in Context. McGuire Gibson, Oriental Institute, University
of Chicago
- The Looting of the Iraq Museum Complex. Donny George, Stony Brook University
- Efforts to Control Damage to Sites and Monuments. John M. Russell,Massachusetts College of
Art and Design
- Why Does Archaeological Context Matter? Katharyn Hanson, University of Chicago
- Cataloging the Losses: The Oriental Institute¹s Iraq Museum Database Project. Clemens
Reichel, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
- Archaeological Site Looting: The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Southern Iraq.
Elizabeth C. Stone, Stony Brook University
- Legal Aspects of Controlling the International Market in Looted Antiquities: The Paradigm
of Iraq. Patti Gerstenblith, DePaul University

University of Chicago
Oriental Institute Symposium:
Looting the Cradle of Civilization: The Loss of History in Iraq

This special event takes place during the 5th anniversary of the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad.

Saturday, April 12
9:30-4pm; Reception follows
$65 Oriental Institute members; $75 non-members; $25 students
Pre-registration required.
Call 773-702-9507

The looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad stunned the world in April 2003. Much less well known is the ongoing looting of archaeological sites throughout Iraq, which poses an even greater threat to the history of the land that gave the world its earliest writing system, the first cities, and the concept of the rule of law.

Examine the archaeological tragedy taking place in Iraq with scholars and experts who have experienced the situation at first hand. Hear the latest information on the looting of the Baghdad museum, discover how scholars are helping to protect Iraq's threatened archaeological sites, and learn how the laws safeguarding cultural property in wartime are being challenged in Iraq.

Symposium speakers include:
* Donny George, former director of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad
* Patty Gerstenblith, Professor, College of Law, DePaul University, Chicago, and
Director of DePaul's Program on Cultural Heritage Law
* McGuire Gibson, Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology, University of
*Abdulamir Hamdani, Director of Antiquities in Nasiriya Province in southern Iraq
* John Russell, Professor of Art at Massachusetts College and former Deputy
Advisor to the Iraqi Minister of Culture and the Coalition Provisional Authority
* Elizabeth Stone, Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology at SUNY
Stonybrook University, New York.

Offered in conjunction with the special Oriental Institute exhibit "Catastrophe: The
Looting and Destruction of Iraq's Past," this symposium also includes a viewing of the exhibit and the world-renowned collection of ancient art and artifacts on display in the Oriental Institute Museum's Mesopotamian Gallery.


A brief recap of foreign assistance during the last five sad years

At the occasion of the exhibition and symposium in Chicago (see next post), I received a request by a journalist to explain who all was involved in the efforts to salvage as much as possible of the archaeological heritage of Iraq. Needless to say, many parties outside Iraq have been involved. I here repeat with only minor alterations what I gave as an answer.

The U of Chicago Oriental Institute (Dr. McG. Gibson) did lend its considerable academic weight through participation in and initiating several approaches. You know of course Clemens Reichel's "Lost Treasures from Iraq" project which did a good job at first though later petered out. The latter was understandable to a certain extent as the continuation was costlier and more time consuming than the "low fruit" that was catalogued first, while at the same time some of the primary roles for the project had been fulfilled: providing a type collection online for police, customs, FBI, Interpol, military, etc. to compare probably looted artifacts against. It also was able to function as an educational tool for schools and so on. Even more important however has been the OI's continuing patronage of the Iraqcrisis mailing list, administered by the very capable and tenacious Chuck Jones (who continued in this role even after leaving the OI's employ).

Dr. Elizabeth Stone of Stonybrook University (NY) has also played a very important part, first by training and assisting Iraqi colleagues and then also by her project to study satellite photos in order to detect and analyze looting of sites in Iraq (see for instance this recent article).

The British Museum in London sent conservators to Baghdad in the beginning and has assisted Iraqi colleagues in many ways. Italian conservators esp. have also been very active, even on location in Baghdad through the years. They basically helped to get a working lab again at the Museum and assisted in the first steps toward fixing the Museum. The Italian military in Nasiriyyah were the only "Alliance" forces who took guarding the archaeological sites to heart. Drs. John Russell and Zainab Bahrani took time off from their university jobs to serve as cultural (i.e., heritage) adviser to the CPA/US Embassy in Iraq and conservator René Teijgeler from the Netherlands also tried to effect the gigantic military apparatus in Iraq to not cause even more damage.

The World Monument Fund/Getty Conservation Institute as well as the Global Heritage Fund organized archaeological site management and valorization training and support. Among the professional academic associations, the Archaeological Institute of America has been the most active and was particularly effective in getting far-reaching legislation passed in Congress to protect Iraq's heritage.

More on the public front, Cindy Ho's SAFE - Saving Antiquities For Everyone was actually formed in reaction to the events in Baghdad in 2003. They have tried to keep the issue of looting of and illegal trade in archaeological artifacts in the public mind. My own one-man initiative, "The Iraq War & Archaeology," served from the very beginning as the point of reference for all involved or interested in Iraq's heritage: academics, journalists, decision-makers, the general public. I gathered and annotated all available news till 2006. The archive is still available.

There were of course many more initiatives and commitments by a long list of institutions and organizations from many countries, too long to list here (see for instance on this page).