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HORNIMAN MUSEUM AND THE RESTITUTION OF BENIN BRONZES

http://www.museum-security.org/opoku_horniman.htm

August 29, 2011

LOOTED NIGERIAN BENIN BRONZES IN HORNIMAN MUSEUM, LONDON.

The exhibition is showcasing some of the works that made Benin (Nigeria) famous. It once again, reminds the world of a civilization truncated by the imperial forces of the colonialist. The works on show at this exhibition are some of the 3000 odd pieces of bronze and ivory works forcibly removed from my great grandfathers palace by some Britons who invaded Benin in 1897. The British kept some of the loot for themselves and sold the rest to European and American buyers. These works now adorn public museums and private collectors galleries, all over the world.

Omo NOba ErediauwaCFR. Oba of Benin (1)

Chief Owangue, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

The name of the Horniman Museum does not figure prominently in the discussions relating to the ongoing restitution attempts by the people of Benin to recover their artefacts that were brutally looted by the British in their notorious invasion of the African kingdom in 1897.

An English friend of mine, a well-known art historian, had drawn my attention to the existence of the Benin collection in this museum, adding that although the collection was small, the quality of the objects was high and suggested that I add the Horniman Museum to my list of holders of Benin Bronzes. (2) I had forgotten about the suggestion to look at the Horniman Benin collection until my recent visit to London.

Perhaps this museum may have escaped the attention of many because it is not located in central London like the British Museum and also because its Benin and African collections are not as large as those of the museum in Bloomsbury. Of course, we never know what number of artefacts the museums have since they refuse to tell us. We do not know if the Horniman has other Benin artefacts in its depositary. In any case the Benin collection of the museum does not appear to be very large.  However, Annie E. Coombes states in her excellent book, Reinventing Africa, with reference to the founder of the museum, Frederick Horniman, that In 1897, he was quick to buy up a considerable amount of Benin material from established commercial sources and private collections.(3) We did not get the impression that there were lots of Benin materials. It would be interesting to know where most of the original material has gone. Incidentally, the museum does not provide any guide to its collections for visitors. My questions in this regard seemed to have embarrassed the museum employees.

Ekpenede, Iyase of Benin, Benin, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

The Horniman Museum is located in very beautiful gardens that are in themselves worth visiting. The museum seems to be a perfect place for a day out for mothers with children. Its aquarium attracts a lot of attention. After a short walk through the gardens, we entered the museum itself and headed for the African Worlds of which the Benin bronzes form part.

The displayed  magnificent Benin bronzes undoubtedly come from the nefarious British invasion of 1897 as stated in publications of the museum. Indeed, it is stated that they were purchased in 1897 from W. J. Wider of the Punitive Expedition. The founder of the Horniman Museum, Frederick

Horniman, did not seem to have had any compunction about purchasing these blood artefacts that came directly from a member of the British invasion force that with fire and gun laid waste to Benin City and massacred its inhabitants:

The African collections contain important historical and archaeological collections, including extensive Egyptian burial material, some superb examples of 19th century high status Aymara metalwork and primitivist paintings from Ethiopia, and Benin brasses and ivories, purchased from W.J. Wider of the British Punitive Expedition of 1897. (4)

We do not know how many requests for restitution of the Benin bronzes have been made to the Horniman museum and by whom. The legendary Bernie Grant must have corresponded with the Horniman Museum as he contacted many museums on this issue. (5) The Benin Memorandum submitted to the British House of Commons by the Benin Royal Family   applied to museums in Britain, including  the Horniman Museum.(6) The museum officials however seem to believe they have developed a solution or partial solution to the issue of restitution. Anthony Alan Shelton, then Director, Horniman Museum, declared:

If the original acquisition was not contentious at the time, the ensuing history of European and American rights over the legal ownership of Benin artefacts has been a continuous source of friction with Nigeria, which we felt an ethical incumbency to confront. The partial and more equitable resolution we devised involved returning the voice of interpretation, if not the disputed objects, to the Bini people themselves. The response of Joseph [Eboreime] and the team he put together with the co-operation of the National Commission on Museums and Monuments was, to say the least, gracious and immensely rewarding. For over two years Joseph tirelessly directed research on the iconography and history of the bronzes in our collection, using written, archival, and  most important, oral sources from within the Royal Palace itself. Furthermore, by recording royal ceremonies he was able to relate historically situated events to their contemporary ritual re-enactments. (7)

This is a very remarkable statement. Until reading this declaration, I had assumed that each people had the right to interpret their own culture the way they saw fit. But Anthony Alan Shelton states that the Horniman Museum gave to Nigerians the right to interpret their own culture. Could he have been joking? The context of his statement in the Preface of a book published by the museum does not seem to indicate joke or irony. But can one give what one does not possess? Where does the Horniman Museum derive the right or duty to determine who can interpret Nigerian artefacts? Did the Nigerians not have this right before the museum generously granted them such a right? So what have the Nigerians obtained in this solution or partial solution which means in effect that the museum keeps the Benin artefacts but the Nigerians can provide the explanation of functions of the objects and their significance? Nothing.  In any case, any solution that ends with the present holders of the looted artefacts keeping them, without even envisaging the eventual possibility that some of the artefacts may be returned, is surely invalidab initio.

 

Edogun, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

How can one say If the original acquisition was not contentious at the time with regard to objects which were acquired through a bloody invasion? What form of action indicates contention more dramatically and forcefully than the very act of actively resisting foreign aggression? Or is the phrase not contentious confined to the circle of Western dealers who generally do not care about the means used in obtaining artefacts and are not worried that these are blood artefacts for which many Benin people have paid with their lives? Certainly, the people of Benin and Africans generally did not accept brutal invasions and the accompanying looting of their precious artefacts. Even in rapacious Europe, there were some voices that objected to such imperialist acts as the aggressive action of the British invasion. Victor Hugo had already condemned the Anglo-French attack on the Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860. (8) The seizure of the Benin artefacts in 1897 was contrary to the general legal opinion in Europe at that time that works of science and art should be protected from plunder in wartime. Some Western scholars are unwilling to recognize that after the Napoleonic spoliations and the restitutions that followed, it was no longer acceptable to deprive defeated States and their people of their artworks. Prof. Neil Brodie has recently stated, It should be recognised internationally that the Benin artworks were taken forcibly by an imperial power and, following the precedents of 1815 and 1945, that they should be returned.(9)

 

Chief Priest of the River Deity, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

We learn from  Anthony  Alan Shelton that: The Horniman Museum is committed to working towards developing new, equitable and respectful relationships not only with the peoples of Africa, but with the rest of the world. In attempting to contribute to balancing the one way flow of information from the southern to the northern hemisphere, we put exhibitions and collections on the world wide web, and, in the case of Benin, have supplied the  National Museum with computer facilities to enable school children and researchers to access the exhibition to which the Benin people have themselves contributed so much. (10)

If the Horniman Museum intended to develop new, equitable and respectful relationships not only with the peoples of Africa, they could have started by a clear apology for the 1897 brutal invasion of Benin that made it possible to loot the artefacts they are now holding and as a mark of their sincerity, they could have offered to return some of the artefacts. No matter how many computers they offer, keeping looted objects leaves intact, as it were, the original offence and liability. Have they ever considered the alternative of returning the originals to the owners and viewing them from their computers in London? The museum officials also know that Benin children and, I may add artists and others seeing Benin artefacts via internet is in no way comparable to seeing the original objects directly.  What is easily available to children and adults in London is denied to children and adults in Benin.

Many Western museums do not seem to appreciate the need to make concrete reconciliatory gestures by returning some of the artefacts looted or stolen in the colonial era. They seem to have become so accustomed to these artefacts in their museums that the very idea of parting with some of them appears unthinkable. Could this be due to residual colonialism and persistent racists attitudes? Fortunately, some Westerners, such as the former French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, are beginning to understand the absolute need to return some of the looted artefacts. Speaking to Le Monde about the return of looted Korean manuscripts by France to Korea, Lang expressed the view that those manuscripts have their place more in Korea than in France; they belonged to the memory, history and the soul of Korea. He suggested that the question of restitution could not be postponed forever and that an international conference should be called to settle the issue. (11)

 

Priest of Ugbor Village with dreadlocks, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

The Horniman Museum seems convinced that it has no restitution problem as far as the Benin bronzes are concerned. The statement that the Nigerian scholar who helped the museum with the interpretation of the Benin bronzes even obtained the help of the Benin Royal Family, is intended to convey, without expressly saying so, that the Royal Family and the people of Benin have approved the possession of the Bronzes by the museum. This has led Maev Kennedy in a British newspaper, The Guardian, to state that:

While the African Restitution Movement website labels the British Museum’s bronzes as “stolen”, the Horniman museum in South London’s new African gallery, the first in a national museum in Britain, displays them with the full agreement of the Benin people(12)

Without further concrete documentary evidence, we cannot accept, merely on the basis of misleading declarations that the people of Benin approve of the Hornimans display of the looted Bronzes. It is to be noted, that the statement refers to displaying objects when in fact the main dispute is about possession and ownership. To be sure, how museums display the Benin bronzes must interest the Benin people and others but the main question relates to possession, control and ownership of the looted objects. Misleading statements on display of objects should not deflect from the main substantive question of ownership.

The Royal Family of Benin has always insisted on the return of the looted Benin artefacts and when they participate in exhibitions, they always make it very clear that their participation is in no way to be construed as approval of the notorious 1897 invasion.  The Royal delegation to the exhibition Benin Kings and Rituals, Court Arts from Nigeria, September 2007 in Vienna   made it absolutely clear in their statement that they wanted their art objects back in Benin. Prince G.I. Akenzua, Enogie of Evbuobanosa, brother of the Oba   cautioned that the participation of the Royals in the exhibition should not be construed as condoning in any way the British aggression against Benin in 1897. Indeed, the brutal methods of the British in the invasion as well as their subsequent refusals to return at least some of the looted artefacts make it extremely difficult for any Benin person or African to forgive or forget this notorious aggression which is still being supported, directly or indirectly,  by some contemporary Westerners in their refusal even to envisage the return of some of the looted objects and by presenting baseless arguments to justify their retention in the Western world where they do not belong.

The people of Benin as well as other African peoples whose cultural artefacts have been looted by Western States are often faced with the question of assisting the museums of those very rapacious States in the interpretation of the looted artefacts. Many feel that, despite the contradictory situation, they must, in the interest of scholarship, assist in giving true and correct interpretation of the nature and functions of the artefacts. Does this assistance and cooperation imply approval of previous colonial aggressions?  A distinction must be made between such assistance in the interest of knowledge and enlightenment and the basic questions relating to the original aggression and loot under the colonial regime. We are no where near to finding solutions to the fundamental question because of Western refusal to acknowledge the wrongful and evil nature of colonial aggression and despoliation, and the necessity of returning some of the looted artefacts. There comes a point in time when one may question the legitimacy of such co-operation when Western States and museums seem to adopt a cooperative stance only when this serves their interests.

 

Priest Doctor of the Royal Army and Benin War Chief, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

If the Horniman Museum is really interested in equitable and respectful relationships not only with the peoples of Africa, but with the rest of the world,

the museum must take concrete steps such as returning a few of the Benin bronzes, in response to the long-standing request from the Benin Royal Family and in fulfilment of several UNESCO and United Nations resolutions.

We left the Horniman Museum and Gardens with the firm impression that the museum no longer aspires to be a place where people can learn about various cultures, including African and Benin cultures. The museum in Forest Hill appeared more to be an amusement and educative place for families with children. The gardens, the aquarium and the cafeteria all seem to have been made with families and children in mind.

Despite kids running around, we were able to concentrate our attention on the African Worlds and the Benin Bronzes. We concluded that we had seen better expositions of the African and Benin artefacts elsewhere. Our shock was all the greater as, in preparing this article, we read the opinion of others on the Horniman display of African artefacts. Jonathan Jones, writing in the Guardian states:

 

Oba OrhogbuaBenin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum London, United Kingdom

However, the Horniman’s real triumph is its African Worlds gallery. Here, an outstanding collection of African art, from Benin bronzes to Egyptian mummy cases, is displayed in a way that I’m afraid to say puts the British Museum‘s Africa gallery to shame. It’s more visual, more aesthetically responsive to continent and diaspora, art and social life, past and present. It’s less preachy, while at the same time being more Afro-centric. It’s brilliant and others should emulate it. (13)

Did The Guardian writer visit the same museum in Forest Hill as we did recently? It is not my brief to defend the British Museum but anyone who has visited the imperial and imperialist museum would agree that, despite its deficiencies and wrongful policy as regards restitution of looted artefacts such as the Benin Bronzes, it clearly does not have much to learn from the Horniman Museum both as regards content and exposition.(14)  To be sure, the African Gallery of the British Museum would be better placed in a larger hall, outside the subterranean cellar where it has been condemned. Moreover, space could be gained by returning some of the African artefacts to their country of origin as has been claimed by many Africans and recommended by the UNESCO and the United Nations. But this is different from recommending learning from the Horniman Museum where the African and Benin artefacts are not better displayed.

Our concern is with the continued detention of Benin bronzes by Western museums and institutions such as the Horniman Museum despite the illegal and illegitimate mode of acquisition, involving the massacre of Benin people and the violent destruction of Benin City by burning.  Under these circumstances, a refusal to return, even symbolically, a few of the looted objects could be seen as almost condoning the original act of looting and destruction, despite all protestations to the contrary.

Members of the notorious British Punitive Expedition of 1897 against Benin, posing proudly with looted Benin ivories and bronze objects.

Dr. Spink

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the British museum has been a party to any illegality.

 Mr. Grant

Far be it from me to suggest such an appalling thing, but there are those who will say that the ways in which certain articles have been acquired leave a lot to be desired. The House would do a great service to people around the world if it were to investigate the ways in which some artefacts were gathered and came to be displayed in the British museum.(15)

Kwame Opoku, 26 August, 2011.

NOTES

1. Introductory Note to the catalogue of the exhibition Benin Kings

And Rituals, Court Arts from Nigeria, Snoeck Publishers, 2007, p.13.

2, Kwame Opoku, Reflections on the Abortive Queen-Mother Idia Mask Auction: Tactical Withdrawal or Decision of Principle? http://www.modernghana.com 

Phillip  J.C. Dark mentions in An Introduction to Benin Art and Technology (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1973, p, 80) Horniman Museum as having a collection of Benin Art but in his  contribution to a later book in 1975, African Images-Essays in African Iconology,( Eds. Daniel E. McCall  and Edna G. Bay, Africana Publishing Co. New York, London. p. 90) he does not include Horniman Museum among the list of Museums and Collections of Benin Art.

In her interesting Masters dissertation, Museums and their Voices: A Contemporary Study of the Benin Bronzespresented in May 2006 at Gteborg University, Charlotte Dohlvik did not include the Horniman Museum in her list of museums that hold Benin Bronze heads since she was dealing only with the commemorative heads but her general comments on the Benin bronzes may be of interest to readers.

3. Annie E. Coombes, Reinventing Africa, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1994, p.150. After our visit to the museum, we obtained an old catalogue of the museum, Guide to the Collections in the Horniman Museum and Library, 1921. This catalogue describes the Benin collection as follows

The Benin collection, obtained shortly after the town was destroyed by a British force in 1897, contains the following specimens:-a number of bronze panels with figures in high relief; small bronze pendants with animal figures; 

small pendants with human figures ;brass mask with face showing tribal marks; brass fowl, bell, armlet, dancing wands; ivory armlets ;ivory handles with human figure at end (?handles of fly-whisks) ;wooden comb; carved wooden frame: and other objects. p.43.

The catalogue also contains some remarkable statements such as:

Since the backward races of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and America- in so far as they have not become semi-civilised or extinct- still make use of simple primitive contrivances analogous to those discarded by our remote ancestors, a large part of the collection consists of specimens from such peoples. p.13.

4. Acquisition and Disposal Policy January 2010, p16

Horniman Museum and Gardens, May 2011 http://wzeu.ask.com/       

5. K. Opoku, Reflections on the Abortive Queen-Mother Idia Mask Auction: Tactical Withdrawal or Decision of Principle? http://www.modernghana.com

6. Akenzua, Edun (2000). “The Case of Benin”. Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence, Appendix 21, House of Commons, The United Kingdom Parliament, March 2000.

7. Anthony Alan Shelton, Preface in Karel Arnaut (Ed), Re-visions: New Perspectives on the African Collections of the Horniman Museum, 2000, The Horniman Museum and Gardens, London, Museu Antropologico da Universidade de Coimbra, p.10.

8. See reference to Victor Hugos view on the Anglo-British invasion of the Summer Palace in Beijing (Peking) in K. Opoku, Chinese Research Artefacts Looted in Anglo-French Attack on Summer Palace in 1860:  Do Great Museums Not Keep Records?http://www.modernghana. com

 KOpoku. Is it not time to fulfil Victor Hugos wish? Comments on Chinese Claim to looted Artefacts on Sale at Christies.

9. Neil Brodie, Compromise and restorative justice: More about Benin,

http://www.museum-security.org

10. Karel Arnaut (Ed), op. cit, p. 12

11. Jack Lang, La question des restitutions ne peut rester ternellement taboue, Le Monde, 21 July, 2011, p. 21. When President Sarkozy announced that the Korean manuscripts looted by French soldiers in the colonial period, would be restored to South Korea, there was a vociferous outcry, especially from employees of the Bibliotheque National, that the act amounted to disposing of national patrimony of France, conveniently forgetting that those documents were the national treasures of Korea which the French had looted.

It is true though that in restitution matters, some Westerners seem to find it difficult to think logically and to apply the elementary principles of justice and morality. They seem to believe that nothing is more natural than for Westerners to loot/steal African and Asian artefacts. Some even believe the West has a duty to save African artefacts. See K. Opoku, Protest by Officials at the French Bibliotheque National at the Repatriation of Looted Documents back to Koreahttp://www.elginism.com

12. Mary Kennedy, A lesson in lost propertyThe Guardian, Saturday 30 October 1999.   http://www.guardian.co

14.  For a positive assessment of Hornimans method of exposition, see Kate Sturge The Other on Display:Translation in the Ethnographic Museum

www.google.com                                                                                                                                                                                                   

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1996/mar/14/slavery-legacy#S5LV0570P0_19960314_HOL_224

When Bernie Grant went to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, to discuss the issue of the return of the Benin bronzes, he received a negative answer from the Director of the museum, John Spaulding.  During this visit, he went to view the Benin objects and had a conversation with the head of curatorial service of the museum, Mark ONeill which was reported as follows: Mr O’Neill said he would have to be convinced by an independent expert that Glasgow’s collection was unique before restitution could be considered. He told Mr Grant: “If we went through every object and assessed how it got here, then we could be in a situation where we were repatriating 60 or 70% of our collection and I don’t think society has reached that stage. “The bottom line here is that we are not in the business of redressing historic wrongs.

Alison Hardie, Glasgow museum director rejects request from Africa for the return of looted artefacts. Battle royal for Benin relics, Herald, Scotland, Sat 25 Jan. 1997. See also Dawn to Dusk: A Biography of Bernie Grant MP by Eric A. Grant. ITUNI Books, London, 2006, pp. 118-119.

HORNIMAN MUSEUM AND THE RESTITUTION OF BENIN BRONZES.

August 29th, 2011

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tomflynn: Culture of silence and intimidation surrounds Degas sculpture trade

http://tom-flynn.blogspot.com/2011/08/culture-of-silence-and-intimidation.html

August 25, 2011

A fascinating piece by Bloomberg’s William D. Cohan yesterday (

here

) throws light on the disturbing industry of questionable Degas bronze casting that has become a multi-million dollar business for those involved.

Tellingly, it seems to have been a couple of rich collectors who allegedly kick-started what looks increasingly like a wholesale cashing-in on the Degas legacy after “discovering” a cache of plasters purportedly by the French artist in a Parisian storeroom in 2001. For the original source of this story, see Judd Tully’s piece for Art Info and Art + Auction here.

Nothing could be more illustrative of the extent to which money is dislodging traditional connoisseurial expertise in today’s art market than the news that a rich collector and his wife have been allowed to ascribe a cache of previously unknown plasters to Degas — one of the most academically problematic “sculptors” of the modern period — without the involvement of recognised Degas experts and scholars. Indeed, according to Cohan, Degas scholarship has suddenly descended into Trappist silence.

At the heart of this story is an issue that warrants further scrutiny — namely the willingness of the Degas heirs to rubber-stamp the suspect process of authentication in return for a share of the proceeds.

But Cohan’s piece is really about the omertà that has descended among museum directors and Degas scholars who, despite deep reservations about the authenticity of the plasters from which the new bronzes have been cast, are reluctant to express their doubts to journalists for fear of being sued. Here is yet another eloquent symbol of the power of money to corrupt due process in the art market.

Sadly, it is by no means unusual for an artist’s hears to authorise posthumous bronze casting. But is it right to do so, just because the artist in question left no explicit prohibition on such activities? As Cohan notes, Degas had his own reservations about it:

“Before his death in 1917, he repeatedly expressed concern that charlatans might highjack his legacy by casting his sculptures in bronze and selling them to collectors, and is said to have told his fellow painter Georges Rouault, ‘What I fear most is not dust but the hand of man.'”

That hand, it seems, is proving more grasping than even Degas might have imagined. Nor is the dead hand of acquisitive opportunism by any means unusual in the sculpture realm.

Not long ago, at the opening of an exhibition of recent casts of works by an important late British sculptor, one prominent UK museum curator confided to me his serious reservations about whether these “new” works ought to have been made at all, particularly when many of them had been cast from models that were never intended for translation into bronze. But it’s one thing to murmur such concerns sotto voce over a glass of cheap white wine at a private view and quite another to express them on the record for publication.

As for the ability of expensive lawyers to foreclose disputes before they can be properly explored, this too is becoming almost endemic in the art market. Last year, we heard how Joe Simon-Whelan had to retreat from his dispute with the Andy Warhol Foundation after being engulfed by a tsunami of legal costs. In an email to Bloomberg, he said, “I am deeply saddened that I was unable to reveal the truth in court, but when faced with threats of bankruptcy, continuing personal attacks and counterclaims, I realized I no longer stood a chance of proceeding further.”

It’s coming to something when disputes might be resolved the wrong way just to avoid onerous legal costs, but when differences of opinion don’t even make it to the level of open public discussion, that is a lot more worrying. One of the Degas scholars Cohan spoke to expressed hope for a “litigation-free zone” in which to air the issues properly and without redress, a notion promptly scorned by Delaware law professor, Ann Althouse.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, a similarly glaring mismatch between corporate muscle and the broader public good is playing out in the realm of public sculpture. A case currently developing in California is pitting the intimidating financial reach of an oligarch against not only an artist, but against a local arts-commissioning authority cowed by the threat of lawsuits. Watch this space.

As threats and personal attacks rain down from wealthy, bullying collectors and foundations, the experts scuttle for cover, lips firmly sealed. Whither the artist’s rights?

via tomflynn: Culture of silence and intimidation surrounds Degas sculpture trade.

August 25th, 2011

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Dutch Museum to sell African Collection

http://www.museum-security.org/Kwame_Opoku_dutch_museum_to_sell_african_collection.htm

August 23, 2011

Dutch Museum to sell African Collection

“We are going to sell the entire Africa collection and the Americas collection, and will only keep the top pieces in the rest of our collection so we can focus on Asian art,”.

 Stanley Bremer, Director at Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam.

Crown, Asante, Ghana, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands

We were shocked to read the news that Rotterdams Wereldmuseum  (World Museum) is planning to sell its African and American collections to cover shortfalls made likely by the economic crisis in Europe and planned cuts in state subsidies to the arts in 2013. (1)

It is of course not our business to tell a museum how to conduct its affairs. Our concern is, however, the selling of African art objects that may have been looted,   stolen or extorted during the colonial era. As we all know, the legal status of many African artefacts is still disputed by the African owners and the European museums that are holding them.

Drum, Benin, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

The idea of a museum selling African artefacts undermines all the arguments made for the acquisition and retention of African artefacts by European museums and other institutions. This form of commodification will make many African ancestors turn in their graves and wonder whether their descendants have any cultural values left intact after slavery and colonization.

The selling and buying of sacred and cultural objects of others has become the business of many, including museums. One recalls the shock and amazement of many when it became known that the British Museum had been in the habit of selling Benin artefacts for cash. (2)

         Bell, Benin, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Selling and buying art objects whose exact legal status is in doubt or contested constitutes risky business and those interested should be aware of this crucial factor that may cause trouble in future.

Can we assume that the museum would provide all potential buyers the full history of the possession of the objects proposed for sale? It is well known that museums are very reluctant to give detailed information on the acquisition history of African objects in their collections since most of them have been acquired either through violence or in circumstances that are dubious. It may be significant that the Netherlands adhered rather late on 17 July 2009 to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. (3)  Many museums may still not be inclined to abide by the conditions of the convention as regards transparency.

 Relief, Benin, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam. Netherlands

African embassies in  Europe may find it worthwhile to enter into contact with the Dutch museum to find out what objects  are now being proposed for sale and to ensure that artefacts claimed by their peoples and governments are not included or better still, request that they are returned since the Wereldmuseum has now no use for these objects. They should reserve the rights of their peoples and governments to sue whoever buys objects that should have been returned to them long ago. The Wereldmuseum has some 9878 African objects of which 713 come from Angola, 68 from Cameroon, 199 from Ghana, 1134 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 391 from Mali, 353 from Nigeria, including 204 from Benin         http://www.wereldmuseum.nl/collectie/zoeken

The Dutch were in Africa for a considerable period of time and some of the artefacts in Dutch museums may be of historical value to African States. (4)

But can the Wereldmuseum continue to be a world museum without African and American collections?

Sanza, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Kwame Opoku, 22 August,2011..

Pendant , Benin. Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands

NOTES

1. http://www.printfriendly.com Dutch-museums-may-sell-treasures-to-make-ends-meet.ashx%2523axzz1VRhcy21C   Reuters. Dutch museums may sell treasures to make ends meethttp://www.reuters.com Dutch News.nl  Rotterdam museum may sell its entire African collection, http://www.dutchnews.nl

2 Martin Bailey, British Museum Sold Benin Bronzes, http://www.forbes.com  Museum Security Network, British Museum sold Benin Bronzes for 75 each.

http://www.museum-security.org

3. http://portal.unesco.org

 A History of Ghanaby W. E. F. Ward (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1967) has a good account of the Dutch presence in Ghana from 1598 to 1872 when they ceded their possessions to the British.

 The Dutch had driven out the Portuguese from the Gold Coast in 1637 before they were in turn forced to cede their possessions to the British by treaty in 1872 and thus leave an area where many European countries had sought to secure foothold because of the gold resources in the land. See Albert van Dantzig, Forts and Castles of Ghana, (1980, Sedco Publishing Ltd, Accra) as well as Kwesi J. Anquandah, Castles and Forts of Ghana, (Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, Accra, 1999).


via Dutch Museum to sell African Collection.

August 23rd, 2011

Posted In: Uncategorized

Dutch Museum to sell African Collection

http://www.museum-security.org/Kwame_Opoku_dutch_museum_to_sell_african_collection.htm

August 23, 2011

Dutch Museum to sell African Collection

“We are going to sell the entire Africa collection and the Americas collection, and will only keep the top pieces in the rest of our collection so we can focus on Asian art,”.

 Stanley Bremer, Director at Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam.

Crown, Asante, Ghana, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands

We were shocked to read the news that Rotterdams Wereldmuseum  (World Museum) is planning to sell its African and American collections to cover shortfalls made likely by the economic crisis in Europe and planned cuts in state subsidies to the arts in 2013. (1)

It is of course not our business to tell a museum how to conduct its affairs. Our concern is, however, the selling of African art objects that may have been looted,   stolen or extorted during the colonial era. As we all know, the legal status of many African artefacts is still disputed by the African owners and the European museums that are holding them.

Drum, Benin, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

The idea of a museum selling African artefacts undermines all the arguments made for the acquisition and retention of African artefacts by European museums and other institutions. This form of commodification will make many African ancestors turn in their graves and wonder whether their descendants have any cultural values left intact after slavery and colonization.

The selling and buying of sacred and cultural objects of others has become the business of many, including museums. One recalls the shock and amazement of many when it became known that the British Museum had been in the habit of selling Benin artefacts for cash. (2)

         Bell, Benin, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Selling and buying art objects whose exact legal status is in doubt or contested constitutes risky business and those interested should be aware of this crucial factor that may cause trouble in future.

Can we assume that the museum would provide all potential buyers the full history of the possession of the objects proposed for sale? It is well known that museums are very reluctant to give detailed information on the acquisition history of African objects in their collections since most of them have been acquired either through violence or in circumstances that are dubious. It may be significant that the Netherlands adhered rather late on 17 July 2009 to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. (3)  Many museums may still not be inclined to abide by the conditions of the convention as regards transparency.

 Relief, Benin, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam. Netherlands

African embassies in  Europe may find it worthwhile to enter into contact with the Dutch museum to find out what objects  are now being proposed for sale and to ensure that artefacts claimed by their peoples and governments are not included or better still, request that they are returned since the Wereldmuseum has now no use for these objects. They should reserve the rights of their peoples and governments to sue whoever buys objects that should have been returned to them long ago. The Wereldmuseum has some 9878 African objects of which 713 come from Angola, 68 from Cameroon, 199 from Ghana, 1134 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 391 from Mali, 353 from Nigeria, including 204 from Benin         http://www.wereldmuseum.nl/collectie/zoeken

The Dutch were in Africa for a considerable period of time and some of the artefacts in Dutch museums may be of historical value to African States. (4)

But can the Wereldmuseum continue to be a world museum without African and American collections?

Sanza, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Kwame Opoku, 22 August,2011..

Pendant , Benin. Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands

NOTES

1. http://www.printfriendly.com Dutch-museums-may-sell-treasures-to-make-ends-meet.ashx%2523axzz1VRhcy21C   Reuters. Dutch museums may sell treasures to make ends meethttp://www.reuters.com Dutch News.nl  Rotterdam museum may sell its entire African collection, http://www.dutchnews.nl

2 Martin Bailey, British Museum Sold Benin Bronzes, http://www.forbes.com  Museum Security Network, British Museum sold Benin Bronzes for 75 each.

http://www.museum-security.org

3. http://portal.unesco.org

 A History of Ghanaby W. E. F. Ward (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1967) has a good account of the Dutch presence in Ghana from 1598 to 1872 when they ceded their possessions to the British.

 The Dutch had driven out the Portuguese from the Gold Coast in 1637 before they were in turn forced to cede their possessions to the British by treaty in 1872 and thus leave an area where many European countries had sought to secure foothold because of the gold resources in the land. See Albert van Dantzig, Forts and Castles of Ghana, (1980, Sedco Publishing Ltd, Accra) as well as Kwesi J. Anquandah, Castles and Forts of Ghana, (Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, Accra, 1999).


via Dutch Museum to sell African Collection.

August 23rd, 2011

Posted In: African Affairs

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Mudenda George S <mudenda.georges@yahoo.com>
Date: 19 August 2011 18:33
Subject: Re: [AFRICOM-L] Dutch museums may sell treasures to make ends meet: complete € 60 million Africana collection for sale
To: africom-l@list.africom.museum

Dear Colleagues,
I find the idea of selling the entire Africa collection and the Americas
collection as sad. As far as I am concerned people’s heritage is not for sale but rather for preservation. If the selling of heritage is allowed rather promoted as the case is in the Netherlands, how then are we going to combat illicit trafficking of cultural property in particular museum objects? I fear that the mercenaries of illicit trafficking will come to Africa and the Americas to steal our objects and later claim to have bought them from the Netherlands.

Another question worth asking is, why is it that Rotterdam’s Wereldmuseum plans to sell the African and Americas collections and not those of the Dutch/European origin? It is important for our colleagues to know that the objects they want to sell were got from Africa and the Americas against the will of the owners? They were got free of charge and now they want to make profits. Why then can’t this museum return the objects where the owners of the cultures value them? When I look at this idea what ever the reasoning, it takes us back to the times of slave trade. Now that these colonialist cannot sell us as human beings they find it pleasure and joy to sell our heritage. So each time there is a crisis in Europe what comes to people’s mind is to sell the Africans and Americas. I have no apologies whatsoever for what I am writing because if I do not say it I may find myself being sold as a slave each time there is a crisis in Europe. Someone should
remind these people how painful history can be at times.

Concerned African

Mudenda George S
Lusaka
ZAMBIA

— On Fri, 8/19/11, Ton Cremers <museum-security@museum-security.org> wrote:

From: Ton Cremers <museum-security@museum-security.org>
Subject: [AFRICOM-L] Dutch museums may sell treasures to make ends meet: complete € 60 million Africana collection for sale
To: africom-l@list.africom.museum
Date: Friday, August 19, 2011, 4:30 AM

THE DAILY STAR :: Culture :: Art :: Dutch museums may sell treasures to
make ends meet

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Art/2011/Aug-19/Dutch-museums-may-sell-treasures-to-make-ends-meet.ashx%23axzz1VRhcy21C

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ROTTERDAM: Rotterdam’s Wereldmuseum plans to sell its African and American treasures to cover funding shortfalls made more likely by the economic crisis in Europe and a planned cut in state subsidies to the arts starting in 2013 | Museum Security Network.

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ROTTERDAM: Rotterdam’s Wereldmuseum plans to sell its African and American treasures to cover funding shortfalls made more likely by the economic crisis in Europe and a planned cut in state subsidies to the arts starting in 2013 | Museum Security Network.

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Sandy Nairne on Art Theft and Recovery

Last week, I consulted with the BBC on its HARDtalk episode that featured the National Portrait Gallery’s Director Sandy Nairne

 and a discussion related to the legalities and ethics involved in paying a fee for privileged information, a ransom, or a reward in order to recover stolen art. Nairne recently released Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners

, which examines his role in the recovery of the Tate’s two Turner paintings that were stolen while on loan to an exhibit at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany. In the case of the stolen Turners, £3.5 million was expended in order to secure the paintings’ separate recoveries in 2000 and 2002, respectively…

Art Theft Central: Sandy Nairne on Art Theft and Recovery.

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“The Rene Russo character” of real-life art crime? I think not.

“We’re sort of the Rene Russo character in the real-life

Thomas Crown Affair

,” Christopher Marinello, Executive Director of The Art Loss Register recently told the New York Observer (

here

). If it weren’t so serious I’d probably have died laughing.

Marinello wants us to believe that the Art Loss Register is the dashing art crime hero fighting the bad guys. But real-life art crime is a lot less glamorous than film fiction and the Art Loss Register is no Hollywood heroine.

If the Art Loss Register wants to boast that it represents the interests of the good guys against the bad guys, as Rene Russo’s character did in the 1999 re-make of The Thomas Crown Affair, why did it choose to represent Nevada-based art dealer Jack Solomon in his title dispute against Steven Spielberg over ownership of Norman Rockwell’s

Russian Schoolroom

 (

right

), (and later against Jody Goffman Cutler of the National Museum of American Illustration after she took Spielberg’s place in the dispute)?

Marinello has been all over the news wires recently, telling anyone who’ll listen that his organisation is a force for good in art disputes. He has just told CBC News (here) that “legitimate dealers will research the authenticity of a piece in a process known as provenance.” But should they use the ALR for that research?

Authenticity and provenance are different matters. Provenance checking — confirming an object’s ownership history — does not necessarily confirm its authenticity. Such subtleties are lost on those with little or no experience of the art world, but let’s not be too pedantic for the moment as there is a broader issue here.

You might ask why a legitimate dealer would use the ALR to check provenance when a short while ago the ALR’s own chairman Julian Radcliffe admitted in court to “misleading” a dealer who had made (and paid for) a provenance enquiry over paintings he wished to buy (see links to my earlier posts on this below).

More recently, the Art Loss Register failed to conduct its own “provenance” research into Jack Solomon’s previous connections with the Russian Schoolroom painting before representing him in the doomed lawsuit against Mrs Goffman Cutler. Mrs Cutler won the case in April 2010 and the Art Loss Register is now suing its former client, Jack Solomon. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall seeing Rene Russo’s character doing anything even remotely similar. She went after the bad guys; she didn’t represent them.

I may come across as a stuck record on this ALR topic, but there is a serious issue here and it is about the need for organisations involved in title disputes and art theft resolution to demonstrate good judgement. Representing a guy in a title claim when even the most low-level due diligence would have confirmed the folly of such representation is poor judgement. Due diligence checking by the ALR would have demonstrated (as was later confirmed in court) that Mrs Cutler had a superior claim to Russian Schoolroom. Did the ALR, like its erstwhile client Jack Solomon, see a potential pot of gold lurking in the corner of the Russian Schoolroom (“I’m sure in two calls I could turn it over for x million dollars before the sun goes down.” — Solomon quoted in Riverfront Times, 2 March, 2007).

To many people, the ALR comes across as a pioneering crusader for a more ethical art world. Some of us have been working in the art world for decades and have slightly longer memories. The ALR “misled” Michael Marks when Marks sought to make a provenance enquiry; the ALR allegedly “fell out” with Gisela Berman-Fischer over her attempt to win restitution of a Pissarro painting

Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps

 (

left

) taken from her family during the Holocaust (story

here

); and now it is locked in a sordid lawsuit with Solomon, whose title claim to

Russian Schoolroom 

was baseless and who was found to be “not credible” by a Nevada District Court judge.

The ALR, poorly managed for decades, needs root and branch reform. But does it have the financial resources to undertake that reform and do the big three auction houses and the insurance companies who are its major shareholders have the guts to stand up and demand change?

One thing is for sure, the ALR has a way to go before the world sees it as “the Rene Russo character” of real life art crime.


More of my blog entries on this topic and ALR-related issues:Nevada judge rules in title dispute over Norman Rockwell’s Russian Schoolroom

Unanswered questions in Rockwell’s Russian Schoolroom case

Art Loss Register sues Solomon over Rockwell’s Russian Schoolroom case

Art recovery: another can of worms prised open (Pissarro Holocaust restitution case)

‘Due Diligence’ is just a “ruse” (Michael Marks provenance case)

The Art Loss Register: A Correction

tomflynn: The Art Loss Register: .

August 4th, 2011

Posted In: BLOG World (from related blogs)

“The Rene Russo character” of real-life art crime? I think not.

“We’re sort of the Rene Russo character in the real-life

Thomas Crown Affair

,” Christopher Marinello, Executive Director of The Art Loss Register recently told the New York Observer (

here

). If it weren’t so serious I’d probably have died laughing.

Marinello wants us to believe that the Art Loss Register is the dashing art crime hero fighting the bad guys. But real-life art crime is a lot less glamorous than film fiction and the Art Loss Register is no Hollywood heroine.

If the Art Loss Register wants to boast that it represents the interests of the good guys against the bad guys, as Rene Russo’s character did in the 1999 re-make of The Thomas Crown Affair, why did it choose to represent Nevada-based art dealer Jack Solomon in his title dispute against Steven Spielberg over ownership of Norman Rockwell’s

Russian Schoolroom

 (

right

), (and later against Jody Goffman Cutler of the National Museum of American Illustration after she took Spielberg’s place in the dispute)?

Marinello has been all over the news wires recently, telling anyone who’ll listen that his organisation is a force for good in art disputes. He has just told CBC News (here) that “legitimate dealers will research the authenticity of a piece in a process known as provenance.” But should they use the ALR for that research?

Authenticity and provenance are different matters. Provenance checking — confirming an object’s ownership history — does not necessarily confirm its authenticity. Such subtleties are lost on those with little or no experience of the art world, but let’s not be too pedantic for the moment as there is a broader issue here.

You might ask why a legitimate dealer would use the ALR to check provenance when a short while ago the ALR’s own chairman Julian Radcliffe admitted in court to “misleading” a dealer who had made (and paid for) a provenance enquiry over paintings he wished to buy (see links to my earlier posts on this below).

More recently, the Art Loss Register failed to conduct its own “provenance” research into Jack Solomon’s previous connections with the Russian Schoolroom painting before representing him in the doomed lawsuit against Mrs Goffman Cutler. Mrs Cutler won the case in April 2010 and the Art Loss Register is now suing its former client, Jack Solomon. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall seeing Rene Russo’s character doing anything even remotely similar. She went after the bad guys; she didn’t represent them.

I may come across as a stuck record on this ALR topic, but there is a serious issue here and it is about the need for organisations involved in title disputes and art theft resolution to demonstrate good judgement. Representing a guy in a title claim when even the most low-level due diligence would have confirmed the folly of such representation is poor judgement. Due diligence checking by the ALR would have demonstrated (as was later confirmed in court) that Mrs Cutler had a superior claim to Russian Schoolroom. Did the ALR, like its erstwhile client Jack Solomon, see a potential pot of gold lurking in the corner of the Russian Schoolroom (“I’m sure in two calls I could turn it over for x million dollars before the sun goes down.” — Solomon quoted in Riverfront Times, 2 March, 2007).

To many people, the ALR comes across as a pioneering crusader for a more ethical art world. Some of us have been working in the art world for decades and have slightly longer memories. The ALR “misled” Michael Marks when Marks sought to make a provenance enquiry; the ALR allegedly “fell out” with Gisela Berman-Fischer over her attempt to win restitution of a Pissarro painting

Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps

 (

left

) taken from her family during the Holocaust (story

here

); and now it is locked in a sordid lawsuit with Solomon, whose title claim to

Russian Schoolroom 

was baseless and who was found to be “not credible” by a Nevada District Court judge.

The ALR, poorly managed for decades, needs root and branch reform. But does it have the financial resources to undertake that reform and do the big three auction houses and the insurance companies who are its major shareholders have the guts to stand up and demand change?

One thing is for sure, the ALR has a way to go before the world sees it as “the Rene Russo character” of real life art crime.


More of my blog entries on this topic and ALR-related issues:Nevada judge rules in title dispute over Norman Rockwell’s Russian Schoolroom

Unanswered questions in Rockwell’s Russian Schoolroom case

Art Loss Register sues Solomon over Rockwell’s Russian Schoolroom case

Art recovery: another can of worms prised open (Pissarro Holocaust restitution case)

‘Due Diligence’ is just a “ruse” (Michael Marks provenance case)

The Art Loss Register: A Correction

tomflynn: The Art Loss Register: .

August 4th, 2011

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