Volume 12, Number 1, Jan. 1990, pp.18-20
The president of the Archaeological Institute of America, Martha Sharp Joukowsky, associates the problems related with "collecting and the sale and purchase of looted materials are partly the result of our own culture. Many people wrongly, or perhaps unwittingly, consider collecting of ancient materials to be purely a matter of personal right." The AIA upholds and endorses the 1970 UNESCO Convention on "The Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property." This agreement was signed by 65 countries and has thus created a framework for international cooperation. The president asks that "the public must be made aware of the issues. Action at all levels must be taken to dissuade individuals and museums from acquiring unprovenienced and illegally imported artifacts." She warns us that should "the trend continue, archaeological sites, the treasure houses of our cultural and historic record, will be lost to present and future generations."
The AIA Code of Ethics is presented in draft form. It is resolved that: "The Archaeological Institute of America condemns the destruction of the material and historic records of the past by the plundering of archaeological sites both in the United States and abroad and by the illicit export and import of antiquities. The Archaeological Institute of America supports wholeheartedly the UNESCO Draft Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property... "The Archaeological Institute of America calls upon its members, as well as educational institutions (universities and museums) in the United States and Canada to refrain from purchasing and accepting donations of antiquities exported from their countries of origin in contravention to the terms of the UNESCO Draft Convention. "The Archaeological Institute of America urges that, in accordance with the provisions of the UNESCO Draft Convention, concerned countries take practical steps to facilitate the legitimate export, import and exchange of archaeological materials and antiquities. The Archaeological Institute of America applauds the efforts of local authorities, both in the United States and abroad, to prevent the despoliation of archaeological sites and the illicit export and import of antiquities and archaeological materials and pledges its support in such efforts. "The United States Senate unanimously gave its advice and consent to ratification of the Convention in 1972; enabling legislation (Cultural Property Act, P.L. 97-446) was passed in 1983".
The many art museums in San Francisco seem to have weathered the tremors without major damage. Many of the buildings remained closed to the public for a week after the quake, because of power outages and pending safety inspections. The Asian Art Museum in Golden Gate Park is said to have suffered the greatest loss. The damage is estimated at $10 million, for the most part within the ceramic and sculpture collections. The building itself has passed inspection and has reopened its doors to the public. The de Young Memorial Museum survived with little loss, as did the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. In Santa Cruz, the County Art Museum was between shows, so that little art was in the galleries and very little damage occurred.
Paolo Vernonese's Wedding at Cana (1562) hangs in the Louvre's Salle des Etats along with DaVinci's "Mona Lisa" and "Jeanne d'Aragon" by Raphael. The painting, commissioned by the fathers of San Giorfio Maggiore in Venice, is in poor condition and could not withstand transportation to a conservation laboratory. It has therefore been decided to conserve the painting in situ, while on display. It is estimated that it will take "six restorers three years to repair" the painting. The restoration will take place behind a glass enclosed scaffold.
Recently, two court decisions could have "wide-reaching if disparate effects on the U.S. antiquities trade and on foreign ownership claims on cultural property". A federal judge in Indiana found dealer Peg Goldberg did not have good title to four sixth-century mosaics from Northern Cyprus. The judge found that Goldberg had acquired the works and had done so not as a good- faith purchaser. He said that, "because suspicious circumstances surrounded the sale of the mosaics which should have caused an honest and reasonably prudent purchaser in Goldberg's position to doubt whether the seller had the capacity to convey property rights, and because she failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry to resolve that doubt".
In Los Angeles, U.S. district court judge William Gray ruled against the government of Peru. Artifacts valued at about $300,000.00 were seized by the U.S. Customs, from Benjamin Johnson, a Santa Monica dealer. In his written opinion, Judge Gray expressed "considerable sympathy" for Peru's concerns about the looting of its pre-Columbian heritage. But he made his decision based on the fact that Peru had failed to clearly exercise "its patrimony claims within its own boundaries and that those claims therefore should not be more rigorously applied under U.S. law".
"Awards in the Visual Arts 7," an "uneventful" three-city exhibit organized by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), was partly funded by NEA grant monies. The seven artists chosen by a juried SECCA panel included Andres Serrano. Among the art he produced for this exhibition was a piece titled Piss Christ, a 60 X 40 inch Cibachrome print depicting a wood-and- plastic crucifix submerged in yellow liquid--the artist's urine. The right-wing American Family Association, (AFA), based in Tupelo, Mississippi, attacked the exhibition, its sponsors and the photo. United Methodist minister Rev. Donald Wildmon, the executive director, and the association fomented public opposition to allegedly "immoral, anti-Christian" images. They had previously protested against the film The Last Temptation of Christ, the summer before. An AFA newsletter, with a circulation of about 380,000 including 178,000 churches "urged concerned citizens to protest the art work and demand that responsible NEA officials be fired". Relevant names and addresses were provided in the newsletter.
At this time, a retrospective photographic exhibit of 150 works by Robert Mapplethorpe was being organized by the University of Pennsylvania's Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), the exhibition had received $30,000.00 from the NEA, and included the full range of Mapplethorpe's images: flowers, children, formal portraiture, and erotic scenes--sexually explicit, sadomasochistic and gay. The exhibition was well received in Chicago and Philadelphia, and was going to its last venue, the Corcoran Gallery. By June 8, 100 congressmen led by Representative Dick Armey (R-Tex) denounced grants for Mapplethorpe as well as Serrano, and threatened cuts to the Agency's $170 million budget which was coming up for approval.
Christina Orr-Cahall the Director of the Corcoran gallery at first rejected the rumors of these cuts, saying, "this is the work of a major American artist who's well known, so we're not doing anything out of the ordinary". Yet by the next week she said, "we really felt this exhibit was at the wrong place at the wrong time. We decided to err on the side of the artist, who had the right to have his work presented in a non-sensationalized, non-political environment, and who deserves not to be the hostage for larger issues of relevance to us all". Orr-Cahall stated "if you think about this for a long time, as we did, this is not censorship; in fact, this is the full artistic freedom which we all support".
The cancellation by the Corcoran did not end this controversy. The author tells us that, "instead, attacks on NEA funding intensified in the House and Senate, focusing on the 1990 budget appropriations and on new regulations that would limit or possibly end NEA subcontracts to arts organizations. In late July, Sen. Jesse Helms introduced an amendment to forbid funding for work of "offensive," "indecent" and otherwise controversial art and for monies to be transferred from allocated sites to support "folk art" and local projects.
The writer ends the article with this point of view: "The fundamentalist attack on images and the art world must be recognized not as an improbable and silly outburst of Yahoo-ism, but as a systematic part of a right-wing political program to restore traditional social arrangements and reduce diversity. The right wing is deeply committed to symbolic politics, both in using symbols to mobilize public sentiment and in understanding that, because images do stand in for and motivate social change, the arena of representation is a real ground for struggle. A vigorous defense of art and images begins from this insight."
A discussion and examination undertaken at the Fogg Art Museum of Gainsborough's unusual watercolor technique in the 1770's. Similar watercolors in other collections were also examined. The author acknowledges Marjorie Cohn and other conservators for helping with the article, which includes many photomicrographs as well as technical information of interest to conservators.
In a bit of a sensational hyperbole (expected from the editors of Connoisseur), the author exposes sixteen "shocking" cases of artworks that have been destroyed by estate executors, negligent museum or gallery administrators, religious zealots, or unhappy commissions. Once past the goading first few paragraphs, the studies are interesting, but sadly, too familiar.