January 17, 2002


- Museum mistrusts Greeks seeking loans
- Scholars Denounce Smithsonian Changes
- Ancient Afghan City Looted Anew
- The Art Newspaper; This week's top stories

Museum mistrusts Greeks seeking loans

In addition to having no intention of returning the Elgin Collection of sculptures from the Parthenon, the British Museum will not lend the 5th-century-BC pieces to Greece for fear it might not get them back, its director implied yesterday. In an article published in yesterday's Times, Robert Anderson said the London museum's trustees had no power to make loans "where there can be no guarantee of an object being returned."
While noting that - despite several loose suggestions by successive Greek officials - he had received no formal request for a loan in view of the Athens Olympics, Anderson said the museum "has neither the power to assent to such a loan nor does it wish to (agree) to such a proposal that is transparently against the interests of (its visitors)."
Observing that many of the sculptures that survived on the Acropolis are currently "lumbered in (Athens) storerooms," the director added that, "if symbolic gestures for 2004 are called for, there could be none better than Greece making sure it properly displays what it already has." The sculptures - which were completed in 432 BC - were removed on behalf of Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin, along with other Greek antiquities between 1801 and 1811 while Greece was under Ottoman rule. In 1816, the House of Commons bought the collection for 35,000 pounds and presented it to the British Museum. Undeterred by rebuffs from London over the past two decades, Athens insists it wants the sculptures back "even as a long-term loan," as Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos put it last year.

see also:

MPs petition for return of Elgin Marbles

A CAMPAIGN to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece in time for the Athens Olympics in 2004 was launched by an all-party group of MPs last night. The launch of Parthenon 2004 is the latest move to see the artefacts removed from the British Museum and re-instated in their original home on the Acropolis Hill in Athens.
more: http://www.thescotsman.co.uk/politics.cfm?id=59932002

Scholars Denounce Smithsonian Changes

By CARL HARTMAN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Smithsonian Institution's top administrator has commercialized Washington's leading museums and research bodies and must be fired, 170 scholars and activists demanded Wednesday.
The demand to fire Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small came in a letter to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, chancellor of the Smithsonian's ruling Board of Regents. The signers called themselves ``Commercial Alert,'' an advocacy group formed ``to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere.''

Ancient Afghan City Looted Anew

By RAVI NESSMAN, Associated Press Writer
BALKH, Afghanistan (AP) - The pillaging of the ancient city of Balkh has started again. Since the fall of the Taliban, scores of Afghans have grabbed shovels and picks and fanned out across the city's historic ruins in hopes of finding an ancient treasure they can sell.
Mostly, they uncover far less valuable coins and pieces of pottery, even though they are thousands of years old. Those lucky enough to discover something of true value usually are forced to give it up to one of several local commanders.
``This represents our civilization and our history and they are stealing it,'' said Abdul Aziz Azimi, an archaeology professor at Balkh University in nearby Mazar-e-Sharif. It is unclear exactly how prevalent the looting of Afghanistan's historical sites is, but the international market for such artifacts is ``enormous,'' said UNESCO (news - web sites) official Christian Manhart.
The latest round of scavenging began in the chaos that followed the fall of the Najibullah government in 1992. Many local commanders used the proceeds from sale of ancient items to help fund factional battles, Manhart said. Though the looting at Balkh never fully stopped under the Taliban, far fewer people were willing to endure the militia's harsh punishments - such as being thrown in a hole and buried up to their necks.
A few weeks after the Taliban were routed from northern Afghanistan in November, the looters were back in Balkh. Now the mound known as Jewelry Hill, which legend says was the site of a jewelry bazaar 1,400 years ago, is a muddy moonscape scarred by hundreds of deep holes. The ground is littered with pottery shards, some an unadorned red, and others with the remnants of colorful designs. The diggers said Wednesday they only want to eke out a living from what they find in Balkh - a city that was the birthplace of Zoroastrianism and a center of Buddhism and Islam. It was conquered by Alexander the Great and razed by Genghis Khan.
``I don't know what's under the ground here. I am just digging and everything I find here I hope to sell,'' said Khayr Mohammad. The 25-year-old began working the ground three days ago, digging into the soft earth of a 20-foot-deep pit and passing the dislodged soil to assistants with buckets. He left his job selling wheat in the bazaar when he heard he could make more money here, but so far he has found little more than broken pieces of pottery no one will buy. Other diggers talk of remarkable objects found at the five major digging sites in Balkh. They boast of beautiful statues, ancient jewelry, even whole chunks of palaces that were spirited away by local commanders.
The diggers are allowed to keep smaller, less valuable objects, which they sell to local merchants who resell them here or in Pakistan, said Arab Zada, a merchant who came to look at the day's haul.
He left after buying only a silver coin he believes is 2,400 years old for 250,000 afghanis - $8. Few diggers share Azimi's concern about the looting of cultural artifacts. ``What can we do? We are hungry. We have no food in our homes. We have to dig up these things and sell them,'' Mohammad said. ``We don't worry about our history. We just think of our hunger.''
Afghanistan's provisional government has said it has stopped the looting, Manhart said. But the digging has continued, and local officials say they have no immediate plans to end it.
``No one cares about these things,'' said Saleh Mohammad, Balkh's police chief. ``The government is very busy and has more important things to deal with, like kidnappings and killings.''

The Art Newspaper.com

This week's top stories:


LONDON. Alex Reid & Lefevre, London’s leading Impressionist gallery is to close. The gallery was one of the last of the great Post-War art dealerships with direct links back to the post-Impressionists. It was founded in 1926 by the Glaswegian Alex Reid, a friend of Van Gogh who introduced his work to this country, and to his main rival the London dealer Lefevre. http://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=8575


CAIRO. The Egyptian Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, has announced an international architecture competition to design a “Great Egyptian Museum” to be built near Cairo’s pyramids at an estimated cost of $350 million. The 3,500 pieces from Tutankhamun’s tomb, of which only 1,700 items are presently on show, will be the centrepiece of the new museum. http://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=8574


LONDON. Only the contemporary art market, with its replenishable supply of new works of art, operates a two-tier trading system: a primary market of galleries representing artists who consign fresh product to them, and a secondary market comprising auction and other dealers, who handle the same works of art when they are offered for resale by their original owners. Have auction houses tried to become dealers either by buying them or by behaving like them? http://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=8573


LONDON. There is a particularly beguiling approach to thinking about art as an aesthetic investment. Any financier can tell you that it is difficult to place a value on nebulous concepts such as aestheticism; that said, it certainly is possible to see how art performs in terms of purely financial returns. http://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=8572


LONDON. Home House, the London town house designed by James Wyatt and later Robert Adam, has been meticulously restored by entrepreneur Brian Clivaz at a cost of more than £10 million, and is now a glamorous private members’ club. Restoration work included repainting the Etruscan Room, complete with a frieze of contemporary portraits, including one of Mr Clivaz himself. http://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=8571


BELFAST. Nothing could be less dramatic than the reading room of the Northern Ireland Political Collection in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. It is as neutral and undemonstrative a space as one could find. The rows and rows of storage boxes behind the scenes—housing around a quarter of a million objects—reveal very little about their contents, and the staff under the librarian John Gray could (at least at first meeting) be the employees of any well-run library. Only at a closer look, does one realise that this is a collection recording over 30 years of conflict, violence and death—the political history of Northern Ireland since 1966. http://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=8570

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