The Art World Redefines Ownership

In September 2022, the Metropolitan Museum of Art returned 27 antiquities worth more than $13 million to their countries of origin. 21 objects went to Italy, the remaining 6 of him went to Egypt. From figurines of Greek goddesses dating from around 400 B.C. to $1.2 million worth of terracotta kyricuses, or drinking cups, these items were seized the previous month by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Division. it was done.

About five years ago, a team led by Matthew Bogdanos swooped down at the TEFAF New York Fair, Seized Persian limestone bas-relief From the booth of London dealer Rupert Weiss. The artifact has been on display at a Montreal museum for decades, the gallery said in a statement at the time.

With TEFAF New York taking place this week, the art and antiques market faces increasing pressure to return items smuggled out of their countries of origin, either recently or during the colonial period. The concept of provenance (where did an object come from, who was its previous owner) has been redefined and the goalposts have changed. As a result, some dealers are uneasy about exhibiting their work in New York, several art experts said in interviews.

For Derek Fincham, professor of cultural property law at South Texas College of Law Houston, the intervention by Bogdanos and his team came quickly.

“The law has long been based on the idea that you can’t sell what you don’t have,” he said in an email interview. We’re trying to keep looted art from seeping into trade.”

Dr Fincham noted that for too long the art and antiques market has been a “question free” environment. Before UNESCO adopted a convention in 1970 to stop the illegal movement of cultural property, there were documented cases of looting and demolition of monuments, especially in newly independent countries where cultural property was illegally sold. I was.

“If anything, prosecutors like Mr. Bogdanos need to hold the individuals who buy and sell this material accountable, rather than just securing the return of the objects,” he argued.

Looting and smuggling of cultural property is by no means a thing of the past. It continues unabated in conflict areas such as the Middle East. For example, French police are investigating the Louvre Abu Dhabi purchase of trafficked and illegally sold Egyptian artifacts worth millions of dollars. Jean-Luc Martinez, the former director of the Louvre Museum in Paris, has been charged with a case involving antiquities, but he denies the charges.

For the administrators of TEFAF (European Art Foundation, a non-profit organization run by constituent dealers), provenance has always been an important issue on which the fair’s reputation depends. At the main fair in Maastricht, the Netherlands, a team of around 200 bettors stoked to see each booth and its contents before the fair started, occasionally questioning objects and asking for additional documentation. If requested and there is no convincing evidence, the object will be removed. stand.

TEFAF New York alone has 54 bettors, more than half of the total number of booths (91), said Will Korner, TEFAF’s Head of Trade Shows. Previously, after graduating with a degree in Archeology, I worked at the Art Loss Register, the world’s largest private database of lost, looted or stolen objects.

Corner said the Islamic State’s occupation and destruction of entire sections of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in 2015-2016 was a milestone in public sensitivity to provenance.

After that heartbreaking tragedy, provenance suddenly “became no longer a niche concern, but something that every newspaper pushed,” Korner explained. “People started talking about antiquities and cultural properties being associated with real-world events.”

Since then, the hope of unmistakable provenance “has permeated the wider public from traders, collectors and museums,” Korner said, with objects from Syria popping up in front of antique dealers. If so, provenance is “something this whole industry should think about.”

Until 2021, TEFAF New York consisted of two annual fairs. One focused on modern and contemporary art and design in May, and another on ancient art, old masters and period furniture in October. That autumn trade fair was closed by TEFAF After the dealer said they weren’t making enough sales.

A handful of galleries at TEFAF New York still feature only older art. This year, Galeries Chesnel, Ariadne and Charles Ede. The fourth gallery, Donald Ellis His Gallery, focuses on his native American art.

Charles Ede, a London antiques gallery founded in 1971, has participated in every TEFAF New York to date. More than a dozen Roman antiquities, including a very large marble head of a man, sold for $320,000 at last year’s fair in May 2022, according to a TEFAF news release.

The gallery’s director, Charis Tyndall, said in an interview that “provenance has always been very important” as far as Charles Ede was concerned, adding, “We cover all the tracks.”

Her gallery said it constantly ensures that objects put up for sale are not “recorded as a problem” by the government, police, Interpol or the Art Lost Registry.

A highlight of her booth this year is a Greek terracotta calyx krater from Sicily (ca. It was bought in Naples at the time by an Englishman who was heir to Noster Priory, one of his great historic houses in the north of England. The collection was displayed there until it was scattered at a Christie’s auction in the 1970s.

Tyndall said Charles Ede was always “ahead of the curve” with respect to provenance, paying attention not only to the law but also to changing market tastes and mindsets. And while she noted that the market for antiques has actually shrunk, it’s not due to a lack of interest.

“The demand is still there. In fact, the demand is increasing,” she said. “We don’t cover it as much as we used to because we can’t find the material.”

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