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As European nations address their legacy of colonialism, many museums in France, Germany, Great Britain, and elsewhere in Western Europe are examining the provenance of objects in their collections that were removed during periods of colonial occupation and, in some cases, have developed plans for their restitution. As of 2022, few museums in the United States have announced similar objectives. This article offers specific suggestions for American art museums to proceed proactively and transparently with colonial-era provenance research projects. I propose that museums identify objects in their collections that were displaced in one of two ways: either looted during a post-Napoleonic military conflict or stolen or traded by force under a period of colonial occupation. These works of art should be prioritized for provenance research and listed or otherwise made discoverable online. By listing these objects on their websites, museums will acknowledge the contentious histories of works of art in their collections and signal an openness to engaging with source communities, whether about the return of an object, loans, storage, display, educational initiatives, or other matters of care.
In this article, we consider the role that academics play in the global illicit trade in cultural objects. Academics connect sources to buyers and influence market values by publishing looted and stolen cultural objects (passive facilitation) and by collaborating with market players, including by collecting artifacts themselves (active facilitation). Their actions shape market desire, changing what is targeted for looting, theft, and illicit trading across borders. However, this crucial facilitative role often goes unnoticed or unaddressed in scholarship on collecting, white collar crime, and the illicit market in cultural objects. This article explores the importance of academic facilitation through a case study of the career of Mary Slusser, a renowned American scholar of Nepali art and art history.
This article inquiries into Poland’s current approach to the implementation of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art. It argues that it is more focused on the recovery of national heritage than on providing justice to Holocaust victims and their heirs. First, it discusses the outputs of the Expert Group established in 2009 to implement provenance research in line with the Washington Principles’s recommendations. It explains the failure of this initiative by bringing into focus the wider context of the inheritance of the war-time displacements and splitting of collections. It argues that Holocaust victims’ assets are one of many problematic items in Polish memory institutions and that the unresolved issue of post-war nationalizations are often perceived as an argument that hinders the Washington Principles’s implementation. It outlines the notions of “Polish war losses” and “national cultural goods” and discusses in detail the Polish provenance research databases. It notices that restitution in Poland is increasingly considered as an important national identity-building tool and analyzes several recent educational and branding initiatives of this kind.
The year 2022 marks 15 years since the entry into force of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Among its objectives, this treaty aims at acknowledging the specific nature – economic and cultural – of cultural activities, goods, and services, reaffirming the sovereign right of states to adopt or implement measures they deem appropriate for the protection and the promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions as well as reinforcing international cooperation for more balanced cultural exchanges. Since its adoption, this treaty has been criticized for its low level of constraint. However, data collected over the years show that parties rely extensively on the Convention to undertake diverse initiatives to achieve the treaty’s objectives. Based on concrete examples, this article aims to show that the effectivity of a legal instrument does not only rely on its degree of constraint but also on other factors, including monitoring mechanisms put in place in the context of its implementation.
The illicit antiquities trade relies on various academic experts for its operations and legitimization. To counter this involvement, academics need to be made aware of how their services might support the trade. A suitable venue for future generations of professionals to obtain this knowledge is their university education. Hence, it is of interest to ask what is taught in university programs in relevant disciplines about the illicit antiquities trade and the forms of academic entanglement within it. This article focuses on course literature in university programs for conservators. It looks at both the official curriculum (explicit and intended teaching) and the hidden curriculum (implicit and unintended teaching) concerning illicit antiquities trade and conservators’ responsibilities vis-à-vis this trade. It finds that the coverage is limited and partly outdated. Further, textbooks might signal that it is acceptable to undertake the treatment of unprovenanced archaeological objects. The study suggests that it is relevant to ask not only if, but also how, the topic of professional responsibility is taught, and it argues that higher education, apart from teaching how to keep clear of activities that promote the trade, should provide the knowledge and skills to actively oppose it.