On Sunday morning I went to the Asia Society for a panel discussion titled: “The Future of the Past – Collecting Ancient Art in the 21st Century” presented by the American Committee for Cultural Policy in conjunction with Asia Week. 

The panelists included:

  • Naman Ahuja, Professor of Indian Art and Architecture, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India
  • Kate Fitz Gibbon, attorney and author, former member of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the President
  • Kurt A. Gitter, co-founder Gitter-Yelen Art Study Center, New Orleans
  • Arthur Houghton, former diplomat, curator at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles and member of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the President
  • James Lally, international art dealer
  • James McAndrew, former Homeland Security, US Customs expert on international art investigations and trade law
  • Julian Raby, Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C
  • Marc Wilson, former director Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City
  •  And was moderated by Melissa Chiu, Senior Vice President for Global Arts and Cultural Programs and Museum Director, and Asia Society President Vishakha Desai.

The auditorium was filled to capacity (and more), and for a reason: it was such a great discussion!

Although the whole two hours were worth mentioning, I will summarize a few of the points raised that were of particular interest:

– Mrs. Fitz Gibbons opened the discussion introducing some (apparently menacing and non-sense) proposed new legislation.

– Mr. Houghton presented some findings regarding a study on Roman antiquities worth over $1,000, of which between 67,000 and 120,000 would be left out of the market (collecting, museums, etc) if this new legislation is passed (he asked us to imagine the effect on other works, such as Pre-Columbian, Asian, etc).

– Mr. Gitter proposed the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs as a model (albeit not perfect) to study and follow.

– Mr. Wilson feared a public “witch hunt” if museums and collectors were seen by younger generations as “appropriators” of cultural and heritage objects, and spoke of a “WikiLoot” project currently underway, which could turn into a vigilante nightmare if it gets out of control.

– Mr. Ahuja asked us to think about the emotional impact of possession and control of artworks.

– Mr. Lally made the most poignant remarks, regarding the current retentionist environment (“moral rights”, rather than legality or reason), and the bigger problem (the destruction of countless archeological sites due to uncontrolled “development”).

– Mr. McAndrew shed some light on how customs agents and enforcement agencies work and what they look for (basically: inconsistencies).

– Mr. Raby ended on a constructive proposal: market framework advocacy, reciprocity, and stewardship (rather than ownership).

Truly wonderful, inspiring, and constructive discussion… thank you!! (As an added bonus, the brochure I found on my way out, regarding the Red List).