Saturday, November 23, 2013

Exciting New Discoveries in Archaeology

Early in my career I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with both Richard Leakey and Don Johanson. In recent years I have had the challenge and honor to appraise "Lucy"  the famous hominid discovered by Johanson on November 24, 1974 in Hadar, Ethiopia. I was hooked and have been fascinated by paleoanthropology ever since.  This new discovery stirs a debate that fundamentally re-orients the thinking about early man, As a consequence there are passionate differences of opinion which we as observers are the big winners in being privileged to watch this fascinating exchange. I am certainly not an expert in this area but it seems to me greatly simplified the debate is about how many branches we have in our family tree. Do we have multiple distinct species with many branches or do we have fewer branches with more diversity among fewer branches and fewer distinct species?

1. WASHINGTON (AFP).- A stunningly well-preserved skull from 1.8 million years ago offers new evidence that early man was a single species with a vast array of different looks, researchers said Thursday. With a tiny brain about a third the size of a modern human's, protruding brows and jutting jaws like an ape, the skull was found in the remains of a medieval hilltop city in Dmanisi, Georgia, said the study in the journal Science. It is one of five early human skulls -- four of which have jaws -- found so far at the site, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the capital Tbilisi, along with stone tools that hint at butchery and the bones of big, saber-toothed cats. Lead researcher David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum, described the group as "the richest and most complete collection of indisputable early Homo remains from any one site." The skulls vary so much in appearance that under other circumstances, they might have been considered different species, said co-author Christoph Zollikofer of the University of Zurich. "Yet we know that these individuals came from the same location and the same geological time, so they could, in principle, represent a single population of a single species," he said. The researchers compared the variation in characteristics of the skulls and found that while their jaw, brow and skull shapes were distinct, their traits were all within the range of what could be expected among members of the same species. "The five Dmanisi individuals are conspicuously different from each other, but not more different than any five modern human individuals, or five chimpanzee individuals, from a given population," said Zollikofer. "We conclude that diversity within a species is the rule rather than the exception." Under that hypothesis, the different lineages some experts have described in Africa -- such as Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis -- were all just ancient people of the species Homo erectus who looked
different from each other. It also suggests that early members of the modern man's genus Homo, first found in Africa, soon expanded into Asia despite their small brain size.
"We are thrilled about the conclusion they came to. It backs up what we found as well," said Milford Wolpoff, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Michigan.
Wolpoff published a study in the journal Evolution last year that also measured statistical variation in characteristics of early skull fossils in Georgia and East Africa, suggesting a single species and an active process of inter-breeding. "Everyone knows today, you could find your mate from a different continent and it is normal for people to marry outside their local group, outside their religion, outside their culture," Wolpoff told AFP. "What this really helps show is that this has been the human pattern for most of our history, at least outside of Africa," he added. "We don't have races. We don't have different subspecies. But it is normal for humans to vary, and they have varied in the past."

But not all experts agree.

"I think that the conclusions that they draw are misguided," said Bernard Wood, director of the hominid paleobiology doctoral program at George Washington University. "What they have is a creature that we have not seen evidence of before," he said, noting its small head but human-sized body. "It could be something new and I don't understand why they are reluctant to think it might be something new." In fact, the researchers did give it a new name, Homo erectus ergaster georgicus, in a nod to the skull as an early but novel form of Homo erectus found in Georgia. The name also retracts the unique species status of Homo georgicus given to the jaw that was found in 2000 along with other small, primitive skulls. The jaw lay a few meters (yards) from where Skull 5, belonging to the same owner, was later discovered in 2005. Co-author Marcia Ponce de Leon of the University of Zurich said Skull 5 is "perfectly preserved" and "the most complete skull of an adult fossil Homo individual found to date." Its discovery, in such close quarters with four other individuals, offered researchers a unique opportunity to measure variations in a single population of early Homo, and "to draw new inferences on the evolutionary biology" of our ancestors, she said. © 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

2. CAIRO (AFP).- Archaeologists have unearthed a 4,000 year old tomb outside the Egyptian capital containing what they believe are the remains of a prominent doctor to the pharaohs, officials said on Tuesday. The tomb, part of a 21 metre (70 foot) by 14 metre (46 foot) plot, with four-metre (13 feet) high
walls, was discovered at Abusir, southwest of Cairo, senior antiquities ministry official Ali al-Asfar said.
"This discovery is important because this is the tomb of one of the greatest doctors from the time of the pyramid builders, one of the doctors closely tied to the king," Antiquities Minister Ibrahim Ali said in a statement.
Asfar said the area in which the grave was found appeared to be a family plot and the Czech team of archaeologists was now looking for mummies of relatives.
Abusir, a vast necropolis dating back to Egypt's Old Kingdom, houses the pyramids of several pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty, which began its rule shortly after 2,500 BC.

Auction Market Analysis Fall 2013

1. NEW YORK  Next month we will see the return of some big Warhol’s to the market. A liz and silver car crash at Sotheby’s; Christie’s leads with a Coca Cola bottle among six other million-dollar pieces in the evening sale. Liz, Car Crash and Coke all have good shots as making this list and changing the order. But before that happens, let’s update what is one of the more popular posts on Art Market Monitor:
1. Eight Elvises (1963) – $100m   In October 2008, Warhol’s Eight Elvises painting was sold in a private sale via French art consultant Philippe Ségalot for a price of $100 million, a record for
Warhol’s work.
2. Turquoise Marilyn (1964) – $80m  In May 2007 the painting, one of Warhol’s several portraits of Marilyn Monroe, was purchased by art collector Stephen A. Cohen in a private sale from
Dtefan Edlis via Larry Gagosian for a price believed to be $80 million.
3. Green car Crash (Burning Green Car 1) (1963) – $71.7m   Also in May 2007, this painting was sold at a Christie’s auction in New York for a then-record auction price of $71.7 million to art
collector Philip Niarchos, son of the Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos.
4. Men In Her Life (1962) – $63.4m  In 2010 the black and white portrait of Elizabeth Taylor, pictured with both her third husband Mike Todd and future husband Eddie Fisher, sold to an
anonymous buyer at a New York Phillips de Pury & Co auction for $63.4 million. The work was consigned by the Mugrabi family.
5. 200 One Dollar Bills (1962) – $43.8m  In November 2009 the painting was sold at a Sotheby’s auction to an anonymous buyer for $43.8 million. It was sold by London-based art collector
Pauline Karpidas, who had purchased the work in 1986 for a mere $385,000.
6. Statue of Liberty (1962) — $43.8m  Christie’s sold this 3D version of the Statue of Liberty in November of 2012.
7.  Four Marilyns (1962) — $38.245m Phillips scored with this Mugrabi work in the Spring of 2013 which was bought by a dealer who works for Gagosian Gallery.
8. Double Elvis (Ferus Type) — $37m  This Sotheby’s lot sold in the Spring of 2012 but the second registration of the image was so faint that one wag called it Elvis 1.1
9. Coca Cola [4] (Large Coca Cola) – $35.36m  The painting sold in November 2010 at a Sotheby’s auction in New York for a price of $35.36 million to Steven Cohen who seemed to have gotten a
bargain at the time.
10. Self Portrait (1986) – $32.5m In May 2010 the large self-portrait by Warhol, painted in 1986 just a year before his death, was sold in a Sotheby’s sale in New York for $32.56 million.
The original list was compiled here: Top 10: Andy Warhol Paintings

2.NEW YORK (AFP).- The last of four in a series of Andy Warhol paintings depicting car crashes shattered the pop artist's auction record Wednesday, selling for more than $105 million, Sotheby's said. Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), signed and a part of his 1963 Death and Disasters series, fetched $105,445,000 with three bidders vying for the buy in New York, the auction house said in a statement. The 2.43 m tall and 4-meter (over 8x13 feet) wide work, has two panels: to the left a series of 15 images of a car crash, and to the right, a large silvery rectangle. It is an imposing work experts describe as trailblazing and a cinematic allusion to death on a silver screen.
The previous top sale for the enigmatic pop artist and son of Polish immigrants, who was born Andrej Varhola in Pittsburgh, was $71.72 million, Sotheby's said.
The Sotheby's auction comes just a day after a triptych by British painter Francis Bacon -- "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" -- sold for $142.4 million, setting a new world record for the most expensive piece of art auctioned. That work by Bacon, the 20th century figurative artist, who lived from 1909 to 1992, had never before been put under the hammer until Christie's flagship evening sale. It was bought by a New York gallery. The most expensive artwork ever is a Cezanne that sold for $259 million in 2011 in a private sale.
Hammered to an outburst of applause, the Bacon surpassed the previous record of $119.9 million fetched by Edvard Munch's iconic "The Scream" by rival house Sotheby's in New York in May 2012.

3. NEW YORK Artnet: Top Ten Artists for 2013 (So Far)
 The top 10 artists in 2013, by value sold at auction Q1–Q3, include:
1. Pablo Picasso (Q1–Q3 2013 sales: US$233.7 million)
2. Zhang Daqian (US$206.6 million)
3. Jean-Michel Basquiat (US$169.4 million)
4. Qi Baishi (US$168.1 million)
5. Andy Warhol (US$143.1 million)
6. Gerhard Richter (US$124 million)
7. Claude Monet (US$112 million)
8. Roy Lichtenstein (US$102.3 million)
9. Amadeo Modigliani (US$91.3 million)
10. Jackson Pollock (US$79.6 million)
In Q3 (the weakest quarter for auctions) sales were up 20% in the US and 30% in Japan:
Elsewhere, the art market continued to track global financial trends with the United States exhibiting steady growth, while art markets in China and the United Kingdom slowed. Christie’s New
York was up 42% in Q3, followed by an 18% growth in value sold at Bonhams. Similar performance was seen across the board, with Heritage Auctions, Freeman’s, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers,
and Neal Auction Company showing considerable growth in both volume and value sold in other American cities.
Even with slow economic activity across Europe, successful auctions in Italy, Ireland, and Spain have contributed to Q3 growth, suggesting that the European art market as a whole may be
Several London auction houses are still lagging behind 2012 performance, with the entire UK region down 7% in Q3 2013.
Artnet Q3 Trends Press Release

4. NEW YORK New York Impressionist-Modern  Round Up
The Impressionist and Modern sales in New York were a rollercoaster of emotions for collectors and market watchers as the week moved from seeming market weakness to something more resembling strength. Perhaps the best indicator of demand in the category was not the attention-grabbing collections that led the Evening sales but the performance of the Zieseniss collection and the Day sales. Those 8 works made $18m mostly beating their estimates; the next day, Sotheby's saw more strong sales for works by Chagall, Monet, Caillebotte, Renoir and others. Most of the top ten works in Sotheby's day sale easily exceeded their estimates. The same was true with Christie's day sale were the bulk of the top lots were at prices above the estimates. Even the Krugier sale was able to score top
positions for the works that held relatively low estimates.
Christie’s NY Imp-Mod & Jan Krugier = $293.6m
Sotheby’s NY Imp-Mod = $348m
 Does Sotheby’s Imp-Mod Success Satisfy Wall Street?
The Financial Times gathered a reaction to Sotheby’s resounding success in the Impressionist and Modern market this week. They asked analysts if the results would change their view of the company’s prospects:
“Its clear that bidders saved their bids for Sotheby’s this week, with most higher value lots going for well above their expected range,” noted Oliver Chen, luxury analyst at Citigroup. “However, questions still remain over what auction commission margins these items were sold at.”
Headlines sum it up...
Sotheby’s trumps Christie’s in New York autumn auction season (Financial Times)
Sotheby’s Restores Market Confidence with $290m Imp-Mod Sale (Financial Times)
 Giacometti, Picasso Help Sotheby’s Tally $290 Million (Bloomberg)
Strong Mix of Art Propels a Fine Night at Sotheby’s (NYTimes)
Sotheby’s Soaring Night (Artinfo)
Sotheby’s Nets Impressive $290.2 M. at Steadily Paced Imp-Mod Sale (GalleristNY)
Sotheby’s Strong Sale Anchored by $50 Million Giacometti Bronze (Wall Street Journal)
Asian Buyers Draw Attention While ‘Masterpieces’ Languish at Christie’s Imp-Mod Evening Sale
 Giacometti Fetches Record $33 Million in Listless Auction (Bloomberg)
Collectors Turn Picky at Christie’s Limp Sale (Wall Street Journal)
Lackluster Bidding Dampens Second Night at Christie’s (NYTimes)
Top Lots Fail at Christie’s Disappointing $144m Imp-Mod Sale (GalleristNY)
Christie’s Regains a Bit of Traction in Tuesday Sale (artinfo)
 Picasso’s Claude & Paloma Sells to China’s Top Billionaire (Bloomberg)
 Bloomberg is reporting identity of one of last night’s buyers at the Jan Krugier sale:
China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, bought Picasso’s painting of his young children, Claude and Paloma, for $28.2 million at Christie’s in New York yesterday, the auction house said.

5. 1. NEW YORK, NY.- The week of Asian Art sales at Sotheby’s New York concluded today bringing a total of $74,077,814, more than doubling the combined low estimate (est. $30/43 million).* There were excellent results in all sales with strong prices for two thousand years of Asian Art spanning from Archaic Chinese Bronzes to Modern Indian Paintings. The highest price of the week’s sales in New York was realized when The Gong Fu Tie Calligraphy by Su Shi, one of the towering figures of early Chinese history, sold for $8,229,000.

6.  SHANGHAI (AFP).- Christie's held its first independent auction in mainland China Thursday with artworks including Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, marking its full-fledged entry into a market considered a key growth engine for global art sales. Hundreds of people attended the auction as more than 40 items -- from Western masterworks and Asian contemporary art to jewellery, watches and wine -- went under the hammer to fetch 153 million yuan ($25 million). Christie's, which has long operated in Hong Kong, had been organising sales in China since 2005 by authorising a Chinese auction firm to use its international trademark, due to strict regulations on setting up a solely-foreign invested auction house. But the firm said in April it had become the first international auction house authorised to operate in mainland China without a local partner. he house now expects "to connect Shanghai and therefore mainland China into Christie's network" which includes New York, London, Paris and Milan, Murphy said on Tuesday as it unveiled a three-day exhibition of the auction items ahead of the sale.
China emerged as the world's largest art and antiques market with a 30 percent share in 2011, narrowly overtaking the United States for the first time, according to the European Fine Art Foundation. It reverted to second place in 2012 with a 25 percent global share as the US regained the top spot with 33 percent, the art fair organiser said in a March report.
Christie's, one of numerous business interests of French billionaire Francois Pinault, was at the centre of controversy in 2009 when two bronze animal heads looted from Beijing's Old Summer Palace in 1860 were put up for auction in Paris. The animal heads were then owned by Pierre Berge, the partner of late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, until Pinault acquired the two bronzes and handed them back to China in June this year. © 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

7. HONG KONG.- Commenting on Sotheby’s Hong Kong 40th Anniversary Evening Sale, Sotheby’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Ruprecht said, “Sotheby’s was at the top of its game, performing impeccably and making the most of an incredibly robust Asian art market. We saw the excitement of 11 world records as multiple bidders from around the world competed for exquisite works.”
Kevin Ching, Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby’s Asia, said: “This evening’s sale was a fitting achievement to celebrate our company’s 40 years in Asia. Our extensive global network of specialists sourced and sold rare, remarkable and fresh-to-the-market works from important collections around the world. With nearly 700 people in a standing-room-only saleroom, and many competing by phone as well, both new and established collectors responded enthusiastically to the unique opportunity to acquire works of superb quality across the categories of 20th Century Chinese Art, Contemporary Asian Art and Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art. Bidding came from 25 countries in a sale which achieved the highest total for any comparable sale in Asia, more than doubling the previous record*. Five bidders competed for more than fifteen minutes for Zeng Fanzhi’s The Last Supper, a 2001 oil-on-canvas, and applause broke out several times before the work sold for HK$180,440,000 / US$23,273,151 and set a record for a work of Contemporary Asian Art and for the work of a living Chinese artist. The sale also set records for ten other artists including Zao Wou-ki, Liu Ye, Pan Yuliang, Walter Spies, Ay Tjoe Christine, Chen Wen Hsi, Juan Luna, Cesar Legaspi, Georgette Chen and Rudi Mantofani.”
**Previous record of any comparable sale in Asia: HK$492,660,000 / US$63,306,810.

$80 Million Dollar New York Based Art Fraud Gets More Interesting

NEW YORK —ARTINFO  During this Monday morning’s arraignment of Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales on charges connected to an $80-million art fraud, in which dozens of unsuspecting buyers spent millions on what were purported to be paintings by Abstract Expressionist masters, Jason Hernandez, a lawyer representing the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, confirmed that his office is “contemplating additional arrests.” When asked by U.S. District Court judge Katherine Polk Failla whether more arrests were possible, Hernandez, after a brief pause, responded “yes.”
To date, Rosales, who was arrested in May and considered at the heart of the scandal, is the only person charged in the fraud. The dealer entered a Not Guilty plea at today’s arraignment in a downtown Manhattan federal court; her attorney declined to comment. After having been detained in jail for several months and denied bail, Rosales was released last week on $2.5-million bail with travel restricted to the Southern District of New York, and a further requirement to surrender her travel documents and agree to electronic monitoring.
Given the recent bail release as well as new information that emerged in the case, Rosales has likely begun cooperating with investigators. Last week the U.S. attorney’s office handed down a revised indictment known as a “superseding indictment” identifying a “co-conspirator, not named as a defendant herein,” but known to be Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, Rosales’ (possibly former) boyfriend, and a citizen of Spain. Subsequent references to Diaz referred to him as “CC-1.” The charges further confirmed that a painter based in Queens, New York, was the creator of the fake
works. While not named in the charges, a New York Times article on Saturday identified the painter as Pei-Shen Qian of Woodhaven. Qian is currently believed to be in China and has not been charged, though FBI officials searched his home and studio last week, according to neighbors interviewed for the Times story.
According to the revised indictment, “from in or about the early 1990s through in or about 2009 [Rosales]…and CC-1 together with others known and unknown, conspired to sell dozens of fake works of art. The fake works of art were created by the Painter in Queens, New York, at the specific request of CC-1.” The indictment also states that Rosales and Diaz “conspired to launder the proceeds of the scheme by transferring the proceeds through foreign bank accounts,” and that, despite Rosales and Diaz taking in more than $14 million from two Manhattan galleries in the scheme, “the Painter” was paid a total of just over $50,000.
The U.S. Attorney’s confirmation of a known forger cements what had already been indicated by forensic testing by respected expert James Martin of Orion Analytical. Martin found in all of the related cases, albeit with some variation, “inconsistencies” between the supposed dates the paintings were created and the materials used to create them.
In a discussion between Judge Failla and Hernandez about assets owned by Rosales that could be subject to forfeiture since they are paintings “purchased with the proceeds from the fraud alleged,” the judge asked Hernandez about the particular works of art. To which Hernandez emphasized “not the fake works.” Said Judge Failla: “I was going to call them ‘decorative’ works rather than ‘fakes’,” but okay.”
Surely the buyers of these works, many of whom have filed multi-million dollar lawsuits against Rosales, the now-shuttered Knoedler gallery, and Julian Weissman Fine Art, would disagree with the “decorative” designation.
The mystery Queens-based master forger who was recently revealed to have been the author of most if not all of the fake Abstract Expressionist artworks that Glafira Rosales sold has been identified as the Chinese painter Pei-Shen Qian. The struggling immigrant artist created works in the style of Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, and others out of his home studio and garage in the Woodhaven neighborhood in Queens, where he still lives, the New York Times reports.
Rosales’s boyfriend and colleague Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz met Qian in the early 1990s when he was selling his own art on the street in Lower Manhattan. For 15 years, beginning in the mid-90s, the struggling artist made at least 63 paintings and drawings in the style of blue chip Ab Ex artists that Rosales then sold through the Upper East Side’s Knoedler & Company gallery and its one-time employee, the dealer Julian Weissman. Sales of the fakes generated some $80 million, though he was paid a few thousand dollars for each.
Qian arrived in New York in 1981, and though he had been and continues to be a well-known and successful artist in China — he is represented by a Beijing gallery and spends about half the year in his home country — he struggled to gain recognition in the U.S. His friend Zhang Hongtu, a
successful Chinese Pop artist based in New York who studied with him at the Art Students League in the 1980s, was surprised to learn that Qian was the artist behind the fake Abstract Expressionist works, particularly given his personal style — Impressionist-style interiors and landscapes in light, colorful hues.
“I didn’t know he had this kind of a good technique,” Zhang told the Times. “He had some talent, but I don’t believe he can paint in the same style as a Jackson Pollock; it’s not easy to copy this kind of style.”
It remains unclear how much Qian knew about the use his imitation paintings were being put to, and no charges have been brought against him, though FBI agents did search his home last week. Qian and his wife, however, have been in China for the past several months.
November 2013 Update from Art News
“Art forgery has been a hot topic lately since the disclosure that Pei-Shen Qian, a 73-year-old immigrant from China, working out of his home in Queens, reportedly created at least 63 drawings and paintings by Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, and Richard Diebenkorn.
The works were sold or consigned by Glafira Rosales, a dealer of Sands Point, New York, to two Manhattan dealers, Knoedler & Company, which closed in 2011, and Julian Weissman. Over a period of 15 years, the works were sold to collectors for about $80 million. Knoedler, its former president Ann Freedman, and Weissman have consistently stated that they were convinced that the works were authentic. Freedman says she showed the paintings to a number of experts, who confirmed the authenticity and quality of the works.
The case against Rosales is known as United States of America v. Glafira Rosales, a/k/a “Glafira Gonzalez,” a/k/a “Glafira Rosales Rojas,” defendant. She pleaded guilty in September to charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. As we went to press, no one else had been charged in the case, but Assistant United States Attorney Jason P. Hernandez indicated that additional arrests were contemplated.
Qian is said to be back in China, where he exhibited his own paintings in May at the Xiang Jiang Gallery in Shanghai. He has also had shows at the BB Gallery in Beijing. Qian came to the United States in the 1980s and studied at the Art Students League in New York. According to the website of the Shanghai gallery, one of his teachers was Richard Pousette-Dart.
Zhang Hongtu, a prominent Chinese artist who lives in Queens, told me, “I couldn’t believe he would do this to fool the art market. I met him in 1982 and last saw him about 20 years ago. He was a very nice, honest person. He never painted in the abstract style. He did Impressionist-type paintings. He liked Bonnard very much.
“One day he went to the Museum of Modern Art with a friend of mine and saw Monet’s Water Lilies. My friend told me that Qian loved it and knelt down on the floor. I saw some of his paintings from the May show on the gallery’s website. They were figurative, with bold colors. In one of them he reinterpreted the Mona Lisa.” The gallery’s website states that Qian has “over twenty-seven” paintings that “spoof” the Mona Lisa.”

Amazon in the Art World

ARTINFO reports  that  “Christie's CEO Steven Murphy is not taking Amazon’s recent venture into the online art auction business lightly. When asked if he takes Amazon Art seriously, Murphy responded, "All these things worry me! I'm on the anxiety diet over here. Why shouldn't I take
Amazon going into the art business seriously? … But, I'll tell you, like the Wizard of Oz said, 'We have something they haven't got.' We have the Christie's brand.”
Murphy should take Amazon seriously because Amazon is not entering the fray lightly. Amazon’s screening process for potential dealers indicates that they are clearly looking for blue chip dealers that will be offering very good material. Amazon is certainly mindful of the demographics of their market which includes buyers that can't afford big ticket art objects. However, as a premier seller they under the publicity value and cache of selling top notch works.  But as ARTINFO points out below there will be problems along the way.
“When retail Goliath Amazon unveiled its virtual fine art store last week, the site drew a mixture of curious art aficionados and bemused onlookers who flocked there to see what was on offer. Among the most expensive pieces were works by household names like Norman Rockwell, whose painting, “Willie Gillis: Package from Home,” (1941), was $4.85 million, and Claude Monet, whose portrait of his son Jean was $1.45 million. Not too far down the list of priciest items, however, were a handful of sensuous portraits of women by a lesser-known Pennsylvania-based realist painter Nelson Shanks, ranging from a staggering $500,000 to upwards of $900,000. This seeming anomaly may be indicative of the types of challenges new or inexperienced buyers will face in endeavoring to make major art acquisitions from this expansive new superstore.
Who is Nelson Shanks? Can his works be worth a half million dollars on Amazon? He definitely does have a following: The painter currently has a solo show at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pa., entitled “Nelson Shanks: A Brush With Reality.” In 2011, he had solo shows in Russia — at St. Michael’s Castle (part of the Russian Museum) in St. Petersburg and at the Russian Academy of Arts, Moscow, including portraits of world-renowned figures including the late Pope John Paul II (2002), and Princess Diana (2010), as well as former U.S. president Bill Clinton (2005-6). According to the artist’s personal website, he is one of only two living American painters to have been invited to exhibit at either of these venues.
Still, while it is not unheard of for artists to have higher prices when works are sold privately versus at auction, the discrepancy between Shanks's known price history and the Amazon listings is considerable. Auction databases reveal that the highest price ever recorded for a Shanks painting is $7,475, including buyer's premium, set at Boston auction house Skinner in 1995.
Is some clever dealer trying to pull a fast one on Amazon's large audience? Steve Brennen, owner of S R Brennen Fine Art, which listed the works and has branches in Scottsdale, Santa Fe, and Palm Desert, claims that Shanks’s works commonly sell for six and seven figure prices privately, though his is among the few galleries that actually handles the artist’s work. He declined to say how many sales he negotiates each year on average, but there were about a half dozen paintings by him available in Amazon’s paintings section when it went live.
Soon after ARTINFO inquired about the works by Shanks on Amazon, however, the paintings vanished from the site. Brennen confirmed they were intentionally removed. Asked why they would appear and disappear so rapidly, Brennen explained that he had changed his mind about the potential for selling such high-value art online. “This is a brand new thing,” he told ARTINFO. “We were uncertain and joined the website dragging our feet. I think it’s extraordinarily premature to be selling high-quality fine art that way.”
Amazon spokesman Erik Fairleigh replied to the removal via email: “Galleries and dealers that list artwork on Amazon Art are the actual sellers and may update the artwork they post for sale at any time. We know from more than two million third-party sellers that sell across Amazon that some sellers update their listing daily or even several times a day. Ultimately, it will be up to the galleries and dealers to determine the artwork they choose to sell on Amazon.”
As of yesterday, another of the most high-profile items was also gone from the site: that pricey Monet portrait, the second-most-expensive work. That piece had been listed by New Orleans-based M S Rau Antiques, which is also behind the Amazon Rockwell. Gallery CEO William Rau, however, explained that this was because his gallery is working with somebody who has been interested in it for a while (i.e. before it was put in the Amazon store). (Although this revelation does raise the question of whether buyers who find high-end art on the site will just go outside of it to negotiate a better deal.)
In general, however, Rau sounded bullish about the prospects for sales through Amazon. He pointed out that in just two days, the Monet had 80,464 page views and the Rockwell had 46,421 page views. “On our gallery website we get maybe 3,000 hits a day,” and that’s for the entire inventory, as opposed to individual works for sale. Noting that Amazon has 100 million customers Rau says, “If you get one percent, that’s still 1 million potential customers. It’s simple math.”
He did, however, have a suggestion, relating to the tide of satircal “user reviews” of artworks that poured into the Monet's entry. “I had a whole bunch of thoughts,” said Rau. “Some of the comments were extraordinarily clever. I actually broke out in a chuckle when I read some of them. Others were extraordinarily naïve.”
Ultimately, that's one particular aspect of Amazon that might not make sense for fine art. “The reviewer comments only make sense for things that aren’t original art, like if you’re buying a pair of shoes,” he said.”
Again don’t underestimate Amazon and the direction the art market is taking to technology and online transactions.

Art World - What's Happening in Dallas - Fort Worth

1.       Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas -  The Nasher has been embroiled in a dispute with an adjacent residential high rise whose glare from the sun has been damaging art, landscaping and the roof at the Center. As of the last few months it appears that Nasher architect Renzo Piano and the Nasher leadership have rejected all proposed solutions that vary greatly in cost and aesthetic impact on the neighborhood. (See article below)

On a more positive note ARTINFO reports that the Nasher has announced the commission of 10 new public sculptures to celebrate the museum’s 10th anniversary. 10 artists — Lara Almarcegui, Good/Bad Art Collective, Rachel Harrison, Alfredo Jaar, Liz Larner, Charles Long, Rick Lowe, Vicki Meek, Ruben Ochoa, and Ugo Rondinone— will create the public works which will be installed at 10 sites citywide from October 19, 2013 to February 16, 2014. “As the only institution in the world exclusively dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, and researching modern and contemporary sculpture, the Nasher Sculpture Center is uniquely positioned to investigate this growing practice of sculpture in the public realm,” said Nasher Director and 2013 Texas Biennial curator Jeremy Strick in the press release. “Nasher XChange will extend the museum’s core mission beyond its walls and into Dallas’ diverse neighborhoods, alongside  key community partners, to present advances in the rapidly expanding field of sculpture, raise the level of discourse  on the subject within the city,  and  contribute to broader national and international conversations on public sculpture.”

2.       Dallas Museum of Art - The Dallas Museum of Art will open its new Paintings Conservation Studio on November 22, 2013, as part of the Museum’s initiative to establish a more comprehensive in-house conservation program. The Paintings Conservation Studio features state-of-the-art technology—including a digital X-ray system—and will serve as a center for study and treatment of works of art as well as research into cutting-edge conservation methodologies. Brightened with natural light from new skylights and enclosed by glass walls, the Studio’s design will allow visitors to observe daily activity, providing audiences with a singular behind-the-scenes experience. Activities in the Studio will also be visible from the adjacent outdoor Sculpture Terrace.

Concurrent with the growth of its in-house conservation capabilities, the DMA is also establishing a network of regional conservation partnerships in conjunction with museums in North Texas that engage local universities to collaborate on conservation research and the study of individual works. The DMA and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art are currently working with the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of North Texas in Denton on conservation projects. The Amon Carter’s project with UTD focuses on photography dye analysis. Other examples range from the study of ultramarine pigment discoloration and the pigment and medium analysis of a work by Paul Gauguin from the DMA’s collection with UT Dallas, to the development of atomic sampling techniques for silverplated objects with UNT. The anticipated growth of this regional network will expand the impact of the DMA’s conservation activities and establish productive new relationships across the conservation field.


“By building external research partnerships to complement the renewed investments in our own conservation activities, the DMA is ensuring that the positive outcomes of our conservation activity will extend well beyond our own collection,” said Mark Leonard, who recently completed the first year of his tenure as the Museum’s inaugural chief conservator. “The continuing growth of the DMA’s conservation program will help to ensure that masterworks from across time periods and around the world are preserved for future generations.”


3.       Dallas Museum of Art – Probably the Dallas Museum had a better plan to announce the major acquisition of two African art objects from the Allan Stone collection than an NPR/PBS art director publishing it in his North Texas art blog.  But things happen. The objects are in every sense worthy of celebration for Dallas. The Songe power figure listed as Lot 114 in Sothebys sale of November 15th sold with the sales commission for $2,165,000. There is no doubt that this is a great object and will greatly compliment the current holdings from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Ejagham headdress was offered in Lot 80 and sold for $305,000 with the sales commission and also came through Mert Simpson in the 1970’s when clearly he was the top African art dealer in the world. This type of headdress comes from the Cross River area of Nigeria near the border with Cameroon and was probably used in connection with important funerary ceremonies. Both of these objects are world class in every sense and all involved in this acquisition should be thanked for pulling this off with what apparently was touch competition.

4.  Nasher Sculpture Garden  - "In what often sounded like a closing argument in a court case, architect Renzo Piano said Wednesday that he would never agree to compromises to the building he designed, the Nasher Sculpture Center, as it searches for solutions in its two-year battle with Museum Tower.
“Over my dead body,” he said, drawing a loud ovation from the standing-room-only crowd at the Nasher Salon Series. Piano returned to the Nasher to celebrate its 10th anniversary by serving as the salon’s guest. Despite mincing no words in refusing to make adjustments to the oculi on the Nasher roof, a design Piano patented and one Museum Tower officials have sought to alter in recent months, the designer said he’s optimistic for the first time that a solution may be near — one that would alter the tower exterior.
Piano, 76, said he recently met with four new members appointed by Mayor Mike Rawlings to the board of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, which owns the tower and has battled with
Nasher ownership since the glare from its exterior was discovered in September 2011. Rawlings attended the Wednesday afternoon event.
Referring to the new board members, Piano said afterward in an exclusive interview with The Dallas Morning News: “I think they understand everything. They understand properly.”
He noted that, after a glare controversy surfaced recently in London, where the nicknamed “Walkie Talkie” skyscraper purportedly melted a Jaguar automobile, “it took only 24 hours for the property to decide to do something.” The best solution in Dallas would be movable louvers on the tower exterior, he said, to deflect sunlight that museum officials consider damaging to the Nasher.
Museum Tower representative Rebecca Shaw said late Wednesday that because “no one from Museum Tower heard Mr. Piano make that statement, it is impossible to respond, except to say that we congratulate the Kimbell on such a fine addition to the Fort Worth art community.” Piano is in North Texas for the opening of his new building, the Renzo Piano Pavilion at Kimbell Art Museum.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” Piano told The Morning News in saying the Nasher roof would not be altered, “because they know that that’s not the solution. Were we to do that solution, I would feel extremely guilty myself — to Ray,” referring to the late Raymond Nasher, who founded Nasher Sculpture Center and hired Piano to design it.
Piano compared the struggle to a Bible story, casting the Nasher as David, with Museum Tower being Goliath. Changes to the Nasher’s roof would destroy not only the roof, he said, but also the garden. “Time is going very fast,” he said, searching for the right word, “and I don’t want this building … to be a martyr.” The Nasher is a building that belongs neither to the Nasher family nor to him, Piano said, but to Dallas.
“It’s absolutely clear that it must be defended,” he said."Dallas Morning News

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Saint Louis Art Museum has Proven Repatriation is a Complex Issue

This article was published last July by the New York Times showing that museum directors are reluctant to make decisions that might have implications far into the future. The St Louis Art Museum will keep their mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer  and the Boston Museum of Fine Art will keep the Lehman Benin collection.

No Quick Answers in Fights Over Art
Museums’ Property Claims Are Not Simply About Evidence
Published: July 1, 2013
The decision by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to return two ancient Khmer statues to Cambodia last month, less than a year after their ownership was challenged, shows how quickly museums can act on cultural property claims in an era when source countries are far more demanding.
More typical are disputes like one between Turkey and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles over a fifth-century bronze bed known as a Lydian kline, which has been an item of contention since 1995.
Last year two scholars, whose research was supported by the Getty, found that the bed was likely looted from Turkey in the 1970s. The Getty has called the findings intriguing but “circumstantial” and said it hopes to continue talks with Turkey while awaiting “more secure and compelling evidence.”
Is the disparity in time — some cases resolved quickly, others unsettled for decades — simply a matter of which countries present the more convincing evidence?
Hardly, according to experts who say the calculus of repatriation involves less cut-and-dried measures like the outlook of the museum and its board, the institution’s public relations needs at the moment, the identity of the donor of the disputed item and even the identity of the country that is asking for its return.
In dealing with the Met, Cambodia was diplomatic, made a targeted claim and reacted to the return with effusive praise. Both sides also saw an opportunity to strengthen their ties, and Cambodia has agreed to a major Khmer exhibition at the Met next year.
The Turks have been more ambitious and strategic in their demands, refusing to participate in loan exhibitions with several museums under a tactic that some officials have compared to blackmail. In the case of the Getty, officials there say the Turks first questioned the museum’s ownership of several dozen items without providing any backup, then cut that number in half.
“Our experience with these requests does not give us confidence in their merit,” said James Cuno, the Getty’s president.
And it is not clear, Getty officials say privately, that simply returning the bed will do much to sate Turkish interest in a host of other items.
For their part, Turkish officials have said characterizations of their repatriation requests as aggressive and unsupported by the evidence are self-serving.
Even as Western museums have grown more receptive to cultural property challenges in the last decade, they remain bound by fiduciary obligations, ethical principles and burdens of proof that can vary by institution.
“Museums must untangle a lot of knots before making such an irrevocable decision,” said Stephen K. Urice, a professor and expert on cultural heritage law at the University of Miami School of Law in Florida.
The stickiest question is what constitutes proof positive that a holding violates the intent or spirit of
laws and rules adopted since 1970 to help stem the trade and acquisition of illicit artifacts. For example, in 2008, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the industry’s major trade group, wrote sweeping guidelines advising museums that they “normally should not” acquire a work unless solid proof exists that the object was, before 1970, outside the country where it was discovered in modern times, or was legally exported from that country after 1970.
But there is a wide latitude in what constitutes solid proof or how to interpret phrases like “normally should not,” according to experts like Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, a cultural heritage lawyer. He said the lack of “a clear evidentiary or procedural standard that universally guides provenance investigations at museums” contributes to uneven decision making among institutions.
In one case last September, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology agreed to a Turkish request to return 24 gold pieces. They were sent back on indefinite loan. Among the evidence the museum relied on was a speck of soil lodged in a pendant that matched a site known to have been illegally excavated.
The museum had acquired the items in 1966, which is in accord with the museum association guidelines, but the return was also based on other factors, including assurances that the university can continue excavations in Turkey and hold an exhibition of new artifacts dug up from royal tombs.

A similar interest in building a relationship to support future loans played a role in the decision by the Getty last January to repatriate a stone “Head of Hades“ to the Archeological Museum in Aidone, Italy. Getty officials were swayed by the discovery of fragments of curls from the head near Morgantina, Sicily, which the museum said was the site of illegal excavations in the late 1970s.
Many antiquities in museums do not have unbroken chains of custody stretching back to the moment they left a source country. In some cases, the absence of records may well be evidence that they were exported illegally. In other cases, it may only show that until recently many ancient items changed hands without copious documentation because challenges to ownership were infrequent.
In such instances, the decision to return an item — or not — may require research to find, for example, that it had passed through the hands of a dealer with some history in the illicit trade. Still, the evidence will often be far from definitive, meaning many decisions become judgment calls.
“The act of returning is based on an ethical judgment informed by evidence but not necessarily by a ‘smoking gun,’ “ said Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art and chairman of Association of Art Museum Directors’ task force on archaeological materials and ancient art.
In 2011, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, agreed to return the top half of an 1,800-year-old statue,
“Weary Herakles,” to Turkey, but the decision only came after years of dispute. Turkey argued the statue had been looted from an excavation site in the 1980s. A dealer involved in selling the object to the museum had asserted the statue was in Germany in the 1950s. The debate continued even after the dealer’s story was debunked, and after a plaster cast of the base of the statue, still in Turkey, was matched in 1992 to a cast of the top half.
The decision to return was delayed by other issues: The museum shared ownership of the piece with collectors until 2003, and restitution was opposed by the longtime curator of its classical antiquities department, who died in 2008. Since then the museum has become among the most active in returning acquisitions with dubious paper trails.
“As we strive for greater diligence today, these past acquisition mistakes provide our greatest learning tool,” Victoria Reed, the museum’s curator for provenance, said in an e-mail.
The Justice Department, acting on behalf of Egypt, said that it has sufficient evidence to compel the St. Louis Museum of Art to return an ancient Egyptian burial artifact, the Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer. The museum bought the mummy mask for $500,000 in 1998. The government contends in court, where it has sued the museum to secure the object’s return, that it was stolen from a storage case in the 1950s, and that the dealer who sold it to the museum has a history of trafficking in illegally obtained objects.
The museum’s director, Brent R. Benjamin, said that the institution “takes seriously any suggestion that it illegally or improperly possesses any object,” but that it is the rightful owner.
Museum officials said that as they ponder the validity of claims, they must also weigh their financial duty to trustees, donors and the general public, which supports such collections through tax benefits and sometimes direct government support. One worry of theirs is that a return based on noble sentiments, but scattershot evidence, only opens a museum to a time-consuming flurry of similarly meritless demands.
Still, if keeping an object threatens to “damage a museum’s reputation,” a director might well decide the “best course of due diligence would be to return it,” said Arthur Houghton, a former curator at the Getty who has represented museums as a member of the State Department’s cultural property advisory committee.
“Evidence is only one component of the analysis,” Mr. Urice said. “Of equal, if not greater, significance are the ethical issues presented. A museum has a duty to consider more than just evidence.”

UNESCO - Do we really Need It.

I urge you to follow written by cultural heritage lawyer Rick St. Hilaire . I have published his UNESCO article here with the hope that you will subscribe to his blog. The U.S. has continually been at odds with the United Nations as we fund a significant portion of their budget. Regardless of where you are politically this article does make you wonder why as a government we do some of the things we do. We have spoken often about the UNESCO date of 1970 being advanced as a magic firewall for acquisition of cultural property. I continue to believe that 1970 and UNESCO are both irrelevant as countries around the world pursue what they perceive to be in their best interest. Ultimately politics are politics and to believe that things are any different on either a micro or macro level is naive.
NEW YORK"No Money, No Vote: A Closer Look at the Strained Relationship Between the U.S. and UNESCO
UNESCO confronts a budgetary and political crisis following America’s automatic defunding of the U.N. agency in 2011 and UNESCO's decision last Friday stripping the United States of its voting rights.
The General Conference of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization is
meeting in Paris from November 5 through 20. The General Conference is UNESCO’s legislature, which assembles every two years to set policies, approve programs, and adopt a budget. It elects the Executive Board and appoints a Director-General every four years.
While tensions have existed between the U.S. and UNESCO, particularly over the last four decades, the current crisis can be traced to October 5, 2011 when UNESCO's Executive Board granted the Palestinians full membership in the organization, a measure opposed by the U.S.
Forty members of the Executive Board voted in favor, four against, and fourteen abstained.
Forty-three nations then submitted Draft Resolution 9.1 to the General Conference on October 29, 2011. The body passed the resolution to admit the Palestinians to UNESCO, a result that had not been achieved since such the campaign for admission first started in 1989. The final vote tally was: 107 aye, including Afghanistan, Argentina,  Brazil, China, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Jordan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Turkey; 14 nay, including Australia, Canada, Germany, and the U.S.; 52 abstentions, including Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and the United Kingdom; and 21 absent including Ethiopia Palestinians previously maintained observer status at UNESCO, dating back to 1974. President and Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Mahmoud Abbas applied to the Security Council in September 2011 for full membership in the U.N., but that action failed while the UNESCO effort succeeded.
Membership by the Palestinians in UNESCO has been viewed by many as a way to compel legal recognition of Palestinian statehood without the benefit of bilateral talks with Israel. That is why the U.S., which tried to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after their suspension in October 2010, protested the admissions process.
Ambassador David Killion, U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO, told the General Conference:
The United States has been very clear about the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the only path to the Palestinian state that we all seek is through direct negotiations. There are no shortcuts, and we believe efforts such as the one we have witnessed today are counterproductive....[W]e recognize that this action today will complicate our ability to support UNESCO’s programs. There are other ways of promoting the cause of the Palestinian people that would not have involved seeking premature membership at UNESCO.  We sincerely regret that the strenuous and well-intentioned efforts of many delegations to avoid this result fell short.
The U.S. automatically cut off its support for UNESCO programming by the terms of the Foreign Relations and Intercourse Authorizations, codified at 22 U.S.C. § 287e. In 1990 the U.S. Congress ordered that "[n]o funds ... shall be available for the United Nations ... which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states." (Public Law 101-246). And in 1994 Congress proclaimed that the U.S. "shall not make any voluntary or assessed contribution: (1) to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood, or (2) to the United Nations, if the United Nations grants full membership as a state in the United Nations to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood, during any period in which such membership is effective." (Public Law 103-236).
America defunded 22% of UNESCO's operating budget, roughly $240 million, and withheld $60 million immediately after the UNESCO vote in 2011.
 Facing an immediate financial crisis, UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova paid a visit to Capitol Hill in December 2012, supporting President Barak Obama's efforts to lift the funding ban.But lawmakers on Capitol Hill remained steadfast. Senator Danial Coats (R-IN) proposed a Senate bill affirming the defunding law and presented a warning, "The Palestinian Authority may use this vote [of membership in UNESCO] as a precedent to pursue membership in other United Nations affiliated organizations, contrary to the best interests of those organizations and the Palestinians themselves."
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) voiced similar views, urging "the State Department to enforce U.S. law and immediately cut off all funding to UNESCO and any other international organization that recognizes a Palestinian state. The Palestinian leadership is aware of U.S. law on this issue and it is very unfortunate that it is forcing the U.S. to take such drastic steps."
Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Chairwoman of the influential House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee actively garnered support from lawmakers to uphold the payment suspension.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on Granger’s committee, took the position that the "mission of every agency affiliated with the United Nations is to foster—not thwart—conditions for peace and stability," concluding that UNESCO "fails that test" by "interfering with the prospects for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians..."
Joining their efforts was Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a critical voice in the discussion.
Ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations at that time, appeared before the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee in March 2012 to support refunding UNESCO. She told committee members:
Current U.S. law runs counter to U.S. national security interests by enabling the Palestinians to determine whether the U.S. can continue to fund and lead effectively in key U.N. specialized agencies that help protect Americans.
In the case of UNESCO, due to irresponsible Palestinian actions, we have withheld our funding for valuable work that supports key U.S. interests.
We believe our membership and participation in UNESCO is valuable and worth supporting.

While President Obama and other White House officials continue to press lawmakers to restore funding for UNESCO, the administration remains hampered in its efforts by UNESCO’s adoption of resolutions focused on Israel.
The Executive Board last month, over America's objection, supported six resolutions criticizing Israel and calling on that nation to cease actions reportedly affecting the "authenticity, integrity and cultural heritage" of sacred and archaeological sites. Arab nations, Russia, and France endorsed the resolutions, and The Jordan Times reported that the Jordanian king's actions to move the resolutions forward were "decisive."
In April of this year, the U.S. prevented these resolutions—which numbered five at that time—from being offered to the Executive Board when Israel agreed to terms that would have allowed UNESCO inspectors to assess the Old City of Jerusalem as well as an ascent to the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif.
The New York Times learned that the deal "was brokered in an unusual partnership between the United States and Russia, with the help of Jordan, Brazil and the director general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova" and that "[t]he willingness of the Palestinians to table the resolutions was a direct result of recent visits to the Middle East by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who secured a Palestinian agreement not to 'initiate negative moves in international organizations.'"
Israel, however, canceled the inspection team's scheduled May 2013 trip, citing concerns over "politicization," according to The Times of Israel.
Soon thereafter, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee (WHC), meeting in Cambodia in June, adopted language proposed by the Jordanian delegation to censure Israel. Decision 37 COM 7A.26 declared, in part, that the WHC "[d]eplores the continued Israeli failure to cooperate and facilitate the implementation of the ...  reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls" and "[d|eeply deplores the persistence of Israeli archaeological excavations and works in the Old City of Jerusalem and on both sides of its Walls and the failure of Israel to cease such works."
Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the measure, calling it "a dark day for UNESCO" and saying that "the Palestinians are exploiting their admission to UNESCO ... in order to hijack and drag this important U.N. agency into the abyss of politicized manipulation." The ministry concluded that "Israel will uphold its commitments ... to ensure freedom of worship of all faiths in Jerusalem."
UNESCO then acceded to a Palestinian request to have Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, placed on the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger. Only 44 sites across the globe are on the endangered list. The church is located in the Palestinian-administered portion of the occupied West Bank. The U.S. objected to both listings.
That set the stage last month for UNESCO’s passage of the six resolutions.
Explaining why the U.S. was the only nation to object to every one of the six Executive Board resolutions, Ambassador Killion issued a statement titled Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Killion on Middle East Resolutions Targeting Israel to say "We are very disappointed that this body, the UNESCO Executive Board, rather than live up to its lofty goals to build peace in the minds of men and women, once again chose to needlessly politicize these issues before us." Killion described how "such actions … strike a highly discordant note, and are disheartening to us." "This is supposed to be a place for peacebuilding," the ambassador noted. "Now we have this Board faced with six—I repeat six—decisions directed at a single Member State.  This is truly ridiculous, and obviously counter-productive." Ambassador Killion questioned, "We ask you, are your actions today helping to build two states, living side by side? Are we working in this body to build trust and confidence?"
Canada’s government too expressed frustration. Minister Christian Paradis observed that "UNESCO was dealt a severe blow following the decision to admit the Palestinian delegation into the organization, which resulted in an unprecedented cash-flow crisis. Canada rejects efforts to politicize UNESCO and believes that UNESCO is always stronger when there is consensus."
The six resolutions adopted find their roots in an October 2010 UNESCO Executive Board vote that "adopted five decisions concerning UNESCO’s work in the occupied Palestinian and Arab Territories." The U.S. often cast the sole vote in objection to these proposals.
The 2010 resolutions were UNESCO's response to a controversial decision in February 2010 by the Israeli government to place Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron on a national heritage list, a move criticized by the U.S. and one which prompted Palestinian protests. The sites' significance as well as the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem to the three major monotheistic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are subjects of continuing debate and contention.
The UNESCO resolutions report stated, in part:
•Jerusalem’s cultural heritage: The Board voted 34 to 1 (19 abstentions) to "reaffirm the religious significance of the Old City of Jerusalem for Muslims, Christians and Jews." The decision expresses "deep concern over the ongoing Israeli excavations and archaeological works on Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, which contradicts UNESCO decisions and conventions and United Nations and Security Council resolutions." It invites the Director-General to appoint experts to be stationed in East Jerusalem to report on all aspects covering the architectural, educational, cultural and demographical situation there. It also invites the Israelis to facilitate the work of the experts in conformity with Israel’s adherence to UNESCO decisions and conventions.
•The Palestinian sites of al-Haram  al-Ibrahimi/Tomb of the Patriarchs in al-Khalil/Hebron and the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem: the Board voted 44 to one (12 abstentions) to reaffirm that the two sites are an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories and that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law, the UNESCO Conventions and the United Nations and Security Council resolutions.
The U.S Mission to UNESCO issued a statement of dissatisfaction, expressing that "the United States broke with UNESCO’s long-tradition of consensus and voted against five resolutions that unfairly singled out Israel, and which can only serve to politicize the organization’s work."  The statement went on to say:
In the past, those items related to the Mughrabi Ascent, Jerusalem, Gaza and educational and cultural institutions in the Palestinian territories have always noted UNESCO’s accomplishments, cited continuing challenges, and encouraged all parties to work together toward a common goal, consistent with UNESCO’s mission.
During this Executive Board, the Arab states sponsoring the five resolutions made clear their unwillingness to negotiate, leaving one-sided, empty political condemnations that the United States felt were unhelpful to all involved parties. UNESCO’s expertise does not lie in accounting for the work of other United Nations bodies, nor should it take on a political role that it was neither conceived for, nor is within its competence.
Ambassador David Killion voted NO on all five of the Middle East resolutions before the Executive Board .... In voting against the UNESCO draft decision that stated that Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarch's are "an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories", Ambassador Killion stated "...we cannot support this draft decision, which supposes authority that UNESCO does not and cannot possess".
The events occurring from 2010 through today recall the on and off again tensions that mark the U.S.-UNESCO relationship.
UNESCO removed Israel from membership in 1974 because of alleged archaeological harm to Islamic sites on the Temple Mount. But Israel earned reinstatement in 1977 after the U.S. pledged to withhold funds, which even then amounted to roughly a quarter of UNESCO's budget.
President Ronald Reagan later removed the U.S. from UNESCO at the end of 1984. The reasons for withdrawal were, according to the State Department, that "UNESCO has extraneously politicized virtually every subject it deals with; has exhibited a hostility toward the basic institutions of a free society, especially a free market and a free press; and has demonstrated unrestrained budgetary expansion.''
President George W. Bush returned America to UNESCO in October 2003, explaining a year earlier, "As a symbol of our commitment to human dignity, the United States will return to UNESCO. This organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning.”
But sometime later, a 2010 UNESCO ethics office report may have raised eyebrows about the agency's reform. The report identified specific areas of agency abuse:
•The Ethics office is concerned by the fact that we received many requests from UNESCO employees about alleged abuse of authority or harassment by their supervisors.
•There also appears to be a failure by employees at all levels to take responsibility for their work, and an unwillingness to delegate authority. Many people who contact the Ethics Office, are more preoccupied in letting us know what they are not responsible for.... 
•The Ethics Office has received more and more complaints about the non-respect of private legal and financial obligations by UNESCO employees, sometimes by inappropriately using their diplomatic immunity.
And just last month, UNESCO's praise for Che Guavare's writings sparked the ire of both supporters and critics of the U.N. agency. "The United States Government strongly objects to the inscription of the writings of Che Guevara in UNESCO's Memory of the World Register," protested Ambassador Killion, adding that "Che Guevara tortured and killed countless innocent people. His writings are antithetical to UNESCO's values and mission to promote peace in the minds of men.... Inscribing words such as these makes a mockery of UNESCO’s Memory of the World program...."
Cuban born Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, who holds influence over UNESCO's funding, voiced a strong rebuke of the decision and the agency:
UNESCO continued its longstanding tradition of making a mockery of its own institution…. This decision is more than an insult to the families of those Cubans who were lined up and summarily executed by Che and his merciless cronies but it also serves as a direct contradiction to the UNESCO ideals of encouraging peace and universal respect for human rights. This latest reprehensible action is a microcosm of the existing problems within UNESCO today. There isn’t any semblance of common sense left in that body.... The Obama Administration is wrong to continue to seek to restore funding to UNESCO..
UNESCO member nations are worried about the U.S. funding gap, and some at the November General Conference meeting have asked other wealthy governments to cover the budget shortfall.
China, meanwhile, may try to fill the political vacuum. In the same way that last month's federal government shutdown absented President Obama from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, leaving Chinese President Xi Jinping ready and willing to do business, the U.S.’s voting absence from the General Conference might allow newly elected UNESCO President Hao Ping, Vice Minister of Education of China, to gather greater influence.
It is also possible that the continued absence of American cash and influence could shrink UNESCO, forcing the organization to rethink its aims and to reflect on its culture of consensus, or lack thereof.
UNESCO is already under fire by the U.K. for inefficiency and lack of transparency. That nation seeks reform. "If we are honest, as Member States we are inherently incoherent, and it is that incoherence we should really focus on for our future strategy, the U.K. told the General Conference last week. "We need more action on transparency too. Its a simple enough question, can I find out what UNESCO does, with what resources, to what effect and with which partners in my country or any other? If not why not? ... Let us be clear, this organisation is funded by our taxpayers. Their right to know what goes on here is at least as strong and valid as their right to know what goes on in government at home."
The U.S. State Department continues to hope that the U.S. will have an impact on the organization. A statement issued by the agency announced, "We note a loss of vote in the General Conference is not a loss of U.S. membership. The United States intends to continue its engagement with UNESCO in every possible way–we can attend meetings and participate in debate, and we will maintain our seat and vote as an elected member of the Executive Board until 2015."
Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, however, show few signs that they are willing to write UNESCO a multi-million dollar check in time for the General Conference’s final session next week or at any other time in the near future. So while Director-General Bokova advertises at the Paris meeting that "The world needs more UNESCO," she will need much more money and stronger political support to sell that idea."

Boston Museum of Fine Arts Recieves Benin Collection

Barbara and I had the opportunity of visiting this new installation of the Lehman collection at the museum a few months ago. It is by any standard superbly installed and beautifully lit. The museum has also provided the collection history of the objects as researched by the staff. The link is:  We will certainly find this practice become standard policy for most institutions in the future. We remarked on this blog some time ago that Boston was one of the first museums to appoint a full time research expert to track and compile collection history on objects within the museum's collection.

MFA receives gift of African art

"The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has received the Robert Owen Lehman Collection of 34 rare West African works of art. Thirty-two objects are from the Kingdom of Benin in present-day southern Nigeria and two are from present-day Guinea and Sierra Leone. The Lehman Collection is the single greatest private holding of objects from the Benin Kingdom (not to be confused with the West African Republic of Bénin, the former Dahomey) dating from the late 15th century to the 19th
century. The gift, which includes 28 bronzes and six ivories, will go on display in late 2013 in a gallery dedicated to the arts of Benin. In addition to highlighting these works in a gallery, the Museum will present a number of public programs that further the appreciation of the Kingdom of Benin’s renowned arts, cultural heritage, and complex history.
Famous for its sophisticated artistry, the Benin Kingdom dates back to the late 13th century. The kingdom expanded and flourished from the late 14th through the late 19th century, when it came under British influence upon the conclusion of a treaty with Britain in 1892. Five years later, after Benin soldiers attacked and killed most members of a British delegation en route to Benin City, the British launched the Punitive Expedition of 1897, sending  military forces to the capital and defeating its ruler, Oba Ovonramwen. It is estimated that the British removed more than 4,000 objects from the Benin palace during this military action. Numerous pieces were later sold in Great Britain to defray the costs of the campaign, and were acquired by private collectors and museums in Europe and the United States. Many works of art in the Lehman Collection are known to have left Benin in 1897, and the remainder likely left at the same time.
Among the most famous works from the kingdom are its bronzes (copper alloy pieces created in the lost wax-casting technique), which range from sculptural heads of kings and freestanding figures to Commemorative head of a defeated neighboring leader (late 15th–early 16th century), shown above, thought to depict a foreign ruler subjugated by the Benin army during the kingdom’s expansion. It was once displayed on an ancestral altar created in honor of a deceased Oba (king), recalling his achievements and connecting his successors with the royal ancestor. This work and the many others are a testament to the world of the Benin kings and the brilliance of artists who worked for the court." Boston Museum of Fine Art
pendants and high-relief plaques that once adorned the walls of courtyards in the palace. Artists also crafted beautiful utilitarian objects in bronze and ivory. Among the most notable bronzes in the collection is the

The Nigerian government has made numerous appeals to have these objects repatriated to Nigeria.