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[BKARTS] WOID #IX-29. "The Curators!"

Now that the dust has settled over Baghdad’s National Museum the
wagging of fingers has begun. More recently the fingers of the
international community of curators, conservators and experts have
been going like Geigers. First there were parallel attempts to limit
the damage. On one side, various international groups were organized
around Unesco to protect, reorder and perhaps reconstitute the
looted collections. On the other, US groups like the American
Council for Cultural Properties were proposing band-aids, for
instance to hand out “small rewards to encourage the return of
artifacts” by Iraqis: “perhaps $10.00 or $20.00.”  Philippe de
Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art went off to
meet with Karl Rove in Washington, to push a similar band-aid.

On the surface this was the same squabbling for turf we’ve seen all
along: should humanitarian aid be provided by the International Red
Cross – or the Marines? From Philippe and the ACCP the implicit
message was: “looting is too important to be left to the ignorant
mob.” That’s been their position all along, anyhow: the ACCP takes a
very generous view of the right of its own wealthy and powerful
members to acquire antiquities, and the current president of the
ACCP is a former legal counsel to the Met.

Overnight, though, the plop thickens. Interpol pushes for an
international ban on the buying and selling of all Iraqi
antiquities, and the FBI sends its gumshoes to Baghdad. All right,
so it’s a turf war. Meanwhile, a respectable scholar who's been
watching these machinations for a long, long time states out loud
what many had been thinking: that the looting was not the work of a
handful of impoverished Iraqis, it was planned, and it was probably
planned from abroad. Then two members of the Dubya’s Advisory
Committee on Cultural Property resign, and a thousand Bush-it
detectors blow up.

Consider: you have groups of dealers and curators (located, perhaps,
in, say for instance, America) who have been taking a very liberal
reading of international laws on the export and acquisition of
antiquities for a while, now. Who knows? Perhaps they've had
dealings with certain other dealers. Perhaps they’ve even acquired a
few works whose provenance, shall we say? Perhaps such works are
already in the catalog for “Art of the First Cities: The Third
Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus," opening at the
Met on May 8.

Come to think of it, this one would make a great musical – something
like “the Producers.” The last scene, in which the Curator of
License Plates at Leavenworth… hey, a man can dream, can't he?

Paul T Werner, New York

WOID: A journal of visual language

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