Friday, July 29, 2011

Peter Watson discusses "unpublished and unpublishable" art crimes

The ARCAblog just published a post on some details of art-related crimes that author and historian Peter Watson recently discussed. Watson talked about unprovable details on various cases, such as the dealer Robin Symes' jail time, or lack thereof, and various cases of arson that occurred after his jail release; a murder involving the Sevso silver; and threats made to the children of a Scotland Yard agent involved in recovering a stolen Munch painting. The post quotes Watson: "This is a very unpleasant world so watch where you're going."

As sensationalized as this all sounds, it's really not. When I get super riled up about museums collecting looted objects, it's not just because destroying archaeological context is wrong; it's because getting artifacts from the ground to the museum is a trade that is as dangerous as the drug trade. Like in any other organized crime syndicate, peoples' lives are often taken or threatened in the process of getting artifacts to collectors. It's not just stuffy old white people slipping cash to a shady dealer; there is real violence and danger in this business. The next time you're in a museum, you should be questioning where these cultural objects came from the same way you would question where your meat and vegetables are being grown and how much fuel is being used to get them to you. Only, hopefully, people are not dying or being threatened in order to get your food to you.

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