Thursday, January 24, 2008

Storm Clouds Over the Pacific Asia Museum

The Pacific Asia Museum was closed today, as were the LA County Museum of Art and other area art institutions. The New York Times said these museums (major ones) were raided by Federal agents looking for Southeast Asian antiquities thought to have been obtained illegally (i.e., looted) and smuggled into the U.S. in an alleged donation scheme that involved defrauding the IRS.

It was noon when I got to the museum. A few agents stood shivering outside. They were friendly, but didn't say much except the museum was closed for the investigation.

"Western" looting of "eastern" artifacts isn't new. Think of LA's Getty Musem and New York's Metropolitan Museum, both of which have recently been caught with the goods and forced to return them. Hell, think of the Elgin Marbles (which won't likely be returning to Greece any time soon). What's new is the crackdown.

A looted item loses its historical and archaeological context. For months now, I've been following a discussion about the importance of of provenance in Archaeology Magazine, which puts it in layman's terms I can appreciate.


Isadora said...

Interesting topic. Wonder what brought on the honesty attack and how far will they go back. Certainly, this is not unique to Asia - I'm thinking Egypt for instance.

By the way, what is the temperature in Pasadena that the agents were shivering? :)

Petrea said...

I don't know what brought on these raids specifically. Italy and Greece have been cracking down on looters (see Getty, Met). I say it's a good thing.

It was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, windy and raining. Not so cold, I guess, but we're not used to it! Glad to have the rain, though. California needs it.

Isadora, thanks for your comments. Budapest is high on my list of cities to visit and I love your blog.

Jim said...

Wow, intersting story, I am going to have to check out your links when my computer is running well again.

Uma por Dia said...

Big problem, yes. New objects are appearing on the market and museums by the had of private collections that sells them and museum buy it! But most of the time they are employes of the museum. at the exhibition you can see 11 movies about it.

Petrea said...

Uma Por Dia is referring to her fascinating post of February 18, 2008 on Lisbon Daily Photo, which she's too modest to boast about. For those checking here please click on her blog and check it out.