Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What is happening to antiquities looted by ISIS?

JUDITH H. DOBRZYNSKI: Antiquities and ISIS: Something Doesn’t Add Up (Real Clear Arts Blog).
What I discovered, for one thing, is that actual examples of ISIS-looted antiquities on the market are slim to none. True, it may be that objects looted now are being kept in warehouses, for later sale–but that doesn’t finance ISIS now. Also true. the goods may not be coming into the U.S. market. The antiquities dealers I spoke with said they had not seen anything on these shores from looted areas since ISIS began its jihad.

But, you say, of course they wouldn’t say so. That’s partly true–it’s not in their interest to admit it. But it’s not in their interest to see the trade shut down entirely either–and that is what may well happen if stolen goods are discovered here. What most experts say, and what today’s Times article also says, is that people are peddling fakes said to be from the ISIS-damaged sites–probably to gullible collectors who think they are getting a bargain. Is ISIS producing these fake goods? Hard to say.

It may also be true that the loot may all be going into other Middle Eastern countries, or Russia, as many have speculated. In which case, it’s a problem our museums, our dealers, our collectors, our prosecutors can’t do much about. Our investigators may be able to help there, though, and I say go to it.

Here too there’s a problem, though. Many sources, many articles seem to me to be exaggerating the stakes in trade. The Times piece says, in part:
Despite a near-universal outcry over the Islamic State’s actions, few countries have shown interest in imposing new restrictions to curb the booming trade in antiquities, estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year.
Boldface mine. Other articles, and sources, have also thrown around the b-word. But I cannot fathom where that number comes from. Contemporary art may sell billions a year (lately), but antiquities? No.
This is interesting, but as the author herself mentions, all those archaeological sites in the Middle East which are now riddled with holes show that there has been catastrophically extensive looting. But of course that does not mean that we know where the looted artifacts are now and where they are being sold, if they currently are being sold rather than stockpiled for future sale.

Much more on ISIS and its destruction and looting of antiquities is here and links