SBS Analysis: Due diligence and the art market

By Professor of Archaeological Heritage David Gill, Director of Heritage Futures at UCS.

The international trade of archaeological material is worth millions of dollars each year. In 2016 just two auction houses in New York sold $26 million of antiquities from Egypt, the Near East, Greece, and Rome. Some of these items are sold with comprehensive collecting histories tracing the ownership and sale over the decades. But many have limited information and the owners can be little more than the anonymous ‘Lady’, ‘European Private Collector’, or ‘Distinguished Private Collector’.

The last twenty years have presented some disquieting revelations about the nature of the trade. One major international auction house stopped the sale of antiquities in London after paperwork indicated how material was being consigned via Switzerland. In another case a London auction house had to withdraw large numbers of lots (including the cover piece for the in-house magazine featuring the sale) when the Italian authorities intervened.

A major raid in the Geneva Freeport, further seizures from another dealer in Basel, and raids in Greece on the property of a London based dealer, have provided the Italian authorities with a series of dossiers of photographs and paperwork relating to the sale of antiquities. These have been used to ensure the return of several hundred objects from North American public and private collections. The collections include Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum. The objects range from collections of silver plate, a marble statue of the goddess Aphrodite, a series of terracotta reliefs from an Etruscan temple, as well as Athenian and South Italian figure-decorated pottery.

More recently concerns have been raised about the possibility that looted archaeological material from Syria and Northern Iraq was being brought to European and North American markets. In early 2015 the BBC’s File on 4 programme was able to identify such material openly on sale in London. This has led to calls by archaeologists and heritage professionals for the due diligence process conducted by auction-houses to be made more rigorous.

Only this week Christie’s in New York had to withdraw two lots—a South Italian black-glossed water-jar and a Roman marble janiform statue—from sale after they had been identified from photographs derived from two separate seizures of documentation in Switzerland. This case has served to highlight the need for reform in the auction houses so that potential buyers can be reassured about their purchases, and to ensure that objects recently removed from archaeological sites in Syria cannot be used to finance other activities.

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EU Referendum and Business: PM Visits UCS

We were delighted to welcome Prime Minister David Cameron onto UCS Ipswich campus yesterday, along with a host of local school students, UCS students, and staff.

The Prime Minister laid out the arguments to vote to stay in the EU at the upcoming referendum on Thursday 23 June, 2016. The three core points – economy, security, and strength – were brought home with key examples, including negotiating trade agreements with developing countries, the sharing of security information and deportation, and the ability to stand alongside a 500 million strong consumer group.

We were lucky enough to have three academic representatives of the Suffolk Business School in attendance – interim Head of School Professor Noel Smith, Deputy Head of School Dr Will Thomas, and Lecturer in Employment Development Suzanne Nolan. Below are their views on the event and referendum:

Professor Noel Smith on cooperation and culture:

While I’m very concerned about what is happening to the NHS and welfare state under his watch, I think the Prime Minister has got it right on Europe, and it was good to hear him put the positive case for Europe. It is important to be reminded that the EU was developed in response to global conflict – the Second World War. With global tensions mounting again, it seems rash and short-sighted to want be isolate ourselves.

Putting the positive case is important, but I would have liked a more robust critique of the Leave camp. Given that Euro-sceptic sentiment is often driven by concerns about migration, I would have liked to have asked whether leaving Europe would make the UK a less tolerant society?

Dr Will Thomas on trade and business:

From a trade point of the view the arguments in favour of EU membership seem clear. EU trade is responsible for almost 40% of our exports and 55% of our imports making it by far the single most important trading area for our businesses. Exit of the EU would bring tremendous uncertainty about the nature of future relationships with this trading block. In time, renegotiated agreements may allow for a degree of free-trade but this will come at a cost (the ‘membership fee’ for joining the European Economic Area). Our businesses will also have to abide by rules set in the EU but without a say in the way in which they are created or in their scope. Whilst it may be possible to negotiate suitable solutions to these issues, as things stand there is too much uncertainty to support withdrawal.

Suzanne Nolan on graduates and employability:

The EU is committed to developing the 2020 vision, including the aims for ‘smart, sustainable, inclusive growth’ through improved coordination of national and European policy. There are European-wide targets for improving access to Higher Education, and graduate employability that include the ‘New Skills for New Jobs’ initiative for better skills upgrading, anticipation and matching. In the UK, the skills gap among graduates and non-graduates is under constant scrutiny, and many feel it has grown in recent years. Remaining in the EU will not only allow greater cross-cultural access to education, but encourages the sharing of research into wider trends in the skills gap and support in closing this gap.