Tag Archives: artifacts

Getting Chinese Art By Hook Or By Crook

When I was in taking Egyptology in graduate school at the University of Texas at Dallas back in the ‘90’s, I learned of an Egyptologist by the name of Zahi Hawass.   This man was, at that time, the Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in Egypt. This made him the undisputed king of Egyptology.   No one could get an archaeological permit without his approval.

But that is not what made him different. No, He was more interested in bringing back Egyptian artifacts that sat in foreign museums back to his homeland. These artifacts were always precious statues, frescoes, jewelry and other various art forms of the Egyptian culture.  He was, and still is, a catalyst for what came next.

There is now an understandable trend among international governments to reacquire lost art artifacts of their respective culture.   After all, it makes good politics.   It swells the nationalistic pride coffers of individual nations with physical proof of the greatness of a person’s culture’s or national history.

So it should come as no surprise that there is a new movement among the Chinese art collectors in the world to reacquire artifacts that once belonged in China.   These artifacts were sometimes looted from palaces and homes in times of war and revolution.  Indeed, the Chinese cultural revolution of the ’50’s seems to be over.

Normally, when a government or an individual collector of precious art finds such a work of art, they usually go through a long drawn out formal process of buying the piece back or negotiating a reasonable trade with the museum so that everyone gets something out of the deal.  Even if it’s nothing more than good public relations.

Male Foo Lion
Male Foo Lion

But, and it’s no secret, the Chinese government does not do things the way western nations would like them to be done. When normal repatriation of the lost artwork fails, they start bidding wars at the auction houses to get the pieces back. There are some very rich people in the world, but very few can outbid a corporation bankrolled by the Chinese government for the sole purpose of acquiring these lost works.

However, there is strong speculation that several rich collectors of Chinese art found an even more lucrative way of getting their art fix.   They steal it.   According to The New York Times , at least 65 works of art disappeared in 5 thefts in the past 5 years.

“Chinese laws, on everything from theft to intellectual property, are very different from those in the West, and therefore stolen or forged artworks find a market far more easily there than abroad,” Noah Charney, an art crime expert said after the Norway thefts.”

It will be interesting to see how this entire affair works out in the end.  The jobs are obviously done by professional thieves and the chances of capturing these guys is very slim.  This is why there is only speculation and no real factual information as to what became of the pilfered art.

In fact, this crime wave reads like something right out of Hollywood. If they make a film on it, think blending the movie Mission Impossible and the modern version of the Thomas Crown Affair without the sappy love story. If any would be directors out there like this idea, I happen to know a certain photographic artist with some Chinese inspired artwork that can hook you up.  Just saying….


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The Death of Ancient Art: ISIS Strikes Again

Historical art dignifies our past. It provides a bridge between the wonders of a bygone era and the technological future. Like most people with archaeological training, I look upon carvings and statues from the ancient world with wonder and amazement. The detail and dedication that went into the their creation is always inspiring and visiting a

Garden Buddha
Garden Buddha

museum is paramount to everyone’s education into the arts.

When the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan I was aghast that such wanton violence on another cultures artwork and belief system could still exist today.  It appeared that civilization was always doomed to repeat the stupidities and mistakes of the past.   It was a sad day when they destroyed that significant work of art because of over zealous self-righteousness.

Little did I know that the extremists in ISIS, or ISIL would figure out a way to top it.  These extremists somehow decided the ancient Assyrian art found in Mosul’s Art Museum was offensive to Allah and destroyed them on Feb. 26, 2015.   I say somehow decided because even though according to the NY Times they state on their video why they did it. The answer is not one of some quaint religious or misguided ignorance, but rather that ravager of all nice things, greed. They want money, and if they can’t get money, they want followers and attention that will get them money.

I find it amazingly convenient that the artifacts they destroyed in the museum all appear to be large pieces that could not be openly sold on the black market to fund their particularly self-righteous behavior. According to the National Post and AP they’ve had no qualms about selling other proclaimed immoral artifacts in the past. Nor, do I really feel they will have problems engaging in the black market in the future.

It is strange that I almost wish that they had been able to sell those priceless artifacts on the black market.  At least these treasures would be saved for possible reassignment to the museum after ISIS becomes a bitter historical footnote of civilization.

It’s just sad to think that a statue of a winged bull survived for 2,800 years of war and destruction in one of the most historically violent areas of the world. It survived the, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Mongolians, several Caliphates, Sultans, and Emirates, even the Turks and the Mamluks. It passed into the 20th century as a kingdom and British occupied territory. This statue survived a republic and the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein, and American occupation only to be destroyed by some illiterate thug with a power drill. Really?

 Not a good day for art.

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