We went with the police and about 20 Nigerians into the gallery the day before the opening. There were all of these fucking posh people sipping champagne, and in we came to shut it down. You should've seen their fucking jaws! I made a statement: "Don't touch the heritage of these people!" And it's not that I was a white knight-not at all. But I began to come across certain things that I just couldn't step over.
Are the days of buying antiquities over? They do not need to be. As long as museums set a high ethical standard for collecting and establish responsible research practices that discourage the circulation of recently-looted objects, there is no reason not to continue to acquire antiquities. The arrest of Nancy Wiener serves as a serious reminder of the pitfalls of acquiring poorly-documented works of art, and the benefits to the art world of buying only those objects with an extensive and verifiable collecting history. Rather than being subject to investigation and seizure, well-researched objects are sure to remain in museum collections for the enjoyment of future generations of visitors.
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The looting and illicit export of art treasures is not a new problem. It’s happened whenever there have been armed conflicts during which victorious troops plundered churches, temples and other buildings. Germany carried out massive looting in World War II. By the start of the 21st Century the trade in illicit antiquities had become so huge it was worth billions of dollars each year and was the biggest international crime outside drug and arms trafficking according to The New York Times. When a piece is stolen, the consequence for scholars is tragic, because essential information about the piece – where it was found, what else was with it – is lost forever.
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