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[BKARTS] WOID #IX-29. "The Curators!"

Now that the dust has settled over Baghdad’s National Museum the wagging of fingers has begun. More recently the fingers of the international community of curators, conservators and experts have been going like Geigers. First there were parallel attempts to limit the damage. On one side, various international groups were organized around Unesco to protect, reorder and perhaps reconstitute the looted collections. On the other, US groups like the American Council for Cultural Properties were proposing band-aids, for instance to hand out “small rewards to encourage the return of artifacts” by Iraqis: “perhaps $10.00 or $20.00.”  Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art went off to meet with Karl Rove in Washington, to push a similar band-aid.

On the surface this was the same squabbling for turf we’ve seen all along: should humanitarian aid be provided by the International Red Cross – or the Marines? From Philippe and the ACCP the implicit message was: “looting is too important to be left to the ignorant mob.” That’s been their position all along, anyhow: the ACCP takes a very generous view of the right of its own wealthy and powerful members to acquire antiquities, and the current president of the ACCP is a former legal counsel to the Met.

Overnight, though, the plop thickens. Interpol pushes for an international ban on the buying and selling of all Iraqi antiquities, and the FBI sends its gumshoes to Baghdad. All right, so it’s a turf war. Meanwhile, a respectable scholar who's been watching these machinations for a long, long time states out loud what many had been thinking: that the looting was not the work of a handful of impoverished Iraqis, it was planned, and it was probably planned from abroad. Then two members of the Dubya’s Advisory Committee on Cultural Property resign, and a thousand Bush-it detectors blow up.

Consider: you have groups of dealers and curators (located, perhaps, in, say for instance, America) who have been taking a very liberal reading of international laws on the export and acquisition of antiquities for a while, now. Who knows? Perhaps they've had dealings with certain other dealers. Perhaps they’ve even acquired a few works whose provenance, shall we say? Perhaps such works are already in the catalog for “Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus," opening at the Met on May 8.

Come to think of it, this one would make a great musical – something like “the Producers.” The last scene, in which the Curator of License Plates at Leavenworth… hey, a man can dream, can't he?

Paul T Werner, New York
WOID: A journal of visual language

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