Friday, 30 March 2012

Call for Papers: Western Association for Art Conservation, 2012.

The Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC) is accepting proposals for talks to be presented at the Annual Meeting: October 22-25, 2012, Palm Springs, CA.
They are seeking exciting and thought provoking papers in all areas of conservation and related fields. They are particular interested in papers that push the boundaries and challenge the profession to re/consider roles, responsibilities, techniques, and ideas.
Please note that this year they are also seeking to develop a section of the conference focused upon the care and conservation of 'ethnographic collections'.
Deadlines for abstracts: 1st September 2012

See the Annual Meeting website for more info:
For general queries regarding the Annual meeting please contact:

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Development, archaeology and living people in Iraq

In 'Seeking to Preserve the Past but Stumbling on the Present' the New York Times discusses conflicts that can arise when one is seeking to preserve remains of the past but this preservation becomes an obstacle to living people. The article shows how deep these conflicts can go, not only in practical but also in ethical terms.   

 "On land where Assyrian kings once reigned, an Iraqi farmer named Araf Khalaf surveyed the scrap of earth that has nurtured three generations of his family. It is little more than a mud hut and a scraggly vegetable patch, yet his land has become a battleground, one pitting efforts to preserve Iraq’s ancient treasures against the nation’s modern-day poor." "My father grew up here," Mr. Khalaf said. "This is our land."

The issues become even more debatable when the context where they occur is Iraq.  It is never easy to find a solution to instances when local people occupy sites of historical importance. If authorities were to move them from the sites, where should they take these people?  How legitimate is it to disturb lives of people to preserve remains of the past?

See more on the NYT

Monday, 26 March 2012

How secure are our museums these days?

Lately the number of thefts of artefacts from museums seems to have drastically increased in the Netherlands. What really disturbs me about these thefts is the increasing professionalism with which they are being committed. I’ll mention two incidents to illustrate my point.


The first robbery that really caught my attention occurred during the night of 26 February 2012 in a museum in Giethoorn.
One of the stolen engraved tusks. Copyright: NOS 2012 The thieves managed to steal a few very valuable engraved mammoth tusks, as well as jewellery, gold and gems. The worth of the stolen goods has been valued at tens of thousands of euros. In the media the theft has been called a “perfect robbery” and the skills of the thieves have been compared to James Bond. You see, the museum is only accessible by boat or a small footbridge. The thieves gained access to the museum on a boat, then climbed to the roof on a ladder and then lowered themselves into the museum through a roof window. They then stole the artefacts (climbed back up with their loot?) and escaped in their boat. Completely unnoticed by anyone.


The second robbery that disturbed me even more than the first one occurred at 3.40 am on 21 March 2012 in a museum in Gouda. The thieves dislocated the front door of the museum with explosives, rushed in and grabbed the artefact they were after, and then rushed out again. Neighbours who heard the explosion called the police, but when the police arrived at the scene after a minute or so the thieves had already managed to disappear on a heavy motorcycle. A helicopter that at the moment of the robbery was flying above Gouda tried locating the thieves on their motorcycle by using an infrared camera (which detects heat), but was unsuccessful. In all likelihood the thieves quickly ditched their motor cycle after having escaped the scene in order to avoid detection.

Image of the stolen silver monstrance. Copyright: Regio Hollands Midden. The only artefact that was stolen was a gilded silver monstrance created in 1662 by Johannes Boogeart. This, combined with the fact that the thieves entered and left the museum within 40 seconds has led some to the conclusion that the thieves knew what to look for and where to find it. The monstrance, which has a value of tens of thousands of euros and is in fact a loan from a religious community in Gouda, is a unique and very well documented object. For this reason it might be impossible to sell the object. As the thieves might very well be aware of this I now wonder if the monstrance was stolen so it could be melted down and the metal could be sold (similar to all those bronze statues that keep “disappearing” from public parks throughout Europe). Let’s hope I’m wrong!

But am I wrong in thinking that museums are increasingly becoming an easy and convenient target for thieves trying to quickly earn some cash? Sometimes I also wonder if reporting these incidents in the news does more harm than good, since it might entice thieves who would otherwise perhaps not consider robbing museums to give it a go…

Image 1: Picture of one of the stolen engraved mammoth tusks. Copyright: NOS 2012.
Image 2: Pictures of the stolen silver monstrance. Copyright: Regio Hollands Midden.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

21st March - International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Cultural Survival suggests 5 things you can do to combat discrimination against indigenous peoples. 
You can read all of them on the Cultural Survival website but I would like to highlight these two: 

1. Help stop land grabbing in Ethiopia
See the video on the Guardian 
Read more here  and don't forget to send an email to the government of Ethiopia

2. Learn about a community radio movement in Guatemala 

War trophy returned to England for exhibition

Roughly 350 years after the Dutch captured the English Flagship HMS Royal Charles and towed it back to the Netherlands as a war trophy, the carved stern of the ship has been returned to England.


The HMS Royal Charles was taken into possession by the Netherlands in 1667 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. A few years later the ship was destroyed, but its carved stern was preserved and eventually came to be displayed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Now for the first (and most likely only) time the stern carving has temporarily been sent to England so it can form part of an exhibition in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The exhibition it forms a part of, entitled “Power, Pageantry & The Thames”, is being held in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

Loan and Ceremonies

Of course it’s not unusual for museums to lend artefacts to each other, but I found this one particularly interesting since the stern is a war trophy that is (albeit temporarily) returned to its former homeland. Now to my knowledge England has never made a formal request for the object’s return, but I can imagine that the director of the Rijksmuseum (or someone else, but I wonder who then? The Dutch population? The Dutch government?) is a bit anxious about the loan. The Dutch newspaper AD reported that the director noted several times that the loan was a “unique” event, not to be repeated ever again in the future and that he also said “I trust my colleague of the Maritime Museum in Greenwich to return it”.

What also fascinates me about these collaborations between museums is how elaborate the ceremonies can be that surround the handover of a piece of cultural property* from one group to another. In this specific instance the stern was shipped to England on the Dutch Patrol Vessel “Holland” under the watchful eye of admiral Borsboom. Once it had safely arrived in Greenwich it was then handed over by the Dutch crown prince Willem-Alexander to prince Michael, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth.

I wish I could have heard the speeches! It must have been very interesting as the AD furthermore reported that admiral Borsboom couldn’t neglect teasing the English during his speech. “We have fought many naval battles against the English and lost many. But here, in the heart of Great Britain, admiral Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter destroyed the English fleet. We’ve returned 350 years later, but this time we’ve asked for permission”.

The stern after it has arrived in Greenwich. You can just see the box with the logo of the Rijksmuseum in which it has been packed. Copyright: The Netherlands Embassy.


* In this instance I decided to use the term ‘cultural property’ instead of ‘cultural heritage’. With the current trend in repatriating cultural heritage to its source group/nation I’ve become so confused that I’m not even sure if I can allocate the stern to my Dutch heritage anymore! On the one hand, like I mentioned before, I don’t believe England has ever formally asked for its return and the stern has been in our possession for roughly 350 years. However, on the other hand the objects has been created in England, for an English ship, and the only reason the Dutch have it now is that they stole it…

So is the stern now part of my Dutch heritage? Or is it part of England’s heritage? Or is it part of our shared heritage? But if we both have equal claims to the heritage, should we then not split custody of it? Perhaps display it in England for six months and then in the Netherlands for another six?

What are your ideas on this matter?


Also, if you’re interested in reading more about the handover here are a few links:
The Netherlands Embassy
HNLMS Holland

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Ai Weiwei rubs on archaeology again

Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will feature in the Serpentine Pavilion in  Kensington Gardens  this year. They have proposed excavating a hole in the park and letting it fill with rain. The excavation will reveal the foundations of former pavilions, and what not! We will be able to see the hole through a glass roof which will be built onto it.  

See more on the Financial Times 

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery

Detail from Freud's Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau).  Image from The Guardian
If you haven't been yet you ought to go soon! The exhibition has already received over 50,000 visitors  and will be open until 27 May, but watch out, it is selling out daily. The good news is the NPG is extending opening hours - it is now open until 9pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. 
This is a unique opportunity to see 130 paintings/drawings loaned from various museums and private collectors - which the artist helped curate before dying in July 2011. Look out for an unfinished work (Portrait of the Hound), through which you will understand Freud's technique better. 

See more information on opening hours here 
Read interesting analyses of his work and life on the Guardian  or Guardian 2, or the Telegraph, or The Vogue

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Online now: CCI's Symposium 2011: Adhesives and Consolidants for Conservation: Research and Applications

We all like open access. But you will LOVE this! 
The CCI now has given full online access to all the papers presented at 'Symposium 2011: Adhesives and Consolidants for Conservation: Research and Applications'.  
See the papers, provided online in the language of presentation, here 

Looting of the Olympia Museum, part 2

37 Br 11701 BRONZE FIGURINE charioteer
and CHARIOT Geometric period (8th)
Length: 4.3 cm Height = 4.5 cm
Image from Conflict Antiquities Blog 

The Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism published a list with images and descriptions of the artefacts stolen from the Olympic Museum in Olympia, Greece.

You can see a translation of the document and the images on the  Conflict Antiquities Blog. Please pass this on. 

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