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The Australian Financial Review www.afr.

com Thursday 18 September 2008

Saleroom Damien Hirst’s raw deal for dealers 50


Edited by:

If you don’t know, don’t buy
Museums must be more vigilant in tracing the provenance of artefacts, Robert Bevan writes.
The Buddhist statue is on permanent display in the Asian Wing of the Art Gallery of NSW.

About town
September 18 to 24

Deutscher and Hackett: Japanese Cool Zero 8, ends September 27. Eva Breuer Gallery: Tony Irving, ends September 25. Carriageworks: Risky Lunar Love, ends October 4. Musica Viva: Eggner Trio, City Recital Hall, September 22, 27. Opera Australia: The Pearlfishers, ends October 11. Sydney Theatre Company: The Narcissist, Sydney Opera House, ends October 11; The Women of Troy, Wharf 1, September 20 to October 26.


he Roman trial of J. Paul Getty Museum antiquities curator Marion True, who was charged with buying looted artefacts for the museum, has enthralled the art world for the past year or more. Stolen artworks ripped secretly from their archaeological context and sold across international borders are cropping up in prestigious collections throughout the world. As a result, shame-faced museums like the Getty and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art recently agreed to ever-stricter purchasing standards. Now the president of the World Archaeological Congress, Claire Smith, says Australian museums must also check their collections for looted antiquities. The law on buying antiquities errs on the side of caution in an effort to stamp out the illegal trade in items dug up from archaeological sites or sawn off temples. In short, if an institution doesn’t know the history of an antiquity, it shouldn’t buy it. ‘‘The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ system is not good enough for our museums or art galleries,’’ says Smith, who is visiting professor at Newcastle University. Her call follows inquiries by The Australian Financial Review into the sketchy provenance of a Buddhist statue on permanent display in the Asian Wing of the Art Gallery of NSW. Gallery director Edmund Capon bought the 61-centimetre tall limestone Buddha flanked by two attendants in 1988 from Tokyo dealer Klaus Naumann for $184,500. Little is known about its background however, in sharp contrast with detailed investigations into the provenance of art possibly looted from Holocaust victims. The issue came to light as the AGNSW unveiled its new show The Lost Buddhas: Chinese Buddhist Sculpture from Qingzhou. The

exhibition, versions of which have been displayed in London and Zurich, consists of 35 Buddhist statues from 6th century China on loan from Qingzhou Museum. They were among 400 found in 1996, buried ceremoniously in a pit, when workmen were levelling a school playing field in the Chinese town of Qingzhou. The AGNSW’s Buddhist carved stele ± a commemorative statue ± is part of its permanent collection and comes from the same period and region. An AGNSW spokesperson confirms it has little information about its background. ‘‘There is no information on file as to how long it had been in the dealer’s collection or where it came from before that,’’ the gallery spokesperson says. ‘‘It is considered to be of the Eastern Wei dynasty (534-550).’’ An expert in Buddhist art, Capon acknowledges that artefacts from the area have been looted but defends the gallery’s lack of research into this one. ‘‘Where it came from I have no

idea,’’ he says. ‘‘It had apparently been in a Japanese collection [since] the early 20th century. Nobody knows. There is no way of finding out, there were no controls [in China] then. It is the same with old pictures ± if there is a gap in their provenance they are guilty. It is a terrible presumption on anybody’s part. [I prefer] a presumption of innocence ± I’m not going to accuse any sculpture of being looted.’’ Smith expresses surprise at the AGNSW’s stance and says it is ‘‘not good enough’’. China in particular has been plagued by illicit excavations and Japan is a recognised trade route for artefacts. ‘‘It calls for an internal investigation as a minimum in all galleries,’’ she says. ‘‘The trade has two ends and at one end is the looter. You have to be really clearly following the track from where it was originally dug up.’’ Under international law, museums are forbidden from acquiring antiquities without documentary proof that they were known about and published or

documented before the 1970 UNESCO convention on the illegal trade of cultural property. Australia became a signatory to the convention in 1986, two years before the AGNSW bought its carved stele. Bernice Murphy, national director of Museums Australia and chair of the ethics committee of the International Council of Museums, says acquisition standards for museums and galleries are being raised all the time, the Holocaust lootings and the Marion True trial contributing to this more stringent climate. ‘‘It is no longer sufficient for museums to say it’s OK to acquire work if you don’t know the provenance,’’ Murphy says. Even in 1988, she argues, such a purchase was unacceptable. To say ‘we don’t know’ is ethically not acceptable. 1988 is way past the date of the 1970 convention.’’ The AGNSW spokesperson says that the purchase of the artefact conformed with normal practice at the time, adding that many sites were excavated in the 1980s and that similar works sit in museums throughout the world. ‘‘We have no written history. There is no paperwork pre the purchase in 1988,’’ she says. ‘‘That doesn’t mean to say that there was no thorough due diligence in researching the work, but there is no documentary evidence of that due diligence. Since many dealers have works on consignment from private collectors who do not wish to be known, it is often difficult to ascertain provenance. The gallery deals with dealers of integrity.’’ Murphy points out that evidence from the Marion True trial has demonstrated that, far from museums operating in a ‘‘more refined world’’ than dealers, institutional buyers themselves have been the target for looters. It is unclear how widespread the problem of inadequate provenance is in Australian museums. Moral pressure like that exerted internationally by Holocaust survivors is yet to be exerted on local institutions to examine their Asian holdings. Murphy says it’s time.

Monash Gallery of Art: William Yang, ends October 12. Christine Abrahams Gallery: Sarah Tomasetti, ends October 11; Marie Hagerty, ends October 11. Metro 5 Gallery: Anthony Lister, ends September 28. Hamer Hall: Symphony Australia Young Performer of the Year Awards, September 19; Handel’s Fire and Water, The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, September 22. Malthouse Theatre: Meow Meow, Vamp, ends September 20. Melbourne Theatre Company: Ninety, Arts Centre, ends October 4.

National Museum of Australia: Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, ends October 12. National Library of Australia: A Modern Vision, ends October 26. Canberra Glassworks: Ranamok 2008, ends September 21. Musica Viva: Eggner Trio, Llewellyn Hall, September 18.

Art Gallery of WA: Grace Crowley: Being Modern, ends September 21. Holmes a Court Gallery: Danie Mellor, ` September 19 to October 12. Perth Galleries: Pippin Drysdale, Jeff Mincham, September 19 to October 12. West Australian Ballet: The Nutcracker, His Majesty’s Theatre, ends September 27.

Festival Cairns: ends September 20. Queensland Art Gallery: Sidney Nolan, ends September 28. Heiser Gallery: Robert Moore, ends October 11. La Boite Theatre Company: The Wishing Well, Roundhouse Theatre, ends September 20. Queensland Theatre Company: Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome, QPAC, ends October 4.

Film body takes a commercial view
Michaela Boland
The film and television industry’s powerful new one-stop federal funding agency has unveiled a draft plan for rescuing the film sector from the doldrums. It entails making more money available for developing and marketing screen entertainment, and internet components are to become an integral part of production. An enterprise development scheme will build stronger production houses and those who make great stuff will get bonuses. The new federal producer offset, which returns 40 per cent of qualifying costs to film producers ± 20 per cent to television ± will partfund many projects. Others will continue to tap direct investment from the agency. The overhaul of services proposed by Screen Australia is sweet news for an industry which, by the time the changes are introduced next year, will have endured three years of reviews and uncertainty. ‘‘It’s a fresh and bold vision, which I applaud,’’ says president of the Australian Directors Guild, Ray Argall. ‘‘They’re actually rebuilding the structure of the whole organisation ± it’s really exciting.’’ Screen Australia officials have fanned out across the country consulting stakeholders for a fortnight before they process feedback into a cohesive statement of intent, from which new programs will be shaped. Announcing the review this week, Screen Australia’s new chairman, IBM chief executive Glen Boreham, and appointed chief executive Ruth Harley ± who officially begins midNovember ± shared some of their ambitions for the Australian industry. Ms Harley was in Australia after attending the Toronto Film Festival as chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission. ‘‘There’s no doubt there’s too many films in the world,’’ she said of that event. At Screen Australia, she wants to develop projects with a range of budgets and is confident the annual box office share earned by Australian films can rise above 1 per cent, where it now languishes. Mr Boreham wants Screen Australia to be more commercial than its predecessors ± documentary producer Film Australia, film and television funder the Film Finance Corporation and screen culture body the Australian Film Commission. Screen Australia has a new six-person board with two places as yet unfilled, but it inherited the structural remnants of those three organisations. ‘‘There were a lot of management decisions being done at board level,’’ says Mr Boreham. They will now be done by management. The chief executive, for example, will be able to permit per-project funding under $1 million. Mr Boreham says Screen Australia has been spared the federal efficiency dividend and its budget is under no immediate threat as efficiencies are gained by combining the three former agencies. But those efficiencies will lead to some positions, as yet unknown, being no longer required.

Art Gallery of South Australia: Misty Moderns: Australian Tonalists 1915-1950, ends October 19. Jam Factory: Frank Bauer, Jun Tomita, September 19 to October 19. Musica Viva: Eggner Trio, Adelaide Town Hall, September 19. State Theatre Company of South Australia: Architektin, Dunstan Playhouse, ends September 20.

Carnegie Gallery: HB2 Pottery Retrospective, ends September 28. Despard Gallery: Inside Outside, ends October 8.

Alice Springs
Araluen Arts Centre: Ocean to Outback: Australian Landscape Painting 1850-1950, ends October 19.
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