Museums and imperialism
Over 90% of all objects in the British Museum are loots stolen under military force during the British Empire. All should be returned to their countries of origins, including the entire collection of Chinese art which was stolen during the Opium War, fought over Britian's "right" to illegally import opium in China. It is right to force Germany to return all the art that the Nazis stolen back to the rest of Europe. Why is it legal for the British to keep their empire loots?
American collectors mostly bought stolen ancient art that was originally stolen, which is illegal under American law even today. That was a recent case where a Madison Avenue Chinese art dealer by the name of Weisbrod who bought two stolen bronzes from museums in China. He went to jail. Another stolen piece was put on auction sale by Sothebys, The Chinese Embassy notified the FBI, proved by it having been pictured in the Chinese Museum catalog. The piece , a bronze jue, was retrieved, but the sellors identity was never disclosed and Sotheby was not fined.
The cultural rape of the colonial and semicolonial countries assumes the most unbelievable forms.
Argentina, during the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, not only produced a host of fine artists, some of the wealthy oligarchs of the time would also buy and bring pieces of art to the River Plate.
Keep in mind: all the pieces were bought, not stolen (this is one of the things that made Argentina different from First World countries, certainly...). One of the finest collections of impressionist paintings was thus formed, and many were exposed in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires.
One of the main parts of the collection was the so called Santamarina heritage. They were impressionist paintings that the Santamarina family had purchased and later donated to the Museum (though the legal titles never were too clear). Some years ago, the heirs of Santamarina wanted to have the paintings back, because they had got very good offers from abroad (probably the US, or maybe Europe?).
The Museum denied them any right -which was correct- and they could not obtain the paintings. What happenned next?
A couple of months later, mysteriously, some thieves broke in the Museum by night, and stole the whole Santamarina heritage. Nobody was blamed, the investigation was quickly closed. We lost even the paintings that we had bought...
The Pierpont Morgan Library in NYC is currently having a Getty show featuring William Morris' copy of Das Kapital. The irony of a work of Marx being displayed (it should be open to a passage on commodity fetishism) by those who fought so hard against the efforts of the working class to gain basic human rights is overwhelming. Hopefully the museum guards are reading the damn thing after hours.
In the belly of the beast...