Medium 9781442267923

Collections Vol 11 N1

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"Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals" is a multi-disciplinary peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the discussion of all aspects of handling, preserving, researching, and organizing collections. Curators, archivists, collections managers, preparators, registrars, educators, students, and others contribute.

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From the Editor

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On June 17, 2014, William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1868) was sold at Christie’s for $4.25 million. The sales catalogue noted that the proceeds were to “benefit the Delaware Art Museum.” Such a purpose seems altruistic: who wouldn’t want the sale of a painting to benefit an art museum? A problem arises when the current owner of the painting is the museum that the painting’s sale would ultimately benefit. Specifically, the funds raised from the sale of Isabella were intended to repay $19.8 million of debt from a 2005 facilities expansion of the Delaware Art Museum and to replenish the institution’s endowment. Bringing in only a half of the estimated valuation, other works would clearly need to be sold so that the debts could be paid and cash could be shored up.

Perhaps the subject of the painting itself foretells of the museum’s own fate: Isabella, the tragic heroine of John Keats’ poem on which the painting is based, is depicted by Hunt as tending obsessively to a pot of basil that contains the remains of her beloved. Has the museum, with its handsome collections, though humble financial standing, ultimately been killed just as Lorenzo was murdered by Isabella’s brothers who sought a more stable foundation for their sibling?

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Introduction from the Guest Editors: Focus: Legal Issues & Ownership

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Objects do not exist in a vacuum. For instance, the topic of an object’s ownership is a source of perpetual debate. The means by which the value of collections is determined or utilized are vital subjects in the collections field. Art, historical artifacts, stolen and looted works, items held for public trust have inherent value, competing claims upon ownership, maintenance and upkeep needs, and intricate legalities that affect all such matters. As such, legal issues surrounding ownership and value can be contradictory, misapplied, or inadequately applicable to dynamic situations. They are also simply fascinating to consider. Ownership and ancillary related concerns are affected by everything ranging from non-binding regulatory matters to major international law. For today’s museum and archives professionals, a well-rounded familiarity with the legal concerns surrounding ownership is vital.

This focus issue of the journal offers practical knowledge and thorough perspective to help readers understand the varieties and range of ownership. The essays address ownership as it relates to nested institutions, the validity of appraisals, acquisition of natural history specimens, and international law with regard to looted Chinese cultural property. Reviews of relevant scholarly works add to the overall picture in the current landscape. Throughout this issue of the journal, commodification and financial pressure are part and parcel of the legal concerns and ethical issues brought to bear in these case studies. Together, all of the contributions highlight the need for responsible modern actions, established rules and regulations of ownership, creative solutions to problems that seem unsolvable, and a willingness to consider nuance.

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Fossils, Federal Lands, and the Public Interest: Legal Issues and Challenges Facing Collectors, Scholars, and Museums

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Susan E. Leib

3026 Sycamore Lane, Milan, IL 61264; email: leib.susan@gmail.com

Abstract    One of the greatest challenges of fossil collecting relates to location. Recent issues regarding the discovery, sale, and donation of fossils (particularly dinosaur fossils) have led to the realization that better laws must be put into place to protect paleontological specimens. As many natural history museums contain unique paleontological specimens, understanding the rules and regulations of ownership currently in place may help to dispel future problems.

As one of my geology professors used to say, “The rocks are where the rocks are.” The rocks you are looking for are never in a convenient place; they cannot come to you, you must go to them. Of course, it is always more convenient when the outcrop of choice is located on public land, easily accessible to anyone who is interested in further study. However, issues arise when fossil hunters, both amateur and professional, do not obtain a permit for collecting fossils, or simply do not realize the repercussion of collecting illegally in a certain area.

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China Weeps: The Opium Wars and China’s Stolen History

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Olivia L. E. Blessing

P. O. Box 411, Griggsville, IL 62340; email: blessing.olivia@gmail.com

Abstract   In the mid-1700s, the relationship between the British Empire and Imperial China began to collapse over a series of cultural, economic, and ethical conflicts which would result in the First (1839–1842) and Second (1856–1860) Opium Wars—tumultuous events that would have a devastating and humiliating impact on Chinese history. The looting of the Yuanmingyuan Summer Palaces during the Second Opium War was a tragedy that would be as destructive to Chinese culture as the wars’ resulting treaties were to its territorial borders. Today, the Chinese continue to dispute the morality of both the wars and the subsequent looting of their Summer Palaces. It is thus unsurprising, then, that modern China has undertaken great effort to recover the artifacts from the Summer Palaces. While some of these attempts have been largely unsuccessful, it is clear that China will continue to pursue repatriation of lost relics. This struggle provides an excellent opportunity for examining both China’s modern approach to cultural heritage preservation and the potential problems existing in international laws hindering the protection of cultural resources throughout the world.

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Cultural Treasures or Cash Cows?: Cheating Posterity and Selling Art Collections to Balance the Budget

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Pamela J. White, J.D. and Ph.D.

Faculty, Graduate Program in Museum Studies, Western Illinois University; email: pj-white@wiu.edu

Sadie Wasmund

Law student, University of Iowa College of Law, Iowa City, IA; email: sadie-wasmund@uiowa.edu

Abstract   Throughout history, the value of art collections has often been too great an enticement to avoid their commodification. Nonetheless, museum advocates must fight to retain their collections even amidst pressure from forces that hold financial control and ultimate decision-making power over them. A case could be made that some view collections as cultural treasures while others view them as cash cows. For instance, the city of Detroit's bankruptcy, due to the national economic downturn and the decline of the city's economic strength, has fostered discussions of selling the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection. That city's financial—and cultural—crisis parallels situations faced by some museums that are nested in colleges and universities. The sagas of four museums nested in institutions of higher education are explored and compared: The Maier Museum at Randolph College; The Rose Museum at Brandeis University; Fisk University; and The University of Iowa. In a final analysis of these case studies and broader concerns, the authors advocate for nested museums to take a strong stance of financial self-sufficiency by creating cooperative ownership networks with other museums. Such a model aims to keep art collections safe from sale by continually keeping them on display at different museum locations while protecting their status as works kept for the public in perpetuity.

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Analyzing the Holes in the Art of Appraising

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Anna Heineman

Independent Scholar and Appraiser, Gainesville, FL; email: anna. m. heineman@gmail. corn

Abstract    When a client hires an appraiser, he or she often assumes that the appraiser will give the correct value to the object. Yet, in the field of art appraising, when an appraiser misattributes a work of art or places an inappropriate value on an object either through malfeasance or negligence, it is the client whose pocketbook is at stake. The appraiser can be legally found at fault, but the onus is on the client to sue if the appraised value is too high or too low. This article aims to analyze the holes in the art appraisal system that can negatively affect the value placed on objects and offers recommendations of what to look for when commissioning an appraiser.

The art appraiser’s role is to provide legal documentation for the value of an object as it relates to loss, damage, liquidation, pricing, donation, or other purposes. This document, called the appraisal, assigns a value that can vary depending on the above purpose. For example, insurance companies require the assignment of a replacement value for an object; this price is found in the retail market, such as a gallery. In contrast, for purposes of selling a work of art on one’s own, the appraiser will assign a fair market value, found at auction. This is defined as the value of property based on what a knowledgeable, willing, and unpressured buyer would pay to a knowledgeable, willing, and unpressured seller in the marketplace. To assign an appropriate value an appraiser finds comparables-other objects of similar origin, sizes, or credited from the same artist-in the appropriate market from which the assigned value is derived.

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