Sunday, 18 February 2018

Lending Artefacts to US Museums Can Be Risky

Lobbyists for the US antiquities trade demand that when the US signs an MOU aiming to curb the entry of smuggled artefacts into the USA that it is made conditional on the partner countries allowing more artefacts into the USA on loan to public collections. A recent story illustrates why some of them might be reluctant to do so. Chinese authorities are calling for a heavy punishment for an American man charged with stealing a thumb from an ancient terracotta warrior statue on display at a museum in Pennsylvania. They have also demanded compensation for the damage caused to the US$4.5 million relic (Kinling Lo, 'China urges US to get tough on man who stole thumb from US$4.5 million terracotta warrior on display in a Philadelphia museum' South China Morning Post , 18 February, 2018).  The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia had borrowed ten statues from the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Centre. They have been on show in Philadelphia since September, and are part of a clay army of about 8,000 soldiers, charioteers and horses unearthed in Xian, capital of northwestern China’s Shaanxi province in the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang (210-209BC). According to figures from the FBI, they are potentially worth US$4.5 million apiece.
Michael Rohana, 24, was charged earlier this month with breaking off and stealing the left thumb of the 2,000-year-old sculpture [...] on December 21. [...]  Rohana, who comes from the US state of Delaware, was attending an ugly Christmas jumper party at the museum when he and two associates managed to make their way into the “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” exhibition, the door to which was unlocked, the Beijing Youth Daily report said. According to surveillance camera footage, after the two other party guests had left the room, Rohana took a selfie with his arm draped over the shoulder of one of the statues. He then snapped off one of its thumbs, put it in his pocket and left. The theft went unnoticed until January 8, at which time the museum sought help from the FBI’s art crime team, who traced Rohana to his home on January 13. He was subsequently charged with the theft and concealment of a major artwork, and released on bail.
The cultural centre said it had loaned its exhibits more than 260 times to 60 different countries over the past 40 years, but had never before experienced “such a noxious incident”, according to the newspaper report. One also wonders about a museum's fake security which means that three people could be where they were not supposed to be (what, no alarms in your galleries Philadelphia?) and this was not detected for 18 days? This was on a day when there were people in the galleries (?) holding an 'ugly jumper party'? What kind of dumbdown 'museum event' is that? And the door to the closed gallery was unlocked? Why?

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