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Turkey and Syria in stand-off over looted antiquities

16 December 2015

Our daily round-up of news from the art world

Turkey Refuses to Return Looted Antiquities to Syria | According to Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s head of antiquities, the Turkish government has refused to return items looted from heritage sites to the embattled country. Abdulkarim told Reuters that some 2,000 trafficked objects have been seized in Turkey, and claims that, in stark contrast to other neighbouring countries, the Turks have refused to provide information on them. A Turkish official has described his claims as ‘baseless’. Whether the apparent lack of cooperation is a political gesture – Turkey is opposed to the Syrian regime and, of late, its Russian allies – is not known.

ICOM Release Red List of Libyan Treasures | The International Council of Museums has published a ‘red list’ of antiquities in Libya threatened by the presence of ISIS and other militant groups in the North African country. Though Libya has yet to see cultural destruction on the scale wrought by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, parts of the country are effectively lawless. Last week, militants affiliated with ISIS entered the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sabratha, sparking fresh fears for Libya’s cultural patrimony.

‘There is No Nazi Gold Train’, say Scientists | In the past few months, we’ve covered an unusual number of potentially major archaeological discoveries; the tombs of Nefertiti and Suleyman the Magnificent and the wreck of a treasure laden Spanish galleon all spring to mind. Alas, perhaps the most sensational(ist?) find of all – that of a mythical ‘Nazi gold train’, supposedly buried in Poland by the retreating German army in 1945 – has been written off as wishful thinking by scientists. After a month surveying the supposed site of the train, Professor Janusz Madej of the Polish Mining Academy has concluded that no such thing exists. Still, the amateur treasure hunters who ‘discovered’ it have refused to take no for an answer.

Jeff Koons Sued by Photographer | A photographer whose image from a 1980s advert for Gordon’s Gin was appropriated by Jeff Koons for his ‘Luxury & Degradation’ series has filed a lawsuit against the artist and Phillips Auctioneers for using the image without permission. Though the work dates from the 1980s (according to the Daily Telegraph, there is a three year statute of limitations on copyright actions), the photographer claims he was not aware of it until this year. The case prompts a strange moral question over the nature of post-Duchampian conceptual art: what, precisely, is the distinction between a readymade and an act of plagiarism?

Also Known as Africa Artistic Director Resigns After Fair’s Cancellation | Following the cancellation of the inaugural Also Known as Africa art fair in Paris, Artistic Director Timothée Chaillou has stepped down citing ‘personal and professional’ reasons. The fair, which was due to take place in mid November, was cancelled after ISIS affiliated terrorists massacred 130 people in central Paris. According to The Art Newspaper, Chaillou’s decision may have been motivated by the fact he was not consulted on the fair’s cancellation.

Rijksmuseum Retitling Row Rumbles On | Following Hugo Rifkind’s argument that the Rijksmuseum’s decision to retitle potentially offensive works of art was akin to ‘blotting out history’, the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones has weighed into the debate. Jones argues that the museum is correct to do away with ‘shifting and contingent’ terminology. Citing the case of a painting Simon Maris entitled Young Girl Holding a Fan (formerly Young Negro Girl), Jones states that ‘stripped of its old name…it seems a sensitive portrait. The new name allows its humanity and lack of prejudice to be seen – and makes it more accessible’.

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