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Label: black market

Friday 04th December 2015The Real Costs of Looting Antiquities

It's virtually impossible to turn on the news lately without hearing of some new atrocity perpetrated by the Islamic State. Even here in the art world, we can't seem to escape it, as cultural treasures are looted and sold off to the highest bidder. In spite of all the news coverage and the combined attention of the world's intelligence communities, one of the biggest mysteries about the Islamic State are their sources of funding. While the geographical area they occupy is rich in oil, which provides a large portion of their capital, the area is also culturally rich. Brutal irony aside, there are vast numbers of cultural treasures in museums, universities and shrines throughout the area, and despite the outbreak of war there is still a black market for these rare and valuable objects.

Some sources estimate that the total amount of money generated for the Islamic State by these types of sales numbers in the hundreds of millions, a truly staggering amount of money that is being directly used to finance violence and oppression. The United States, which maintains no diplomatic links with Syria, is having a very hard time cracking down on this particular type of black market smuggling, but the US Congress is finally debating a new set of rules that would tackle this major issue - obviously, only within the United States, but it's a good start.

Speaking to CBS news, assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos explained the situation quite clearly. "In a surprisingly small number of steps, you can go from the looter in ISIS-controlled territory to the smuggler who gets it out of the country ... to a gallery owner who provides forged documentation ... and ultimately getting a buyer making its way to the four destination points of New York, London, Paris and Tokyo."

When an incredibly rare piece of art comes on the market, it's no surprise that buyers appear in droves to snap up every piece, but the real surprise comes down to provenance. Collectors are always wary of forgery and counterfeiting, which means that the provenance of an object is particularly essential to its value - which leaves two basic options. Either the pieces are purchased without valid provenance, or the buyer knows and doesn't care where the piece originated. Either way, it's essential that SOME steps are taken to prevent the avaricious collector from financing terrorism, whether inadvertently or unconcernedly. Nothing is worth that kind of price.
 

Posted on December 04th 2015 on 04:23pm
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