A new report on art trade commissioned by France’s culture ministry says its museums need to tighten acquisition policies to preserve the country’s cultural influence

The French Ministry of Culture has published a detailed report advising French museums on how to avoid acquiring traded works of art. The report, published on November 21, argued that the country’s reputation and cultural influence are at stake, especially in a busy international art market where competition – particularly from its Anglo-Saxon neighbors – is stiff.

Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak commissioned the special report in June ongoing scandal with the indictment of former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez and curator Jean-Francois Charnier. Both have been accused of “complicity in gang fraud and money laundering” in acquiring allegedly looted antiques from Egypt, which were bought by Louvre Abu Dhabi for over $50 million. In February, a French court will decide whether to drop those charges.

The investigation has cast a shadow over France’s leading cultural institutions and agencies, which it likens to diplomatic envoys, and is therefore an essential part of maintaining the country’s economic clout. The development of the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum was as much an exercise in international relations as it was an artistic exchange. The collection was designed by the consultancy France Muséums.

The report, titled “Improving the Security of National Museum Acquisitions,” makes it clear that while there “is no risk,” making sure similar fiascos don’t happen again should be a top priority for the state.

“In other countries endowed with large art markets or large museums, the unfortunate acquisition of a museum has little consequence other than the return of the artwork by the private museum and legal procedures to obtain a refund (this is the case in the US, for example ). “, says the report. [The U.S. reference may pertain to the return of looted artworks by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art as a result of the same art trafficking investigation that implicated French museum workers.] “In France, on the other hand, the reputation of the state is being damaged by the same situation,” the report states.

The report outlines a current context for concerns about the art trade, as competition in the global art market “is particularly fierce among large countries in terms of their cultural influence”. Added to this are rising demands for restitution and the “European reconfiguration” due to Brexit, the report warns of the once “growing dominance of Anglo-Saxon public auctions”.

In short, an effective “response is necessary to ensure France’s ability to influence”, “to increase confidence in the French market” and to help in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing, both of which are linked to the sale of looted art, note The report’s authors: museum and art market experts Marie-Christine Labourdette, Christian Giacomotto and Arnaud Oseredczuk.

The trio interviewed more than 60 art experts before making 42 recommendations, which Artnet News said the culture ministry was quick to respond to.

“On our side, we have already started to advance certain recommendations that will be applied as early as 2023,” said a ministry spokesman. The other ministries referenced in the report, which calls for far-reaching, concerted government efforts, “also showed they are aware of the challenges,” the official added.

The 70+ page document reviewed by Artnet does not focus on a single incident, but goes into depth on how art is acquired and offers ways to review and balance that process. It advocates a more unified, “collegial” approach to acquisitions that allows for different perspectives – both inside and outside museums. For example, the establishment of a dedicated provenance and acquisitions unit made up of people from several ministries, law enforcement officials and artists. In this regard, the report states that access to police files on sellers of artworks should be made more accessible and digitised.

Other advice includes new forms of training and education within the Ministry of Culture: A new master’s degree in provenance studies at the Ecole du Louvre is an original proposal.

Researchers also criticized the current lax criminal penalties for improperly handling pedigree information, particularly in an unregulated market where it can be common to do the bare minimum to verify an artwork’s provenance – a process that is inherently unclear and piecemeal , says the report. It pleads for the strengthening and clarification of acquisition rules with a new “methodological and deontological framework” that integrates recommendations from the OCBC (Office Central de lutte contre le traffic des Biens Culturels), the French art trade investigative unit.

Also on the agenda are new audits and “certificates of integrity” that demonstrate expertise in particular on provenance and authenticity for the purpose of public sale. Other recommendations include: setting up an alert system if there is any doubt about the provenance of an object; a modernized export certification process; greater transparency in public sales; and new recruits to the understaffed OCBC.

consequences Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay one step ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest news, insightful interviews and incisive critical statements that drive the conversation.

Comments are closed.