Feds Working Their Way
West East (and Photographing Art Exhibitions Revisited)
Now we read in the LA Times that the investigation is working its way
A federal investigation into looted Asian antiquities at Southland museums has broadened to include a prominent Chicago industrialist and art collector who purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of allegedly stolen artifacts from a Cerritos arts dealer.That last line must send chills down the spines of private collection security guards. "Hey you! You with the camera...you a Fed? You are??? Oh! OK, uh, just asking...."
On Thursday, the same day federal agents raided four Southern California museums suspected of displaying stolen art, authorities also searched the private museum of Barry MacLean, a trustee of the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago. The newly revealed allegations have significantly raised the stakes of the ongoing investigation, suggesting that a suspected network of illegal art dealers extended far beyond Southern California and included objects far more valuable than those previously revealed.
The affidavit suggests that MacLean built his well-known art collection with substantial help from Robert Olson, an alleged smuggler of illicitly excavated Thai, Asian and Native American artifacts. Warrants authorized federal agents to seize Cambodian daggers and a sword, a bronze mask, many objects from Thailand's Ban Chiang culture and all records relating to MacLean's dealings with Olson.
The supporting evidence for the raid was collected by an undercover National Park Service agent who, while visiting MacLean's collection, shot photographs of certain objects.
James Wagner, who is phenomenally generous on his blog with press and images of work by under-recognized artists, has been posting on the topic of photography in galleries and museums for quite some time, including this 2005 classic on why he doubted whether he could blog on the Greater New York show that year, which didn't permit photos:
There are no documented pictures on the institution's website [okay, there's a silly slideshow/teaser of a dozen or so works, but no information and the images can't be uploaded], and photography is not allowed in the galleries. My site can't function without pictures, and besides, they're called the visual arts, aren't they?
Before our current exhibition went up, though, I had told James and Barry (author of the equally generous art blog bloggy.com) that, despite agreeing with them on the value of bloggers photographing exhibitions in general, I might want to make an exception when the work in question portrays me in my birthday suit. I've since changed my mind (I got used to the idea) and told them so. Still, I totally appreciated that they understood my initial hesitation.
As this particular exhibition plus the ongoing Federal investigation of the alleged smuggling suggest, however, the questions involved are not always cut and dry. There may indeed be times when photography makes those in charge of some space uncomfortable, and I feel they have a right to make that call. What I feel is the appropriate means of communicating with the public that photography in a gallery or museum is not permitted is a clearly posted sign and a respectful explanation available at the information desk. If the conditions change, take the sign down and inform the folks dispensing info.
Having said that, I have to admit that few of the rationales I hear for forbidding photography truly make sense. James shared a list of the ones he hears most with me the other day, and he charmingly, as always, made mincemeat of each in terms of logic or evidence of harm. The wide range of positions held by galleries, from very young galleries with "no photography" policies to very well-established galleries with totally open policies, suggests there is no industry standard, per se. (Speaking of well-established galleries with open policies, don't miss this gem from Heart As Arena.) And so it comes down to personal preference, which is fine, so long as that preference is respectfully and clearly communicated.
*I wish I could hide behind some MAO-esque cleverness intended in that correction, but the truth of the matter is I'm a dizzy redhead with no sense of direction. ;-)
Labels: photography in galleries