British Museum is Biggest Recipient of Stolen Goods, Leading Human Rights Lawyer Claims

In further news: Okwui Enwezor’s final exhibition; Marciano Art Foundation staffers push to unionize

Unmounted youths preparing for the cavalcade, block from the north frieze of the Parthenon, c. 438-432 BC, marble. Courtesy: © The Trustees of the British Museum

Unmounted youths preparing for the cavalcade, block from the north frieze of the Parthenon, c. 438-432 BC, marble. Courtesy: © The Trustees of the British Museum

The British Museum has come under fire from a leading human rights lawyer, who has branded the London institution ‘the world’s largest receivers of stolen property’, the Guardian reports. Geoffrey Robertson QC, author of Who Owns History? Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure, has condemned Western museum collections built from the treasures of ‘subjugated peoples’ – singling out the British Museum for holdings that include ‘the Elgin marbles, Hoa Kakananai’a, the Benin bronzes and other pilfered cultural property’. Robertson has argued for the return of such cultural artefacts on human rights law principles: ‘We cannot right historical wrongs – but we can no longer profit from them’. A British Museum spokesperson said that the Elgin marbles were acquired legally, but acknowledged ‘the difficult histories of some of [the museum’s] collections, including the contested means by which some collections have been acquired such as through military action and subsequent looting.’

The late Okwui Enwezor’s final exhibition is to be staged at the 2021 edition of the Sharjah Biennial. ‘Postcolonial’ is intended as a sequel to ‘Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965’, the 2017 exhibition curated by Enwezor at Munich’s Haus der Kunst. According to the Sharjah Art Foundation, Enwezor had been working on the upcoming biennial from early 2018 until his death in March 2019. President and director of the Foundation Hoor al-Qasimi said: ‘Our hope is that SB15 will serve as a platform to further explore and expand on [Enwezor’s] curatorial and intellectual legacy’.

Staffers at the Los Angeles private museum, the Marciano Art Foundation, are taking steps to form a union. According to the New York Times, around 70 part-time employees, including docents and visitor services associates, are pushing to unionize – campaigning for an improved wage structure and benefits. A statement from the union’s organizing committee says: ‘We take seriously our role as the foundation’s public face, showing up each day with our enthusiasm, knowledge, curiosity, and humour […] United by this belief in the dignity of our work, we’re coming together in one voice, so that we can effectively advocate for changes that will make the foundation a more sustainable and equitable institution for all of its employees’.

In further news: the cofounders of Blain Southern gallery, Graham Southern and Harry Blain, have split – Blain remains director of the gallery, and told the Art Newspaper that the business was ‘going through a period of restructuring but remains fully committed to its artists, programme and the three spaces we have in London, Berlin and New York’; and Beijing’s UCCA Center for Contemporary Art has revealed plans to open a Shanghai outpost in early 2021.

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