Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, ownership, and art restitution

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  • #43705

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    La propriété, c’est le vol! (Property is theft!) is Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s famous anarchist dictum. It questions how ownership is even possible. Is owning something little more than having control over it? There are no ethical considerations justifying claims of ownership?

    Most frequently in the Western news sources are restitutions of Nazi-looted artworks to their previous owners, though it could be argued that many of these artwork may have provenance issues of their own.

    Less in the news is the problem of artworks looted from mostly Third World territories by Western conquerors and colonialists, which these territories want returned (repatriated, restituted).

    The museums and private owners of these artworks, to the extent they can be identified, make counter arguments against claims of theft.

    First, the artworks in museums help their Western visitors appreciate foreign cultures. It humanizes their attitudes and helps them see these cultures as civilized.

    Second, often, they argue, the works may be returned to unstable and/or corrupt authoritize who may mishandle or misappropriate them all over again, perhaps auctioning them off to get quick cash or simply adding them to their own private collections.

    Where does ethics figure into this controversy? Should the works simply be handed back with no concern over what will happen to them? Or do these treasures actually  belong to the West now? If so, what is the ethical justification?

    On a more personal level, to answer Proudhon, when and how does something belong to you?

    #43706

    _Robert_
    Participant

    I think the obvious answer is give it back with interest. A more nuanced answer is to realize that often the originators were displaced/destroyed by the current occupants of that land and the artifacts will often be less available to the multitudes when sent back. A good compromise might be to lease and share the artifacts, part time in various locations including the original lands. I am big fan of travelling collections. Watching that footage of ISIS destroying stuff and murdering archeologists was tough, but…hell… the US caused all that.

    #43707

    Unseen
    Participant

    I think the obvious answer is give it back with interest. A more nuanced answer is to realize that often the originators were displaced/destroyed by the current occupants of that land and the artifacts will often be less available to the multitudes when sent back. A good compromise might be to lease and share the artifacts, part time in various locations including the original lands. I am big fan of travelling collections. Watching that footage of ISIS destroying stuff and murdering archeologists was tough, but…hell… the US caused all that.

    Did I mention that in many museums, what’s on display is only a selection from what they have. Often, back in their storage system is 10 times or maybe even 100 times what they are showing?

    #43708

    _Robert_
    Participant

    I think the obvious answer is give it back with interest. A more nuanced answer is to realize that often the originators were displaced/destroyed by the current occupants of that land and the artifacts will often be less available to the multitudes when sent back. A good compromise might be to lease and share the artifacts, part time in various locations including the original lands. I am big fan of travelling collections. Watching that footage of ISIS destroying stuff and murdering archeologists was tough, but…hell… the US caused all that.

    Did I mention that in many museums, what’s on display is only a selection from what they have. Often, back in their storage system is 10 times or maybe even 100 times what they are showing?

    Yeah, it’s a logistical floor space problem. Many of the big museums do rotate their stuff but some star pieces “really bring them in”. We do so love to admire ourselves as a species.  I have always preferred paleo exhibits to man-made artifacts, but even the dino stuff has often been stolen as well. I saw so many cool exhibits at the British Museum, so I am thankful for that, and I probably will not be travelling to Syria or Africa but yeah, it should go back if no other better compromise is agreed on.

    And we should send the “ark encounter” and creation “museum” back to the compost pile.

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