U.S. – Italy MOU under review — to renew or not to renew

“The State Department Cultural Heritage Center has announced it wants public comments on the potential renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United States and Italy.

There will be a meeting of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee on Thursday, May 6, 2010, from 9 a.m. to approximately 5 p.m., and on Friday, May 7, 2010, from 9:00 a.m. to approximately 3 p.m., at the Department of State, Annex 5, 2200 C Street, NW., Washington, DC. During its meeting the Committee will review a proposal to extend the“Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Italy Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Categories of Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy” signed in Washington, DC on January19, 2001 and amended and extended in 2006 through an exchange of diplomatic notes.

There is also an opportunity to write a letter and express your opinion on the MOU, the deadline is April 22, 2010. The Archaeological Institute of America has information on the letter-writing process here. Note that you should either fax (202-632-6300) or email (culprop@state.gov) your letter due to security delays with traditional mail.

This is one of the ways in which the United States has chosen to implement the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The MOU does a number of things. It restricts the import of certain classes of undocumented objects from Italy. But if those objects carry the appropriate documentation, importation is allowed. It also calls for long-term loans of Italian objects, and collaboration between the United States and Italy.

Those interested in the MOU and the practical impact it has or has not had should look to the recent edited volume, Criminology and Archaeology (Simon Mackenzie and Penny Green, 2009). I review the volume in the Spring issue of the Journal of Art Crime. Of particular interest is Gordon Lobay’s contribution, which looks empirically at how the U.S.-Italy MOU has made an impact on the antiquities market—at least the observable licit market. I encourage interested readers to check out the volume, as his conclusion has been that the volume of objects sold, and their prices have increased over time. The most profound impact has been that auction houses have begun to “pay more attention to provenance.” Though typically this is not the findspot or complete history but rather reference to an earlier sale of an object.”

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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