The Asian Art Affair: US art museum collections of Asian Art and Archaeology

Brodie, N. and Doole, J. (2004), ‘The Asian Art Affair: US art museum collections of Asian Art and Archaeology’, in N. Brodie and C. Hills (eds), Material Engagements: Studies in Honour of Colin Renfrew (Cambridge: McDonald Institute), 83–108.

Over the past four decades an increasingly acrimonious debate has developed over the role played by antiquities collecting in the destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage. The archaeological community has argued persuasively that worldwide many archaeological sites and monuments are being ransacked in the search for saleable antiquities, and as a result many Western governments have been persuaded to pass laws or ratify international conventions that aim to regulate their trade, and thus ameliorate the destruction at source. Not everyone, however, agrees with the analysis, or with the remedy. Most collectors and dealers protest that the link made between collecting and looting is grossly overstated, and that most of their purchases are from old collections or are chance finds. Some have gone so far as to justify the trade on the grounds that art trumps all else.