[Ancientartifacts] Turkish Museums unable to display or care for their holdings

'Let's sell redundant samples'


Thousands of historic artifacts cannot be exhibited and languish unseen due
to space limitations in Turkey's museums.

The Istanbul Archaeology Museum has a total of 1 million works, a large
number of which cannot be displayed. In two big museums located in the
center of the Mediterranean province of Adana, only 3,000 artifacts of a
total 26,500 ancient coins and 17,000 archaeological artifacts are on
display for visitors.

Likewise, the Archaeology Museum in the western province of Usak is home
to 39,000 artifacts, including coins, seals and ethnographic works, but
there is room to display only 10 percent of them in the museum. The
situation in the Archaeology Museum of the Mediterranean resort town of
Antalya is no different, where about 30,000 historic artifacts are kept in
the museum's storehouse.

There are 185 museums in Turkey, all of which operate under the
supervision of the Culture Ministry. But the ministry must distribute a
small budget amongst a number of different museums that all require funding.
Museums the ministry cannot afford to properly fund cannot, therefore, take
the necessary care of the archaeological artifacts they are supposed to


The failure of museums to properly protect archaeological artifacts arises
from financial restrictions. While some parts of museum collections have
been stolen due to loose security measures, many other precious artifacts
are decaying in storehouses because of bad preservation conditions. Even
newly unearthed archaeological artifacts cannot be protected well. In
Turkey, where thousands of artifacts emanate from every corner of the land,
the Culture Ministry, unfortunately, does not have the budget needed to
purchase all unearthed archaeological artifacts and put them on display in
museums. Additionally, many people who discover archaeological artifacts
sell them illegally rather than submitting them to the Culture Ministry
because it pays very little for many such finds.

The question: Is there any solution to this serious problem in Turkey?
Turgay Artam, owner of the Antik A.S., Turkey's leading art auctioneer, has
an idea. "State museums own hundreds of samples of a certain type of
artifact. World museums sell from time to time redundant samples of
artifacts and buy new unique ones instead, thereby enriching their
collection," he suggested.


According to 2008 figures provided by the Treasury, Turkey's foreign
public sector debt is about $7.4 billion. Thus, Turkey has a foreign debt of
more than $7 billion, while there is a huge corpus of historic artifacts
valued at around $10 billion that is simply decaying in museum storehouses.


Dikran Masis, owner of Eskidji, another prominent auction house in Turkey,
said 10 times the number of artifacts exhibited in museums are kept in
museum storehouses in poor conditions.


"Museum storehouses are in a bad condition in Turkey. They have
difficulties preserving the historic artifacts," he argued.

For Masis, the Turkish economy can benefit from the sale of those
artifacts to art collectors. He cites the Japanese case. The Nezu Museum in
Japan sold some redundant samples of its clock collection composed of pieces
dating from the Chinese Empire, and used the income it earned from that to
enrich its porcelain collection. If a museum has a redundant selection of
pieces of the same type of historic artifacts, it can sell the unnecessary
ones and preserve unique samples, said Masis.

"If museums in Turkey apply that method, the Turkish economy will gain a
considerable amount of income," he added.

"Chinese porcelain at Topkapi Palace are very famous, and as far as I
know, many of them are kept in the palace's storehouse. With the income
earned from the sale of these items, Turkey could have another Topkapi
Palace," he said.

Museum storehouses often contain an abundance of similar types of coins
dating from the same time period. According to Masis, some of these coins
could be sold to art collectors, and the state could gain a large income
from the sale.

Masis notes that the sale of historic artifacts, even to museums abroad,
does not necessarily show disrespect to Turkey's history. "A latest circular
banned the sale of some paintings of master Turkish artists to museums in
other countries. But seeing the work of the grand Turkish painter Osman
Hamdi at a U.S. museum makes me more proud. Can you think that Spain
imprisons Picasso within its borders?" emphasized Masis.

"Art cannot be imprisoned inside national borders. We can buy Napoleon's
pocket watch in France, but a German cannot buy a pocket watch of Ottoman
Sultan Abdülmecit in Turkey and take it to Germany," he said.

Dave Welsh
Unidroit-L Listowner


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