In a way, collectors will be collectors…and archaeologists will be archaeologists. The link between these two groups of people is tenuous, abstract, inexplicable, and unescapable all at the same time. Why? Because we operate in seemingly unconnected spheres. One that is filled with fine works of art, black tie events, buckets of money, and status, and the otherwith dusty books, dusty artifacts, trowels, and long articles. But underneath it all, the collector and the archaeologist are only two points in an intimately and diabolically interwoven network along the channels of which artifacts (as they are known to some), or “fine works of art” (as they are known to others), constantly travel.
Sometimes, however, the world of the collector and the world of the archaeologist collide, mostly when it has to do with object provenance. A recent article about the sale of Chinese works of art by Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses in London had this to say: “the Chinese government intervention forbidding the export of newly discovered archaeological works has led collectors to favour antiquities from old collections held abroad.”
In a way, it has been the continuous effort on the part of archaeologists and other interested individuals that haslead to the passing of the import restrictions against unprovenanced Chinese antiquities, which has in turn forced collectors and dealers to look for ways ot make provenanced items more “hot.”
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that in many ways, collectors and archaeologists, although seemingly so distant from one another on the spectrum of interest in Chinese antiquities, can’t help but get in each other’s way from time to time. This is because, ultimately, we are seeking the same thing: a spectacular object. For the collector, it is the object’s aesthetic qualities that are the most appealing, while for the archaeologist, it is the knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the object’s creation that is alluring. What we all have to keep in mind, however, is that in either case, the things we seek are non-renewable resources. Nothing is creating more 3rd century lacquer boxes, or 2nd millennium B.C. ceramic jars. Be they “artifacts,” or “fine works of art,” they are not being replaced anytime soon, which, unfortunately, begs the question: in the battle of China’s cultural heritage protection, is either side really in the right?
(For the record, I believe archaeologists are MORE in the right. Wanna know why? COMMENT!)