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BAMF simply succeed in creating a distraction and it is surely misleading.

We can all admire a 17th century carved ivory tankard from Germany, a 15th century French carved ivory crucifix or a hugely intricate Japanese ivory netsuke from the Meiji Period through the glass vitrine of our national museums.

We can walk away and feel enhanced that we have encountered objects truly of ‘museum quality’.

Context is all

But giving such an accolade to any work of art surely requires context. What of the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of similar or related objects that fill the storage shelves and drawers behind the scenes? They may be of slightly inferior quality but are undeniably by a Master’s hand.

I am embarrassed to be reminded of an occasion, long ago, when a kindly curator was tolerant enough to allow me to examine a number of works of art in the stores of a major London museum.

As a young, ambitious dealer, my diplomacy had not yet fully blossomed, so I was crass enough to say: “Yes, but that and that and that are all fakes. They are not by whom they are purporting to be by. Why does the museum hold fakes in its vaults when they could just sell them off?”

My kindly colleague took no offence but patiently explained that it would be a serious move against scholarship for the museum to do so. “You are right,” he said. “The names they bear are not genuine. But some day scholarship will allow us to find out who DID make them, and when and why and where.”

Had those items been made from ivory (they were metal, in fact), would it have been the contention of the anti-antique ivory lobby that such pieces were NOT of museum quality and should therefore be indiscriminately destroyed, without a thought towards what they could contribute to the history of art and the history of man?

A place of education

‘Museum quality’ must refer to the information contained within a work of art and the revealing of that information. Anything destructive must, at all costs, be resisted.

A museum is a place of education. To say that there are limits to the educative process, that there are places that may not be approached, is to negate the whole purpose of education and thereby to truncate cultural development.

Sadly, there are many for whom that is apparently an appealing prospect!

Graham Gemmell