President's Letter - Winter 2019


Dear Fellow ATADA Members,  

As we enter 2019, there is a new majority in the House of Representatives. The various committees will have new, Democratic majority leaders, members and staff. As a key voice for art dealers, museums, and collectors, ATADA’s advocacy work must continue to ensure that legislators understand the issues related to collecting and trading in tribal art. A primary concern: despite acceptance of alternative legislation forwarded by ATADA together with tribes in 2018, the harmful STOP legislation is likely to be re-introduced this session. We especially look forward to working with the first Native American Congressional representative from New Mexico, Representative Deb Haaland, a registered member of the Laguna Pueblo. 

A recent rash of predominantly anti-art trade media events focused on the dangers of money laundering tells us that we must anticipate a re-introduction of H.R. 5886, the Illicit Art & Antiquities Trafficking Prevention Act in 2019. This Act would impose onerous anti-money laundering reporting burdens – such as a bank would have - on any art business that grossed over $50,000 per year. Estimated cost of compliance would be between $4,000 and $8,000 per year. It would require the collection of personal information on buyers as well as on sales, and sharing this information with authorities in multiple countries. We all know how the art-collecting public values its privacy, and in an international market, such legislation would severely harm the U.S. market, as well as forcing closure of many smaller businesses unable to meet compliance requirements. Even the legislation’s proponents agree that there is no evidence that U.S. art businesses are engaged in money laundering.

Nonetheless, for prosecutors, being able to add charges for violating an anti-money laundering statute, simply for reporting violations, would allow them to pressure any art dealer to plead guilty to another charge. Regrettably, a well-funded and well-connected anti-collecting advocacy group, the Antiquities Coalition, has presented this bill (and other anti-collecting legislation) as anti-terrorist, despite a total lack of evidence for this. It is difficult for a member of Congress to oppose legislation that supposedly discourages terrorism.  It is our job to get the Congress to understand that this label does not apply to the art trade. You will find more on this legislation in the newsletter.

We have entered an era in which “de-colonization” is a political hot button issue – although only as it applies to art – not to more valuable mineral and other commercial resources. A report sponsored by French President Macron has called for the return of all cultural items that were brought to France during the Colonial era. Greece continues to ask for return of the Elgin Marbles, Egypt demands the Rosetta Stone, and Rapa Nui wants the British Museum’s iconic Moai statue. The very idea of a universal art museum is under attack, not only by anti-collecting activists but in the popular media, for example in the treatment of an African art museum curator in the blockbuster film, Black Panther. 

Museums are noisily denigrated as bastions of colonialism, while at the same time, public criticism over the opening of sacred sites as the Bears Paw Monument to oil and mineral profiteers is muted. This is a preposterous and absurd situation, but it is real. 

In recent months, the Association on American Indian Affairs, or AAIA, had led a public campaign to claim that objects made by Native Americans, unless they are signed, are not ‘art.’ The AAIA has generated misleading and inaccurate media reporting on auction sales, and even accused the Metropolitan Museum in New York of wrongdoing in showing the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection. The organization has issued press releases and sent demand letters to every recent Native American art auction, alluding to possible violations of federal, state, and tribal law, and asserting that items clearly made for the commercial market are inalienable Native American cultural heritage. ATADA is gearing up to work with auction houses to respond to this latest assault on our industry and on collecting.

Our industries and the artisans, collectors and museums they support must stand together to change this negative and misleading narrative – and to raise the importance of supporting regional economies, cultural tourism, contributions to study and understanding of diverse cultures – and especially the joy and satisfaction of collecting art.

Once again, I must ask all of you to help us to defend the fundamental principles of access to and appreciation of all world cultures. We need to re-invigorate the Roger Fry Memorial Legal Fund.  We are again asking for contributions.  We are also planning a series of auctions to raise money for this crucial work. We would like each of our members to donate a piece worth in excess of $500. We also are asking for donation of higher value items, which could be protected by a low reserve with a split-over or some such agreement with the Fund. Please advise our Executive Director, David Ezziddine, if you are willing to participate (  More information on the auction can be found here.

Asking your help with the work at hand and with hope in the future,


John Molloy