The UK department for culture has taken the unprecedented step of extending a deadline over the export of the Egyptian sculpture of Sekhemka. This occurred after it was determined that the sale of the 4,000-year-old Egyptian statue to a private collector, by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and Abington Park Museum had breached Arts Council England’s accredited standards for how museums manage their collections.
ACE subsequently removed the institutions from their accreditation scheme with immediate effect. They will now be excluded from future participation until August 2019 and are no longer eligible for Arts Council grants.
The export ban was due to expire on 29 July and British and Egyptian campaigners had asked the Prime Minister to intervene “urgently”. The Department of Culture has said the export ban on the statue would remain if a UK buyer was found. The Department has now extended the deadline for another month, until 28 August, which is the first time this has been done for an initial deferral since the art export regulations were introduced in 1952.
The statue is considered to be the finest example of its kind anywhere in the world, giving Culture Minister Ed Vaizey cause to place the temporary export bar. The statue of Sekhemka, court official and priest, was sold at Christie’s London for approximately £16 million during an auction in July 2014.
If a UK buyer can be found to match the Sekhemka price, the usual procedure would be for the Department of Culture to declare a second deferral period until March 2016. This suggests that there are complications concerning a potential buyer in the UK, who is likely to be a private owner since it would be surprising for a UK museum to try to acquire Sekhemka.
Last year’s sell-off by Northampton Museum to raise money proved to be highly controversial and was condemned by the Museums Association and Arts Council of England.