Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Many Getty Returns?

Midnight on 31 July is approaching - and we are waiting to see if the dispute is resolved between the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Italian Government. [See report in the LA Times]

In November 2006 the Getty agreed to return 26 items. Many had been identified from Polaroids seized in the Geneva Freeport on premises associated with Giacomo Medici. The 26 items had been acquired between 1971 and 1996; they included 6 items from the Fleischman collection. Many had appeared as Masterpieces of the Getty Collection. (See my 1998 review.) There are clear links with Atlantis Antiquities (jointly owned by Robert Hecht and Jonathan Rosen), Robin Symes, and Galerie Nefer in Zurich (Frida Tchacos). The evidence is telling and a full discussion of the 26 items by Gill and Chippindale is in press.

At least nine other pieces from the former Fleischman collection appear in the Polaroids. Five had passed through the hands of Fritz Burki, 2 through Symes. Non-Fleischman material include objects acquired from Antike Kunst Palladion of Basel. There appears to be a strong case for the Getty to return these items to Italy - and for them to be added to the 26.

Then there is the acrolithic statue (whether or not it came from Morgantina). It surfaced in a Swiss collection and passed through the hands of Robin Symes. Its history looks suspicious. (And it also seems that the surfacing date of 1939 was fabricated.)

The Getty Youth or Fano Athlete is a different matter. It seems to have surfaced in the 1960s prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. That is not to say that there is moral pressure for the Getty to return the sculpture - but the issues are different and the negotiations can follow a different track.

If the bronze athlete is removed from the equation for the moment, can this dispute be resolved to the satsifaction of both sides? Failure to return antiquities which feature in the infamous Polaroids will only further tarnish the Getty's reputation. The clock is ticking.

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