Monday, October 1, 2007

Minneapolis and Robin Symes

CultureGrrl has commented on the recent appointment of Kaywin Feldman as director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Congratulations are clearly in order.

Feldman understands cultural material from the Mediterranean as her first degree was in classical archaeology. And will she soon face a dilemma in this area of "Ancient Art" in the MIA?

In the Minneapolis collection is an impressive Athenian volute-krater attributed to the Methyse painter. It was acquired from Robin Symes in 1983 (acc. no. 83.80) (see Star Tribune, November 14, 2005). As I have noted with Christopher Chippindale elsewhere, the krater is reported by Michael Padgett (in "Influence of satyric drama on a vase by the Methyse painter" [abstract], American Journal of Archaeology 88 [1984], 255) to have been "in private collections in Switzerland and Great Britain for ca. 15 years before 1983." (Note that 15 years suggests the krater surfaced prior to the significant date of 1970. What does the documentation show?)

It is worth observing how the euphemism, "private collection in ... Great Britain", can refer to a dealer in antiquities. (And there is no need to comment on "private collection in Switzerland".)

The MIA issued a press statement in November 2005:
“The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has learned that an object in our permanent collection could be among a number of objects in American museums that the Italian government alleges to have been recently excavated in Italy. We have not been contacted by the Italian authorities about this object. We have seen only an electronic image of a detail of the shoulder of a vase, which we received from a Los Angeles Times journalist without any accompanying documentation. As a leading museum, we uphold the principle that all collecting be done according to the highest standards of ethical and professional practice. Although no contact or claim has been made, to date, by the Italian authorities, we are nonetheless taking the matter seriously, and, if after gathering the facts it is established that the Italian government has a legitimate claim, we will respond in an appropriate and responsible fashion.”
Feldman is also secretary to The Association of Art Museum Directors. The AAMD's Code of Ethics states:
"A museum director should not knowingly acquire or allow to be recommended for acquisition any object that has been stolen, removed in contravention of treaties or international conventions to which the United States is a signatory, or illegally imported in the United States."
Feldman did not acquire the krater. But she will need to make a decision. Does she retain it? Or will this Attic pot be returned to Italy?

Reference
Mary Abbe, "Italy claims Minneapolis museum holds looted vase", Star Tribune, November 9, 2005 [Archived]

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