Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Bronze Krater on Loan to Houston: Poll

A bronze krater is on loan from Shelby White to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (and its presence in Houston has been confirmed by the curatorial staff).

Should the museum disclose the collecting history?

I would suggest that the answer is yes. Why?
  1. In February 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) released "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art" (also cited as a report on "Incoming Loans of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art"). As part of the process of considering a loan of archaeological material "museums should (emphasis mine) inquire into their provenance history, seeking to obtain all relevant information from the lender, and an appropriate warranty of their legal ownership of the work" (II.C). (See "Loans of Archaeological Material").
  2. Loans to public institutions should be transparent. (See "Loan Exhibitions and Transparency")
  3. Long-term loans "with incomplete relevant provenance histories should be evaluated under criteria comparable to those for acquisitions" (AAMD "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art"). (The curatorial staff tell me that the krater has been in Houston for four years.)
  4. Shelby White had to return ten of her antiquities to Italy in January 2008. (The list has not yet been released and that indicates an unwillingness to release key information.)
  5. On Shelby White's death, Romano-British bronzes ("The Icklingham Bronzes") in her collection will apparently be bequeathed to the British Museum.
  6. Research by Christopher Chippindale and myself (and published in the American Journal of Archaeology) suggested that 93% of the antiquities in the Shelby White & Leon Levy exhibition "Glories of the Past" had no stated find-spot.
Have the curatorial staff of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston a professional duty to disclose the collecting history for this bronze krater?

What do you think? Take the poll now.

3 comments:

phrygian said...

Straightforward YES! Beyond question.

A museum is not supposed to be withholding vital information on displayed items. The very essence of running a museum is disseminating knowledge and serving the academia and their educational needs.

That would mean being responsable to professional inquiries --- not ignoring these as the MFA is choosing to do. As such, the staff at the MFA in Houston puts themselves in servitude to Shelby White and her private interests. Not an attribute to be proud of.

phrygian said...

The poll has shown that vast majority of this blog readers would like to know the history of the Shelby White bronze krater (The Koreschnica Krater) on loan to the MFA in Houston.

The results are representative for the view of the informed public in general and as such should be presented to the MFA in Houston (and maybe to Shelby White?).

The MFA in Houston, or any museum for that matter, can not ignore the view of the public when its very existence is based upon that public and aimed at serving the same.

It would be very informative to know where MFA stands on this poll. A no reply would be just repeated confirmation of scraping the AAMD Guidelines and choosing to serve private interests instead (those of Shelby White in this case).

For background on how deep and enduring Shelby White's privileges are, see "Statues of Limitations" The Village Voice, August 22nd, 2000. Shelby's interlocking within the Academia is especially intriguing, knowing that she holds no degree in any related field.

David Gill said...

For the record 120 people voted. 114 (95%) answered "yes - make it public" to the question:

"Should the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston disclose the collecting history of the Shelby White bronze krater on loan to them?"

6 people (5%) voted "no".

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