Friday, February 22, 2008

Loan Exhibitions and Transparency

In 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued guidelines on the accepting the loan of archaeological material. Hugh Eakin ("Museums Assert Right On Showing Antiquities", New York Times, February 25, 2006) was quick to comment on them, noting the context for two contemporary collections of classical antiquities:
The issue is particularly delicate as foreign governments press claims on works from two of the most prominent private American collections, the Lawrence A. and Barbara Fleischman collection and the Leon Levy and Shelby White Collection. The J. Paul Getty Museum displayed the Fleischman collection before acquiring it in 1996, and some works from the Levy-White collection are on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The issue was demonstrably delicate as parts of the Fleischman collection are now on display in Rome, and part of the Shelby White collection has been handed over to Italian authorities (though the precise list has yet to be disclosed more than one month on).

Eakin continued:
Some museum directors argue that the current wave of antiquities claims against museums and collectors actually resulted from active efforts by museums to display the works and publish articles about them.
He quoted Peter C. Marzio, the director of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and a member of the AAMD working party that drew up the guidelines on loans:
That's the ultimate irony ... Most of these claims would never have been made if the institutions and the collectors have not been this open and transparent.
It is clear that the publication of antiquities from the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, and the Shelby White and Levy White collections have allowed Italian authorities to identify objects shown in the Polaroids seized in the Geneva Freeport, and thus establish a link with Giacomo Medici. Hopefully Marzio and other responsible museum directors would condemn the deliberate looting of archaeological sites to supply objects for the antiquities market. We are not talking about chance finds, or pots that have been collecting dust in a Grand Tourist's stately home.

I also observe that Marzio was soon embroiled in an issue over archaeological loans soon after the publication of the AAMD report (Patricia C. Johnson, "Borrowing trouble; Long-term loans don't let museums off the hook", Houston Chronicle, July 16, 2006). The issue then was over the loan of ten Roman portraits from "the controversial Shelby White Levy" (as Johnson phrased it). Shelby White was said to have asserted that "all the antiquities in her collection were bought in good faith". Indeed, Jasper Gaunt, of the Carlos Museum at Emory University, reported that some of the sculptures could be traced back to the eighteenth century and had substantial documentation.

Be that as it may, Shelby White has still had to hand over some of her antiquities to the Italian authorities, and she is said to have indicated that some Roman-British bronzes, apparently looted from Suffolk, England, will be left to the British Museum on her death.

Johnson quoted Frances Marzio, a curator in Houston:
Policies on loans are very clear ... For a traveling exhibition, the organizing institution is responsible for documenting provenance. For long-term loans, the responsibility is ours as borrower.
So, if long-term loans are the responsibility of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, can I ask some simple questions about a bronze krater that curatorial staff at Houston tell me has been in their collection for some four years, a length of time most would consider to be "long-term"? The krater in question is on loan from Shelby White.

Please could a member of the curatorial staff at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, release the "documenting provenance" for this krater? And by that I mean information about when it was acquired by Shelby White (and Leon Levy), the name of the dealer, the names for former owners, documented dates of surfacing and display, and the reported find-spot.

The AAMD Guidelines on the loan of archaeological material called for transparency. Indeed, Peter C. Marzio, helped to phrase this report:
AAMD supports the open exchange of information among researchers and institutions as they collaborate on loans, exhibitions and other scholarly projects. Through this process, the most complete, accurate and useful information about works of art becomes available to a broad public.
So, in the spirit of "the open exchange of information", please could I have some "accurate and useful information" about this krater?

2 comments:

David Gill said...

Patricia Johnson's article can be found here.

berto xxx said...

He quoted Peter C. Marzio, the director of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and a member of the AAMD working party that drew up the guidelines on loans.

That's the ultimate irony ... Most of these claims would never have been made if the institutions and the collectors have not been this open and transparent.

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