As antiquities in North American collections have been packed up and flown back to Rome, we have been seeing archaeological finds and art objects winging their way westward to fill their place. There is a new sense of optimism and transparency. Archaeological ethics are on the agenda. Museum acquisition policies are being tightened.
But hang on a minute. Somebody has raised a really important comment on my discussion of the looting of antiquities from the Republic of Macedonia. I do not want to go into the possible identification of the bronze here (after all, I just wanted to draw attention to what was happening in a particular country). There is a suggestion that antiquities are being "displayed" in public exhibitions --- but in such a way that they do not enter the public record via the printed catalogue (or on-line supporting website). The owner can presumably claim that the piece was "exhibited" in a particular show and that anybody with a claim on the object should have known about it.
Do museum policies address the issue of short- and long-term loans in an adequate way?
Elisabetta Povoloedo ("Antiquities Trial Fixes on Collectors' Role", New York Times, June 9, 2007) discussed a “sophisticated method of laundering” antiquities. She interviewed Peter C. Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, who talked about collectors and museums "conducting 'diligent provenance inquiries' on artifacts that change hands".
But loans do not change hands. Loans remain the property of the owner.
What due diligence process is being undertaken for such loans?