Friday, September 12, 2008

From Cleveland to Rome: Update (of sorts)

It appears that a report that an agreement had been concluded between the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Cleveland Muserum of Art is premature (Steven Litt, "The Cleveland Museum of Art still has no deal with Italy on returning allegedly looted antiquities", September 10, 2008). An "accord" had also been announced in May this year.

The Italian Ministry of culture issued a brief statement earlier this week: "Nessuno accordo tra il Cleveland Museum of Art", September 9, 2008. It rejected the statement made by Francesco Rutelli and affirmed the continuing dialogue between the Italian government and this "important cultural institution"

Litt notes:

At issue is the fate of an unspecified number of antiquities that may have been illegally excavated and exported from Italy and purchased innocently by the museum. Italy has pressed such claims successfully against other American museums, including the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Rutelli made his claim about the deal with Cleveland during a telephone interview with Il Messaggero last week, after visiting the Getty. He made similar statements in May, when Bondi replaced him. At the time, the Cleveland museum and the lawyer for the culture ministry both said that Rutelli's statements were wrong.

Rutelli's comments seem to be premature. But Cleveland should now come clean over the collecting histories of potential pieces and stop hiding behind "confidentiality" statements. Who were the dealers or donors behind the 23 pieces discussed by Suzan Mazur?

Remember the August statement from the American Association of Museums?
In order to advance further research, public trust, and accountability museums should make available the known ownership history of archaeological material and ancient art in their collections ...

The curatorial staff at the Cleveland Museum of Art perhaps need to reflect on the signals sent out by their continuing silence.

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