Monday, June 6, 2011

Publishing recently surfaced Mayan pots

Mike Smith has drawn my attention to a recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine (Chip Brown, "El Mirador, the Lost City of the Maya", May 2011). Smith notes:
The article includes photographs of several spectacular Maya polychrome vessels (p. 45) that apparently are not from the site. In fact, we have no idea where these vessels are from; they lack provenience. In a post on the Aztlan listserv today, Karen Bruhns identifies these vessels as unprovenienced, looted, objects.
One of the pieces has been identified as coming from the so-called November Collection. The point is made:
One might expect that magazines by and for wealthy art dealers might publish looted objects without a second thought. But Smithsonian Magazine is supposedly a legitimate source of news about natural history and related topics, associated with the premier museum in the U.S. Their inclusion of photos of looted objects is deplorable, a real ethical lapse.
Smith draws attention to an article in the New York Times (Susan Diesenhouse, "Arts in America; Looted or Legal? Objects Scrutinized at Boston Museum", July 30, 1998). The discussion seems to be familiar:
Museum officials curtly rejected a request from Guatemala to eventually return a 138-piece collection of Mayan art that is the jewel of its pre-Columbian display. In a two-paragraph letter written a month ago to a Guatemalan official, Malcolm Rogers, director of the museum, said that its board of trustees ''found no basis'' for Guatemala's ownership claim because the country could not produce legal title to the pieces.
It looks as the Smithsonian needs to revisit its publication policy.

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