Monday, July 1, 2013

Excavated archaeological material and exhibition loans

The Motya Charioteer displayed in the Duveen Gallery,
British Museum
© David Gill
The Sicily exhibition moving from the J. Paul Getty Museum to the Cleveland Museum of Art reminds us of some of the issues relating to recently surfaced material. The display includes excavated material such as the charioteer found on the island of Motya (Mozia), western Sicily. Such finds, with known contexts and find-spots, help us to the reconstruct the cultural history of the island. Yet their display alongside recently-surfaced material which lack known find-spots (and usually collecting histories) gives endorsement to the unrestrained acquisition of antiquities that has led to the scandal of the so-called 'Medici Conspiracy'. What were the find-spots and the archaeological contexts of the material on loan from the Getty? In the case of the terracotta Hades we do not need to guess.

North American museums are encouraging the loan of archaeological material from Italian and Sicilian collections in return for co-operation in handing back material identified from Polaroids. But should such material be displayed alongside objects that have a less than clear history? What efforts have been made to provide full collecting histories? Would the Getty-Cleveland exhibition have been stronger if it had been formed with material solely from Italian and Sicilian collections?

On a related note, it is perhaps ironic that the Motya charioteer was displayed at the British Museum alongside the sculptures from the Parthenon.

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