Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"There is a far greater awareness of the problem of trafficking in looted antiquities"

I was very struck by Timothy Rub's comments to reporters from The New York Times in the discussion over whether or not North American museums should "repatriate" --- a loaded word? --- antiquities to their countries of origin (Tom Mashberg and Graham Bowley, "Islamic State Destruction Renews Debate Over Repatriation of Antiquities", March 30, 2015). Rub is quoted:
Timothy Rub, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and former president of the art museum directors association, said acquisition scandals, including those involving the Getty before Mr. Cuno’s tenure, had put his peers on the defensive when it came to holding on to items. 
He added, however, that “there is a far greater awareness of the problem of trafficking in looted antiquities and the role that American museums can and should play in discouraging this.”
Then in response to a comment by Gary Vikan, former director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, who suggested that antiquities that surface on the "black market" should be "ransomed back".
Mr. Rub said that approach was warranted only in rare cases when “an item was in fact taken out of harm’s way and would be at risk if returned to the country of origin.” 
“That’s when museums and philanthropies and governments should work together,” he said, “to ensure that the item is acquired and cared for and kept safe until it can be returned to its rightful owner.”
Mashberg and Bowley miss a key point here. It was not just the J. Paul Getty Museum that was involved in an "acquisition scandal". There was also the Cleveland Museum of Art where Rub had been director from 2006 to 2009. Indeed Rub was director when it was agreed to return objects (that had been acquired prior to his directorship). Yet he also declined to disclose the collecting histories of the return items (unlike Boston or the Getty). Rub has also had a confused position over the return of antiquities, placing "clear blue water" between himself and James Cuno (see here).

But have we seen major museums working with the governments of countries to see the rightful return of archaeological material? The case of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask is a case in point especially now that the internal emails and memoranda have been released.

Have senior museum directors of North American museum appreciated the scale of the problems that have developed over the last 45 years? Perhaps they should read something on the "scandal" that would help them to focus their minds.

Newspaper reports such as this demonstrate that there continues to be a lack of genuine awareness of the problem of trafficking in looted antiquities by some in the North American museum, antiquities market and legal communities.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails