Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World: Unclear on "Exhibiting Unprovenanced Artifacts"?

Staff members from the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World have been discussing its first exhibition, "Wine, Worship, and Sacrifice: The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani", that opens today (Kate Taylor, "From the Land Of the Golden Fleece", New York Sun, March 7, 2008). The exhibition will include excavated objects from Vani.

The Institute has been set up with the help of Shelby White and her late husband Leon Levy: Shelby White is the chairwoman of the Institute.

Perhaps what is so surprising is that the Institute's Director, Roger Bagnall, has chosen not to clarify his position on recently surfaced antiquities. Taylor writes:
Asked if the institute has a policy about publishing on or exhibiting unprovenanced artifacts, as some museums today do, Mr. Bagnall said he was "trying not to make any long-term policy decision now that doesn't have to be made," but he added that the issue would be addressed when the faculty was in place.
He perhaps needs to see what the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) have to say on loans of "ancient art" and archaeological material.

Taylor also draws attention to one of the administrative staff at the Institute, Jennifer Chi who holds the position of Associate Director for Exhibitions and Public Programs. Surprisingly the Institute biography does not mention that "she was previously the curator of the Levy-White collection" (as Taylor helpfully identified her). (See my comments on Chi's Greek Bronze Vessels exhibition catalogue.)

Indeed Chi is the editor and a contributor of Collecting in Context: Papers in Memory of Leon Levy (forthcoming 2008). This is the volume that is reported to contain Conrad Stibbe's discussion of a Trebenishte-style archaic bronze krater in the Shelby White collection. And this is presumably the volute-krater that was (and is?) on loan to Houston - and for which the Houston curatorial staff seem unable to provide information about its history even though, apparently, there is nothing to hide. (And let us not forget that Shelby White has still to provide a list of the antiquities that she has returned to Italy.)

Bagnall needs to make his position on looted antiquities crystal clear so that there is no misunderstanding.


David Gill said...

See now James Gardner, "Giving the Ancients Glorious Context", New York Sun, March 18, 2008.

"This accredited institution is primarily intended for graduate students and is affiliated with New York University. In the spacious ground-floor galleries, the inaugural show is ambitious in conception and expert in fulfillment. So much so that this institution can fairly rank as a new museum for New York. Largely the idea of Shelby White, widow of Leon Levy and a well-known collector of antiquities, the Institute is roughly comparable, in seriousness and refinement, to such other recent Manhattan museums as the Neue Galerie, which covers modernism in Germany and Austria, and the Rubin Museum of Art, dedicated to the cultures of the Himalayas."

David Gill said...

Here is my response to Gardner's piece:

It is interesting to read this follow up to Kate Taylor's piece on March 7 where she raised the issue that ISAW did not have a clear policy "about publishing on or exhibiting unprovenanced artifacts". Shelby White is indeed "a well-known collector of antiquities". She is also well known because in January 2008 she handed over part of her collection to the Italian authorities.


It appears that the items had been removed from their archaeological contexts illegally and unscientifically. And most archaeologists would not consider that to be "glorious".

And now the New York Sun publishes a piece which praises the "seriousness and refinement" of the new Institute. I am sure this exhibition is a great installation, drawn from archaeological excavations. But Taylor raised some key issues which are now, seemingly, ignored.

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