Thursday, 19 November 2009

"Cuno risks coming across as a bad loser"

Tom Flynn has written an account of Tuesday's lacklustre "debate" with James Cuno at the LSE.  Flynn writes:
At root, however, [Cuno's] mission is to shore up the concept of the encyclopedic museum — a fortress whose boundaries are everywhere under challenge. Once again he reiterated the patently absurd notion that encyclopedic museums should be established everywhere.

Maurice Davies raised the issue of the loan of archaeological material to North American museums in the wake of the return of key pieces such as the Sarpedon krater. After last week's presentation by AAMD representatives to CPAC's review of the MOU Italy it is hardly surprising that Cuno dismissed Italy's generous offers in this area.
Cuno dismissed this as negligible and insisted that relations between the two nations were still not that good. Unlike Montebello, who saw the benefits that issued from the affair, Cuno risks coming across as a bad loser.
Cuno needs to revise his position in the light of the returns to Italy. Why were AAMD member institutions acquiring recently-surfaced material? Why did they ignore ethical concerns? Have they adopted ethical acquisition policies?

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seatsonthestreets said...

Professor Gill,

I'm wondering how the idea that encyclopedic museums should continue to be established is "patently ridiculous." I am a staunch supporter of the idea that pieces of unsure or unclear provenance deserve a much higher scrutiny in order to prevent looted objects from becoming part of a national collection, but I'm not clear on how that seems to translate to culturally significant museums, as a whole, deserve to be sanctioned as a result. My own background is in archaeology and I have to say that my interest stemmed as much from visits to museums as it did my classes on the subject, and I have yet to find a museum that holds only classical objects easy to find in the U.S. I agree that Cuno's book does make assertions I find hard to stomach, namely the idea that the resistance of of scholars to study looted objects hurts the field or that museums are somehow exempt from due diligence in their collecting, but I do believe that encyclopedic museums play a strong role in promoting the study of art and ancient civilizations.
Would you mind explaining what you consider a viable alternative to them?

Tarquin said...

My (simplistic) view is this: encyclopedic museums are great; the question is, how do you fill them ethically?

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Gill,

In case you collect still reviews on Cuno, Irene Winter just published an excellent review in The Art Bulletin December XCI.4 2009, 522-6.

David Gill said...

Thank you for this information. I have added this to the list of reviews.

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