Skip to main content

The Universal Museum: time for a rethink?


I have been re-reading the essay, "The Universal Museum: a special case?" (ICOM News 1, 2004), by Geoffrey Lewis, the chair of the ICOM Ethics Committee.
The real purpose of the Declaration was, however, to establish a higher degree of immunity from claims for the repatriation of objects from the collections of these museums.
His comment was on the "Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums" (December 2002). The declaration included this statement:
Calls to repatriate objects that have belonged to museum collections for many years have become an important issue for museums. Although each case has to be judged individually, we should acknowledge that museums serve not just the citizens of one nation but the people of every nation. Museums are agents in the development of culture, whose mission is to foster knowledge by a continuous process of reinterpretation. Each object contributes to that process. To narrow the focus of museums whose collections are diverse and multifaceted would therefore be a disservice to all visitors.
It was signed by:
  • The Art Institute of Chicago; 
  • Bavarian State Museum, Munich (Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek); 
  • State Museums, Berlin; 
  • Cleveland Museum of Art; 
  • J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; 
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; 
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Louvre Museum, Paris; 
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; 
  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York; 
  • Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence; 
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art; 
  • Prado Museum, Madrid; 
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam;
  • State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; 
  • Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid; 
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 
  • The British Museum, London
It is perhaps telling that since the declaration five of these universal museums have handed antiquities over to other coutnries. These include:
These were all objects acquired since 1970. Such repatriations perhaps demonstrate the flawed thinking behind the "Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums". 

Has the time come for these major museums to review their policies? Is the declaration now worthless? 

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

DR.KWAME OPOKU said…
Although the main spirit behind the Declaration and probably the drafter of the text, the British Museum was not a signatory. Kwame

Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.