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 …

George Ortiz collection to be displayed in London

Christie's is due to display part of the former collection of the late George Ortiz in London in a non-selling show to mark the 25th anniversary of the exhibition at the Royal Academy. There is a statement on the Christie's website ("The Ortiz Collection — ‘proof that the past is in all of us’"). Max Bernheimer is quoted: ‘Ortiz was one of the pre-eminent collectors of his day’.

We recall the associations with Ortiz such as the Horiuchi sarcophagus, the Hestiaios stele fragment, the marble funerary lekythos, and the Castor and Pollux.

Bernheimer will, no doubt, wish to reflect on the Royal Academy exhibition by reading Christopher Chippindale and David W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511 [JSTOR].

Bernheimer will probably want to re-read the two pieces by Peter Watson that appeared in The Times: , "Ancient art without a history" and "Fakes - the artifice b…

Adding to the history of an Attic black-figured amphora

The post-excavation histories of objects are important as we map the that cultural property passes through collections and the markets. This is clear for an Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to Group E, that is due to be auctioned at Christie's New York on October 31, 2018 (lot 31). It shows Herakles and the Nemean lion, and Theseus and the Minotaur.

The auction catalogue claims that it surfaced in the hands of John Hewett in London in 1970 (or earlier), then to a private collection in Europe, followed by a series of auctions:
A European private collection; Antiquities  Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 130thence to a private collection, New YorkAntiquities Christie's, New York, 15 December 1992, lot 81Antiquities Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1996, lot 50Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 4 June 1998, lot 102 The amphora appears in the Beazley Archive (BAPD 350425). This provides the history sequence as follows (though in the list of auction catalogues s…