Skip to main content

AAMD President "taken aback" on cultural property debate

I am grateful to Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl for her comment on Kaywin Feldman's letter to the New York Times (December 7, 2010) on the return of material from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to Egypt. Feldman is president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. She was responding to a NYT editorial, "Repatriating Tut" (November 29, 2010), that drew attention to Hawass' attempts to reclaim the mummy mask acquired by the St Louis Art Museum.
Egypt has rightly been demanding that governments and museums return fundamental parts of its patrimony that have disappeared from ancient troves. It has had no success thus far with a 3,200-year-old burial mask at the Saint Louis Art Museum, a bust of Nefertiti in Germany, or the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.
Hawass takes the view that the mask was removed from one of the archaeological stores in Saqqara.

Feldman claimed to be "taken aback" by the editorial, and wrote "to stress that American art museums responsibly manage their collections of ancient art from other countries and cultures". She claimed that members of the AAMD "subscribe to the highest principles of collecting and stewardship of their collections". Yet it has to be remembered that at least five AAMD members (Boston's MFA; Cleveland Museum of Art; Malibu, J. Paul Getty Museum; New York's MMA; Princeton University Art Museum) have returned antiquities to Italy.  Feldman claims that all the other 199 members of the AAMD would do the same as the MMA if research showed that there was a question over an acquisition.

Feldman is no doubt contemplating the photographic evidence of one of the Attic kraters in her own collection. Just in case Feldman is unaware of what to do:
If a member museum, as a result of its continuing research, gains information that establishes another party’s right to ownership of a work, the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the work to that party, as has been done in the past. In the event that a third party brings to the attention of a member museum information supporting the party’s claim to a work, the museum should respond promptly and responsibly and take whatever steps are necessary to address this claim, including, if warranted, returning the work, as has been done in the past.
In other words, Feldman needs to contact the Italian authorities ("the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party") and investigate the claim.

Of course Minneapolis is not alone in failing to respond to photographs of recently-surfaced antiquities. Take the Minoan larnax in one North American university collection (and AAMD member).

Is this what Feldman interprets as "the highest principles of collecting and stewardship"? Does she understand the issues relating to recently-surfaced antiquities? Would she be better advised to remain silent?


Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

Phyllys said…
It seems many museum professionals take it personally when other countries want their cultural history repatriated. However, in many cases, a "recently-surfaced" antiquity has in fact existed in the collection for years, if not decades, and just recently come to light through inventory/exhibit planning/study. WE may have not put the piece in our collection, but it's our duty to try to right the situation. In the US, repatriating artifacts to the Native American tribes is now a standard and expected practice; we must give other culture groups the same respect.

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.