Thursday, 12 May 2011

James Cuno at Harvard

Jason Felch, co-author of Chasing Aphrodite, has written a piece on James Cuno's appointment as CEO to the Getty Trust ("James Cuno says he accepts the Getty's antiquities acquisition policy", LA Times May 11, 2011). Felch looks back to Cuno's time at Harvard:
In one case, Cuno approved the purchase of more than 180 Greek vase fragments with unclear ownership histories. Cuno has said he inquired into their origins. With no clear evidence that they came from illicit excavations, Cuno said Tuesday, "we were satisfied these were appropriately acquired."

In an interview, David Mitten, the retired Harvard curator and professor who recommended the purchase, has a slightly different account. He said he and Cuno knew that two antiquities dealers known to traffic in looted antiquities — Robert Hecht and Frieda Tchacos — were the source of some of the fragments.
Felch contacted Cuno who is quoted: "At the time I didn't know the extent of his reputation". (I presume this meant Hecht.)

More at stake is the fact about what we now know about Hecht and Tchacos, and what was known to Cuno when he wrote Who Owns Antiquity? (2008). Cuno made his position on the acquiisition of the fragments quite clear (see here).

Felch also raises the issues about Shelby White's acquisition of the Icklingham bronzes that are apparently derived from a Roman site in Suffolk, England.
In 1996, Cuno oversaw an exhibit of bronze statues that included objects with murky ownership histories on loan from private collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White and Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman.

Irene Winter, the chair of Harvard's fine arts department, filed a complaint with the university's then-president, Neil Rudenstine, requesting that the loans be barred under the school's loans and acquisitions policy. Dozens of objects from the two private collections have since been returned to Italy or Greece.

Rudenstine today is a Getty Trustee and a member of the committee that selected Cuno. In an interview, he said he was satisfied that Cuno had conducted the proper due diligence.

Will Cuno be toning down his position as he takes up his new role?

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1 comment:


It is very likely that Cuno will stick to his old and contested views. After all, the Trustees of the Getty must have known Cuno's position regarding certain issues before they selected him from the number of available candidates. They appointed him not to represent the past but the future of the museum which apparently will correspond to Cuno's past positions and achievements. We wait to see but do not expect an intellectual to abandon his positions expressed in several books and articles merely because he has a new appointment.

A Sardinian boat-shaped lamp from an "old Austrian collection"

Sardinian boat-shaped lamp.  Left: Bonhams. Right: Becchina archive (courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis) The sale of antiquities at Bonhams (...