Tuesday, 24 May 2011

"Pursuit of beauty at the cost of truth"

Ralph Frammolino, Ron Hartwig (of the Getty Trust), and Lee Rosenbaum had been discussing Chasing Aphrodite ("My LA Public Radio Commentary on "Chasing Aphrodite" (Hear It Now)", Culturegrrl May 23, 2001).

There were several strands to conversation. One of the initial issues was that more people would see the Aphrodite in the Getty than in the archaeological museum at Aidone in Sicily. It was suggested that Aidone has 17,000 visitors a year in contrast to the 425,000 to the Getty Villa. But does this justify acquiring objects that have been removed from archaeological contexts by illicit means and unscientific methods? Interestingly Frammolino suggested that the display of the "Morgantina Silver Treasure" (returned by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art) will, perhaps, attract additional visitors.

The conversation then turned to the issue about who in the Getty knew about the questionable side of the market in antiquities. There was consideration of the "higher aim" of museums, to "preserve beautiful objects for posterity". But that seems to have been at the expense of the loss of knowledge. Frammolino emphasises this by reminding the audience that we cannot even be sure that the Aphrodite was that particular deity (he suggests Persephone and Demeter as possible options) or how it was displayed. He also notes that these art objects were frequently broken up to allow them to be exported from their countries of origin.

Hartwig tried to redeem the situation by talking about the good things that the Getty had been doing. Frammolino had to explain that this included conservation projects to deal with the issues of damage sustained by cultural tourism. Interestingly he reminded us that Getty conservators were often met with a measure of hostility in some situations as their museum was so closly linked to acquiring recently surfaced antiquities.

Frammoline reminds us that the problem was not just one for the Getty or even North American museums. This was a worldwide phenomenon.

Rosenbaum picked up on an important aspect of Chasing Aphrodite. Some 350 objects at the Getty had been acquired from "suspect" dealers. Will the full collecting histories for these pieces be disclosed? She also comments on the position of the "hawkish" James Cuno in his new role at the Getty. She praised Felch and Frammolino for their "tour de force of investigative reporting'.

The interview raises one further issue. How will the Getty scandal have an imapct on the public perception of museums?

Note: Discussion starts at 8:36.

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