Friday 26 January 2024

The Stern Collection in New York: Cycladic or Cycladicising?

Courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis
There appears to be excitement about the display of 161 Cycladicising objects at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Nikolas Zois, "The Cyclades in New York City", January 26, 2024).

Doubts have already been raised by eminent archaeologist Christos Doumas that the collection contains modern creations. Have these concerns been addressed by those who have organised this display of ungrounded material?

Earlier this week a delegation from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture accepted the return of three items from the Michael C. Carlos Museum. Two of the pieces, a Minoan larnax and a funerary sculpture, were returned on the basis of their identification (by Christos Tsirogiannis) in the Becchina photographic archive. Yet Tsirogiannis has been able to identify at least one of the Stern figures in the same archive

At the same time five of the Stern figures are catalogued as part of the Keros haul. (The Hellenic authorities overlooked the Keros haul material at the Michael C. Carlos Museum even though they had taken action when the fragments were auctioned in London.)

It seems that some have not taken steps to learn about the material and intellectual consequences of collecting Cycladic figures. 

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Monday 22 January 2024

The Carlos Museum: Time to Reflect?

The return of three antiquities acquired in 2002 and 2003 raise a number of issues for the curatorial team at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University. The museum appears to overlook a number of 'facts' in the way that it has written about the return.

First, a Greek journalist, Nikolas Zirganos, raised the issue of three pieces back in 2007: two of the pieces are included in the return. 
Second, there was a suggestion that the Greek authorities had raised concerns about the three pieces at the time.
Third, the identifications had been made by Christos Tsirogiannis.
Fourth, discussion of these issues had been raised on social media and in an academic paper by 2009.

Yet, reading the Emory press statement you would never realise that concerns had been raised over such a long period of time. You could even have been forgiven for thinking that the road to repatriation had been researched by one of their own. Why did it take the museum so long to enter negotiations with the Greek authorities?

The link to the page listing the three objects does not give a complete picture of the owners / handlers of the three pieces. Indeed, there is no mention of the association of one of the items with Japan.

It would have been helpful if the museum had given the full (and correct) history of each of the pieces. And the suggestion that two of the pieces are associated with a particular dealer pointed to problems with the collecting history. Yet the third piece mentioned by Zirganos was linked to this same dealer: why has this been excluded from the agreement? Is it assumed that the full history had been disclosed?

How much of the supplied information is trustworthy? What is the basis of this knowledge? Is there supporting evidence?

What other pieces in the collection need to be investigated with the same level of rigour?

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Returns to Greece from Michael C. Carlos Museum

Some things take time. Back in 2007 Nikolas Zirganos wrote a story about three antiquities in the Michael C. Carlos Museum [see here]. The identifications had been made by Christos Tsirogiannis. 

Over the years the museum has released further snippets of information: e.g. the revised history for the larnax

It was announced today that as part of a cultural agreement between Emory University and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, three items would be returning to Greece:
a. Minoan larnax (inv. 2002.034.001). "The Carlos purchased the larnax from Robert Haber, New York in 2002. At the time of purchase, the museum believed the larnax to have been in the collection of Nicholas Koutoulakis (1910-1996) since the late 1960s."
b. Statue from funerary naiskos (inv. 2003.005.001). "The Carlos purchased the figure in 2003 from Michael Ward, New York. No provenance information was given by the dealer. "
c. Statue of a muse (formerly inv. 2002.031.001A/B). "Carlos purchased the sculpture in 2002 from New York-based dealer Robert Hecht (1919-2012), who stated he and partner George Zakos (1911-1983) had owned it since 1974."

It is puzzling that the pithos was not included in the return even though it appears in the Becchina archive (see here). It was said to have resided in the Goumaz collection and was sold to the Carlos by Phoenix Ancient Art. The pithos featured in the original Zirganos article.

Nor is there mention of the fragmentary Cycladic figures from the Keros haul. The Greek Government sought to stop their sale when they passed through an auction in London in 1990 for the benefit of Save the Elephants.

For more on the agreement: press release.

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Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...