“I have argued against the laws, but I haven’t broken the laws.”
So says James Cuno in Jason Felch’s report on the new Getty president and chief executive:
Cuno’s awkward embrace of a point of view he has long criticized creates a potential stumbling block for the Getty, which today relies heavily on cooperative relationships with Italy and other nations Cuno has openly criticized.
As director of the Chicago Art Institute since 2004, Cuno has rarely had to wrestle with claims by other countries that certain antiquities belong to them and not the museum that acquired them. The position Cuno staked out is largely a philosophical one, embracing the concept of “cosmopolitanism” — that antiquities are the common heritage of mankind and not the property of one nation.
He has denounced what he considers politicized claims by modern nations like Italy that, in his view, have only weak ties to the ancient civilizations that once occupied the same land.
Cuno’s arguments are perhaps the clearest articulation of a view that American museum officials used for decades to justify the acquisition of antiquities with no clear ownership record. That practice has largely ended as direct evidence of looting forced leading museums, collectors and dealers to return hundreds of objects to Italy and Greece in recent years.
Yet while many museums moderated their stances during that controversy, Cuno became more outspoken.
“Cultural property is a modern political construct,” he said in a 2006 debate at the New School hosted by the New York Times. In March of this year, he described laws that give foreign governments ownership over ancient art found within their borders as “not only wrong, it is dangerous.”
- Jason Felch, James Cuno’s history of acquiring ancient art – latimes.com, L.A. Times, May 12, 2011, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-cuno-antiquities-20110512,0,7395453,full.story (last visited May 12, 2011).