|The DMA returned ownership of this red-figure krater (4th century BC)—
Italian officials allowed the piece to remain at the museum on loan
Max Anderson is leading the way towards reform in the American Museum Community. The Director of the Dallas Museum of Art has an OpEd in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News responding to recent criticism in the New York Times of the decision by museums to return looted works of art. Here’s the introduction to the piece:
Protecting the world’s cultural heritage is essential to all of us. Like the natural environment, the material record of the past is irreplaceable and easily damaged. Whether you live in a country rich in archaeological finds, or a country with curiosity to learn about the past, every citizen wants to protect archaeological sites from intentional or accidental destruction. And every scholar and museum professional wants to share our most complete understanding of the objects and beliefs that people treasured in the past. The illicit trade of these objects is responsible for one of the largest international black markets, and the destruction of archaeological sites is often the result. It is not museum purchases that have been fueling the damage in recent years: As a result of strict, self-imposed guidelines, those acquisitions have slowed to a trickle over the last decade. However, private purchases are not subject to such guidelines and take place invisibly. Additionally, the construction of public works, from roads to buildings, causes undocumented harm to historic sites every day around the globe, not to mention accidental discoveries on private property, quickly hidden or destroyed. Natural disasters and armed conflict also take their toll on the world’s cultural heritage.
With this and other statements, Anderson is distinguishing himself and his institution from the old days of optical due diligence and the acquire-at-all-costs attitude of so many other American museums. Those policies have slowly been reformed, bu many still cling to that old idea, that these museums should acquire beautiful objects, despite the looting and theft which brought them to a shady international market. I hope that more and more museums look for more creative and sustainable means of acquisitions in the way Anderson has done. Nations of origin and foreign museums really do need each other. Now the mark of a great museum is not how many ancient objects it can acquire— in the past Anderson has called this lust for acquisition the desire to make museums ‘treasure houses’. Instead cooperators with nations like Italy will find collaborative relationships and long-term loans in exchange for cooperation in returning looted objects. Rather than hoard the ill-gotten acquisitions of the past, I think museums will find themselves working quickly to get at the head of the collaborative line with these nations. Anderson’s opinion piece, and the recent nudge towards reform in the AAMD guidelines are the most recent indication of what one hopes will be a positive shift.
- Maxwell Anderson, Giving back art — how museums see it, Dallas News, Feb. 8, 2013.
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|The Orpheus Mosaic, once looted and now returned to Turkey
In a press conference today Max Anderson, the new director at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) announced an agreement with Turkey to return this 2nd Century AD Roman Mosaic, and other objects. The mosaic was acquired in 1999 at a public auction at Christie’s in 1999 for $85,000. According to the DMA, after noting on Turkey’s cultural heritage ministry website that there had been an Orpheus mosaic missing, Anderson contacted Turkish officials. He was given photographic evidence showing the and comparing the mosaic with a border, being removed by looters near ancient Edessa, modern Sanliurfa in Southern Turkey.
In announcing the return, Anderson also announced a new initiative called ‘DMX‘ which attempts to seek loans and exchange agreements. A move that if successful would position the museum to pioneer the ideals of a universal museum while also respecting the laws and restrictions placed on objects by their nation of origin.
But other objects were also revealed. The DMA officials also announced that they had uncovered objects in their collection from Edoardo Almagià, an on-again/off-again antiquities dealer who has been tied to looted antiquities by Italian officials. The other objects may be more interesting, including:
- a pair of bronze shields decorated with the head of the man-bull deity Acheloos, dating from the 6th century B.C.E;
- a red-figure krater, designed for the burial of Greek nobles in southern Italy, dating from the 4th century B.C.E;
- the head from an antefix, dating from the 6th century B.C.E;
- and a calyx krater, dating from the 4th century B.C.E.
|The volute krater, 4th century B.C.E. its
provenance was “English collection”
Almagià is an interesting figure. In a 2010 interview with the Princeton alumni magazine, he is boldly critical of Italy’s heritage laws, and the agreements between Italy and the United States:
You are immediately equated with a criminal nowadays by being a collector. You have in Italy hundreds of thousands of people that have antiquities at home. They might have inherited them or bought them. In my youth, there were flea markets, and you could buy every antiquity you wanted. All those people that bought things – are they all criminals? It’s like Prohibition in the United States – there’s a criminal underworld. Italian law leads to crime. By legalizing the market in antiquities, you destroy the black market and eliminate the incentive to make forgeries.
He has been investigated by the public prosecutor in Rome since 2006, and his New York apartment has also been searched by U.S. Customs officials. Chasing Aphrodite points out that the returned material has ties to the usual suspects: Gianfranco Becchina, Robin Symes, and Giacomo Medici. And also notes other museums have similar objects. Given Turkey’s increasingly muscular calls for repatriation, the DMA has positioned itself to create favorable agreements with foreign nations, and also set itself apart from other institutions with similar material with insufficient histories. When I see these objects at a museum, with a scant or nonexistant provenance listed, I assume it must be looted. Forward-thinking museums are increasingly doing the same. And despite what value there may be in viewing the object in a ‘universal’ museum, that probable criminal history increasingly renders the display of these objects unjust.
- Michael Granberry, Dallas Museum of Art returns rare work of Roman art, signs memorandum of understanding with Turkish government for international exchange Center Stage, Dallas News (Dec 3, 2012).
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