Turkey Imposes Cultural Embargo on Museums with Contested Objects

The Art Newspaper reports that Turkey has refused to lend objects to museums in the US and UK until issues over disputed objects are resolved.

    The British Museum had asked for 35 items for the exhibition “Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam” (until 15 April). Although Turkish museums were agreeable to the loans, the ministry of culture blocked them, leaving the British Museum to find alternative artefacts at short notice. As part of the growing Turkish campaign, loans have been blocked to museums with disputed objects in their collections. The Met has confirmed that a dozen antiquities are now being claimed by Turkey, but would not identify the individual items. A museum spokeswoman says: “The matter is under discussion with the Turkish authorities.” This month, the Met is due to open “Byzantium and Islam” (14 March-8 July). Many loans are coming from the Benaki Museum in Athens, with none requested of Turkish museums.

  1. Martin Bailey, Turkey blocks loans to US and UK, The Art Newspaper, March 1, 2012, http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Turkey-blocks-loans-to-US-and-UK/25869 (last visited Mar 1, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Why did the Met Return Objects to Egypt?

A small bronze dog, one of the objects returned to Egypt

You can read what a couple of lawyers think in Marlon Bishop’s story for WNYC:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has returned 19 objects to Egypt originally found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Last November, the Met agreed to give back the artifacts after an internal museum investigation determined it had no right to the antiquities — mostly non-museum quality pieces, ranging from small fragments to a tiny bronze dog — in the first place. On Tuesday, the museum said it had shipped the objects to Egypt.

  1. Marlon Bishop, Metropolitan Museum Returns Antiquities Found in King Tut’s Tomb to Egypt WNYC (2011), http://culture.wnyc.org/articles/features/2011/aug/02/met-museum-returns-antiquities-egypt/ (last visited Aug 3, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The Met Sued in Bolshevik-era Restitution Suit

“Portrait of Madame Cezanne”, Pierre Cezanne (1891)

The Met has been sued by Pierre Konowaloff over this work. The claimant argues the work was stolen from his great-grandfather during the Russian Revolution, Ivan Morozov. Morozov was a Russian textile merchant, who collected a number of works by Cezanne. His works were zeized in 1918, and Morozov’s home was made a state museum.  This work was apparently purchased by Morozov in 1911, and he owned the work for seven years. In contrast, the Met has had the work for the last 50 years. The work was donated to the Met in 1960 by Stephen Clark, who purchased it from a gallery in 1933.

This suit, if successful, would really extend the limits of restitution claims further into the past to touch not just the Second World War, but the first one as well.

Konowaloff is currently defending a declaratory judgment suit brought by Yale University over the disposition of Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Night Cafe”. Yale is seeking a court determination that it is the rightful owner of that work, which would preclude a sale by the claimant.

  1. Philip Boroff, Met Museum Sued Over Cezanne Painting Stolen by Bolsheviks From Collector, Bloomberg, December 8, 2010, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-09/met-museum-sued-over-cezanne-taken-by-bolsheviks-from-collector.html (last visited Dec 10, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The Morgantina Treasure Returns to Sicily

“Here they are not orphans.”

So says Enrico Caruso, the director of the Archaeological park in Morgantina upon the installation of the Morgantina Silver in Aidone, Sicily. The 16 ancient Greek silver objects had been partially returned to Italy as a part of a 2006 agreement between Italy and the Met, and will now be on display near the site where they were likely looted nearly 30 years ago. Both Italy and the Met will share joint custody of these objects, and the objects will rotate between Aidone and the Met every four years. In this way visitors to both the Met and Aidone will be able to decide for themselves where they prefer to view and appreciate this collection of objects.

One of the tireless campaigners for the return of the silver objects has been Malcolm Bell III who is quoted in the New York Times:

“’The silver can perhaps shed light on the brutal, dramatic circumstances of the final years of the Second Punic War and, seen within the framework of the house, we get a sense of the art and the material culture of Hellenistic Sicily,’ said Malcolm Bell III, professor emeritus of art history and archaeology at the University of Virginia and the director of excavations at Morgantina. ‘They have truly been recontextualized, and that is really important.’”

The Morgantina Objects, as displayed at the Met

And yet I think the reason this recontextualization is important can be tied to the experience of viewing the landscape, the situs of the objects, and the current culture in the region.

Next year the Getty will return the statue of Aphrodite to Aidone, and residents there surely hope visitors will seek out the repatriated objects and boos the local economy. One of the striking themes which emerged from Elisabetta Povoledo’s reporting of the story are the economic benefits which will accrue to the city and territory when visitors flock to see the ancient objects. There appears to be a shift in culture, away from tolerating the looting of sites and the clandestine sales of these objects and a move towards responsibly managing these pieces of heritage.

And yet I wonder as well whether much would be made of this collection of silver, or the Aphrodite had these objects not been displayed in Los Angeles and New York, and then sent back in a very public way.

  1. Elisabetta Povoledo, Morgantina Silver Returns to Italy in Aidone Museum, The New York Times, December 5, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/06/arts/design/06silver.html?_r=2&sq=Morgantina&st=cse&adxnnl=1&scp=1&adxnnlx=1291737663-LJxPa3Cb/2lTVd2f0CM/fg (last visited Dec 7, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Egypt Secures Return of 19 Objects

One of the 19 objects returned to Egypt by the Met

The Met will return object to Egypt which had been unlawfully removed from Egypt after the excavation of Tutankhamen’s tomb. Archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb in 1922, and at the time some archaeologists may have kept some of the objects they found.

As the Met’s Director Thomas Campbell said in a statement “Because of precise legislation relating to that excavation, these objects were never meant to have left Egypt, and therefore should rightfully belong to the government of Egypt”.

These objects will likely assist Dr. Zahi Hawass in his attempts to secure the return to Egypt of objects which are very famous, which were removed from Egypt much longer ago—the Rosetta Stone and the Bust of Nefertiti. Hawass has made clear that he is seeking to fill a new national museum in Cairo with many of these renownd objects.

  1. Kate Taylor, Met to Repatriate Objects From King Tut’s Tombs to Egypt, The New York Times, November 10, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/arts/design/10met.html?_r=2 (last visited Nov 11, 2010).
  2. Ashraf Khalil, Egypt Hunts Ancient Artifacts, wsj.com, November 11, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704689804575535662169204940.html (last visited Nov 11, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

China’s Repatriation Team Visits the Met

File:Yuanmingyuan zuoshi.jpg“That wasn’t so bad after all”

So said James C.Y. Watt, the head of Asian art at the Met after a team of Chinese experts visited the institution looking for objects which had once been at the Chinese Old Summer Palace in Beijing.  China has been looking to buy or repatriate objects from the Old Summer Palace. 

The looting of the palace during the Second Opium War in 1860 holds great historical significance for many in China.  In response to the execution of twenty European and Indian prisoners, Lord Elgin (son of the the Elgin who removed the sculptures from the Parthenon) ordered the destruction of the palace.  As a 27 year-old captain in the Royal Engineers wrote:

We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property which [could] not be replaced for four millions. We got upward of £48 apiece prize money…I have done well. The [local] people are very civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did the Palace. You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.

This destruction continues to shape how China views its relationship with the West.  Chinese experts have conducted a campaign to seek the return of many of the objects looted from the palace.  This includes the “guerilla bidding” last year which effectively prevented the auction of two bronzes from the palace last year. 

Andrew Jacobs account of the visit calls into question the motives of the Chinese delegation.  He throws quotations around the phrase “treasure hunting team”, but the tenor in his piece echoes the pejorative of the phrase.  Many in the West still fail to engage with the fundamental issue.  Had the White House been burned and sacked in 1860, wouldn’t a powerful America be doing everything it could to seek the return of these objects? 

Jacobs references the criticism of Chinese destruction of historical sites.  But nearly every nation can be accused of the same.  What about the Native American burial mound which was decimated to create fill-dirt for a Sam’s Club in Alabama this year?  Does that mean America is an unsuitable steward for cultural treasures? 

  1. Andrew Jacobs, China Hunts for Art Treasures in U.S. Museums, The New York Times, December 17, 2009.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The Met Returns Object to Egypt

Curious story involving the Met and Egypt. It seems the museum will return a fragment of a red granite shrine purchased from an antiquities collector in New York last October “so that it could be returned.” It seems the Met purchased the object specifically to return it to Egypt. Curious to say the least, why couldn’t ICE agents or the NYPD have gotten involved? Perhaps because it was a prominent unnamed collector? There are more questions than answers at this point.

Here’s a part of the AP story:

The piece arrives in Egypt Thursday, the statement said. Egle Zygas, senior press officer for the Met, confirmed the museum’s decision.
SCA head Zahi Hawass hailed the Met’s move as a “great deed,” singling it out as the first time a museum has bought an item for the sole purpose of repatriating it.
The fragment belongs to the naos honoring the 12th Dynasty King Amenemhat I, who ruled 4,000 years ago, which is now in the Ptah temple of Karnak in Luxor.
It’s the latest coup for Hawass, Egypt’s assertive and media-savvy archaeologist, who has been on an international lobbying campaign to reclaim what he says are stolen Egyptian artifacts from the world’s most prestigious museums.
He says so far he has recovered 5,000 artifacts since becoming antiquities head in 2002.

  1. Joseph Freeman, The Met returns Egyptian artifact, The Associated Press Oct. 27, 2009.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com