Yale and Peru Finalize Agreement

On Friday, Yale University signed an agreement with Peru over the disposition of objects removed from Machu Picchu nearly a century ago. The agreement, which will avoid continued litigation will create a joint Center for the Study of Inca Culture in Cusco, Peru. The center will preserve the artifacts, make the objects available for study and display, and promote research. This looks to be a beneficial agreement for all the parties involved. There will be a new joint research center in Cusco, pairing Yale University with the University of San Antonio Abad del Cusco. And though the objects will no longer be in Connecticut, the objects will be available for future study, and will still be cared for. And finally, Peru’s suit against Yale is no longer necessary to resolve the dispute. A memorandum of understanding was created in November, but Peru had backed out of agreements in the past with Yale. This time though, the dispute looks to be resolved for good.

As always, the best place for coverage of the dispute is the Yale University paper, and reporter Sarah Nutman is writing a series on the returns:

Since Yale and Peruvian officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the return of the objects last November, both sides have been eager to underscore the goodwill between the two parties. The document, they say, allows Peru and Yale to move beyond the mistrust that has often characterized their interactions over the century-long struggle — it has eliminated any underlying disagreement. 
For the most part, the two sides agree. Peru will repatriate thousands of pieces. Some will arrive in time for the centennial this July; the rest will be in Peru by December 2012. But there remain aspects about which Yale and Peru tell very different stories. For instance, how the pieces came to stay in New Haven for so long, and why, after nearly a decade of bickering, Yale simply offered to cede them to Peru.

  1. Sarah Nutman, Yale and University of Cusco sign collaboration agreement, Yale Daily News, February 11, 2011, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/11/yale-and-university-cusco-sign-collaboration-agree/ (last visited Feb 14, 2011).
  2. Sarah Nutman, Returning to Machu Picchu, Yale Daily News, February 14, 2011, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/14/returning-to-machu-picchu/ (last visited Feb 14, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Yale Says Machu Picchu Artifacts Will Return

Yale has announced objects from Machu Picchu will be returned to Peru, and that an agreement is being “formalized”. It seems the objects will return to Peru early next year, which will bring an end to the ongoing lawsuit brought by Peru. Hopefully the two sides have reached a mutually beneficial compromise, and an agreement is close. But remember, an agreement has been announced before.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Senator Dodd Weighs in on Yale and Peru

Sen. Chris Dodd has weighed in on the dispute between Yale and Peru over objects removed by Hiram Bingham from Peru during the early part of the 20th century. Bingham brought widespread attention to Machu Picchu during a serious of expeditions, and he returned home with many objects, which have been in the possession of Yale, despite what Peru claims was an agreement to return those objects.  Yale has offered to provide material and financial support for research in Peru in exchange for a traveling exhibition and continued lease of the objects, however that agreement fell through and Peru has sought relief in federal Court.

Yet now Sen. Dodd has offered to intervene.  Though he says Peru are the rightful owners of these objects, he may mean these are items of cultural heritage which should be returned to Peru.  “The Machu Picchu artifacts do not belong to any government, to any institution, or to any university,” Dodd said in a statement. “They belong to the people of Peru. I plan to work with both parties to resolve this dispute quickly, amicably, and return the artifacts to their rightful owners.”

From the AP story:  “Machu Picchu has special significance for Peru and the entire world,” Yale said in a statement. “We look forward to a plan that preserves the artifacts and ensures their availability to the public and scholars to promote further appreciation and study of the rich cultural legacy of Machu Picchu.”

For background on this dispute, see these posts

  1. John Christoffersen, Senator Christopher Dodd Says Artifacts Held by Yale Belong to Peru, http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=38572 (last visited Jun 15, 2010).
  2. In Peru, Dodd Works to Mediate Dispute Over Machu Picchu Artifacts | U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd, (2010), http://dodd.senate.gov/?q=node/5658 (last visited Jun 15, 2010).
  3. Cultural Property Observer, Connecticut Senator Sides with Peru Against Yale Cultural Property Observer (2010), http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/06/connecticut-senator-sides-with-peru.html (last visited Jun 15, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Peru has Dropped Some Claims Against Yale

Peru has decided not to allege fraud and conspiracy claims against Yale University in its lawsuit over objects removed from Machu Picchu in the early part of the 20th century.  One of the main points of contention in the dispute is whether this action is timely.  It surely would have if brought soon after the objects were removed, but Peru will either have to justify waiting decades to bring a claim, or convince a court that Peruvian law applies—perhaps under the lex originis rule

For background on the dispute see these posts

From the AP:

The withdrawal of some claims comes after Peru hired new lawyers who said the move would simplify the case and “facilitate resolution” of the dispute. Yale’s lawyers had warned that the claims violated civil procedures prohibiting frivolous arguments.

The fraud allegations that were withdrawn accused Yale of intending to deceive Peru by promising to return the artifacts and conspiring with Bingham to retain the artifacts unlawfully by fraudulently assuring that Yale would return the artifacts when Peru demanded.

“Peru has dropped all claims of Yale having intentionally done anything wrong,” said Jonathan Freiman, Yale’s attorney. “We’re glad that they have done so, but we think the rest of the case is equally misguided and should be withdrawn, as well.” . . .

“Yale has wholly betrayed Peru’s trust and confidence,” the lawsuit states. “Yale has exploited its holding of the Machu Picchu collection for commercial and financial gain at the expense of the interests of the Peruvian people and in violation of the fiduciary obligations that Yale owes Peru.”

  1. John Christoffersen, Peru lifts some Machu Picchu claims against Yale, AP, March 10, 2010 (last visited Mar 10, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Update on Yale’s Cultural Heritage Lawsuits

 The Yale Daily News updates two disputes involving Yale University.  The first is a dispute involving the Night Cafe by Vincent Van Gogh:

 Pierre Konowaloff, the descendant of a Russian aristocrat who once owned the painting, claims it is rightfully his because the Soviet government expropriated it from his family in 1918.
The Soviet government seized “The Night Café” from Konowaloff’s great-grandfather Ivan Morozov as part of the government’s mass nationalization of private property in the early 20th century. Konowaloff claims this constitutes a theft, delegitimizing any subsequent sale or purchase. Therefore, Konowaloff claims, Stephen Clark 1903, who bequeathed the painting to Yale in 1960, never actually owned it.
Clark was a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the early 1930s, he acquired the painting from the Knoedler Gallery in New York City, which had purchased it from the Matthiesen Gallery in Berlin, Germany; it was the Matthiesen Gallery that originally bought the painting from the Soviets.
Yale first responded to Konowaloff’s claims of ownership in May 2009, filing a lawsuit to assert the University’s ownership. Konowaloff responded with a counterclaim in March 2009, requesting the return of the painting and over $75,000 in damages.
Yale’s Oct. 5 motion argues that “it is well-established that a foreign nation’s taking of its own national’s property within its own borders does not violate international law,” and that the Soviet government’s original acquisition — and also Yale’s subsequent acquisition — of the painting was legal.
The motion also argues that Konowaloff’s claim came too late, since the statute of limitations for a dispute of ownership of this nature would have expired in the 1960s, three years after Yale publicized its acquisition of the painting.

The second is a dispute involving objects removed by Hiram Bingham from Machu Picchu:

 

In the case of the Inca artifacts, Yale is arguing it first gained control of the items when they arrived in New Haven in the 1920s, describing them in several Yale publications as part of the museum’s permanent collection.
“Decade after decade, Peru was content to let Yale hold itself out to the world as the owner of the objects,” the Oct. 16 motion reads. “[Peru] disregarded the reasonable time limits imposed by law for bringing its claims.”

  1. Nora Caplan-Bricker, Yale moves to drop museum suits, Yale Daily News, October 27, 2009.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"Peru is rightful owner of artifacts"

So argues former First-Lady of Peru Eliane Karp-Toledo in an Op-Ed today in the Miami Herald (for a brief discussion of another Op-Ed in the NY Times, see here). She discusses the ongoing dispute between Yale and Peru over objects taken from Peru by Hiram Bingham, and effectively communicates Peru’s position—and only their position.  Though I think it is reasonable to criticize some of the actions of Yale University since they have held the objects, Karp-Toledo does her argument a disservice I think by ignoring some very real and well-founded differences of opinion between Yale and Peru.

For example, she argues “Many years of frustrated negotiations, and Yale’s presentation of an insensitive ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ in 2007, finally led the Republic of Peru to file a lawsuit against Yale in the District Court for Washington, D.C., in December 2008.”  Yet I’m not really sure how that memorandum was “insensitive”; nor does Karp-Toledo really tell us why.  That agreement, now apparently abandoned, aimed at creating a kind of lease which would have created a collaborative relationship between Yale and Peru.  It would have been similar in form perhaps to the agreements Italy has been promulgating with many institutions forced to return looted antiquities.  Peru would have received title to all the objects, with many remaining in Connecticut. There would have been an international traveling exhibition, and proceeds would help build a much-needed new museum and research center in Cuzco. Yale also would have provided funds to establish a scholarly exchange program. As Yale president Richard C. Levin said at the time, “We aim to create a new model for resolving competing interests in cultural property,… This can best be achieved by building a collaborative relationship — one which involves scholars and researchers from Yale and Peru — that serves science and human understanding.”  I’m afraid I don’t see how this arrangement was “insensitive”. 

File:MuseoSicán lou.jpgAnother point of contention is where these objects may be stored if they are returned.  Though she points out the Royal Tombs Museum of Sipán (pictured here), she has little to say about the current exhibition near Machu Picchu at Aguas Calientes.  An expanded center such as the one Yale had offered would seem to be badly needed, as there are indications the current museum near the Aguas Calientes train station is not fit for purpose, according to Arthur Lubow in a long piece in the NY Times Magazine:

The doors were open to the air, which was moist from the nearby river, and the sole official was a caretaker who sold tickets and then exited the building. On display in the attractive (if unguarded) museum are the finds that Peruvian archaeologists have made at Machu Picchu in the years since Bingham’s excavations.

 I think it is worth asking at this point, how much of the ongoing dispute is a product of the effort to continue the Indigenous rights movement in Peru, irrespective of whether it is actually creating a better place to display these objects, and display them to the public—whether that is in the US or Peru?  I think that collaboration is a far better model, but I’m not sure Karp-Toedo has provided and argument which would call for zero collaboration.  Instead she seems eager to punish Yale and Hiram Bingham for taking Peru’s heritage.  A claim I think which is not supported by the facts as we know them.  Though there are certainly indications that these objects should have been returned to Peru long ago, they were not, perhaps because of intervening events (America’s involvement in WWI may have provided a distraction), neglect, negligence or even bad faith.  
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Yale Sued Again

Yale University has been sued in U.S. District Court in Connecticut by Pierre Konowaloff who alleges a work by Van Gogh—”The Night Cafe”—was confiscated from his great-grandfather during the Communist revolution in Russia. 

The action is a counter to Yale’s earlier suit. Yale initially brought suit in March, seeking to pre-empt Konowaloff’s claim.  In Yale’s initial suit in March, they argued courts should not undo the property revolution of Russia.  Russian law would seem to prevent these kind of claims as well. Back in March, Richard Lacayo noted that Konowalof’s grandfather—Ivan Morozov was “was one of the two outstanding Russian collectors and patrons of modern art early in the 20th century.” The suit, Yale University v. Konowaloff, 09-466, U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut (New Haven), will determine whether this work was seized unlawfully during a Communist takeover of Russia in 1918. 

A similar issue recently arose in the UK with the recent dispute over the Royal Academy display of “From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 From Moscow and St. Petersburg”. Russia nearly backed out of the deal.  The display required an act of Parliament to grant special immunity to prevent the works from being claimed by descendants of the original owners from whom many of the works were summarily seized during the Bolshevik revolution.

2009 must be the year claimants to Yale’s cultural heritage decided to pursue their claims, because of course this suit follows soon after the Republic of Peru’s suit filed in December over artifacts taken from Machu Picchu

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com