Friday, November 10, 2006

Getty Ex-Curator Says Antiquities Trade 'Corrupt' Art Smuggled

Source: Bloomberg

By Vernon Silver

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The J. Paul Getty Museum's former antiquities chief said the market for ancient art is probably the ``most corrupt'' of art markets, with unscrupulous dealers peddling smuggled goods, according to a written statement made to a Rome court where she's on trial for buying loot for the Getty.

Marion True, the former antiquities curator of the Los Angeles-based Getty, the world's wealthiest art institution, said she fought the illicit trade by tightening the Getty's acquisition standards, and by purchasing and documenting objects of unknown origin so they wouldn't be lost to the private trade.

``The museum had to accept the premise that the majority of antiquities available on the market had, in all probability, been exported from the countries of origin illegally,'' True, 58, wrote, explaining why the Getty adopted policies that restricted artifacts it could buy.

True's lawyers submitted her statement today to the Rome Tribunal as evidence in her trial, in which she's charged with conspiracy and receiving stolen antiquities for the Getty's collection. True denies the charges.

Among the steps she took to battle the illicit trade was a ban on buying objects that hadn't been part of a known collection or been documented in a publication before 1995. Last month the Getty further limited its antiquities purchases in most cases to those documented before 1970.

``I knew, in fact, that the antiquities market was filled with risks for those who wished to purchase objects, as it included many unscrupulous dealers, who had no qualms about selling fakes or objects that had been stolen or exported illegally from their country of origin,'' True wrote in the 19- page memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News.


She wrote the statement to clarify and add to comments she made in earlier questioning by prosecutors, one of her lawyers, Francesca Coppi, said.

Judges in the case will base their ruling both on written evidence submitted to the court and verbal testimony of witnesses. A transcript of her earlier questioning, conducted in Los Angeles, is already in evidence.

True hasn't testified in the Rome court and isn't required to be present at the trial, which started a year ago and which she has attended once.

Her statement, which casts True and the Getty as reformers in a corrupt market, comes as the Getty negotiates with Italy over government demands that the museum return some of the 52 disputed antiquities in its collection.

True, who was antiquities curator from 1986 through 2005, said in her statement that when she took the job she helped draft a memo to the Getty board to explore whether it was possible to continue to collect antiquities in a tainted market.

``The memorandum pointed out that the antiquities market was probably the most corrupt of the art markets,'' she wrote in her statement to the Rome Tribunal.

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