Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Getty risks 'embargo,' Italy warns

Source: LA Times

Officials in Rome threaten to suspend "all cultural cooperation" with the museum as talks on the return of antiquities stall.

By Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, Times Staff Writers
November 11, 2006

ROME — Frustrated by the J. Paul Getty Trust's refusal to return a prized statue of Aphrodite and a score of other antiquities, Italian officials are threatening to impose an unprecedented "cultural embargo" on the Los Angeles museum that would prevent its borrowing any artwork from or conducting research in their country.

The impasse in talks came as new evidence was submitted Friday in the criminal trial of the Getty's former antiquities curator that the museum chose not to pursue information about the Aphrodite statue's origins when presented with an opportunity a decade ago.

Marion True told prosecutors in a statement entered into evidence that in 1996 the statue's former owner provided the Getty with photos of the 7 1/2 -foot depiction of the goddess and offered several fragments still in his possession.

But True said she was "highly skeptical" of the man's motives and decided it was "inappropriate" to accept his invitation to meet in Switzerland, according to a copy of the statement obtained by The Times.

That decision looms large today for both True and the Getty, because the marble and limestone figure has come to play the starring role in the dispute between Italy and the trust.

To Italian authorities, the statue symbolizes what they see as the museum's brazen exploitation of the illicit trade in ancient art. Getty officials say there is insufficient evidence to determine exactly where the statue comes from, and they have so far refused to return it.

Four months ago both sides announced an agreement in principle for the museum to return "a number of very significant" artworks in exchange for loans from Italy.

Since then, the Getty has quietly offered 26 objects, including masterpieces such as a marble statue of Apollo and a sculpture of mythical griffins devouring a fallen deer. Italy, in turn, agreed to withdraw its claim for six objects that it conceded may have been found outside its borders.

But deciding the fate of the 21 remaining disputed objects, dominated by the Aphrodite and a bronze statue of a young athlete, has proved difficult.

"Basta!" said Giuseppe Proietti, a senior cultural official, in a recent interview, using the Italian word for "enough."

"The negotiations haven't made a single step forward," he said. "We will not accept partial solutions. I will suggest the Italian government take cultural sanctions against the Getty, suspending all cultural cooperation."

Francesco Rutelli, Italy's minister of culture and vice president, was awaiting the latest response from the Getty before deciding whether to go ahead with an embargo, but he warned Friday that time was running out.

"I tried to explain it amicably to the people responsible for the Getty for the last six months," Rutelli said in a statement to The Times. "If they still haven't understood it, I'm afraid the process of conciliation will end and a serious conflict will begin." READ FULL STORY

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