Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Getty Museum signs deal to return 2 ancient treasures to Greece

Source: International Herald Tribune

ATHENS, Greece: Greece and the J. Paul Getty Museum have signed an agreement for the return of two ancient treasures that Athens claims were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country, officials said on Wednesday.

The artifacts are among the most important ever reclaimed by antiquities-rich Greece: a fourth century B.C. gold wreath and a sixth century B.C. marble statue of a young woman. They are the last of four antiquities successfully reclaimed by Greece from the Getty.

They will be handed over to Greek officials by the end of next month. The deal was signed in Athens late Monday by Greek Culture Ministry Secretary-General Christos Zachopoulos and Michael Brand, director of the private Los Angeles museum.

"This signing confirms the climate of trust and mutual understanding (between Greece and the Getty), and creates new prospects in their relations," the Culture Ministry and the museum said in a joint statement.

The antiquities will be returned to Greece by the end of March, the statement said.

Culture Minister George Voulgarakis read the statement at a news conference attended by Brand. Neither made any further comment on the agreement.

Voulgarakis has said there will be no trade-off with the Getty in exchange for the works, which Athens has claimed for more than a decade. But he did not rule out the possibility of Greece lending artifacts to the museum or organizing exhibitions there in the future.

Wednesday's signing came after an informal agreement in December for the works' return.

In September, the museum returned two stone sculptures dating to the sixth and the fourth centuries B.C. following pressure from Athens, which has launched an aggressive campaign for the return of looted Greek antiquities held in museums and private collections abroad.

These are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

The two works to be returned next month are among thousands of ancient artifacts lost to smugglers in recent decades.

The fourth century B.C. wreath is decorated with sprays of gold leaves and flowers inlaid with colored glass paste and — according to Greek authorities — was illegally excavated in the province of Macedonia. Designed as a burial gift, it was probably made shortly after the death of the Macedonian warrior-king Alexander the Great.

The marble statue, which lacks its head, lower arms and legs, is of a young woman and is a type widespread in southern Greece and the Aegean Sea islands from the mid-seventh to the late sixth centuries B.C.

Under Greek law all antiquities found in the country are state property.

A Greek prosecutor has brought criminal charges against a former Getty curator, Marion True, over the sale of the gold wreath, which the museum bought for US$1.15 million (€900,000) in 1993.

Another four people were charged with illegally excavating, exporting and selling the artifact.

True, who denies any wrongdoing, was the Getty antiquities curator from 1986 to 2005, when she was asked to retire. She was responsible for recommending what objects the museum should buy from private dealers and at public auctions.

Last year, police raided a Greek island villa belonging to True and seized several unregistered antiquities.

True is on trial in Rome for allegedly having knowingly purchased stolen artifacts for the museum from Italy.

1 comment:

Lenny said...

You can't pick up a newspaper or visit an art blog these days without running into a story about some country suing a museum or institution or country over the return of some artwork or antiquities which may have made their way to that country through either shady means or even forgotten formal agreements.

Bloomberg reported a while back that the government of Peru plans to sue Yale University, over hundreds of artifacts taken from the ancient city of Machu Picchu nearly a century ago.

And this may be the straw that breaks the camel's back (or in this case the llama's back).

The artifacts made their way to the US through Yale archeologist Hiram Bingham. One side claims that the artifacts were on loan. Yale contends the artifacts were legally excavated and exported "in line with the practices of the time."

And if these artifacts were sent to the US through some agreement with the Peruvian government nearly a century ago, then Yale has a case for keeping them; otherwise -- in the event that the American archeologists simply found them, crated them and shipped them to the US - all on their own -- then today's courts may well rule in Peru's favor.

And that straw that may break the camel's back may also unlock Pandora's box (which Greece will soon be suing for).

First: let's get one thing clear: Nazi art loot should and must be returned to their original owners or descendants.

But for most of all the other demanding of artwork returns: where does it stop?

Because unless you have some official paperwork signed, stamped and approved (and recognized as valid) then...

Does every Roman artifact in museums around the world have to be returned to Italy? And do Italian museums have to return Roman antiquities that were made in other parts of the Roman Empire to the nations that now exist there? And Italy better start packing the 13 Egyptian obelisks that are all over Rome: Cairo is clearing out some spaces for them.

Every Greek vase back to Greece? But do Greek museums have to return Cypriot antiquities to Cyprus?

Does every mummy have to find its way back to Egypt?

That "official" cadaver of Christopher Columbus in the Havana Cathedral? Sorry... back to Spain; or is it Italy, or Portugal? All three of those nations currently claim him as a native son, although I suspect that the Grand Admiral's descendants, currently living in Spain, have first dibs on Chris' bones.

And the fake Columbus cadaver in the Seville Cathedral? Back to Genoa, even if it's fake (just in case).

After all, that fake Scottish Stone of Destiny has made its way back to Scotland (God only knows where the real one is), but there are probably hundreds of thousands of antiquities (if not millions) from all over the world disseminated... all over the world.

Our own Smithsonian in the US has over 100,000 pre-Columbian antiquities in its inventory (most of which are not even on display). Do the ones that were created by pre-Columbian artisans from north and south of our border have to be returned to the countries that now exist there?

Unless these museums have a provenance with lots of country of origin stamps authorizing the removal of the antiquity, I'd be pretty nervous if I was one of those museums.

And even if you have such a paper, what's to stop today's version of a country's government from saying that they do not recognize the authority of their predecessors to allow the removal of a national treasure from their nation.

And where does it stop?

Frida Kahlo was essentially ignored by Mexico while she was alive, and yet decades after her death she was deified outside of Mexico, and eventually the government of Mexico made her works a national treasure and forbade the export of any of Kahlo's works from Mexico. I think that this is a good (if late) thing for Mexico and Mexicans.

But what's to stop a future Mexican government from demanding the return of any and all Frida Kahlos outside of Mexico back to her mother nation.

It would just be a case of this "return" trend being pushed a little more.

As an American, personally, I think that from now on, when I visit foreign museums, I will be making a list of American Indian artifacts in those museums, and they better damned have a piece of paper somewhere full of stamps and signatures from the Sioux, or the Walla Walla, or the Cheyenne, or the Seminoles or the Oneida or whatever indigenous Native American nation that currenly lives in the USA created them.

Official export paperwork from the United States government is not valid, and will not be accepted, regardless of how many non-Indian Washington, DC officials have signed it.

Of course, that may also mean that every non-Indian museum in the USA itself, would have to return every Native American Indian artifact back to their tribes.

Makes my head hurt...