per ricevere aggiornamenti sul sito inserisci il tuo indirizzo e-mail
patrimonio sos
in difesa dei beni culturali e ambientali

stampa Versione stampabile

Regarding Antiquities, Some Changes, Please
The New York Times

In the latest debacle over the looting of antiquities from Italy, there's plenty of hypocrisy to go around. The Metropolitan Museum is now negotiating with the Italian authorities over objects in its ancient Greek and Roman collection, trying to avoid the crisis facing the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, with its former curator of antiquities on trial in Italy.
Those aren't the only museums suddenly being scrutinized. American museums always pretend to be taken aback to learn that some of what they have acquired might not have been legally exported, as if there weren't a longstanding, tacit "don't ask, don't tell" policy. For years, museums have permitted art brokered through cities like Geneva and London to come into their collections. Dealers have been given a nod and a wink, so that they would know better than to share dirt on the origins of what they were selling. The burden was on the Italians - or Greeks or Turks or whomever - to prove the art was illegally sold.
American museumgoers have adopted their own "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Art comes, art goes: the public doesn't raise a fuss when museums sell off what is, really, the public's art. But acquiring looted treasure from abroad feeds into a particularly destructive foreign stereotype of the big, bad United States, exploiting other countries.
It should give every American pause, not just people who care about culture. Instead, politicians, picking up cues from an indifferent public, take the word of museum directors and officials who say, trust us, we know what we're doing. And what results is politics as usual.
The latest troubles should cause Americans to ask questions about our ethics and practices. Do the Met, the Cleveland Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston - places that bring together cultures from around the world, act as safe houses for civilization and provide public access to millions of people - also have claims to the world's art, claims that legitimately compete with the nationalist goals of countries that cannot always provide the same care and access?
Isn't it better for an ancient pot dug out of some farm in Sicily to end up at a museum like the Met, where it can be studied, widely seen and cared for, than to become booty in some billionaire's safe in Zurich, Shanghai or Tokyo?
At the same time, does encouraging the movement of artifacts into museums stimulate looting and, in the process, impede the circulation of critical information about the provenance, or history, of these objects?
The answer to all three questions is yes. But the Italians are also to blame. For years Italy was notoriously lax in enforcing its own export laws. Officials on the local level often turned a blind eye to the activities of scavengers. Italy has recently poured money into the policing of ancient sites, border control and bureaucratic reform, but the looting goes on.
One proposal put forward during the Met's talks with Italy could serve as a template for other American museums: the Italians would reclaim ownership of disputed treasures in return for long-term loans, a fair compromise. Yet going after American museums won't prevent looters from turning to Japanese or Chinese or Russian collectors who don't care about international law.
That's partly because Italian law, a function of cultural nationalism, encourages criminality. It requires Italians who discover an antiquity on their property to inform authorities. The authorities can then seize not just what was found, but also the ground where it was discovered, for excavation, without compensating the owners. All sorts of treasures are now dug out of the ground illegally or shepherded quietly from villas out of the country. Before the law was enacted in 1939, it was at least easier to learn where the objects came from. Sellers and buyers dispensed information about provenance without fear of prosecution.
Britain (never mind its problems with the Elgin marbles) has a less draconian system for its own heritage. If you find something, you come clean. You're free to sell. Should the government want what you unearthed, it can block export and then match the price. A couple of years ago in a field in Oxfordshire, an Englishman named Brian Malin, hunting around with a metal detector, came across a rare silver coin bearing the head of an obscure Roman emperor, Domitianus. Only one other coin like it had ever been found. Mr. Malin took it to the Ashmolean Museum, which wanted it. An independent panel was formed to assess the value and pay him.
Better that artifacts remain buried, Italian archaeologists may argue, because treasures will be safe for legitimate excavation in the future. The standard comparison is to legalizing drugs. Illegal art trafficking is often talked about alongside drugs and arms dealing.
But drugs and arms kill people. Art doesn't. Nudging the antiquities trade from the shadows into the light, while it may not stop all the criminals, won't do them good, either.
Typical of today's inconsistent enforcement policies is the recent decision by the Greek Parliament to open up 10,000 miles of coastline for pleasure divers to scour ancient shipwrecks. The law, intended to increase tourism, is really a windfall for looters and comes just when Greece is also pressing claims against the Getty for illegally exported art.
There are precedents for museums like the Met voluntarily returning stolen goods; the Met has given back an Egyptian relief, a Nepalese manuscript and a Cambodian head. But good faith clearly has its limits where big money is involved. The museum has been courting trouble by showing ancient loans from a major donor and trustee, Shelby White. For years, archaeologists have been complaining about the art that she and her late husband, the financier Leon Levy, bought.
And if the Getty's former antiquities curator, Marion True, and her bosses at the museum did not suspect that some of the objects they acquired from a trustee, Barbara Fleischman, and her late husband, Lawrence, were hot, then they were just about the only people in the art world who didn't.
Denials by former and present administrators at the museum fly in the face of insider accounts and the evidence presented so far at Ms. True's trial in Italy, never mind that they propose incompetence as a plausible defense. It turns out that while Ms. True was loudly trumpeting the Getty as a model of integrity, she was buying the Fleischman collection. That the whole Getty needs a thorough housecleaning and reorganization, and not just its current in-house review, should be obvious by now even to the beleaguered people who run the place.
Change must happen all around. The United States has to get its legal act together. It bars the import of antiquities deemed stolen from Italy, but the State Department and the courts don't interpret foreign export laws the same way. Museums should devise tougher standards for themselves, accepting the burden of proof. They should have third-party committees sign off on issues of provenance. The museum-going public should also be more vigilant in calling on the government to play watchdog.
And the Italians should reconsider their approach. They may change lending rules in exchange for returned goods. They should start by redoing a self-defeating law, which only invites deceit.
That would require an extreme act of political bravery. So don't bet on its happening anytime soon.



Il Consiglio Direttivo dell'Associazione Italiana di Studi Bizantini su Santa Sofia

RASSEGNA STAMPA aggiornata al giorno 25 luglio 2020

Sicilia. Appello di docenti, esperti e storici dell'arte all'Ars: "Ritirate il ddl di riforma dei Beni culturali"

Due articoli da "Mi riconosci? sono un professionista dei beni culturali"

Confiscabile il bene culturale detenuto allestero anche se in presunta buona fede

In margine a un intervento di Vincenzo Trione sul distanziamento nei musei

Vi segnaliamo: Il caso del Sacramentario di Frontale: commento alla sentenza della Corte di Cassazione

Turismo di prossimità, strada possibile per conoscere il nostro patrimonio

Un programma per la cultura: un documento per la ripresa

Il 18 maggio per la Giornata internazionale dei musei notizie dall'ICOM

Inchiesta: Cultura e lavoro ai tempi di COVID-19

Museums will move on: message from ICOM President Suay Aksoy

Al via il progetto di formazione a distanza per il personale MiBACT e per i professionisti della cultura

Lettera - mozione in vista della riunione dell'Eurogruppo del 7 aprile - ADESIONI

Da "Finestre sull'arte" intervista a Eike Schmidt

I danni del terremoto ai musei di Zagabria

Le iniziative digitali dei musei, siti archeologici, biblioteche, archivi, teatri, cinema e musica.

Comunicato della Consulta di Topografia Antica sulla tutela degli archeologi nei cantieri

Lombardia: emergenza Covid-19. Lettera dell'API (Archeologi del Pubblico Impiego)

Arte al tempo del COVID-19. Fra le varie iniziative online vi segnaliamo...

Sul Giornale dell'Arte vi segnaliamo...

I musei incassano, i lavoratori restano precari: la protesta dei Cobas

Nona edizione di Visioni d'Arte, rassegna promossa dall'Associazione Silvia Dell'Orso

Da Finestre sull'arte: Trump minaccia di colpire 52 obiettivi in Iran, tra cui siti culturali. Ma attaccare la cultura è crimine di guerra

Dalla stampa estera di ieri: minacce di Trump contro siti culturali iraniani

Riorganizzazione Mibact, Casini: non è ennesimo Lego, ma manutenzione amministrativa in continuità

Libero riuso delle riproduzioni di beni culturali: articolo di Daniele Manacorda sul "Giornale dell'arte"

Cosa succederà alla Biblioteca Guarneriana di S. Daniele del Friuli? Un appello dei cittadini al sindaco

Unicredit mette all'asta da Christie's capolavori della sua collezione

Da Artribune: Franceschini sospende i decreti Bonisoli

Archivio news