Sunday, October 4, 2009

Archaeologist David Gill Celebrates Italy's Latest "Trophy Art" Exhibit

Archaeologist and SAFE associated blogger David Gill "celebrates" Italy's latest display of "trophy art" repatriated from North American collections in his latest PRNewswire release. See Looting Matters: Italy continues to celebrate the return of antiquities

But doesn't all this just divert attention from the real problems-- Italy's inablity to reform its cultural bureaucracy, unwillingness to fund its cultural establishment adequately, and to adopt more rational laws-- like the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act --that would ensure that the State only keeps what it can reasonably be expected to take care of?

Gill certainly ignores the politics behind the exhibit. The latest display, celebrating 40 years of the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale, continues the theme of a far more prominent "trophy art" exhibit, entitled "Nostoi," that opened before the last Italian election. Efforts of then Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli, "the Great Repatriator," to use the exhibit to drum up nationalist sentiment and votes before the last election failed miserably. See

Rutelli's Center Left Coalition was defeated resoundingly by a Center Right Coalition headed by current Prime Minister Berlusconi. Since then, the Berulsconi Government has taken a less confrontational approach to repatriations and has instead focused its attentions on trying to reform -- with limited success-- Italy's entrenched cultural bureaucracy. See In revenge, Italian cultural bureaucrats have helped hype tape-recorded revelations that the Prime Minister failed to report Punic tombs under his Sardinian estate in a sex scandal that the Center Left hopes will undercut Berlusconi's popularity. See

The fact that these exhibits are so mixed up with Italian politics should raise questions for "cultural property observers" unencumbered by the "archaeology over all" perspective of Gill and his associates at SAFE. One suspects Italian cultural bureaucrats hope the new exhibit will encourage the government to return to a more aggressive stance on repatriations, and forget about real reforms of the system that could undercut their own power.

But one need look no further than the condition of the Castel Sant' Angelo, where the latest "trophy art" exhibit is being held, to conclude that true reforms are desperately needed. According to a 2005 article, the cultural landmark is badly in need of repair and is in danger of collapse. See

The same can be said of Italy's cultural heritage establishment despite efforts to divert attention away from its problems through "trophy art" exhibits like that publicized in Gill's latest press release.

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