Thursday, June 3, 2010

Repatriation Agreements Fail to Buy Peace

The New York Times has reported that an Italian prosecutor is considering charges against the curator of Princeton University's antiquities collection. See

In the article, Hugh Eakin states,

As the museums have relinquished dozens of artworks that Italy claims were looted, receiving loans of other objects in exchange, officials on both sides have talked about a new era of collaboration.

But now an Italian investigation of a second American museum curator, in a case involving similar allegations of criminal conspiracy, seems likely to upend assumptions about any rapprochement. According to a 14-page legal notice from the public prosecutor’s office in Rome, J. Michael Padgett, 56, antiquities curator at the Princeton University Museum of Art, is a focus of a criminal investigation of “the illegal export and laundering” of Italian archaeological objects. Once again an American may be facing a drawn-out legal ordeal, and at least the hypothetical threat of incarceration in a foreign country, for acquiring art for a museum — something that was unheard of before the Getty case, and that many museum professionals believed was not going to happen again.

One wonders if the Italian Cultural Ministry was consulted about this issue, particularly because news of the investigation coincides with efforts to negotiate a renewal of the current MOU on antiquities with Italy. Museums had generally supported the renewal with some modifications to ensure that long-term loans would be available to all, but one suspects this news may prompt at least some of them to have second thoughts.

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