Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sicilian Cultural Bureaucracy Imperils Exhibit

Hugh Eakin writes of Sicily's demand that key objects meant to travel from the Getty to Cleveland for an exhibit celebrating ancient Sicilian culture instead be returned to the Island.   More evidence, if any was really necessary, that that the museum community's decision to drop its opposition to MOUs and to repatriate artifacts with little question has not brought the collaboration that was promised.


Paul Barford said...

Why has Cultural Property "Observer" omitted to inform his readers that the contested decision to send the objects concerned to Cleveland after the Getty exhibition is one taken UNILATERALLY by those US museums? Not only without the formal agreement of Sicily, but ignoring its previously clearly expressed wishes and also after the expiry of the MOU.

A quote from the article which you omitted:
“I believe that these imbalanced exchanges” with American museums “have run their course,” Ms. Sgarlata said in her e-mail. “We are open to exchanges, if duly considered, and especially if they respect the concept of authentic reciprocity.”

That seems to me to be a fair position. If US museums continue to think they can trample roughshod over the rest of the world willy nilly, just because they are American Museums, then perhaps they need something to teach them a little humility and consideration for other countries.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this:

"Peter, I am sorry to see this. I have a special affection for the Getty, and Cleveland. The Getty made monumental efforts to provide positive inducements to motivate a warm working relationship and loans from Italy for exhibits exactly like this -- including, in addition to the voluntary repatriation of enormously important material, the lavish distribution to Sicily of money and conservation resources. And the AAMD has argued strenuously for the renewal of the US-Italian Memorandum of Understanding. with the hope (perhaps expectation) that the Italian government would make available to US museums important objects for display. No one suggested that the Italians could not be trusted to do the right thing. Today, those dreams seem to have been shattered. Maybe something can be salvaged. But I suspect that, henceforth, no one will believe the promises.

I should add that Sicily's claim that the absence of the Mozia Charioteer deprives Sicily of tourist dollars is ludicrous. Mozia is located in the least-traveled area of Sicily. It is an Island that requires a ferry ride to get to. The number of visitors who go there are among the fewest to any location in Sicily. It looks like retribution, a biting the hand that feeds, for some unknowable but no good reason.

Perhaps the Getty should reconsider providing further resources to Italy. Perhaps the AAMD might consider what it has achieved by its hot embrace of the Italian MOU.

Best regards,


Cultural Property Observer said...

For Mr. Barford, perhaps this is a matter of Italian politics. The Museums evidently thought they could rely on the representations of the Italian Government, but Sicilians like Rome about as much as the Northern Italians do (and they both dislke each other as well). In any event, the underlying question is whether the United States and US Museums were bamboozled into signing an MOU based on empty promises of cultural cooperation. Looks like that has been the case.

For Arthur, I've been to Motya. It is a magical place, but it is well off the beaten track and is visited by very few tourists. It was empty when i visited.

Incidentally, the site was first excavated by a wealthy amateur whose British family (if memory serves) ran a Marsala wine house. He excavated the site and put up a museum to preserve the finds. Yet another example of how private collectors have been instrumental in preserving Italy's heritage. Perhaps we need more of that today given the abysmal situation there.

Paul Barford said...

For Mr Tompa, I am sure it is politics, the whole of what you do (or anyone else does) with antiquities is intimately entwined in politics. Nobody is pretending it is anything else.

I do however think you are confusing two quite separate agreements. The 2010 one mentioned in Eakins' article is not the one that coin collectors are up in arms about.

I am amused by Mr Houghton's phrase "the voluntary repatriation of enormously important material" to describe the goings-on in the Getty.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Thank you. I understand that there are two different MOUs, but the national government has made promises that have not been fulfilled due to regional concerns. I'll let Arthur respond it he wants to, but the repatriations were voluntary in a legal sense-- no court or goverment compelled the returns.