The LA Times is reporting new information that sheds light on why Cleveland's long planned show of Sicilian antiquities is being cancelled. Apparently, Sicily demanded that Cleveland pay an additional $700,000 in fees in order for the show to go on as planned. This figure is presumably in addition to the monies Cleveland had already pledged to the Getty, where the show originated. The Cleveland Museum of Art wisely refused this demand, meaning the show will be cancelled.
Now, the Getty will be saddled with the entire $990,000 cost, some $300,000 more than anticipated. All this should provide the Getty Trust's chief, Jim Cuno, with plenty of material for a new book. Cuno has expressed serious qualms about Italy's approach to cultural property matters in the past. Nevertheless, under his leadership, the Getty has made great efforts on Italy's behalf in recent years, both in terms of voluntarily repatriating objects and in assisting Italy's and Sicily's cultural establishments with funding and conservation help. Yet, for all that effort, this is the kind of thanks the Getty has received from Italy and Sicily.
All this should also cause proponents of the MOU with Italy to rethink matters. Now that U.S. Museums can no longer count on Italy to provide low cost short term loans, let alone the long term ones promised in the agreement, why should the U.S. continue to impose import restrictions on artifacts like ancient coins the Italians themselves actively and openly collect?
The Cultural Property Implementation Act allows the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to recommend that MOUs be suspended. Perhaps time has now come to suspend the Italian MOU. Clearly, Italy no longer honors the concept of loans, the key quid pro quo upon which the entire agreement is premised. Why then should the interests of American museums, collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade continue to be sacrificed?