Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Beyond Ownership" is Dead; Time to Rethink the Italian MOU?

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?


Wayne G. Sayles said...

I would agree that what you suggest should happen if the players at DOS and CPAC are sincere and altruistic. I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen, but it would be a good start on the road to recovery.

kyri said...

james cuno must have steam coming out of his ears over this.i met him in 2009 when he came to london for a talk at ucl,seemd like a good guy who knew what he was talking about.he does a good job on chinese hypocricy in chapter 4 of "who owns antiquity".
the italians are out of order over this.i dont know what they were cuno im a big supporter of the encyclopedic museum and in the uk we have one of the best.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton, a former CPAC member and Getty curator, asked me to post this:

"Peter, your comments are to the point. The Getty, which has bent over backward to meet every demand of Government of Italy over the course of years, should feel it was euchred -- indeed, that it may have shown a somewhat naive display of credulity in giving up enormously important material that it could have retained in the expectation that there would be a meaningful and lasting return. Transient loans can never replace fully owned objects, and they should have known this. At the same time, the Italians have put egg on the faces of a number of ranking members of the art museum community.

If I were to predict on the basis of past performance, US art museums will go out of their way to make further concessions to Italy in the hope that this may soften up Italian loan-making.

The Italian MOU should be reopened. The museums of America should not pursue further loan requests of Italy and tell the Italian government that they will return nothing unless so ordered by a US court. Some tough love for the Italians would be salutary.

Best regards,