Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Back to Square One at the Getty?

It has been announced that Dr James Cuno has been appointed as CEO and president of the J. Paul Getty Trust to replace James Wood who died last June. The post of the Getty Museum's director remains to be filled. There have been a number of reactions to the news of appointment of Cuno:

The least impassioned is by Jori Finkel, 'Getty Trust's new CEO: Art Institute of Chicago's James Cuno', LA Times May 10, 2011.

Others are less sanguine:
Benjamin Genocchio, 'Why the Getty's Choice of James Cuno as CEO Is Clueless' ArtInfo: May 9, 2011,
Lee Rosenbaum, 'Archaeologists’ Red Flag: James Cuno Named Getty Trust President', Culturegrrl May 10, 2011.
David Gill, 'James Cuno as President of the Getty Trust: Reactions' Looting matters, May 10th 2011.
Peter Tompa, 'Cuno to Getty', Cultural Property Observer 10th May 2011 hopes that the appointment means "a new determination to get tough with Italy, whose demands for repatriation have seemingly escalated despite the Getty's efforts to seek accomodation" (sic).

One cannot but think that Cuno's appointment is in some way concerned with the attention that the May 24 launch of Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch's exposé Chasing Aphrodite of the Getty antiquities scandals will doubtless attract in a few weeks.

Rosenbaum sees the appointment of the author of the controversial 'Who Owns Antiquity' in this post as potentially potentially damaging to the well-established international collaboration the Getty has established, she has written of him:
By taking an extremist stance that belittles the deeply felt and legitimate concerns of archaeologists and source countries to preserve archaeological sites and national heritage, he undermines efforts by reasonable people on both sides of the cultural-property divide to arrive at mutually beneficial compromises. And he self-destructively undermines any role he might personally have played in working cooperatively with foreign governments to forge mutually beneficial sharing arrangements.
Cuno dismisses such concerns, he says:
"In terms of my criticism of cultural property laws, I think reasonable people can disagree on these matters, and I very much look forward to engaging in conversations with colleagues around the world. I think we are all seeking the same thing: to preserve the objects of antiquity and broaden public and scholarly access to them.
Sadly Cuno here ignores the fact that the whole problem with the trade in illicitly obtained artefacts is that they are obtained by the destruction of archaeological contexts, sites, monuments and assemblages. It is not ownership or "protection" of the objects that is the problem, it is where they come from before they surface (from underground?). it was the failure to recognise this that was a fundamental flaw of the arguments he advanced in 2008, and it is sad that the new CEO of the Getty still has not taken this idea on board.


David Gill said...

"Who Owns Antiquity? is an example of US cultural imperialism at its worst." These are wise words from numismatist and head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Dr Roger Bland.

kyri said...

i met cuno when he visited london,i found him to be a very knowledgeable,decent man with strong views on cultural laws and allways willing to debate and listen.i have read his books and i dont agree with everything he says though i am a fan of the encyclopedic museum but lableing him an "extremist"well thats a joke.he has allready said that changing the gettys current
policies are not on the agenda,he hasnt even started his job yet,give the guy a break,or is everyone with a different opinion an extremist.

Paul Barford said...

the comment was actually Lee Rosenbaum's not mine. I think one can be knowledgeable and likeable and yet still have views which may reasonably be termed "extremist".

I certainly think his apparent blanket dismissal in his previous writings of all cultural property protection laws as "retentionist" and "nationalist" is an extreme stance, and it was for this rather black-and-white depiction that his views have been criticised.

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