Thursday, 5 January 2012

Artefact Loans: Be Careful of Lending Museum Objects to the US

This is both good and bad, depending on which way you look at it. As Rick St Hilaire (Court Forfeits Cristo Portacroce After Italy Does Not Show Up) reports on the case of a sixteenth century painting formerly on display in Tallahassee Florida at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science since March 18, 2011, which had been part of an exhibition of 50 Baroque paintings on loan from the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, Italy:
The forfeited Cristo Portacroce.
Courtesy ICE
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida has ordered the forfeiture of the painting, the Cristo Portacroce Trascinato Da Un Manigoldo. The court issued the default judgment once the previous possessors, Italy and its Brera Art Gallery, failed to make a claim for the return of the artwork. The court's ruling was brief: "Upon Application of the Plaintiff(s) in the above styled cause and having examined the records and there appearing to be no responsive pleadings filed by the defendant(s), default is hereby entered against the Italian Republic, Ministry of Culture, and the Pinacoteca di Brera, on January 3, 2012."
So, on one hand another Holocaust claim has been resolved in favour of the heirs of the victims, which is good. On the other serious damage has been done to the reputation of the US as place you can send temporary loans of museum objects.

This is also yet another case where a US court has assumed the competence to determine issues about cultural property belonging to another country (the original Odyssey Salvage permit for the "Black Swan" as it was then - also Florida, the ruling against Russia over a Jewish archive held in Russia being just two annoying cases that come to mind in recent years). In this case an Italian museum loaned an object to a US one in good faith, only to have the item in a public collection (in the eyes of the Italian government legally owned - or at least not illegally owned by the public institution) taken away and awarded to a private individual. This is setting a precedent and creates a situation where international loans of cultural property to US museums are not now going to be undertaken lightly, and these of course underpin the bilateral cultural property agreements the US signs with other nations in a pretence to be implementing the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

The background to this case has been discussed by St Hilaire here and here.

1 comment:

Rick St. Hilaire said...

It is important to remember that the US has the Immunity from Seizure Under Judicial Process of Cultural Objects Imported for Temporary Exhibition or Display (22 USC § 2459), protecting artwork on loan in the US from seizure. The Italy-Brogan loan agreement apparently did not contemplate this protection, which could have been applied for. See

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