Saturday, 19 January 2013

Compromised Getty Reportedly Looks to Hygiene of Antiquities Collection

Jason Felch ('Getty Museum review targets its antiquities collection' LA Times 18th Jan 2013) is reporting that the J. Paul Getty Museum is - one would have thought somewhat belatedly:
trying to verify the ownership histories of 45,000 antiquities and publish the results in the museum's online collections database.  The study, part of the museum's efforts to be more transparent about the origins of ancient art in its collection, began last summer, said Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig.[...] The review is likely to reveal that problems in the Getty's collection go far deeper than the nearly 50 looted objects returned since 2007, according to Getty records and interviews with antiquity dealers and former museum officials. Hundreds of objects still in the collection were acquired with false ownership histories aimed at disguising their origins in the illicit antiquities trade, records and interviews show.
Better late than never I suppose, but the review came too late it seems for the items discussed in the main part of Felch's article, an assemblage ("the second largest collection of this material in the United States and one of the most important in the world") of 56 ancient "ambers" (sic) - aka archaeological artefacts being presented merely as "art". These figure prominently in the by-now well chronicled 1983 Getty tax-return scam at the centre of which stood the valuations offered by Jiri Frel (and in which Bruce McNall, Fritz Burki and Robert Hecht were reportedly implicated) as the "Chasing Aphrodite" author summarises in the newspaper article.
The Getty's counsel suggested that the documents "relating to Frel's corruption" be removed from the Getty so they couldn't be subpoenaed. Soon after, Frel abruptly moved to Europe [...] In the end, the cover-up worked: The IRS investigation never caught on to the broader tax fraud scheme, and the thousands of objects donated to the Getty in those years remain in the collection.
Nothing is said of the other, the "largest collection of such material in the US" and how it was acquired. Wouldn't it be nice to know?

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