Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Discussion of "the Great Giveback" by Hugh Eakin

Hugh Eakin's text The Great Giveback in the New York Times suggesting that claims of stolen property by foreign governments are "intimidating American museums" has aroused quite a bit of interest. I thought it might be helpful to set the responses out here.

1. Eakin's supporters

Judith Dobrzynski in artinfo.com () calls Eakin's piece "pitch-perfect" and claims journalists have not investigated claims and supported US museums in their efforts to hang on to stuff.

Cultural Property Observer Peter Tompa has a short piece on his lobbyblog called "" which it is interesting to see described on the Chasing Aphrodite Facebook page by Nikki Georgopulos: "That might just be the most nonsensical thing I've ever read".

Among those Tweeting the article are some who seem sympathetic to its premises: "
Twitter Trackbacks for The Great Giveback - New York Times

2. Polemecists
So far, most of the rest of the reactions question Eakin's point of view:

I wrote two pieces America's "Great Giveback".." in PACHI and another (with the same title) Cultural Property Repatriation News. I also did a brief follow-up piece.

Yesterday CultureGrrl entered the discussion with her text "Antiquities Antics: Hugh Eakin's Astonishing Anti-Repatriation Screed'
Hugh Eakin‘s distorted, often mistaken opinion piece [...] would best be ignored if it hadn’t been accorded the high-profile bully pulpit of a full-page spread in today’s NY Times “Review” section [...]  his misstatements and distortions regarding repatriations are likely to have been either deliberate or indicative of how much he has forgotten about what he once knew [...] his dubious, dangerous arguments demand a corrective.
She goes on to discuss an number of points whenere Eakin is wrong about the circumstances of past 'repatriations'.

 Lynda Albertson,  ARCA 's  CEO (Jan 27th) "Recapping the Villa Giulia Symposium - Italy’s Archaeological Looting, Then and Now" suggests Eakin may be wholly misrepresenting (may not know very much about) the motives of those asking for stuff back. 

David Gill has a nice long piece on his Looting Matters blog "Eakin: "Museums themselves are partly to blame" ..."
Hugh Eakin has written an important, but I believe flawed, piece on the return of antiquities for the New York Times.....
Rick St Hilaire responds in a text called "The Law of Repatriation under "The Great Giveback" "
He also calls the argument "flawed" and offers some legal observations. Eakin's "The Great Giveback":
overlooks the general principle that stolen property cannot be owned lawfully [...]  The article instead appears to encourage museums to retain tainted antiquities so long as they "have not been compelled by any legal ruling to give up the art." This assertion is fraught with risk for museums. [...] Eakin, meanwhile, maintains that unnamed "[c]ultural property lawyers say it is doubtful that foreign governments could have successfully claimed in court most of the works museums have handed over to them." This assertion is specious.
St Hilaire uses to illustrate his arguments an illicit kalpis purchased in good faith by the Toledo Museum of Art.

Derek Fincham adds his own comments "Reactions to Hugh Eakin's Anti-repatriation NYT Op-Ed"
[...]  piece by Hugh Eakin contained a stunning array of factual inaccuracies.[...] Having seen a looters pit and visiting these sites must I think cause any thinking person to change his or her views of the proper place for looted objects. Moreover, museums are repositories of works of art and cultural objects, but not at the expense of the rule of law. [...] But that's the casual indifference displayed by Eakin. 
Last, but most certainly not least, there is a really good text "Decoding Eakin: Behind ‘Extortion’ Claim, Fear the Floodgates Have Opened "Chasing Aphrodite blog",  Jan 29th 2013  which I would like to recommend as it sets the whole discussion neatly into context.
It is no coincidence that The Great Giveback, Hugh Eakin’s lengthy argument against the repatriation of looted antiquities, landed in The New York Times on Sunday, just as the directors of America’s leading art museums gathered in Kansas City for their annual meeting. [...] the series of reforms taken by many American museums in recent years — which include taking claims seriously and sending looted antiquities back to the countries from which they were stolen — are under attack from within. That brewing fight is the context for Eakin’s polemic, which notably takes aim not at source countries so much as museums like the Getty and Dallas that have embraced reforms and begun to proactively search their collections for problematic objects. With Philippe de Montebello retired and Jim Cuno forced to moderate his view by the Getty board, Eakin has emerged as the spokesman for the dissidents. [...] Eakin’s piece, then, is best understood as part of a broader effort to convince the public that claims involving looted antiquities are baseless and those who cave in to them, cowards. The reforms have not only failed to stop looting (a “scourge” often given lip service by museums, but never more.) They have “spurred a raft of extravagant new claims against museums — backed by menacing legal threats.” Unless American museums grow a backbone and fight these foreign claims to the death in court, Eakin suggests, someday soon they will be empty of ancient art. As he has done in the past, Eakin relies on a mosaic of selective facts and careful omissions to cobble together his argument.

A question which needs asking is also articulated here "the Museum Directors' Object Registry has become a tool for laundering suspect antiquities".

Finally, mention should be made of the 'Elginism' blog, which does not look so much at the issue of the rights and wrongs of US museums giving up their stolen stuff, but takes another angle about something Eakin says:   "The return of cultural treasures – and it wasn’t the Parthenon Marbles that opened the floodgates".

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