Sunday 19 October 2008

Shenanigans and Looted Objects at the Getty

Sharon Waxman former culture correspondent for The New York Times has a book coming out soon. It has the title “Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World,” and the publishers call it “a journey across four continents to the heart of the conflict over who should own the great works of ancient art”. Obviously they feel that a good way to attract attention of a wider range of potential readers is the story of a good sex scandal or few. So instead of moaning about some displaced pots or chunks of carved stone, an extract this week Roman Orgies in the Getty Villa discusses some sexual shenanigans going on in the 1970s at the the mock Roman villa above Malibu. The author admits that they
“were not directly tied to the problems the Getty would later face over stolen antiquities. But they were not insignificant either, creating a backdrop of interpersonal drama and tensions that played out fatally when the museum faced substantive issues over acquisitions, governance, or finances. This had a pronounced impact on the functionality of the institution and its credibility within the museum world”.
To judge from other pre-publication material, the book looks interesting, not least for the fact that the way it is being marketed suggests it may interest a wider readership in the problems concerning the way we treat portable antiquities. This is far from an issue which should only be of concern of denizens of ivory towers, but a matter of wide and informed public debate and interest. As for the book itself, Karl Meyer is quoted in the publisher's reviews as saying that the author
"exposes the self-serving humbug that too often afflicts both affluent possessors and righteous nationalists and shows that we all have a stake in getting an honest account of how great objects came to rest in our grandest museums."
and private collections I would add. It remains to be seen how the archaeological aspects of looting to supply this market are dealt with. One for the Christmas present list for the in-laws maybe?

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