Tuesday 11 November 2008

Cuno against the world

The onslaught against James Cuno, president and director of the Art Institute in Chicago, continues with a well written and genuinely interesting article by Tom Hundley from the Chicago Tribune which places it firmly in the context of the acquisition by US private collectors (and through them museums) of looted objects from post Gulf War Iraq and pits Cuno's abrasively phrased and controversial views against those of the archaeological conservation lobby:
A war of words has broken out between the two camps. Archeologists
argue that major museums and the wealthy private collectors who often sit on their boards have hastened the destruction of archeological sites by their willingness to pay high prices for objects that have almost certainly been looted. The museum directors and private collectors contend that by rescuing these artifacts from the vicissitudes of the black market they are giving safe shelter to the historical patrimony of all mankind. The high-end trade in illegal antiquities is centered in New York and London, but Chicago has emerged at the vortex of the debate
The article concisely summarises the main arguments of Cuno's recent book and discusses each of them, none too sympathetically. The author points out that:
Earlier this year, Cuno was on almost everyone’s shortlist to become the next director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art after the aristocratic and long-reigning Philippe de Montebello announced that he was stepping down. Although the Met ultimately picked one of its own curators for the post in September, Cuno’s book, which features a photo of the heavily guarded entrance of the Baghdad Museum on the front cover and a ringing endorsement from de Montebello on the back, was seen by some as a not-so-subtle pitch for the job. As it turned out, the controversy that has grown up around book may have hurt his chances.
Let that be a lesson to those who go around attacking archaeologists and conservationists. More here: Loot! Chicago at center of battle between archeologists, collectors. See also Kimberly Alderman's Cultural Property & Archaeology Law Blog.
Photo: Artefact hunters searching at Isin, Iraq, January 2004. From the book "Catastrophe!: The Looting and Destruction of Iraq's Past" (Photo by John M. Russell, Massachusetts College of Art)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out. That's an AMAZING photo. Where's it from?

Paul Barford said...

Hi, the photo is Isin - I say so at the bottom and the details of where I found it are given there. The interesting thing about this text was the juxtaposition of the Cuno hypotheses with the real situation both of the US portable antiquities market and the situation on the ground in just one of the source countries. I enjoyed looking through your good- humoured blog, keep it up.

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