Tuesday 5 April 2011

Huffington Post on the Cleveland Apollo

Daniel Grant's article in the Huffington Post, discussed above, centres on a discussion of the Cleveland Apollo and it worth looking at what he says as a reminder about the issues surrounding this object:
The due diligence of the Cleveland Museum of Art was brought into question by a variety of archaeologists around the U.S., because of a number of ancient Greek and Roman antiquities in its collection. Its 2004 acquisition of a bronze Greco-Roman (there is debate over the actual date and origin) statue of Apollo was intended to be included in a current Louvre exhibition of the work of sculptor Praxiteles, but the Greek government threatened to withhold all loans to the French museum if this particular work was included.

The controversy stems from the fact that there are wide gaps in the sculpture's recent history of ownership and that it was purchased from Phoenix Ancient Arts gallery in Geneva, Switzerland, one of whose owners (Ali Aboutaam) had been convicted in absentia by an Egyptian court for antiquities smuggling (sentencing him to 15 years in prison). The very same day the museum publicly announced its purchase, the other gallery owner (Hicham Aboutaam, Ali's brother) also pleaded guilty in a U.S. District Court to falsifying a customs document for an ancient silver vessel. (A lawyer for Hicham Aboutaam claimed the dealer "inadvertently broke a law by making a mistake filling out a form.") Catherine Reed, director of the Cleveland Museum at the time, noted that Aboutaam's legal difficulties were "coincidental, rather than pertinent" to the authenticity and legality of the purchase of the Apollo.

There is no documentation of where the statue came from originally or when it came into the collection of the German Ernst-Ulrich Walter, although he swore in a written affidavit that it had been on his family's estate since at least the 1930s. In 1994, Walter claimed he sold the piece to a Dutch dealer, whose name he did not recall, and eight years later the Apollo was in the hands of the Aboutaam brothers. "We'd love to know more" about the period 1994-2002, Reed said, adding, "We have clear title."

According to Ricardo Elia, associate professor of archaeology at Boston University, due diligence isn't just "a pro forma nicety" but an integral part of scholarship, which he claimed was lacking in the Cleveland Museum's acquisition of the Apollo. "When you don't know where the piece came from and when it left the country, how do you know it's authentic?" he said. "The Cleveland piece may be Greek or Roman or a 19th century copy. Why spend millions of dollars on something so uncertain?" He added that the museum should have walked away from the Apollo in the same way that someone walking down the street should turn away from a sidewalk hawker holding out what he claims is a Rolex wristwatch.
Indeed, but not because it might be a fake, but because it might not.

Vignette: The controversial statue acquired by Cleveland.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"In 1994, Walter sold the piece to a Dutch dealer ... and eight years later the Apollo was in the hands of the Aboutaam brothers".

Presumably, then, the piece was in Switzerland accompanied by a valid EU export license, and Cleveland now has a copy. (Council Regulation (EEC) No 3911/92 of 9 December 1992 on the export of cultural goods). Unfortunately, when I wrote to Reed asking that question, she didn't answer. Perhaps my letter went astray?

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