Monday 28 May 2012

Cleveland Art Museum Standing their Ground

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has an article by Steven Litt on Turkey's ongoing repatriation drive ('Turkey's inquiry into 22 treasures at the Cleveland Museum of Art lacks hard proof of looting', Sunday, May 27, 2012) The government of Turkey is:
proceeding in a way that could shake the foundations of encyclopedic museums with items collected before contemporary laws and international agreements intended to prevent looting and trafficking. In late March, Turkey released to Times reporter Jason Felch a list of 22 objects in the Cleveland museum that the country says were dug up and illegally exported from its territory. The list casts suspicion on a stunning catalog of objects acquired by the museum between 1915 and 2005. [...] Turkey hasn’t yet officially claimed that the works should be returned, but it wants to perform scientific tests on them and to collect information the private, nonprofit museum keeps in its “object files,” which are not open to the public. 
The text ascribes the Turkish move "as part of a campaign by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to assert Turkey’s rising economic and political power in the Middle East".

Mr Litt brings up the old chestnut beloved of Americans: "if museums around the world were forced to return ancient objects to modern countries occupying the territories of long-gone empires, it could result in a grand reshuffling of art collections along strictly nationalistic lines". What does that mean? If my neighbour borrows my lawnmower and I ask for it back, is that part of a "reshuffling of agricultural machinery" along "strictly domestic lines"?

What they really mean is as one commentator "Big Daddy Sunshine" wrote below the article (May 27, 2012 at 5:18PM):
Turkey is CRYING over spilt milk. Finders keepers, losers weepers. It's OUR STUFF. They can't have it! They are welcome to visit it anytime they want. Phat-tooey. Looted, my rear end. 
Another ("Dougal", May 27, 2012 at 9:50PM) blames it on "the Jews":
 This is what we get for being soft-headed about returning Nazi art to people with dubious claims. What ever happened to the 'holder-in-due-course' protections of law? Turkey's only legitimate complaint is against their own citizens who sold the stuff.
Others follow the Peter-Tompa-two-wrongs-make-a-right-line, saying the Ottomans were "emperialists" (sic) so Turkey deserves to lose antiquities to other imperialists.

Coming back to Cleveland Museum's dilemma, removal of the requested items from the collections "would seriously hurt its collections of ancient Roman, early Christian and Islamic art".
David Franklin, the museum’s director since late 2010, said that, based on legal advice, he could not comment on Turkey’s inquiry. “We don’t want to have an open discussion about this in the media,” Franklin said. “We don’t think that’s productive.”
No, of course not, why should a museum collector care what members of the public think?

Turkey's claims are based on whether art objects stylistically linked to Turkey in foreign museums have official permits showing artworks were legally exported.
The Ottoman Empire began requiring such permits in 1869. In 1906, Turkey declared that all cultural objects are state property, unless permission is granted to remove them. Turkey hasn’t found any Cleveland permits in its files, Suslu said. This “means obviously and logically that the artifacts have been removed illegally,” he said. 
Cleveland Museum of Art features prominently in David Gill's Looting matters, but mostly with reference to Italy.

Photo: Cleveland Museum of Art , the Medieval Yurope Trophy Hall, 
Chrétien de Troyes meets Disneyland.... Yuk.

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