Friday 15 February 2013

Cleveland Goes Through the Motions?

The Cleveland Museum of Art has "hired its first full-time provenance researcher" the joyful headlines proclaim. The contract however is for six months (for 40 000 objects).
In 2009, the Cleveland museum returned 13 antiquities to Italy after the country proved to the museum’s satisfaction that the objects were looted, handled by traffickers and given fake ownership histories before the museum bought them in good faith. The museum also returned a 14th object that was stolen from a church in Tuscany. 
But this new officer "will focus on European art from the 16th to the 19th centuries" (to head off Holocaust art claims?) and on "American art from the 19th and 20th centuries". It is suggested that "other researchers in the future may be brought in to examine antiquities". Museum Director Franklin said that he is not worried about
whether the museum’s title to certain objects might be clouded. He also said the museum won’t necessarily share everything it knows about particular objects; some information will remain confidential.
So, what kind of a job is that? You find out an object in the museum is or could be dodgy, but your bosses tell you to keep it quiet? So can we be forgiven for suspecting that the job is to make sure that up on the website go thousands of objects listed as having squeaky-clean kosher collecting histories, and this will hinder people looking too closely at those items not listed for one reason or another alongside them because certain information is to be kept confidential? Well, that is one way to spend the Sandy and Sally Cutler fund. Another way of course would be to pledge full transparency from the outset.

Is this not shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? The time, surely, to do the provenance research is before acquiring an object, not going through post-fact a mass of acquisitions to work out which ones should have been approved and which rejected and only then deciding what to do about the latter.

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