Saturday 22 June 2013

MOU Expires, US Museum Hangs onto Stuff

A bit of a squabble has broken out over the  tour of the J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition “Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome”, featuring dozens of loaned antiquities from Sicilian collections, to Cleveland. This exhibition was set up under the terms of a February 2010 memorandum of understanding between the Getty and Sicily that followed the museum’s decision to turn over dozens of ancient artworks to Italy and Sicily and that outlined a series of future collaborations. It  "was supposed to crown years of effort by some American museums to patch up relations with Italy over claims of looted antiquities". Sicilian official Mariarita Sgarlata the assessor of culture for the Region of Sicily would now prefer two of the star attractions to be returned rather than go on tour. These items are:
a dramatic six-foot-tall statue of a charioteer from the island of Mozia  on the western coast of Sicily which the Getty had had a hand in helping conserve,  and
a gold libation bowl, or phiale seized from a New York collection in 1995 by United States federal agents as a stolen object and, following litigation, returned to Sicily in 2000

Antonino Zichichi, Ms. Sgarlata’s predecessor, had asked the Getty museum not to send the charioteer and the phiale to Cleveland after their own exhibition at the time the contract was being agreed. Ms. Sgarlata pointed out that in the end (and apparently partly because of reaching an impasse over this restriction)  Sicily had never signed the contract authorizing the exhibition, but the items were shipped before one had been negotiated, furthermore, the February 2010 memorandum of understanding and between the museum and Sicily expired in February and has not been renewed. “I believe that these imbalanced exchanges” with American museums “have run their course,” Ms. Sgarlata said in her e-mail. “We are open to exchanges, if duly considered, and especially if they respect the concept of authentic reciprocity.”  It was not immediately clear how the museums would respond to the letter about the charioteer and phiale, which does not explicitly demand that the items be returned and leaves open the possibility that a compromise might be worked out.

Is the Feb 2010 MOU not with the Getty, rather than with Cleveland?

It is worth noting the information that the Getty also "agreed this year to relinquish to Sicily another work from its collection that is in the current exhibition, a terra-cotta head of Hades, because matching fragments were found at a Sicilian museum".

Hugh Eakin, 'Sicilian Protest Imperils Exhibition', New York Times June 21, 2013

UPDATE 22.6.13
You did not think for a moment that  Peter Tompa would be giving his readers all the facts about the case, did you? If you did, let a read of his "Sicilian Cultural Bureaucracy Imperils Exhibit" disabuse you. He is not going to admit for a moment that the problem is once again the US tendency to think they can unilaterally decide about other people's cultural heritage, and agreement or no agreement, simply trample over everybody else.  And then they act all hurt and surprised that they are criticised by others for their actions and attitudes.


Cultural Property Observer said...

No, sir. The reality is that US Museums supported the MOU with the Italian National Government because of the promise of loans. Now the Italian National Government cannot deliver because the Sicilian Regional Government wants us to be reminded they are important too. It's hard to see what US museums have gotten out of the MOU with Italy other than more hassles. Coin collectors know what they got-- the inibility to legally import undocumented coins of the sort Italians continue to enjoy.

Paul Barford said...

"No" what?

I think you are confusing two, quite separate MOUs.

The Getty's Feb 2010 MOU has expired, so therefore they really have no grounds whatsoever for enforcing their will on the Sicilians.

Coin collectors were not part of that agreement I think, it even seems one of them is quite unaware of its existence - despite referring in a snide post on his blog to a Hugh Eakin article which reminds him about it.

Perhaps a little reflection (or reading "Looting Matters" or this blog with a bit more care and understanding) before your knee-jerk sniping would not be a bad idea?

[Now he's going to start posting name-calling comments from "Alexander" or "Big" Arthur or his new mates the metal detectorists Dick and John, you see].

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