Saturday 28 September 2013

Cleveland: We've got a Praxiteles, and it's Ours

The Cleveland Museum of Art's ancient bronze statue of Apollo has stirred controversy since the museum purchased the work in 2004 reportedly for $5 million from Phoenix Ancient Art.Now they are making a big exhibition of it:
The Cleveland Museum of Art rarely publishes catalogs that try to stir broad public debate on politics, law, cultural identity and global diplomacy. With the release of a new catalog today, however, the museum is wading directly into the international controversy over collecting ancient works of art whose ownership histories, or provenances, remain partially or entirely unknown. The book, “Praxiteles: The Cleveland Apollo,” authored by the museum’s curator of Greek and Roman art, Michael Bennett, accompanies a new exhibition opening Sunday that focuses on a controversial ancient bronze statue of Apollo purchased by the museum in 2004. Using scientific evidence and art-historical analysis, Bennett builds the most forceful case yet that the life-size bronze is an ancient Greek original, not a later Roman copy, and that it is likely the work of Praxiteles, one of the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece. The book is also an impassioned critique of international laws aimed at halting trade in looted antiquities. Bennett states that such laws – while correctly focused on halting illegal activity - have also had the effect of casting stigma on “orphaned” works such as the museum’s Apollo, whose time and place of excavation and recent history can’t be proven beyond doubt. [...]  Bennett, however, states that the Apollo was one of thousands of antiquities in private hands whose ownership histories are not completely documented. Lack of such documentation, Bennett writes, is not evidence that an object was looted. It’s not a case of guilty until proven innocent. “Illegality cannot be presumed, or we are heading toward a repeat of the Spanish Inquisition or the McCarthy hearings,” Bennett writes.
Yep, there it is again. Catchy soundbite, but what, in real terms does that mean? Actually it is the clarion call of no-questions-asked collecting, and as such surely in today's market is the wrong approach. This presentation was apparently scheduled for 2006, but then various things 'happened' and the plans were shelved.

Steven Litt, 'The Cleveland Museum of Art wades into global controversy over antiquities collecting with exhibition and catalog on its ancient bronze Apollo', The Plain Dealer September 27, 2013

Vignette: Praxiteles

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