Wednesday 16 January 2019

Two Interesting Objects in the Met

"Seated harp player". Marble (29.21 cm).
 Late Early Cycladic I – Early Cycladic II,
 2800/2700 B.C.  . The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York.
Elizabeth Marlowe (' Elizabeth Marlowe, 'The Met’s antiquated views of antiquities need updating' The Art Newspaper 15th January 2019) spotted a couple of objects in the metropolitan Museum of Art that aroused her interest:
the Met’s minimalist labels offer basic descriptions, biographical facts about the subject or clichés about lost Greek originals. There is rarely any discussion of how the objects were found, how they came to the museum or how opinions about them have changed over time—let alone any whiff of controversy or debate. This is a loss, as these are often the most revealing stories these objects can tell. A bronze griffin head displayed at the museum just beyond the ticket counter was found in a riverbed at Olympia in Greece in 1914, only to disappear from the archaeological museum there years later. It resurfaced on the art market in 1948, when it was bought by a Met trustee who eventually donated it to the museum. In the same gallery is an unusual marble statuette of a seated harp player, said by several researchers outside the museum to be a forgery. The museum’s labels make no mention of these stories, or offer only partial truths; the griffin head, for example, is described simply as being “from Olympia”. Indeed, the gap between the information offered in the labels and the often provocative history of the antiquities is so great that a group called Saving Antiquities for Everyone offers its own tours of the Greek and Roman galleries, drawing attention to the details the Met leaves out.

'The Met's response is revealing
[...] “ The Bronze Head of a Griffin was a gift in 1972 from Walter Baker and has never been the subject of a dispute.
Ah so that's OK then, its OK to keep it because they can't touch you for it (?). And the harpist (which I assume is the one figured above):
 The Met has also deployed modern technology to investigate the marble statuette of a harpist, which has revealed decisive evidence — the remains of pigment not immediately visible to the naked eye — that the object is ancient [...]”.
I do hope that's a misrepresentation of the lab report's reasoning,. as the reported explanation is Orientalism par excellence (that a brown-skinned native faker would allegedly be too stupid to think of applying paint and then removing it as a sign of antiquity - fakers vary in quality of the work they turn out and the cleverness of the distressing methods they apply). better would be documentation that allows its proper 'grounding'.


Paul D., Paderborn, Germany said...

While it has become fashionable to accuse museums of being racist / "white spaces", the accusation of "orientalism" does need a bit more substantiation.

1. Nobody is claiming the potential forger would have had to be brown-skinned.

2. The figure has been around since at least 1945. So the question ought to be, whether a forger in, let's say, 1940 would have been able to create a piece with invisible pigment traces designed to fool detection half a century later (and whether he would have had to bother).

I do not know the answer myself. But to me, that seems the real question to ask, and skin-colour has nothing to do with it.

Paul Barford said...

yes you are right, I was referring to the discussions n the coin/antiquity world centred on Washington that tend to treat the countries in the south of Europe as inferior (so they can nick their stuff) and its a bit of a rhetorical figure of mine that darker skin colour may have a role to play there. I was assuming this piece would have been faked in Greece or thereabouts.

I do not think you have to be an Einstein to paint something and then strip/scrub the paint off again. The fact is the object should have got that close scrutiny when it first surfaced, that it was not is not to the credit of the buyers.

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