Monday, January 28, 2013

Who Owns Antiquity?

I am a big fan of museums with encyclopedic rooms full of treasures. I agree with James Cuno [Who Owns Antiquity], formerly of the Art Institute of Chicago, now with the Getty, that a system of partage needs to be instituted, rather than the deaccessioning of art works thought to have been looted. Of course, they have been looted. How else to explain this picture?

Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Nancy Charak, photographer
Or this one?

Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Nancy Charak, photographer
This one has a story involving double looting, or triple, depending on how you want to count this.

Some of what Schliemann dug out of Troy, Nancy Charak, photographer
The Pergamon Museum in Berlin is located in the former eastern zone of the once divided city. The several museums there were renovated, modernized and spiffied after reunification. Heinrich Schliemann brought many of the treasures that he so ruinously dug out of the ruins of Hisarlik, ancient Troy, to Berlin in the late 1800s. The fortunes of war and retribution caused those museums in the eastern zone to suffer from neglect and further removal. Many of those treasures, the loot of Troy, Priam's Treasure, are now said to be in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

To quote Real Clear Arts, Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture, where she quotes Hugh Eakin in The Great Giveback, from the New York Times.

Looting is a terrible scourge, and museums must be held to the highest ethical standards so they don’t unwittingly abet it. But they are supposed to be in the business of collecting and preserving art from every era, not giving it away. By failing to deal with the looting problem a decade ago, museums brought a crisis upon themselves. But in zealously responding to trophy hunting from abroad, museums are doing little to protect ancient heritage while making great art ever less available to their own patrons.

To which I add, museums must remain encyclopedic and easy to access. We cannot all get to Berlin, much less the ruin-heap of Hisarlik, or Benin, we need to share our culture with each other. We have already destroyed too much in the name of progress.

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