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Getty Antiquities Mess: Brand Takes a Stand; True Faces New Charges

The following are excerpts from a press release just in from the J. Paul Getty Museum (and not yet up on its website):

The Getty has decided to return to Italy…26 objects—including a number of highly significant works of art—despite the [Italian Culture] Ministry’s apparent repudiation of an agreement signed jointly by representatives of the Ministry and the Getty in Rome on October 5. Among other points, that agreement would have guaranteed long-term loans to replace certain of the objects being returned by the Getty, as well as establish a framework for long-term collaborative efforts.

Dr. [Michael] Brand [the director of the Getty Museum] said he made a renewed effort to revive the October agreement during a meeting held on November 17 in Rome, but the Ministry instead continued to press for additional concessions, including the return of the Statue of a Victorious Youth, often referred to as the Getty Bronze.

Dr. Brand informed Minister of Culture Francesco Rutelli that the Getty would not return the Getty Bronze given the substantial evidence that this statue was found in international waters in 1964 and was obtained by the Getty Museum only after Italian courts had declared that there was no evidence that the statue belonged to Italy. He advised the Minister that the Getty believes its ownership of the statue is not subject to reasonable challenge….

The document signed by representatives of the Getty and the Italian Ministry of Culture in October included an agreement by the Getty to return the 26 objects, which it intends to honor. That signed agreement also included the Getty’s suggestion of an innovative joint ownership approach to the Cult Statue of a Goddess. This proposal was designed to allow both sides to collaborate on scholarly research and further investigation, with neutral binding arbitration available at the end of a four-year period to decide the issue of ownership should research fail to produce conclusive evidence as to whether the Getty Museum or Italy was the rightful owner of the statue. Dr. Brand said the Ministry rejected this approach.

During the November 17 meeting, the Getty offered to transfer full title to the Cult Statue during the study period, but this approach was also rejected. Therefore, the Getty has decided it will conduct the additional research itself, but will still transfer title to Italy if this research supports the Italian claim. This research will be completed within a year….

“While we continue to hope that the Italian government will honor its commitment to work collaboratively with the Getty in the future, as it agreed to do in October, the Getty’s transfer of objects is not conditioned on any such arrangement. Quite simply, we believe that transferring these objects to Italy is the right thing to do, whether or not we now receive anything in return,” said Dr. Brand.

As previously reported by CultureGrrl, Rutelli last month took the occasion of the signing of an antiquities agreement with Switzerland to declare that negotiations with the Getty were on the verge of “rupture” because of the museum’s unwillingness to return the aforementioned sculptures of the youth and the goddess, called by Italy “the Athlete of Lysippos” and “the Morgantina Venus.” Now, it appears, the “rupture” has occurred.

In its just-issued press release, the Getty listed the 26 objects it had agreed to return, but it has not, at this writing, posted on its website detailed information and photos, as did the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, when it concluded its amicable agreement with Italy in September.
This seems like the worst possible outcome for the Getty: giving up objects from its collection without getting any closure, let alone important objects that were to have been loaned to the Getty by Italy (as in separate agreements with Boston and with the Metropolitan Museum). The LA Times recently reported that Italy was threatening a “cultural embargo” of the Getty if negotiations broke down.

And this is also bad news for the sacrificial curator, Marion True, still on trial in Italy for her actions at the Getty and, just today, hit with more legal woes: According to Reuters, Greek prosecutors today charged True “with knowingly buying an ancient artifact which had been illegally dug up and smuggled out of Greece 13 years ago.”

A Greek police source told Reuters that the former Getty curator, “as well as two Greeks and two other foreigners…are charged in connection with [a 4th-century B.C.] golden wreath which was sold to a Getty representative in 1993 for $1.15 million.”

an ArtsJournal blog