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Metropolitan Museum Posts Revised Collections Management Policy

Lord Colin Renfew, Met Gadfly

Here’s one of the first substantive changes at the Metropolitan Museum since the ascent of its new director, Thomas Campbell:

On Tuesday, the Met posted on its website its revised Collections Management Policy [reported on David Gill‘s Looting Matters blog], which incorporates the Association of Art Museum Directors’ tightened standards, published last June, for the acquisition of antiquities. That means that the Met has (as it told me in June that it would) has officially dropped the AAMD’s former 10-year rolling rule, which was strongly favored by the Met’s former director, Philippe de Montebello. That previous policy had deemed it acceptable for a museum to acquire an ancient work with a known provenance going back at least 10 years.

As I previously stated here, the 10-year rolling rule improperly institutionalized the time-honored practice of thieves who let hot merchandise cool off for a decent interval before marketing it. Now the Met will follow the new AAMD guidelines, which mandate that a museum should normally not acquire an ancient work “unless research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970 or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970.

Could it be that Lord Colin Renfew deserves some credit for the Met’s new transparency? The LA TimesMike Boehm reported, three days before the Met’s online posting, that the British archaeologist and his associates had complained of the difficulty they encountered in obtaining a written copy of the Met’s antiquities collecting policy. That new policy was officially adopted on Nov. 12, but has only now been posted.

Perhaps the Met had its reasons for being slow to grant Renfew’s request. He is scheduled to receive an award from SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone) tonight in Philadelphia, where he will lecture on “Combatting the Illicit Antiquities Trade: The 1970 Rule as a Turning Point (or How the Metropolitan lags behind the Getty).”

As a point of reference, here‘s the Getty’s antiquities collecting policy and yes, it does go further than the Met’s: For the Getty, it’s not enough that the object have a known provenance going back to 1970. There must also be “no reason to suspect it was illegally exported from its country of origin,” even if it did come out before 1970—a condition present in neither the AAMD’s nor Met’s guidelines. What’s more, the Met’s and AAMD’s guidelines, but not the Getty’s, say that museums may make an “informed judgment” to acquire works that “lack a complete documented ownership history.” Such works must be posted on AAMD’s Object Registry, to give potential claimants a chance to come forward.

Met Museumologists will be pleased that the museum’s entire collections management policy—not just its rule for antiquities—is at last available for all to peruse. There’s one catch: While that policy is linked to on the museum’s press-release web page, it wasn’t sent out to those of us who are on Met’s e-mail list for press releases. The new transparency is still slightly cloudy.

an ArtsJournal blog