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Transparency Gap: Minneapolis Institute Refuses to Discuss Greek Hot Pot


Left: A Polaroid from the files of convicted antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici of dirt-encrusted Athenian Red-figure volute krater, attributed to the Methyse Painter, 460-450 B.C.

Right: Photo of the spiffed-up krater, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

As CultureGrrl readers may remember, Kaywin Feldman, director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, recently shot off a letter to the editor of the NY Times, taking exception to the paper’s Repatriating Tut editorial that criticized museums’ reluctance to repatriate cultural property.

Feldman then wrote:

American art museums responsibly manage their collections of ancient art from other countries and cultures. The members of the Association of Art Museum Directors…subscribe to the highest principles
of collecting and stewardship of their collections—even as new
information about specific works may come to light.

“Information” has “come to light” about a Greek vase in Feldman’s own Minneapolis Institute, but the revelations are not all that “new.” Back in November 2005, under then director William Griswold (who had assumed his post the previous month), the museum issued a statement acknowledging that “an object in our permanent collection could be among a number of objects
in American museums that the Italian government alleges to have been
recently excavated in Italy….If after gathering the facts it is established that the Italian
government has a legitimate claim, we will respond in an appropriate and
responsible fashion.” (The full statement was reproduced here; the museum has confirmed to me today that it is accurate.) Feldman succeeded Griswold (now director of the Morgan Library and Museum) on Jan. 1, 2008.

The above image on the left is one of the photos of dirt-encrusted
artifacts found by Investigators during a 1995 raid on a warehouse owned by subsequently convicted antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici, through whose hands a number of illegally excavated antiquities had passed before being acquired by (and subsequently repatriated by) several U.S. museums.

Looting Matters blogger and archaeology lecturer David Gill recently highlighted the discrepancies between Feldman’s NY Times letter and her institution’s actions (or inaction) regarding its own krater. I decided to contact Anne-Marie Wagener, the museum’s director of press and public relations, for an update on that situation.

In my first e-mail to her, I linked to two of Gill’s blog posts, in which he connected Minneapolis’ krater to the Medici Dossier and reported that it had arrived at the museum in the 1980s via dealer Robin Symes. How, I asked, did Feldman respond to Gill’s call for her to investigate the piece and to “contact the Italian authorities”?

Wagener’s reply:

David Gill never contacted the MIA to ask any questions or, perhaps more
importantly, confirm any facts about the krater. What we can tell you
is that the MIA continues to undertake provenance research with respect
to this object. We are not ignoring any potential concerns and have
taken steps to address them. Thanks for your inquiry.

Fair enough (although five years seems like a long enough time in which to have concluded the provenance research). Since Looting Matters allegedly never asked questions or tried to “confirm any facts,” CultureGrrl would pick up the ball. What I quickly discovered, though, was that the museum wasn’t nearly as keen to entertain questions as it purported to be.

From the CultureGrrl Dossier, here’s the record of my highly unsatisfying e-mail exchanges with Wagener, which led me to conclude that AAMD’s vaunted “transparency” describes Kaywin’s lip gloss but not her professional policy:

A few questions:
1) What specific steps have you taken to address the concerns about
the krater (as you say you have done)?
2) What are the inaccuracies, if any, in what
Gill wrote?

3) Is is accurate that your krater is the dirt-encrusted one in the
Medici polaroid that Gill reproduces at the second-linked post?
4) Isn’t it exactly that kind of evidence that has prompted other
museums to return ex-Medici objects?
5) What have been the specific findings of your provenance research
and what, if anything, does Minneapolis intend to do about the
seemingly dicey history of this krater?

I have to say that we’re not in a position to provide further
information right now. When we can, I’ll be sure to get back in touch. Please keep in mind that we have never been approached by Italy about
this object.

Can you please give me the provenance information for the krater? Many museums
provide this information routinely on their collection websites. Do you
have a link to the krater on your website? Perhaps you can provide me with the information
that’s in the registrar’s records.

I just wanted to let you know that MIA is taking steps to research the krater and for now that’s all we can say about it.

What I finally did manage to find on the museum’s website about the krater (by clicking a link on one of Gill’s posts) is that it was purchased by the museum in 1983 with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Donald C. Dayton.

And while we’re on the subject of Greek antiquities, has no one yet noticed AAMD’s new get-tough stance towards Greece’s recent request for U.S. import restrictions on antiquities from Greece?

Take it away, David Gill!

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