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BlogBack: More on AAMD’s (Mis)use of Its Object Registry for Antiquities

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Alyssa Hagen

It seems to me that art museums’ use, misuse and non-use of the Association of Art Museum’s Object Registry should be ripe for review at AAMD’s imminent midwinter meeting, Jan. 27-30 in Kansas City.

In the meantime, perhaps the association’s members should get hold of the masters thesis of Alyssa Hagen, who graduated last spring from Rutgers University’s Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies program. She analyzed and criticized the Association of Art Museum Directors’ Object Registry, as she explains in this response to my recent CultureGrrl post—Getty’s Latest Repatriation (plus AAMD members’ loose interpretation of cultural-property guidelines):

For my masters thesis, I did a systematic analysis of the museums’ listings in AAMD’s Object Registry. It’s obvious that some museums are using the database as a way to pay lip service to the AAMD Guidelines, while still continuing their old practices of accepting unprovenanced donations.

Sometimes there are lucrative deals with influential donors: The Walters Art Museum’s Bourne Collection [the registry's objects with TL 2009.20 accession numbers] came with a nice endowment.

Using the registry to justify the purchase of antiquities with spotty histories completely defeats its purpose. The Cleveland Museum’s Drusus head was listed back in August, almost immediately after its controversial acquisition.

Then there’s the added problem that some of the museums have not updated their own collecting policies to comply with the AAMD’s 2008 guidelines, as well as internal inconsistencies: In many places, the choice of using the Object Registry seems to be up to the curators.

[The above links are mine, not hers.]

And in other antiquities-related developments at American museums, the LA TimesJason Felch of Chasing Aphrodite fame reports:

In the wake of a scandal over its acquisition of looted antiquities, the J. Paul Getty Museum is trying to verify the ownership histories of 45,000 antiquities and publish the results in the museum’s online collections database.

The study, part of the museum’s efforts to be more transparent about the origins of ancient art in its collection, began last summer, said Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig.

The Getty has no objects posted on AAMD’s registry, presumably because after having been roiled by antiquities controversies and givebacks, it hasn’t dared (since June 2008, when the registry began) to acquire anything lacking a clear provenance going back at least  to November 1970.

For a comprehensive (source country-friendly) review of the Getty’s collecting controversies, read the book:

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Jason Felch, right, with “Chasing Aphrodite” co-author Ralph Frammolino

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