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BlogBack: Michael Brand Replies to Rutelli’s WSJ Opinion Piece

I have NEVER let anyone publish a CultureGrrl BlogBack at this length, and I probably never will again. But this is too important to cut or edit.
I had solicited the response of Michael Brand, the J. Paul Getty Museum’s director, to Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli‘s Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. I got much more than I bargained for—an extremely detailed, revealing and insightful reponse:
Thank you for the chance to clarify some statements in Minister Rutelli’s Wall Street Journal op-ed piece yesterday.
I should start by saying I have actually been negotiating with Italy for 12 months, not six, starting with Minister Buttiglione in January 2006. The negotiations have involved a claim of 52 objects, not 46.
1) The 26 objects that we agreed to return to Italy in the Oct. 5 agreement have not been sent back because we have still not yet received a response from Italy to our statement confirming our commitment to return them and suggesting a meeting to discuss the necessary arrangements. This group contains some of the greatest masterpieces in our collection (such as the griffins, the painted marble lekanis and the marble statue of Apollo), so their dispatch to Italy would require great care.
2) 25 of these 26 works are in fact among the 46 mentioned by Mr. Rutelli. (Note: We have said we would return 26 objects because, during our research, we identified one additional object in the collection that we believe should be returned based on new evidence provided by Italy.)
3) The Getty has never refused to return all of the remaining 21 works (including the Aphrodite). In fact, we traveled to Rome in November last year specifically to discuss these works whose status had not been resolved at the previous meeting in October. We went with a compromise in hand concerning the remaining group of 21, but this was never discussed because of Italians new demand that there could no deal without the Getty Bronze.
We did get to offer the immediate transfer of title to the Aphrodite during the final phase of research, but we have not received a response to this offer either. We will be announcing details about this research process in the very near future.
You didn’t ask about the remaining 6 of the 52 objects claimed by Italy, but let me close the loop. Claims on the remaining 6 objects were renounced by the Ministry during our negotiations. One of those, the statue of a Kore, as you will recall, had been claimed by both Italy and Greece, and we now have agreed to return that object to Greece. This is precisely why we have to respond to these claims very carefully.
4) As for any other points:
The Minister’s article incorrectly implies that the Getty has not returned objects to Italy voluntarily, as he says has been done by other American museums. In fact, over the past years, the Getty has voluntarily returned works of art to Italy based on evidence we uncovered ourselves. We did this because it was the right thing to do. His commentary also neglects to mention that the Getty Museum has adopted the very same “strict rules of conduct” he supports regarding the acquisition of antiquities, with a new acquisitions policy based on the UNESCO Convention of 1970.
We are uncertain where the Minister received the information he cites about the wishes of our founder concerning the Statue of a Victorious Youth, the so-called “Getty Bronze.” At his December news conference, the Minister held up a document described as a legal opinion proving the statue belonged to Italy and said we would be provided with a copy. We have yet to see the document a month later.
I have met Minister Rutelli twice and I like him. But, I hope you can understand our concern and huge frustration when a preliminary agreement, signed by Ministry officials after many months of discussion and negotiation, is suddenly totally rejected with no reasonable explanation; when the trial of our former curator is tied to the Getty’s negotiations with Italy; and when we get no formal response at all to our offer to immediately return to Italy 26 of the 52 objects that have been under discussion over the pervious year.
The Getty wants to resolve these issues with Italy. We remain prepared to make reasonable compromises in order to reach such an agreement.

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