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Scientific Panel on the Getty’s “Aphrodite” (or Whoever) Convenes

Although the press release issued Thursday by the J. Paul Getty Museum, was noncommittal, Sharon Waxman reported in Saturday’s NY Times that the first meeting of the panel of experts assembled by the museum to provide more information about its Cult Statue of a Goddess brought the Getty “a step closer to relinquishing ownership of one of its most prized artifacts.” The statue is one of the museum’s holdings that have been claimed by Italy.
From Getty Museum director Michael Brand‘s comments to Waxman, it appears that the museum has all but conceded that it needs to give up the statue, and is going through this elaborate research ritual to demonstrate that it has done its due diligence before making such a major decision about such an important object.
Brand told Waxman:
At some point our board of trustees has to agree to take it [the statue] out of the public trust and possibly give it to someone else. We should do that very carefully.
The Getty’s press release detailed some of the uncertainties yet to be clarified by the panel:
Among them were the identity of the goddess herself—opinions varied as to whether the statue represented Aphrodite, Hera, or Persephone, and what she might have been holding in her hands. In addition, the precise location of the temple where she may have stood, and the spot where she was found, remain unknown.
Brand estimated that the research and review process would be completed by the end of this year. Findings will be published on the museum’s website.
Waxman was inadvertently unfair to the Getty in her observation that “Italy, Greece and many archaeologists argue that museums like the Getty motivate looters to ransack ancient sites and middlemen to trade in illicit antiquities because of their willingness to pay huge prices to build their collections.”
She might have more properly said that critics argued that the Getty HAD MOTIVATED looters because of its PAST willingness to pay huge prices for works of uncertain provenance.
Nowhere does she give the Getty credit for its new policy, announced last October, prohibiting its acquisition of any antiquity lacking “documentation or substantial evidence” that it was out of its source country before Nov. 17, 1970, unless it can be shown to have been “legally exported from its country of origin” after that date.
Whatever encouragement its megabucks acquisitiveness may have previously given to looters is avowedly a thing of the past.

an ArtsJournal blog