It seems that once a museum director gets a source country off his back by reluctantly relinquishing claimed objects, he feels compelled to backpedal furiously, reminding everyone, in public pronouncements, that givebacks are not necessarily a good thing.
Philippe de Montebello of the Metropolitan Museum, having acceded to Italy’s demands for objects, has recently waged an international speaking campaign, defending the values and prerogatives of the “universal museum.”
Now Michael Brand of the Getty Museum is getting into the act, with recent candid comments at the 32nd Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art, held last week in Melbourne, Australia.
in an article in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, forwarded to CultureGrrl by the Getty, the mild-mannered Brand becomes a firebrand, defending museums’ rights to retain some antiquities in their collections.
Gabriella Coslovich reports:
Michael Brand…proposed the metaphor of art objects as “de facto migrants.” He argued that while it was crucial that museums guard against the illegal trafficking of art objects, it was just as important for “source” countries such as Greece and Italy to think carefully about requesting the restitution of art objects.
“While we all know that migration is the agent of great inspiration and transformation, it can also fuel the politics of nationalism,” Brand said. “In the museum world, this is often expressed in the form of cultural patrimony claims. All museums must play their role in curtailing the illegal trafficking of works of art and some works should be restituted.
“At the same time, the simplistic argument that all works of art should be returned home is no better than one seeking to stop human migration in the name of preserving supposedly pure ethnic borders.”
I think Brand might consider defusing those charged metaphors in future pronouncements.
But lets get to the newsy part of the Getty director’s remarks. Regarding the Getty Bronze (and notwithstanding recent assertions to the contrary by Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli), Brand unequivocally stated:
Fortunately for us, the so-called Getty Bronze will be staying at the Getty….Ironically, it was most likely on its way to Italy from Greece as Roman loot when it was lost at sea. As a local aside, the National Gallery in Canberra had actually been poised to purchase this bronze in 1976, just after it purchased [Jackson Pollock’s] ‘Blue Poles.’ However, this was stopped by the then prime minister and minister for culture, Malcolm Fraser.
What the Getty says in Brand’s native Australia is apparently very different from what it says in Italy. The museum’s press spokesperson, John Giurini, provided us with one of those priceless “did he really say that?” moments, in comments reported Friday by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Paolo Conte, describing Giurini’s reaction to the exhibition of his museum’s former holdings in Italy’s presidential palace reports:
How do the Getty’s officials feel, seeing again at the Quirinale [Rome’s presidential palace] the works that recently left Los Angeles and were exhibited for years in their museum? John Giurini…answered for everyone: “The emotion is undeniable. But…to see them again in Rome is to understand immediately that this is their place. And it is right that they stay where they are.”
This was published under the following subhead in the “Corriere” article:
The Getty Speaks Italian.