It’s about time.
An international list of 94 major museum directors have signed onto a Nov. 9 statement (translated into four languages) deploring “Attacks on Artworks in Museums.” The statement and names of signatories were published on the website of the German National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).
Welcome (but overdue), this corrective makes up for what I had described (in my previous post on museum food-fights) as “the reticence of individual museums” in in expressing opposition to the protesters.
In collective action, there is strength. Here’s the full text of the prominent museum directors’ joint statement:
In recent weeks, there have been several attacks on works of art in international museum collections. The activists responsible for them severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage. As museum directors entrusted with the care of these works, we have been deeply shaken by their risky endangerment [emphases added].
Museums are places where people from a wide variety of backgrounds can engage in dialogue and which therefore enable social discourse. In this sense, the core tasks of the museum as an institution – collecting, researching, sharing and preserving – are now more relevant than ever. We will continue to advocate for direct access to our cultural heritage. And we will maintain the museum as a free space for social communication.
In my analysis of media coverage of the museum food-fights, I had called attention to the “surprisingly discreet” initial response to the attacks from museum professionals:
Notably scarce or absent from recent coverage are comments from museum professionals and art experts, who may fear jeopardizing their own institutions by going public with their objections.
I had also called into question the contention by the attackers’ apologists that, because the painted surfaces were behind protective glass, there had been no damage to the works at which gloppy edibles had been forcefully flung (as is shockingly evident in the videos of the incidents).
Acknowledging that they had been “deeply shaken” by the works’ “risky endangerment,” the all-star museum directors who signed the ICOM statement appear to share my concern for the works’ welfare. In light of recent events, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the paintings displayed at Christie’s in the presale exhibition of the $1.5-billion Paul Allen Collection were hung behind glass, even though the distraction of reflections from the spotlights impeded full appreciation by prospective buyers. (A Christie’s specialist told me that the decision to glaze them had been made by the consignor, before the food-flinging episodes made such precautions even more important.)
May the museums’ collective anti-“activist” activism serve as a prototype for further constructive actions vs. destructiveness, in the interest of protecting cultural heritage. If they really want to engage in some high-profile, impactful joint action, museums should follow the lead of the Getty Trust, which announced this week its “$1-million commitment to support the protection of Ukraine’s cultural heritage,” in partnership with the International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH). This cause has become all the more urgent in light of this report in today’s Kyiv Independent.
According to the Getty’s announcement:
The Getty’s grant will support the improvement of the security of museum collections; the upgrade to some large storage spaces across the country; the deployment of preventive conservation measures for key sites and monuments; and the preparation of stabilization and conservation measures.
“ALIPH’s approach to cultural heritage protection is proven and effective, and our partnership with them allows us to join international efforts to protect Ukrainian heritage,” says Katherine Fleming, president and CEO of the Getty Trust [who recently succeeded James Cuno].
Other cultural officials and funders should follow Fleming’s lead.