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Tales From The Vitrine: Battles Over Stolen Antiquities

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Author Topic: Tales From The Vitrine: Battles Over Stolen Antiquities  (Read 529 times)
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« on: January 09, 2009, 02:10:52 pm »

Waxman's extensive, empathetic reporting leads her to make some fairly minimal recommendations, the primary one being transparency. She also advocates closer cooperation between source countries and the West, suggesting that "the only realistic path forward is one of collaboration between poorer source countries so rich in patrimony and the wealthy industrialized nations that have the cash and expertise to preserve that patrimony."

But she is vague about the details. How should courts proceed if the parties in question don't care to cooperate? It's true that a few source countries appear to have become more open to lending their artifacts for long periods of time, but what about curators in the West who fear that their cherished collections will be shipped out to museums as badly maintained as Usak's?

A vocal member of this last group is James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, whose book Who Owns Antiquity? represents a shot across the bow and the greatest stumbling block to Waxman's modest proposal. Who Owns Antiquity? is a passionate apologia for the right of "encyclopedic" museums like the Met and the Louvre to house the world's cultural patrimony.

The main thrust of Cuno's argument is that looting is inevitable and therefore museums, rather than private collectors, may as well be its beneficiaries. Source countries suing for restitution are motivated primarily by selfish, shortsighted nationalism, abetted by international courts and Unesco, which in 1970 passed a convention barring trade in looted artifacts.

The only institutions that truly care about preserving, properly exhibiting and providing access to the world's great treasures are the encyclopedic museums of the West--not only the Met and the Louvre but also the British Museum, the troubled Getty and, of course, the Art Institute, among others. These museums, having transcended political motivations, allow art to be exhibited in the extranational context of the artistic tradition.

Cuno makes a sophisticated point about the difficulty of separating any thread of aesthetic tradition from the tangled skein of world influence. To claim that ancient Roman artifacts came from cultures that "developed autonomously in the region of present-day Italy," he reminds us, "is to willfully ignore the hybridity of culture and its multiple identities."

In support of his concept of a global artistic realm that towers over nationalized identities, he marshals Edward Said and Benedict Anderson, putting a postcolonial spin on the Enlightenment ideal of the universal museum.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2009, 02:43:23 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.

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