Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Almagià: "The museum has a right to collect; the dealers have a right to deal"

In June I noted the new Italian investigation into antiquities acquired by Princeton University Art Museum. The antiquities are reported to have been handled by Edoardo Almagià whose name had already been linked to antiquities returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The June report had mentioned that Princeton curator Michael Padgett was the focus of attention. Padgett was interviewed for Princeton Alumni Weekly (W. Barksdale Maynard, "Art museum curator targeted by Italian prosecutors", PAW July 7, 2010). He is quoted:
After working so closely and cooperatively with the Italians in the past, I was very disappointed and surprised that this investigation is now taking place. I am reluctant to comment at length at this early stage, but I do want to clearly state that I am innocent of what the Italian prosecutor is apparently alleging.

It is noted that Maynard now thinks that some "1.5 million items are believed to have been looted from archaeological sites in Italy" since 1970. For anybody who is unconvinced by the scale of the problem of looting and why action needs to be taken, that is a whacking estimated 37,500 antiquities looted every year for 40 years. And that is only from Italy.

The President of Princeton, Professor Shirley M. Tilghman, comments:
What is challenging is that the standards of provenance have been changing over the last 30 years — and rightfully so — and have become much more stringent.
Tilghman, and perhaps the curatorial staff of the Princeton University Art Museum, were unaware of the implications of the 40 year old UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (see "The 1970 Rule") or the 1973 AIA Declaration on the Acquisition of Antiquities by Museums. Indeed the main change has taken place in the last decade since museums and private collectors woke up to the implications of the Medici Conspiracy. Tilghman (a molecular biologist) also needs to drop the use of "provenance" and adopt the more correct term "collecting history".

The PAW interview also quotes Edoardo Almagià who commented on the 2007 agreement between Italy and Princeton:
You give them your hand, they’ll take your forearm. ... What they took from Princeton [in 2007], it’s ridiculous. The museum has a right to collect; the dealers have a right to deal.
It would be helpful if Princeton could now release a full list of any objects in its collection associated with Almagià as part of the new spirit of transparency announced ("clear and transparent standards") by Tilghman.


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