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Museum world shell shock

An interesting summary of current events by Richard Lacayo – in particular, the end of the article where he considers the response by the museums world to increasing numbers of successful restitution claims.

Time Magazine Blogs [1]

February 21, 2008 8:49
News, Notes and Blogroll Update
Posted by Richard Lacayo

A lot of the art news this week is in courtrooms.

The slow motion trial of former Getty antiquities curator Marion True and dealer Robert Hecht trundles on in Rome.

And Fisk University is back in Davidson County Chancery Court. Having failed to sell part of its Alfred Stieglitz Collection, which was a gift to the school from Stieglitz’s widow Georgia O’Keeffe, Fisk is now defending itself against the Georgia ‘O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

Some recap — the O’Keeffe Museum had sought earlier to A) block Fisk’s attempted sale of O’Keeffe’s Radiator Building — Night, New York and then B) tried buy the painting itself from Fisk at an under market-value price. Now it’s arguing that the entire Siteglitz Collection should be handed over to the museum because Fisk has repeatedly violated the conditions of O’Keefe’s bequest. The trial is expected to end today, with a ruling a few days from now. UPDATE: Fisk President Hazel O’Leary told the court yesterday that her school now has the money to renovate its Carl Van Vechten Gallery, where the collection — presently in storage — is usually kept.

I’ve said before that Fisk should not sell any of the Stieglitz Collection. Campus museums aren’t piggy banks for a school’s general revenue flow. All the same, if the O’Keeffe Museum gets its way, it seems to me it will be a Pyrrhic victory in public relations terms. Does the O’Keeffe really want to be known as the museum that seized an entire collection, an important teaching resource, from an historically black university?

Antiquities, trials, lawsuits — all of this reminded me that I’ve been meaning to add a few more links to the blogroll. I’ll have them up by the end of the week, but meanwhile here they are:

At a time when it helps to have a law degree to follow developments in the art world, the always well informed and readable Donn Zaretsky just happens to have one. His Art Law Blog is an alert and knowledgeable guide for the perplexed.

On antiquities, there are two indispensable defenders of the archaeological position. Looting Matters is the commentary platform of David Gill, a professor of archaeology at the University of Wales, Swansea and former curator at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Illicit Cultural Property is run by the vigilant Derek Fincham, who is completing a doctorate at the University of Aberdeen, researching the illicit trade in cultural property. Whenever there’s a controversy over antiquities — this would be just about every day — those are the sites where I go for a better understanding of how the archaeologists are seeing it.

The museum world, which is still a bit shell shocked by the successful reclamation campaigns of the last year or so, doesn’t seem to have a blog site that represents its views in the same way. Maybe that’s because museum directors and curators are still reformulating their responses to the world they now find themselves operating in. A book like Who Owns Antiquities?, the forthcoming volume from Jim Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, is part of that process. But if any museum has woken up to the usefulness of a daily blog that reacts quickly to the news in these areas, I haven’t found it yet.