This article interviews a worker at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, who discusses amongst other things, the arguments surrounding the concept of the universal museum, an idea of which the British Museum is particularly fond.
Scoop Independent News (New Zealand) 
Antiquities Whistleblower Oscar White Muscarella
Sunday, 25 December 2005, 9:05 am
Article: Suzan Mazur
The Whistleblower & The Politics Of The Met’s Euphronios Purchase: A Talk With Oscar White Muscarella
By Suzan Mazur
“[Dr. Oscar White] Muscarella’s loyalty was ill rewarded. Half a year earlier, he had responded to [Metropolitan Museum trustee/ former US treasury secretary C. Douglas] Dillon’s invitation to the staff to address any grievances to him. He wrote a long letter decrying the wretched professional and economic status of the curators – as a seasoned and much-published archaeologist, he was getting $11,500 a year – and he begged that the staff be granted academic freedom and a voice in policy similar to those accorded most university faculties. Dillon passed the letter to [Met Director Tom] Hoving, who was not pleased. Ultimately, Muscarella was dismissed three times. Unlike a score of others who resigned by request or were laid off, he stayed on through a civil suit [which he won].”
– John L. Hess, The Grand Acquisitors
I first met Metropolitan Museum ancient Near East expert Oscar Muscarella in the late 1980s. I went to see him at his office to discuss some safety pins or “fibulas” which had turned up in a couple of tumuli in southwest Turkey along with other artifacts that Turkish archaeologists identified as Phrygian.
The Phrygians — King Midas’s people — were master craftsmen and the objects just found appeared to belong to a royal Phrygian family: a silver belt with a fibula-like catch, iron dagger with gold reliefs on the handle, two griffins from a bronze caldron, a fertility ring with phallus-shaped knobs, and statuettes – one of Anatolia’s mother goddess Kybele in ivory and another in silver of a eunuch priest. The Met’s controversial Greek and Roman chairman Dietrich von Bothmer told me he considered the statuettes “masterpieces” and “purely Phrygian.”
King Midas’s legendary “golden touch” it seems may simply have been his ability to build a confederation, one of the most important civilizations in western Asia in the eighth century B.C. Known for its art.
Muscarella confirmed the pieces were late eighth or early seventh century B.C. This meant that the map of ancient Asia Minor might have to be redrawn (plus the dates on East Greek art changed), since the tombs were much further south than the known borders of Phrygia in central Anatolia.
In the late 1950s, Muscarella excavated in the former Phrygian capital of Gordion near present day Ankara, and after that, directed or participated in digs in Turkey at Alishar, Ayanis and Cadir Hoyuk, as well as in Iran at Hasanlu, Agrab Tepe, Se Girdan and elsewhere.
It was summer when we first met, and the highly animated, classically handsome and somewhat excitable Muscarella was dressed in his trademark blue seersucker suit and ascot (in winter it’s tweeds). But don’t let the ascot fool you, he’s still got the New York neighborhoods in his voice and can spot a phony, not to mention a fake, a mile away.
I’ve called on him since for comment, but only recently got around to discussing the Euphronios “hot pot”, which was bought by the Met in 1972 when Tom Hoving was director, and is about to be repatriated to Italy. Muscarella was fired for opposing the purchase and fought and won a court case resulting in his reinstatement at the museum (but with a less prestigious title).
I stopped by the museum recently to discuss the contested vase painted by the Athenian master 2,500 years ago and to see what Oscar had to say about the antiquities trial unfolding in Rome involving dealer Bob Hecht and former Getty museum curator Marion True.
Muscarella is also author of the book: The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and others.
He insisted we meet outside his office, in the cafeteria, so everyone who wanted to see could see that he was giving a media interview. There is a gag order in place about such interviews from Met director Guy-Philippe Lannes de Montebello, who has written to Muscarella warning:
“Dear Oscar. . .the Museum has long had an express policy for members of the staff when they are approached by the press. Staff is directed to refer and coordinate all inquiries to the Communications Department, formerly Public Information (See General Regulations I, I.) You did not follow this policy, nor did you at any time inform the Communications Department that you were speaking to the press. . . . Every member of the staff is expected to follow the rules and regulation of this institution. Further I expect the staff to conduct themselves in a professional manner including upholding the integrity of their colleagues. You did not adhere to the Museum rules and in addition the statements you made to the press are in disregard of the truth. Under all of these circumstances, you should consider this a formal letter of warning. Any recurrence of such conduct or other future disregard of the Museum’s regulations will be dealt with more severely. Very truly yours, Philippe de Montebello”
The interview follows:
Suzan Mazur: Let’s address the “latest debacle” over the looting of ancient art from Italy, as New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman (“Regarding Antiquities, Some Changes, Please”,12/8/2005) terms the current Rome antiquities trial in which Bob Hecht and Marion True are charged with trafficking antiquities. What’s the problem with the NYT taking the high road as in the Kimmelman piece and moralizing about what should be done to stem the flow of looted antiquities across borders and into museums like the Met?
Oscar White Muscarella: Well you say he takes the high road. I say he takes the low road. This article is one of the most hypocritical and unprofessional things I’ve ever come across even for the New York Times, because what it establishes is that Kimmelman has gladly accepted the role of pimp – from line one of the story – from his boss Arthur Ochs Sulzberger.
It’s a role that goes back to his colleagues, Grace Glueck and John Canaday, and continued by all their New York Times colleagues and successors. The only honest Times reporters I’ve come across – there were two in the last 35 years – Nicholas Gage and the late John Hess.
Ask boss Arthur “Punchy” Sulzberger [former publisher of the NYT] why he and his trustee colleagues at the Met have issued the order via his employee, Le Comte [The Count] Philippe Lannes de Montebello, that no staff member can speak to reporters. He knows that I have not and will not obey this order.
What Kimmelman doesn’t mention, which is so manifest in this article about museums buying stolen art, is that he’s an employee of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Senior (“Punch”). [The Times is a family-run newspaper even though Sulzberger junior (“Pinchy”) is technically now the publisher.]
That Kimmelman’s boss is a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art board of trustees for decades. And for decades has been a member of the museum’s acquisitions committee. And that Kimmelman’s boss was one of the most active and enthusiastic purchasers of the Euphronios vase.
That Sulzberger used his position as owner of the New York Times to accord the vase unprecedented publicity in the 70s. And not only that. Punchy has been an active supporter of world plunder and thefts for decades.
Kimmelman by not mentioning that he’s an employee of this man, Sulzberger – takes a salary from him – hypocrisy is the wrong word, dishonest is the correct word.
SM: So you don’t agree that the Met, the Cleveland museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, for instance, “bring together cultures from around the world” and “act as safe houses for civilization,” as Kimmelman argues. Do you agree with that?
OWM: Agree with it? It’s the very opposite. How can you employ people, encourage people to destroy a tomb? A site? I have been walking around the Near East for years. And I can tell you in Turkey, in Iran, Greece, wherever you go, you see holes in the ground. Dynamite. Battering poles. Bulldozers. All the objects are removed, sent to the various dealers who smuggle them out of the country of origin, all to be sold to these museums you mentioned and many others, including university museums.
Don’t forget that the university museums — Harvard, Princeton, Missouri, Indiana are major plunderers and destroyers of the planet’s history along with the others. Presidents of university museums that purchase plundered art should order all their staff to cease purchasing and receiving on loan any antiquity, or advise or authenticate any possessor of antiquities.
SM: Kimmelman is saying that countries like Italy, Turkey and others simply cannot always provide the same protection and care as the American museums can – you know, the “Elgin Marbles argument”.
OWM: Isn’t that wonderful. American bordellos also give care and sanctuary to kidnapped women from Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Greece, South Africa and China, don’t they? They take these young girls. They kidnap them. Put them in chains and send them to bordellos in America. They give them protection, don’t they?
Do you blame the person whose apartment is burglarized – do you blame them for the burglary?
Would Kimmelman and collector and Met trustee Shelby White consider the action “disputed” if their apartments were broken into and robbed? It should be emphasized that these people are lying.
SM: Kimmelman also talks about “a fair compromise,” where say the Metropolitan Museum of Art would have long-term use of say Italy’s disputed treasures in return for the Italians reclaiming ownership.
OWM: A fair compromise! Would Kimmelman and Shelby White accept as a fair compromise that the tombaroli have permission to keep stolen items from their apartment for long-term loans? Kimmelman speaks for his boss.
SM: Kimmelman is saying that it’s “better for an ancient pot dug out of some farm in Sicily to end up in the museum like the Met”. There he says it can be studied and widely seen — rather than “become booty in some billionaire’s safe in Zurich, Shanghai or Tokyo”.
OWM: Is that right? There’s no difference between Punchy Sulzberger and Le Comte Philippe de Montebello and all the others on the Met board of trustees who’ve been supporting theft and plunder for years. And all those collectors. The object should stay in the ground until it’s excavated scientifically where people spend years on a site and document every single object found and its context. That’s how we know about our ancient history.
But what these people are doing is utterly destroying documentation of our human past. All the names I mentioned, all the museums are actively engaged in erasing this planet’s history. Like Dietrich von Bothmer was quoted as saying, a pot’s a pot. [von Bothmer said, “A cup is a cup” regarding the Euphronios wine cup, which is now in tiny pieces in a cardboard box in Italy, following its looting and laundering in America’s ancient art market.]
SM: Aside from greed, is there an ulterior motive?
OWM: Lust. Power. Greed. All these people are rich people.
SM: Do they want to destroy the planet’s history? Is it being done intentionally?
OWM: In some cases that’s correct. I write about this in my book The Lie Became Great. I see it as a sick collaboration. If you look at the language. “I had to have it. A lust for antiquities.” Collecting antiquities is rape.
With all the euphemisms of the Kimmelmans, Le Comte Philippe and the Sulzbergers, it’s rape. All these people are justifying their destruction, their power to have these objects in their apartment. Bring their guests in and say “Golly gee look what I have!”. Power and perversion of the wealthy. These are the people who are encouraging it. Who are authorizing it. Who are the recipients of it. Plunder does not exist without the existence of these people.
SM: Kimmelman puts some of the blame on the Italians, saying their laws encourage criminality when it comes to antiquities because the authorities can seize the property around where the ancient art is found not just the art, according to a 1939 Italian law.
OWM: I think Mr. Kimmelman’s apartment is part of the land isn’t it? I think Shelby White’s apartment is part of the land. Imagine if someone were to break into Kimmelman’s and White’s apartments. Took what they wanted. Destroyed what they didn’t need. Left the apartment in shambles. Brought their plunder to Italy. Like good tombaroli. And then these guys can say “Well, Kimmelman didn’t take care of his apartment. Shelby White didn’t take care of her apartment. There wasn’t a policeman in every room was there? There wasn’t an army of guards around the apartment block.” That’s what these people are saying, and all are rationalizations.
SM: Kimmelman acknowledges that showing loans from Shelby White, who’s also a Met trustee and major donor is a problem for the Met. The NY Times is finally acknowledging that. But he doesn’t say that she also writes for the NYT.
OWM: And Kimmelman doesn’t mention Sulzberger. My wife reminded me the other day that you discussed the Met-Sulzberger conflict of interest first in your widely-read piece for Scoop, Sotheby’s & The Signed Euphronios, so the Times had no choice but to come out with it as reporter Hugh Eakin did obliquely in the piece that followed Kimmelman’s story.
But Shelby White’s writing for the Times is irrelevant because they’re just little shots. The crucial thing is that Kimmelman is covering, protecting, getting paid to write that article which is in fact a cover up. It’s like someone writing an article saying John Gotti was an honest business man. Went to church every Sunday, gave away turkeys, was a devout Catholic.
SM: Kimmelman said museums should devise tougher standards accepting the burden of proof.
OWM: I want Shelby White, when her apartment’s broken into and the tombaroli take her stuff to Italy, to provide the same burden of proof.
SM: He says they should have third party committees sign off on issues of provenance.
OWM: Who would these third parties be? You know it’s not going to be me, who is an authority on provenance and provenience. And it’s not going to be honest archaeologists. That we do know.
It’s like saying when the police capture someone who’s stolen something, are you going to have a third party come in and decide if in fact this is true? Well, we have the courts in that case. But these guys don’t mean the courts.
SM: And then he says the museum-going public should be more vigilant. Is there a problem here?
OWM: The public doesn’t know anything about it.
SM: Kimmelman also endorses the British way of doing things. In Britain, if somebody finds something ancient in the ground, they can sell it. And if the government wants it, it has to match the market price.
OWM: But that’s irrelevant to the present issue.
SM: This is what Berlusconi wanted to do, which is give people 5% of whatever they dig up and then turn over the item to the state.
OWM: I don’t want to discuss it. It’s irrelevant. It’s nothing to do with the facts here. What he’s saying is totally irrelevant to the fact that countless Americans – Dietrich von Bothmer was one of the main plunderers — Le Comte Philippe,[Douglas] Dillion (late US treasury secretary and founding partner of Dillon Read).
They have been encouraging the destruction of the planet’s history for decades — the cultural property of Italy,Turkey, Iran, Iraq and on and on. Encouraging the plunder. Encouraging the smuggling. It has nothing to do with 5%, 10%. That’s a red herring.
SM: And is it intentional? Do they want to erase the history?
OWM: They don’t care. I’ve talked to the dealers and collectors. One dealer stated he “wanted it [a plundered object] madly.”
He couldn’t care less about rape and plunder. Neither can financier and collector Michael Steinhardt or Jonathan Rosen or Shelby White, et al. If you read the language collectors use — it’s all about power. And they use their power to employ pimps like Kimmelman to propagandize. Kimmelman is not the only one. Grace Glueck’s been doing it for years, also Holland Cotter, Rita Reif. All the so-called art critics who review an exhibition of plundered object in the Times and never once say that they’re plundered objects.
SM: [I’m suddenly reminded of the dinner parties journalists are invited to in covering the antiquities trade to get to know the players and watch as the carrot and stick are dangled. I recall a Park Avenue soiree I once attended when writing a story for The Economist magazine about one of the key dealers. It was very much an insiders power affair, a dozen or so people. Seated next to me was then 25-year-old blond Peter Bacanovic, who’d just returned from Europe and was working in public relations; he’d later become Martha Stewart’s stockbroker. To my other side was the editor of an important art newspaper. In the doorway the perennial muse, Nan Kempner. And on the terrace the Metropolitan Museum’s lawyer Aston Hawkins and his friends. But my coverage of the dealer would not keep me on the A list.]
Can you discuss the members of the board of trustees a little more? During the time of the Euphronios acquisition who were some of the trustees?
OWM: The only reason you’re on the board of trustees is if you’re very wealthy. Otherwise, end of discussion. Number two. You have something to donate. Except – why was Henry Kissinger a member of the board of trustees?
SM: Is he still on the board of trustees?
OWM: No, he’s not. He was a member for years. He had power. He could handle things privately in the State Department.
I met a State Dept. man once regarding Turkey’s Lydian treasure. And he told me that Ashton Hawkins – the consigliere of the Metropolitan Museum of Art – went to him in the State Dept. to officially ask on the part of the board of trustees, the mayor of New York City and the rich and powerful – to “get those Turks off the Met’s back”. I asked him what he’d done.
He said he told him he wouldn’t do it. I’m talking about a man from the State Dept. Now you go back to 1973 around the time of the Euphronios purchase and my firing, you have the mayor of New York City John Lindsay – who was a personal friend of Hoving’s for years. Who also worked together with Dillon and the Rockefellers. You get the controller of the City of New York, the president of the city council. Over decades people who held these elected public offices have participated in and accepted every theft and crime committed by the trustees and their employees, the directors and curators.
So in 1973 we have Arthur Sulzberger, the Haughton family, C. Douglas Dillon, Francis Plimpton (Debevoise & Plimpton). . .
[Board of Trustees as of September 12, 1973:
- Ex Officio:
- John V. Lindsay, Mayor of New York City
- Abraham Beame, Comptroller of the City of New York
- Sanford Garelik, President of the City Council
- Richard M. Clurman, Administrator for Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs
- Alfred Easton Poor, President of the National Academy of Design
- Thomas Hoving, Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art
- The Board of Trustees Standing Committees:
- Douglas Dillon, Chairman
- Mrs. Vincent Astor
- J. Richardson Dilworth
- Mrs. James W. Fosburgh
- Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen
- Roswell L. Gilpatric
- Arthur A. Houghton, Jr.
- Andre Meyer
- Mrs. Charles S. Payson
- David T. Schiff
- Arthur O. Sulzberger
- Charles Wrightsman
- Douglas Dillion, Chairman
- Mrs. Vincent Astor
- R. Manning Brown, Jr.
- Mrs. McGeorge Bundy
- Daniel P. Davison
- J. Richardson Dilworth
- Roswell L. Gilpatric
- Arthur A. Houghton, Jr.
- Arnold P. Johnson
- Robert M. Pennoyer
- Richard Perkins
- Francis T.P. Plimpton
- Francis Day Rogers
- Joseph A. Thomas
- Arthur K. Watson
- Charles Wrightsman
- J. Richardson Dilworth, Chairman
- Douglas Dillion, ex officio
- R. Manning Brown, Jr.
- Daniel P. Davison
- Andre Meyer
- Richard M. Paget
- Richard S. Perkins
- David T. Schiff
- Sol Shaviro
- Arthur K. Watson
SM: And now?
OWM: The present trustees including Mayor Michael Bloomberg [also of Bloomberg news] are loyally trying to protect the past trustees, director and the curator involved in the theft – each a powerful and very rich individual, also “their museum,” and their employee Le Comte.
Punchy is on the acquisitions committee. Pinchy is on the regular board of trustees. A major component of this whole thing is the conflict of interest involvement where the mayor of New York City, the controller, president of the city council are all members of the board of trustees. Together with the collectors Shelby White, Paula Cussi, the Houghton and David-Weill families
So in 1973 Sulzberger was a major component on the acquisition committee along with C. Douglas Dillon and buying the Euphronios vase. And up until now, 2005, Sulzberger has been defending that and covering that up. And Kimmelman is showing us that he’s still going to cover up the role of Sulzberger in the purchase of the vase. The name you dare not speak – SULZBERGER.
The trustees, rejecting the demands of then Greek and Roman curator Dietrich von Bothmer and Le Comte Philippe returned the so-called Lydian Treasure to Turkey, after years of ignoring the Turkish claims and demands for its return. This action occurred only because if the Turkish legal suit against the Met had gone to public trial, the evidence from internal Met documents would have embarrassed them. These documents manifestly demonstrate that from day one the trustees (Sulzberger, et al.), director (Hoving) and the curator involved (Dietrich von Bothmer) knew that the objects derived from a plundered and destroyed tomb in western Turkey.
SM: You opposed the acquisition of the Euphronios vase. Can you tell me what happened to you as a result of taking that position?
OWM: When Hoving came in he began an absolutely fascist control. I’m not being flip when I say that. People were threatened. They were fired. There was to be no discussion of opposition.
SM: Hoving emailed the following note to me on 12/3/2005:
“. . . Oscar Muscarella was not fired because of his feelings about the krater but because he had been ordering several women around in a rather arrogant way when he was the temporary head of the Department of Ancient Near East; the New York Grand Jury stopped their interrogations when Muriel Newman stepped forward and testified that she had seen the Euphronios fragments in a shoe box in Dikran Sarrafian’s apartment in Beirut in ’68. (This was, of course, before I came up with the two-krater theory which explains the documents switcheroo.) Finally, Punch Sulzberger was a board member when we bought the krater and later became Chairman of the board. Tom Hoving”
I emailed Tom Hoving:
“Oscar Muscarella told me you ordered Ashton Hawkins to fire him on February 28, 1973, actually, because of his comments to the NYT about the E [Euphronios] vase with Hawkins saying at the staff meeting on February 24, 1973, “We are definitely firing him now.” Muscarella says charges were made up about him, that there was one woman in the department “acting in an arrogant and totally destructive manner” and she was fired by Rousseau [OWM clarifies that she was fired by the head of the ancient Near East dept.] after he returned from Iraq, but that you overrode the firing because of her social standing, etc.”
Hoving did not respond further on the issue.
He was the parks commissioner first.
OWM: He was the parks commissioner. As parks commissioner he was on the board of trustees and then became director of the museum just as Sulzberger was on the acquisitions committee as a board member and then became chairman of the board.
I’d been threatened with firing. Then the National Labor Relations Board stepped in and stopped it. But on February 24, 1973, I was called by a reporter for the NYT named David Shirey. I spoke at length. He only quoted me on certain things. I told him absolutely the vase’s provenance being an Armenian dealer [Sarrafian] in Beirut was a red herring. In fact, I coined a phrase they were furious at. I said I wish I knew the Armenian word for deus ex machina, for this man Sarrafian who was made up as the guy who had the Euphronios.
That was a Friday and the following Monday I was called aside by someone. I don’t know if he swore me to confidentiality but I never revealed his name except to my lawyer to this day. He just came from a meeting of the Staff Policy Committee, where Ashton Hawkins acting under orders from Thomas Hoving announced: “We are definitely firing him now.”
And he cited the Shirey article that I dared to challenge the trustees in print. And that was the final thing. The court case lasted years and years.
Yes, I opposed the purchase of the Greek vase. I was the only one in the museum who did so. And I have to tell you very few of my colleagues came to my aid. There were a number who came to my trial to testify to my character, my integrity, my honesty, whatever. But we could not because of a quirk, a legal thing, we could not bring up why I was fired. But we won anyway because all the other charges were made up charges.
In discovery my lawyer and I found letters between C. Douglas Dillon and Ashton Hawkins. There were many letters; we selected eight. Every one discussed the strategy how to fire me. My lawyer said we will bring them to court, submit them to the judge. But the judge said they could not be used, according to lawyer-client privilege. Because every one was signed by Ashton Hawkins. It wasn’t until the Gotti trial that the judges were on to this. But if you have an in-house hired lawyer– he’s the consigliere.
In those days no one thought of this. So every letter because it was written by Ashton Hawkins – he’s vice president and counsel – the judge said these will not be admitted into court.
SM: You contend that what percentage of the artifacts in the museum are looted?
OWM: In my department [Ancient Near East] it’s mixed and there’s been a pull-back on buying antiquities. If you go to the Greek and Roman room — I call it “The Temple of Plunder” — the great majority are plundered over the years. There’s even one object stolen from another museum. They know it’s stolen from a museum. They refuse to return it. It’s a griffen head.
In the Department of Arts of Africa, etc., every pre-Columbian object – every one — is plundered and the tomb sites totally destroyed. This is known to Sulzberger, known to the curator, known to Le Comte Philippe de Montebello.
But other departments that play a major role in plunder are the Asian Art department:
— Hundreds and hundreds from temples and tombs from all over Cambodia, Thailand, China, just to decorate vitrines in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
— And Dillon played a major role in that because he put up a lot of money to buy these, i.e., supported the plunder, paid the plunderers, saw that they were smuggled out. So the Far East department is packed with stolen objects.
— Egyptian I don’t know enough about the record. I think they’ve been buying some but I don’t know enough to go on.
SM: And then what percentage would you say are fake?
OWM: Very few on exhibit right now. I discuss this in The Lie but there’s only one I think, the Harp Player, that is probably a forgery. But of course it’s such an important piece. They’ve made posters out of it.
SM: So the fakes have been withdrawn from the galleries.
OWM: In my department too – but that goes back some years. I don’t know enough about fakes in other departments to make a comment.
SM: So what is the answer? The answer is just to stop?
OWM: The answer is that the mayor of New York tomorrow should get up publicly in front of the board of trustees and say right now I order this museum – YOU HEAR ME MR. BLOOMBERG? – I order the Metropolitan Museum of Art to order every curator to stop buying stolen objects right now. That’s what should be done tomorrow morning. Next he should telephone the Italian Consul in NYC and say come over here in ten minutes, fifteen minutes. I will personally hand over the Greek vase to you, the Euphronios vase. Come and pick it up.
SM: Ever met Bob Hecht?
OWM: No never met him.
SM: And Marion True?
OWM: No. I don’t think so. Marion True is the classic curator. Buy every stolen object you can. Buy every plundered object you can. Accept forged documents.
In the case of the Kouros, they accepted forged documents, which Houghton alleged they didn’t know were forged. They knew they were forged from day one. I’m saying this on record. That’s the job of the curator.
True should get a medal from the directors of the museum for being the curator: Buy stolen art. Cover all the tracks. Get false documents. Swear that all the objects purchased were actually found by peasants in the fields. That’s why True has been promoted, well paid and powerful.
SM: Well what do you think’s going to happen with this trial in Rome?
Hecht’s 86 years old. Do you think he’s going to get the Clark (BCCI) Clifford treatment? He essentially gets off with a big fine?
OWM: Italian honor is involved here.
SM: It’s 94 objects he supposedly trafficked.
OWM: Years ago, in the 70s, in the cafeteria of this museum Dietrich von Bothmer happened to be at the coffee table where I was. And he was making snarling remarks about those dirty dishonest Italians who take bribes. The son of a bitch — he was paying the bribes – okay?
I will say this that if the Italians let True and Hecht go, and do not get back their Euphronios vase there can be only two reasons – STUPIDITY OR BRIBERY. There’s no other reason why the Italians would let them go. Their whole culture, their whole history is being destroyed by the Houghtons, Sulzbergers, Le Comte Philippe, the Shelby Whites and the whole board of trustees of the Met, including the mayor of New York City. And they’ve got to stand up to them.
SM: And the public.
OWM: Doesn’t know anything about this.
SM: That there’s public money invested in the Met.
OWM: This is very important. Every stolen object that’s purchased or returned, any object a dealer or collector gives to the museum that is a plundered, stolen object, the taxpayers are paying for it.
The public also does not know that the Metropolitan Museum claims that its administration alone may make public and private statements that relate to academic or curatorial work accomplished, or published in academic journals by individual members of its staff. If a staff member calls attention to a crime or solecism of the Met or publishes something – anything on any subject in any journal, I was told by a department administrator and Sharon Cott, the Met’s Counsel – that unless it was vetted in house, it is considered improper and irresponsible and subject to penalty.
I have a letter from de Montebello threatening to fire me [cited above] if I speak to anyone about the Metropolitan Museum of Art plundering and stealing antiquities from their countries of origin. And he wrote a letter to the London Times apologizing for my having published a scholarly article in a scholarly journal: without his permission! Does any other tax-supported institution get away with this irresponsible anti-academic freedom behavior? Is this discussed in NYC budget meetings when it is determined how much funding is to be allotted to the Metropolitan Museum – de facto, to its Trustees?
Nota bene: the Director of the Met serves at the pleasure of the Trustees, is hired by them, and reflects their interests. They are legally and morally responsible for his actions. Therefore, it is they who are manifestly legally responsible for these letters, that it is they who de facto wrote them to me.
The taxpayers paid for the plundered Lydian Treasure — which was returned to Turkey. You’re talking to a man who actually met with the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Dem-NY). I spent days in Washington when they were having hearings. And I testified before Congress when Moynihan authored the Convention on Cultural Property Information Act in 1983 (he diluted the language), which weakly ratified the Unesco treaty regarding the illegal trade in cultural property.
I liked Moynihan so much. He came out on the floor to talk with me. I tried to explain to him all that I’m saying here. And he said, ” I don’t believe this at all, I think this is just Third World flagellation of America”.
By the way, he was very close friends with Leon Levy, Shelby White and Michael Steinhardt. He was very close to all the dealers and collectors.
From 1964 -1970/1 I thought it was normal to buy antiquities. And then I heard a lecture by Clemency Coggins from Harvard. Two lectures. And then I heard Ezat Negahban who had to stay and fight for 11 months in the freezing cold and heat in Iran to protect his site from dealer gangs who beat him up. He appealed to the Shah. The Shah sent a corps of soldiers to protect him so he could finish excavating one of the most important sites in Iran.
So three lectures turned me around. And in 1971, I wrote my first paper that I would not participate in the acquisition of antiquities any more and I wrote the administration about this.
Not only because I converted, but it became so obvious after the early 70s, that no one — no archaeologist, no museum curator — could be unaware of what I’m saying. Clemency Coggins started it all.
When I was fired on February 28, it had to be okayed by the trustees. I met one of them, Francis Plimpton [Debevoise & Plimpton] by accident. I cornered him and discussed all this with him.
He said, ” We have enough on you.”
Very politiely I said, “You don’t know what I have to say only what Mr. Hoving has said.”
” We have enough,” he said.
The board of trustees voted to fire me. One of those who voted to fire me was Punchy Sulzberger. I dared to speak with one of his reporters without permission of the museum four days earlier. Kimmelman doesn’t mention that in the article by the way.
Suzan Mazur’s stories on art and antiquities have been published in The Economist, Financial Times, Connoisseur, Archaeology (cover) and Newsday. Some of her other reports have appeared on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox television news programs.