November 2, 2014
James Cuno will be a familiar figure to long time readers of this blog. Representing the anti-restitution side of the museum establishment in the USA, he has been one of the most outspoken critics of the return of artefacts. At times in recent years, it has seemed as though his stance has been mellowing, but his latest article shows that this is clearly not the case.
Following James Cuno’s article, is a critique of it by Dr Kwame Opoku – who is amongst other things a long standing detractor of Cuno’s Encyclopaedic Museum theory.
The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts
By James Cuno
From our November/December 2014 Issue
In December 2007, the Italian government opened an exhibition in Rome of 69 artifacts that four major U.S. museums had agreed to return to Italy on the grounds that they had been illegally excavated and exported from the country. Leading nearly 200 journalists through the exhibition, Francesco Rutelli, Italy’s then cultural minister, proclaimed, “The odyssey of these objects, which started with their brutal removal from the bowels of the earth, didn’t end on the shelf of some American museum. With nostalgia, they have returned. These beautiful pieces have reconquered their souls.” Rutelli was not just anthropomorphizing ancient artifacts by giving them souls. By insisting that they were the property of Italy and important to its national identity, he was also giving them citizenship.
Rutelli has hardly been the only government official to insist that artifacts belong to the places from which they originally came. In 2011, the German government agreed to return to Turkey a 3,000-year-old sphinx that German archaeologists had excavated from central Anatolia in the early twentieth century. Afterward, the Turkish minister of culture, Ertugrul Gunay, declared that “each and every antiquity in any part of the world should eventually go back to its homeland.”
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