Saturday, March 31, 2012

TURKEY ASKING U.S. MUSEUMS TO RETURN ANTIQUITIES

The Getty and the New York Met are among the U.S. institutions the Turkish government has contacted over artifacts it believes were smuggled out of the country.


The government of Turkey is asking American museums to return dozens of artifacts that were allegedly looted from the country's archaeological sites, opening a new front in the search for antiquities smuggled out of their original countries through an illicit trade.

The J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Cleveland Museum of Art and Harvard University's Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection are among the institutions that the Turkish government has contacted, officials say.

Turkey believes the antiquities were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country after the passage of a 1906 law that gave the state ownership of antiquities in the ground.

Inspired by the success of its Mediterranean neighbors Italy and Greece, Turkey is taking a more aggressive stance toward its claims, many of which were first made decades ago.
Turkey is presenting the museums with supporting evidence and has threatened to halt all loans of art to those institutions until they respond to the claims. Loans have already been denied to the Met, a Turkish official said.

Confronted with evidence, the Getty, the Met, the Cleveland, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Princeton University Art Museum have returned more than 100 looted objects to Italy and Greece, changed their acquisition policies and formed collaboration agreements that allow for loans to replace acquisitions of suspect material.

But new evidence continues to emerge, underscoring that the scope of the problem is far wider. In January, Italy announced that it had recovered an additional 200 objects and fragments from the Met and Princeton after they were tied to an ongoing criminal investigation of Italian antiquities dealer Edoardo Almagia and Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett.

The 18 contested objects at the Met are all from the private collection of Norbert Schimmel, a longtime Met trustee who died in 1990. The museum acquired the Schimmel collection in 1989, and several of the contested objects are now highlights of the museum's Ancient Near East Galleries.

In hopes of avoiding protracted disputes, Turkey adopted a more aggressive stance in 2010, barring loans to institutions harboring contested objects. The Art Newspaper reported earlier this month that two British museums have recently been denied loans.

jason.felch@latimes.com

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

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