“For the Age of Piracy to end, it took an international scandal of remarkable proportions. At the center of that scandal was the upstart J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. No institution struggled with the morality of buying looted antiquities more deeply than the Getty. And in the end, none paid a higher price.
Over four decades, the Getty chased many illicit masterpieces – a bronze athlete, a towering marble youth, a sculpture of savage griffins, a golden funerary wreath. One of those acquisitions – the museum’s iconic seven-and-a-half foot statue of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love – would become a totem for the beguiling beauty of ancient art.
The goddess held an allure so strong that a museum risked everything to own her; a nation rose up to demand her return; archaeologists, private investigators, and journalists scoured the globe for her origins; and a curator ruined herself trying to keep her.
This book is the story of that chase, an unprecedendented inside account of how the world’s riches museum was forced to confornt its buried past and, in doing so, brought about an epochal change in the history of collecting art.”
– from the introduction to Chasing Aphrodite.
In recent years, several of America’s leading art museums have voluntarily given up their finest pieces of classical art to the governments of Italy and Greece. The monetary value is estimated at over half a billion dollars. Why would they be moved to such unheard-of generosity?
The answer lies at the Getty, one of the world’s richest and most troubled museums, and scandalous revelations that it had been buying looted antiquities for decades. Drawing on a trove of confidential museum records and frank interviews, Felch and Frammolino give us a fly-on-the-wall account of the inner workings of a world-class museum and tell the story of the Getty’s dealings in the illegal antiquities trade. The outlandish characters and bad behavior could come straight from the pages of a thriller—the wealthy recluse founder, the cagey Italian art investigator, the playboy curator, the narcissist CEO—but their chilling effects on the rest of the art world have been all too real, as the authors show in novelistic detail.
Fast-paced and compelling, Chasing Aphrodite exposes the layer of dirt beneath the polished façade of the museum business.
“A scathing indictment of the “museum industry…” The Washington Times
“Fascinating” The Wall Street Journal
“A page-turner…” Dallas Morning News
“Chasing Aphrodite is blessed with the odd allure that marks the world of art itself – a world that Felch and Frammolino describe as ‘glamorous but not pretty.’” Christian Science Monitor
“An important book…” The New York Review of Books
“A slickly written and well researched detective story.” The Economist.
“A gripping narrative spiked with vivid character sketches…a riveting cautionary tale.” Los Angeles Times.
“Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino…have assembled an extraordinary array of sources with which they tell a story the Getty wants no one to know…You can’t put the book down.” SAFE
“The definitive account of the troubled times at the Getty from its creation in the 1970s through 2007.” ARCA
“An irresistible, hair-raising tour of looting, smuggling, corruption and cover-ups, set in the dazzling, billion-dollar enclave of the J. Paul Getty Museum.” Shelf Awareness
“If you are looking for an international thriller for your summer reading, or a book about the art world, or a hard-hitting investigative report about law, business and finance, you will find all three in the pages of Chasing Aphrodite,”– Jonathan Kirsch, author of The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God
“In an authoritative account, two reporters who led a Los Angeles Times investigation reveal the details of the Getty Museum’s illicit purchases, from smugglers and fences, of looted Greek and Roman antiquities…. brimming with tasty details of the scandal that motivated several of America’s leading art museums to voluntarily return to Italy and Greece some 100 classical antiquities worth more than half a billion dollars.” – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“An engrossing tale of greed and malfeasance within the uppermost strata of high culture.” – Kirkus Review
“An astonishing and penetrating look into a veiled world where beauty and art are in constant competition with greed and hypocrisy. This engaging book will cast a fresh light on many of those gleaming objects you see in art museums.” – Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action and The Lost Painting
“Chasing Aphrodite is an epic story that, from the first page, grabs you by the lapels and won’t let go. Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino have penetrated the inner sanctum of one of the world’s most powerful museums, exposing how its caretakers – blinded by greed, arrogance and self-deception – eagerly tapped international networks of criminals in pursuit of the next great masterpiece. It is a breathtaking tale that I guarantee will keep you reading late into the night.” – Kurt Eichenwald, author of Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story
“America’s great art museums are the last sacred cows of our culture. It takes a special sort of intrepid investigator backed by a courageous organization to uncover the secrets and lies of these quasi-public institutions and the private agendas of their wealthy and influential patrons. Chasing Aphrodite, by the Los Angeles Times reporters Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, is the result of one such rare convergence. A scary, true tale of the blinding allure of great art and the power of the wealth that covets it, it is also an inspiring example of the only greater power: the truth.” – Michael Gross, author ofRogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum
“Chasing Aphrodite” is a brilliantly told, richly detailed, and vitally important account of how one of America’s top cultural institutions spent millions buying treasures stolen from ancient graves and then spent millions more trying to deny it. In the hands of Felch and Frammolino, the story gathers a riveting momentum as the Getty moves from one ethical smashup to another. The authors present an astonishing array of evidence, yet they are scrupulously balanced and keenly sensitive to the nuances of the cultural-property debate. Even if you think you know the story of the Getty, read this book. You won’t know whether to laugh or to cry, but you will be enthralled. –Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World
“A thrilling, well-researched book that offers readers a glimpse into the back-room dealings of a world-class museum–and the illegal trade of looted antiquities. Chasing Aphrodite should not be missed. “ – Ulrich Boser, author of The Gardner Heist