Tag Archives: Hugh Eakin

Decoding Eakin: Behind ‘Extortion’ Claim, Fear the Floodgates Have Opened

imgresIt is no coincidence that The Great Giveback, Hugh Eakin’s lengthy argument against the repatriation of looted antiquities, landed in The New York Times on Sunday, just as the directors of America’s leading art museums gathered in Kansas City for their annual meeting.

A key item on the agenda in Kansas City that day was the museum community’s handling of looted antiquities, an issue that has roiled the art world for more than a decade.  The Assoc. of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has repeatedly tried to put the issue to rest, adopting policy changes in 2001, in 2004 and again in 2006 as the controversy metastasized into a full bore international scandal. In 2008 the AAMD revisited the issue yet again, adopting acquisition guidelines that required a clear ownership history dating back to 1970, a position that put them in line with most archaeologists.

The 2008 policy was heralded as a turning point for the American museums and a victory for reformers like the Getty’s Michael Brand and Max Anderson, now in Dallas, who felt it was time for American museums to sever their ties to the black market. But those reforms are under attack. Museum directors are seeking to reverse the policy, which drives a wedge between them and wealthy patrons whose antiquities collections can no longer be donated in exchange for tax write-offs. These dissidents have made ample use of the policy’s major loophole, which allowed museums to violate the 1970 rule if they posted the acquisitions on the group’s Object Registry with a justification of why.


As Lee Rosenbaum recently noted, sixteen museums have posted nearly 600 objects there, many with no clear justification for flouting the 1970 rule. The Virginia Museum of Fine Art, for example, acquired an unprovenanced collection of 31 pieces of ancient gold jewelry, saying it violated the 1970 rule so the objects could be “studied, displayed and publicized.” Last August, the Cleveland Museum posted a Roman portrait bust of Drusus (right) that has no documented ownership history prior to 2004 and was sold to the museum by the Aboutaam brothers, antiquities dealers who have been convicted of charges related to trafficking in looted art. “Museums should still be buying antiquities, and we shouldn’t shirk that responsibility, and I think it’s almost an ethical responsibility,” Cleveland museum director David Franklin told the New York Times. (Readers of Chasing Aphrodite will recognize the quote as a nearly verbatim echo of what the Getty’s John Walsh said in 1987 to justify the acquisition of the looted statue of Aphrodite.)

In short, the Object Registry has become a tool for laundering suspect antiquities. Once objects are posted there, museum officials believe, the statute of limitations clock starts ticking, giving foreign governments just a few years to investigate, build a case and file a claim before their time expires and the objects emerge sparkling and clean. More broadly, the series of reforms taken by many American museums in recent years — which include taking claims seriously and sending looted antiquities back to the countries from which they were stolen — are under attack from within.

That brewing fight is the context for Eakin’s polemic, which notably takes aim not at source countries so much as museums like the Getty and Dallas that have embraced reforms and begun to proactively search their collections for problematic objects. With Philippe de Montebello retired and Jim Cuno forced to moderate his view by the Getty board, Eakin has emerged as the spokesman for the dissidents.

Recent events have only raised the stakes, for the controversy over looted antiquities shows no signs of going away. The depth of the problem with American collections of Classical antiquities is just beginning to emerge, with more revelations certain to come as researchers comb through the seized archives of the illicit trade’s most prominent middlemen. Meanwhile, over the past year the search for loot in American collections has gone global, with countries like Cambodia, India and Turkey bringing claims. Museum directors know better than anyone that these claims are the tip of a very large iceberg.  

To the ears of some in the art world, that sound is the creaking of the floodgates swinging open.  

Spurious Claims

Eakin’s piece, then, is best understood as part of a broader effort to convince the public that claims involving looted antiquities are baseless and those who cave in to them, cowards. The reforms have not only failed to stop looting (a “scourge” often given lip service by museums, but never more.) They have “spurred a raft of extravagant new claims against museums — backed by menacing legal threats.” Unless American museums grow a backbone and fight these foreign claims to the death in court, Eakin suggests, someday soon they will be empty of ancient art.

As he has done in the past, Eakin relies on a mosaic of selective facts and careful omissions to cobble together his argument. Many of its most serious flaws have already been rebutted. Lee Rosenbaum — who herself is often skeptical of repatriation claims — denounced it as a “distorted, often mistaken opinion piece” and concluded Eakin was “an extremist on the anti-giveback side.” Archaeologist Paul Barford was less kind, saying the piece “illustrates quite clearly the robber baron attitude of entitlement, hypocrisy, xenophobia and supremecism when it comes to appropriating for their own uses other peoples’ cultural property, that internationally is losing America friends.” Cultural property lawyer Rick St. Hilaire noted that Eakin’s argument “overlooks the general principle that stolen property cannot be owned lawfully or that contraband antiquities (smuggled antiquities) are somehow legitimate.” Speaking in Eakin’s favor, I could only find three voices: Peter Tompa, the lobbyist for collecting interests; blogger Judith Dobrzynski, who calls the piece “pitch-perfect” but acknowledged a conflict of interest in the subject; and LA Times art critic Christopher Knight, who celebrated the piece’s “nuance” in a tweet.


Let me focus on something I think Eakin gets almost right — his summary of recent events. (See below for his major omission.) Other archaeologically rich nations have been inspired by Italy’s success. In bringing their own claims, many have been less disciplined than Italy, which supported its demands with evidence — much of it photographic — gathered during a decade-long criminal investigation. But here Eakin misses an opportunity to articulate the key flaw of some recent repatriation requests — the conflation of historical gripes with the modern criminal behavior of looting, smuggling and fencing. For example, most of the objects Turkey is demanding from American museums were acquired since the 1960s and have no documented ownership history before that, suggesting they are likely the product of illicit excavations. Whether Turkey has evidence to support those claims remains to be seen — unlike Italy, the Turks are making their case to museums before sharing it with the public. But Turkey has also asked several European museums to return objects that were removed nearly a century ago, sometimes by archaeologists operating with government permission. And to increase their leverage, Turkey has denied digging permits to foreign archaeologists who played no role in the alleged wrongdoing. All of this — coupled with Turkey’s own history of plunder — has led to a skeptical reception of claims against American museums that may or may not be backed by clear evidence. And with good reason.

Likewise, Greece and Egypt have frequently included colonial-era claims with requests for the return of recently looted antiquities. Some of those historical claims may carry ethical weight, such as the reunification of the Parthenon marbles. But more often they blur the moral and legal clarity of claims involving modern looting. The same can be said for occasional statements that all things made in Country X should be returned to County X, which discredit the nations that make them.

So, there is legitimate reason for skepticism of repatriation claims. But these are not the arguments Eakin chose to make. Instead, he invents a picture of “terrified” museums being cowed by powerful foreign governments into giving back America’s innocently-acquired art. This description of the situation makes for an almost laughable reversal of reality.

American museums have long had the power when it comes to claims of restitution — the power to ignore claims, to withhold information and to create or defend false ownership histories. For decades, they have wielded this power freely, dismissing polite requests from foreign countries while continuing to buy looted art with impunity. For years, the Getty blew off Italian objections to their acquisitions of obviously looted art by simply refusing to respond to inquiries from senior government officials. The Met refused to allow scholars to look at its collection of looted Greek silver. Turkey has requested the return of the Sion Treasure from Harvard since the 1960s to no avail, while the university published a book about the treasure that detailed its illegal excavation and included a photo of the looter’s hole from which it was taken. Yet Eakin laments that today, 40 years later, Turkey has decided to begin withholding loans from Harvard until it responds. These are what he calls “blatantly extortionary demands.”

What motivates repatriation claims from source countries is not a desire for a few more pieces of ancient art. The basements of their museums overflow with the stuff. What they want is respect.

Let’s consider Eakin’s innocent acquisitions. If there has been a lesson from the last decade of controversy — and if there is one point made clearly in Chasing Aphrodite — it is that American museum officials were far from innocents. In case after case where internal museum records have come to light — via lawsuits or leaks to reporters — there is clear evidence that museums officials were aware they were buying recently looted antiquities. Met officials knew the Lydian Hoarde was looted and sought to hide it, as Turkey learned during its six year legal battle for their return. Dietrich von Bothmer kept a map of the precise tomb in Cerveteri from which the Euphronios krater had been looted, as we learned from Marion True’s sworn deposition. The Boston MFA’s longtime antiquities curator Cornelius Vermeule was close personal friends with Robert Hecht and acquired hundreds of looted objects from him, as the Italian investigation and Hecht’s own journal revealed.  

Giacomo Medici during a visit to the Getty Museum

Giacomo Medici during a visit to the Getty Museum

The Getty case, our most revealing window into a museum’s antiquities acquisition process, is startlingly clear: “We know it’s stolen,” Harold Williams said in a confidential 1987 meeting about the acquisition of suspect antiquities. “Are we willing to buy stolen property for some higher aim?” Marion True discussed the contents of looted tombs in correspondence with Giacamo Medici, and declared the golden funerary wreath “too dangerous” before greed got the better of her. Her predecessor Arthur Houghton visited Medici’s Swiss warehouse and sought his help tracing the Getty’s griffins to tombs in Southern Italy. Houghton’s predecessor Jiri Frel ran a provenance forgery workshop out of the antiquities department and acquired thousands of looted objects through a tax fraud scheme whose scope is just now becoming apparent.

In other words, the evidence amassed to date makes abundantly clear that many of our highly educated antiquities curators and museum directors were not total dupes when it came to their role in the illicit antiquities trade.

They knew.

This is Eakin’s most glaring omission and the reason why repatriation is — at times — a reasonable response to foreign claims. They are the pound of flesh that must be paid for our collective cultural sins.

What standard?

How much evidence is needed to establish that an object is the product of the illicit antiquities trade and should be returned to the country from which it was stolen? For all the debate about acquisition policies, there has been nearly no debate or policy papers on this question, which is far more pressing concern facing museums today.

Eakin reminds us repeatedly that museums have returned contested antiquities under no legal order and often with no knowledge of their precise findspots. Such statements remind me of a phone conversation I had in 2006 with the Met’s de Montebello. He told me that the Met was prepared to give up its beloved Euphronios krater if Italy could present “irrefutable proof” of the precise spot from which it had been looted. Soon after, the Met’s general counsel informed him that there was no such legal standard — not even in cases of capital murder. Montebello left it to a spokesman to call back and sheepishly clarify that under the law, the vase could be seized by US law enforcement based upon probable cause. That is the legal standard for civil forfeitures. Apparently Eakin did not get the memo.

Orpheus mosaic in situThe cases that Eakin suggests are spurious are still being negotiated, and we don’t yet have access to the full array of evidence. But what has come to light suggests they are far from fickle. In the case of Cambodia’s claim on the Khmer statue in the Norton Simon, the precise find-spot is well-known and not disputed — the statue’s feet remain in placed today at the temple complex from which it was looted. In the two cases where claims from Turkey have been resolved — Dallas and Penn — there was compelling evidence. Penn acquired the Trojan gold  in 1966 from Hecht, whose ties to Turkish looters are well documented, and scientific tests later found it was consistent with samples found in Turkey. In the case of the Orpheus mosaic, investigators found Polaroids of the mosaic in situ when it arrested the alleged looters.

Eakin’s call to legal arms betrays both his ignorance of the law and of museums’ dilemma. There is a very good reason why museums have voluntarily given back nearly $1 billion in looted antiquities with no legal fight — it was in their self-interest. As cultural property attorney Rick St. Hilaire notes, taking these cases to court “is fraught with danger.”

LACMA's Michael Govan

Museums hoping to fight in court had better make sure they have no damaging internal records detailing their acquisition of looted antiquities, for those are likely to come out in discovery, as Sotheby’s recent learned. They had better also be sure that no other objects in their collections have dubious origins, because their legal fight will inspire a thorough examination of their entire collection. This was the lesson learned by the Getty, which, as Eakin notes, chose to fight rather than accept the voluntary return of six clearly looted antiquities. Several years and millions of dollars in legal fees later, they ended up returning more than 40.

Eakin laments the cost to museums of dealing with repatriation claims. The cost of litigation is far far higher. This is not to mention the public relations consequences, which concern museums far more than a few pieces of ancient art. The true and lasting damage to American institutions over this past decade has not been legal fees or lost antiquities. It has been the growing public perception that they are engaged in an illegal activity that, at its heart, is a deep betrayal of their public mission. If they follow Eakin’s advice, they will double down on that betrayal.

Greek deal

The enlightened solution that Eakin seeks is the one being taken by the institutions he targets — rebuilding trust with the public and foreign governments by taking claims seriously, engaging in proactive research of their collections and sober evaluation of the evidence and when appropriate, returning a token of the stolen property in their collections in exchange for a collaborative relationship with a potential adversary.

As Eakin well knows, this approach is not “making great art ever less available.” It is providing museum visitors with remarkable rotating exhibits of the world’s great treasures while moving both source countries and museums toward a future where questions of ownership recede and the focus becomes cooperation and education. 

Our exchange with Hugh Eakin at the NY Review of Books

The New York Review of Books has published our exchange with Hugh Eakin about his review of Chasing Aphrodite.

For those who haven’t followed the back and forth: Eakin reviewed the book in June’s NYROB. We posted our response here. The NYROB has now published an abbreviated version of that response with a final comment from Eakin.

We took issue with Eakin’s review, which we found “begrudgingly complimentary in several places, but also curiously littered with internal contradictions and a derisive tone that went unsupported by any argument of substance.” Eakin’s contortions appeared to be colored by his competing coverage of the Getty scandal for The New York Times and his sympathy for former Getty curator Marion True, who he had profiled in the New Yorker.

In Eakin’s final comment, he writes: “Let me be clear: there is nothing grudging about my admiration for their extraordinary revelations about the Getty Museum. Contrary to what they suggest, neither I nor any other reporter could compete with them because their information was, as I wrote, all their own.”

He goes on to cite several facts that he calls “contradictory” to our account of the controversial statue of Aphrodite, which was looted in Sicily and never seriously studied during its 22 years at the Getty. Rather than contradict our account (several of the facts he cites were, after all, first reported by us), they illustrate the contradiction between Marion True’s public and private persona. For example, Eakin cites two cases in which True professed to be open to scientific investigation of the statue’s origin. But he omits True’s statement to the Getty’s own attorneys that the purpose of these activities were “to keep the Carabinieri happy that we’re doing something.” (cited on p. 202 of Chasing Aphrodite)

As we said in our response to another True empathizer, sympathy for True’s plight is understandable, but should not blind us to the troubling complexities of her actions.

Eakin concludes his comment by noting, “The leaking of information to journalists places a burden on them to countercheck the claims being made.” We agree wholeheartedly, and spent the better part of five years seeking confirmation of and context for the leaked information we obtained. They offer a complex and multifaceted account that has not been contradicted. We wish Eakin had taken similar care to paint the whole picture.

We welcome your thoughts on the issues raised in this exchange. Feel free to chip in with a comment via the link below.

The Missing $50k: Doing the Math on Marion True’s Loan

Former Getty antiquities curator Marion True was asked to resign in 2005 after the authors revealed in the Los Angeles Times that she had accepted a $400,000 loan from an attorney working on behalf of one of the Getty’s principle antiquity dealers. A month later, we reported that True had repaid the loan by borrowing money from her friends Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman — a deal arranged the day after the Getty acquired the couple’s antiquities collection valued at $60 million.

It was these two questionable loans — and not True’s criminal indictment by Italy on charges of trafficking in looted art — that destroyed her career and reputation. True’s failure to disclose the obvious conflicts of interest shocked and silenced many of her most ardent supporters.

As we note in the book, we were unable to find any evidence that True was repaying the unsecured loan from her wealthy friends — her attorney Harry Stang refused to provide us any evidence of payments, despite numerous requests.

But a curious tidbit of new information about this second loan appeared in Hugh Eakin’s recent review, whose faults we have detailed elsewhere. According to Eakin, Stang told the Getty in 2006 that True had re-paid $162,000 of the loan over a six year period, calling her payments “generally consistent” with the loan’s terms.

We were curious how “generally consistent” these payments were, so we did the math.*  True apparently failed to make her monthly payments about 18 times over the six year period reviewed, paying $54,000 less than she owed.

We’ve asked for a response from True’s attorney Harry Stang, who told us earlier this week that her payments showed “substantial compliance” with the loan. He also said he did not know if any payments had been made since early 2006, when he reviewed the payment records. We’ll post any response he provides.

What does it all mean? Perhaps not much. The loan, coming on the heels of the Getty’s purchase of the Fleischman collection, was problematic even if fully repaid. And True clearly made an effort to repay the loan for much of the time before her forced retirement in October 2005, toward the end of the period reviewed by her attorney.

*For those curious, here’s the math on the loan: According to Barbara Fleischman, True borrowed $400,000 at 8.25% over 30 years, backed by no collateral. That would make her monthly payments $3005, or $36,060 annually. Over six years, True should have paid $216,365, which is $54,365 more than the $162,000 she paid according to Stang. $54,365 is roughly equivalent to 18 monthly payments. (NOTE: The book cites True calling it a “20 year mortgage,” but we now believe she was mistaken. If the term was indeed 20 years, and not 30 as Fleischman claims, the missing payments would be substantially greater: $83,394)

Our response to Hugh Eakin’s review in the NY Review of Books

We’ve submitted the following response to Hugh Eakin’s review of Chasing Aphrodite, which was published in The New York Review of Books earlier this month. As you’ll see, we found the review flattering in places, but also curiously littered with contradictions. For those who don’t know him, Eakin covered the antiquities scandals for the New York Times and other publications.

Hugh Eakin’s review of our book Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum (“What Went Wrong at the Getty,” NYROB June 27, 2011) was begrudgingly complimentary in several places, but also curiously littered with internal contradictions and a derisive tone that went unsupported by any argument of substance.

The review opens with a straw man argument. Eakin claims our goal was “to debunk the notion that art museums might have some legitimate reason for collecting art from the ancient past.” This is false. As the book makes clear, we have no objection to museums collecting ancient art — legally. Our aim, clearly stated in the preface, was to show that museums’ laudable goal of preserving and protecting antiquities was undermined by their decades-long reliance on an illicit trade that destroys our knowledge of the ancient world.

Eakin claims we do not support our statement that, by fueling the black market, museums have destroyed more knowledge than they have preserved. On the contrary, we make that case time and again in what Eakin, in his next breath, calls our “almost overwhelmingly detailed account.” There is no better illustration of our case than the object at the center of the book, the Getty’s cult statue of “Aphrodite.” Looted from an archaeological site in Sicily in the late 1970s, the Getty bought it in 1988 despite clear signs it was illicit. Thanks to the pall of scandal that hung over the goddess, it was never subjected to serious scholarly study during its 22 years at the Getty, despite being, in the words of the Getty’s curator, “the single greatest piece of Classical sculpture in this country.” Like much of the ancient art in American museums, the Aphrodite was a mute object of beauty.

Indeed, as our book documents, Getty officials actively avoided knowledge of the statue’s origins, turning down several opportunities to learn more about its history and meaning. Soil found in the statue’s folds sat in vials unexamined for 19 years, despite the initial pleas of the head of the Getty conservation institute. True turned down an opportunity to view photos of the statue before its restoration, despite the possibility that they might clarify the goddess’ true identity. The Getty even refused to obtain missing fragments from the statue from the man they publicly claimed was its original owner. (The case of the Aphrodite is no anomaly, as the Met’s persistent refusal to allow a leading archaeologist to study that museum’s illicit Greek silver service showed.) How to explain this bizarre aversion to the truth at an organization whose mission is the “diffusion of knowledge”? The Getty was so intent on keeping this illicit beauty in Malibu that it was willing, time and again, to sacrifice the truth about her origins. Only after the Getty agreed to return the statue to Sicily, where it now resides, did it invite scholars to begin the arduous process of reconstructing that lost history. As if to underscore the museum’s history of obfuscations, many experts now believe the goddess represents Demeter or Persephone, not Aphrodite.

American museums have contributed important scholarship to the field with projects such as the Corpus Vasorum – a painstaking study of Greek vases advanced by curators at the Met, the Getty, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and elsewhere. But just as often, their public mission to educate has been undermined by their private lust for recently excavated objects. Sadly, there is no similarly detailed record of what was lost as a result. But to suggest, as Eakin does, that the damage done by looting is negligible compared with the scholarly good done by American museums requires some extraordinary contortions. One must also believe that every time a looter sticks a shovel in the ground, he “rescues” a museum-worthy antiquity like the Aphrodite and has no further need to ransack the archaeological site in question. In truth — as has been documented in books and articles going back to Clemency Coggins’ seminal 1969 work “Illicit Traffic of Pre-Colombian Antiquities” — for every discovery of a masterpiece like the Aphrodite, there are hundreds if not thousands of tombs destroyed.

Similar contortions abound in Eakin’s review. He calls our portrait of the Getty “cynical,” but goes on to say that no institution is more suited “to Verres-like scrutiny” than the Getty. He calls Chasing Aphrodite “an important book, but not in the way they intend.” Ultimately, we’re left to speculate about the “quite different interpretation” Eakin thinks can be drawn from the facts we lay out. His only hint comes in his final paragraphs, when he calls American museums’ decision to return more than half a billion dollars worth of looted antiquities “a victory…for the approach endorsed by collecting museums.” That is akin to calling the Battle of Gettysburg a clear victory for the South. The repatriations were a reluctant surrender to overwhelming facts, long denied, that exposed museums’ participation in a market awash in illicit antiquities.

Eakin is critical of the Italians for “waging their battle through the press” but largely omits that he was a frequent beneficiary of such leaks in his own coverage of the scandal for the New York Times and others. (For those requiring recent evidence, see Eakin’s recent scoop in the Times about Italy’s investigation of Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett.*)

Indeed, it was thanks to those scandalous Italian leakers that Eakin was the first American reporter to reveal the scope of the Italian investigation in 2002. But his report missed the key fact – the planned indictment of Getty antiquities curator Marion True. He explains this omission in his review by saying these leaky Italians “could not disclose” their plans for the curator because they “had not yet been made public.” What honorable behavior from the same Italians who Eakin says routinely manipulated the press.

Some of Eakin’s claims are almost laughable. He says, citing no evidence, that we encourage “readers to infer skullduggery in routine museum dealings.” Apparently Eakin finds the bribery, forgery, tax fraud, smuggling and general dishonesty that we document at the Getty – with what Eakin calls a “vast body of internal memoranda, legal briefs, and museum correspondence” — to be routine for the museum world. In truth, unlike Eakin’s review, our research and documentation leaves very little for our readers to infer.

As Eakin notes, our reporting stands out from the other coverage (including his own) in going far beyond what the Italian investigation uncovered. The bulk of our book is based on internal Getty documents, not the Italian investigation. Eakin claims, without any factual support, that these documents were “leaked from the office of the Getty’s in-house counsel.” While many of the files we cite were privileged, Eakin is wrong to presume that documents generated by the general counsel’s office must have been leaked from there. These confidential records span four decades and were circulated widely among senior staff, the board and outside counsel. Many were accessible to those far lower on the Getty totem pole. To suggest, as some have, that our reporting is based on leaks from a single “Deep Throat” is silly. As our more than 300 footnotes make clear, there were enough “Deep Throats” at the Getty to round out a Greek chorus.

Eakin particularly ties himself in logical knots when it comes to the book’s central character, former Getty antiquities curator Marion True.

Eakin calls our focus on True “puzzling” — an odd assertion for someone who wrote a 10,000 word profile of her for The New Yorker in 2007. If anything, it is Eakin who thrusts True to center stage, repeatedly comparing her “unprecedented” trial to Cicero’s historic prosecution of Gaius Verres, with True cast as the corrupt Roman governor. He laments True’s unjust treatment, but elsewhere says that like Verres, she faced “a huge body of evidence.” It is only thanks to our reporting that True can be seen in her proper context – that of a curator who proposed questionable acquisitions that were exhaustively debated and approved by a series of superiors above her on the chain of command.

After scolding us for focusing on True, Eakin scolds us for not providing more detail on her criminal trials. Her Italian trial concluded without a verdict in October 2010, after our manuscript was finalized. It was included only thanks to a last minute addition to the epilogue. As with her Greek trials, by the time of its ambiguous conclusion, the Italian case’s significance was largely moot.

As for factual issues, the most Eakin can muster from our 360-page book is a footnote that calls our account of True’s two undisclosed loans “puzzling.”

We reported that she accepted a loan of $400,000 from one of the Getty’s leading antiquities dealers – a clear ethical violation that, after it was confirmed by the Getty’s outside counsel, led to her dismissal. True refused to answer our questions about the transaction, and the dealer in question is dead. His nephew told us — on the record — that the loan was run through an off shore shell company created by a family attorney specifically to obscure the origin of the money – the dealer. Eakin finds the account unpersuasive, noting that True was charged 18% interest by the attorney. He ignores the fact that True was also charged interest by her close friends, collectors Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman, when she borrowed from them to repay the first loan. Eakin is the only reporter to have interviewed Marion True since her dismissal, yet offers no plausible explanation for why an offshore shell company would be needed for an above board transaction; nor why True failed to disclose the loan to her superiors, as clearly required by Getty policy; nor why the Getty demanded her resignation after (belatedly) investigating the transaction. As elsewhere, we’re left to wonder about Eakin’s lack of skepticism on this matter.

As for the second loan True received from the Fleischmans, Eakin is convinced it is being repaid, citing assurances True’s attorney made to Getty counsel in 2006. We’re left to wonder: Did Eakin inquire whether the Getty’s attorneys were satisfied by that assurance? Have True’s payments to her wealthy friends continued since 2006? In an interview this week, Stang acknowledged that during the period he reviewed, “there were some months when she missed the payments.” He said he does not know if True continues to make payments on the loan, which is unsecured by collateral.

These are among the many questions the remain unanswered about Marion True and her time at the Getty. In the years since she was indicted by Italy, we have requested to interview her dozens of times, to no avail. As we’ve noted, the only journalist granted that privilege was Eakin, under unclear conditions. The result was a lengthy and sympathetic account of True’s debacle that curiously failed to answer many of the most central questions that surround her. How could True present herself as a reformer while continuing to pursue the acquisition of looted antiquities? Was the Getty in good faith when it approved the acquisition of the Aphrodite on the very day True and other museum officials learned of an international investigation into its origins (not days later, as Eakin mistakenly wrote in the profile.) Why did True continue to pursue the acquisition of a golden funerary wreath just weeks after concluding it was “too dangerous”? And how could True profess ignorance about the illicit antiquities trade to Italian authorities after concluding as early as 1987 that “the majority of antiquities on the market were likely to have been removed from their countries of origin illegally.”

In the end, True remains – like the statue of an unknown goddess that ruined her – an enigma. The same could be said for Eakin’s review.

* An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Italy’s “indictment of former Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett.” Padgett, who remains a curator at Princeton, has been notified he is the target of an investigation but has not been indicted.

New York Review of Books: “An important book”

The New York Review of Books has just published a lengthy write-up of Chasing Aphrodite, calling it “an important book…about money, art and power.”

The author, Hugh Eakin, has covered the antiquities issue over the years for the New York Times and others. In December 2007, he wrote a lengthy profile of Marion True for the New Yorker (that curiously failed to ask some key tough questions.)