Tag Archives: J. Paul Getty Museum

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.

I-2008-5615-1

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.

url

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. 

The Getty’s Looted Amber: A Window into the Museum’s Deepening Dilemma

Screen Shot 2013-01-06 at 11.24.34 PM

In Saturday’s Los Angeles Times, I have a story about Getty Museum’s efforts to find the true origins of its massive antiquities collection.

Here’s how the story starts:

In the wake of a scandal over its acquisition of looted antiquities, the J. Paul Getty Museum is trying to verify the ownership histories of 45,000 antiquities and publish the results in the museum’s online collections database.

The study, part of the museum’s efforts to be more transparent about the origins of ancient art in its collection, began last summer, said Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig.

“In this effort, and in all our work, when we identify objects that warrant further discussion and research, we conduct the necessary research to determine whether an item should be returned,” Hartwig said in a statement to The Times.

Screen Shot 2013-01-06 at 11.35.26 PM

The review is likely to reveal that problems in the Getty’s collection go far deeper than the nearly 50 looted objects returned since 2007according to Getty records and interviews with antiquity dealers and former museum officials.

Hundreds of objects still in the collection were acquired with false ownership histories aimed at disguising their origins in the illicit antiquities trade, records and interviews show.

The depth of its problem was underscored in November, when the Getty published a catalog of 56 carved ambers, objects that the ancient Greeks and Etruscans used in amulets for the magical properties they were believed to possess.

At first look, “Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum” represents the museum at its finest — decades of scholarship published online in an illustrated catalog that engages the public in a rarely studied artifact of the ancient world.

But records — including internal Getty files — show that the ambers were almost certainly looted from tombs in northern Italy.

medici mugThe relics passed through the smuggling network of Giacomo Medici, who has been convicted in Italy of trafficking in illegally excavated artifacts. Once in the United States, they were donated to the Getty as part of a tax fraud scheme that nearly brought the institution to its knees in the 1980s.

The catalog is silent on this history, which a Getty spokesman says the museum was not aware of at the time, but it does acknowledge the consequences. Because nothing is known of the context in which the ambers were found, little can be definitively concluded about their meaning to their ancient owners.

“Were they purchases, part of a dowry, heirlooms, or other kinds of gifts?” writes Faya Causey, author of the catalog. “Unfortunately, we can only speculate as to whether the ambers were actually possessions of the people with whom they were buried, how the objects were acquired, and in which cultic or other activity they played a part.”

The ambers capture the dilemma that the Getty faces today. Having largely abandoned the purchase of ancient art, it is using its unparalleled resources to restore meaning to objects whose history it had a hand in destroying.

You can read the full LA Times story here.

The Getty’s Study Collection

This is not the first time questions have been raised about the Getty’s study collection, the tens of thousands of artifacts in the museum’s collection deemed not worthy of display but held in storage for scholarly study.

In the 1990s, hundreds of pottery sherds and votive fragments in the collection were linked to a looted archaeological site in Francavilla Maritima. Under Marion True’s leadership, the Getty conducted an exhaustive scholarly study of the material, then returned it to Italy. 

Last year, the Getty quietly returned 150 marble fragments in the collection (88.AA.140 – 88.AA.144) to Italy after evidence emerged that they joined objects found in the same looted tombs of Ascoli Satriano that produced  the Getty’s Griffins and statue of Apollo, which were returned to Italy in 2007. The objects and fragments were acquired in the 1980s from London dealer Robin Symes.

81.aa.144_1

Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig described the voluntary returns as the result of cooperative research with Italian archaeologists:

In his letter to Director General Luigi Malnati last January, Jim Cuno said, “The Getty acquired these objects as a gift in 1988, in the hope that they would be preserved and studied and eventually reconnected with other fragments of the same objects.  Happily, careful scholarship has led to that result.  Working with colleagues in Italy, Getty curators have determined that the fragments in our possession are very likely to match with vessels from Ascoli Satriano.  It is our hope that the fragments can be examined to ascertain their pertinence, and rejoined to these vessels.” Dr. Malnati invited [Getty antiquities curator] Claire Lyons to join a committee formed as a research collaboration to examine the pieces.

01293001But the Getty’s problems are not confined to the study collection, as was demonstrated last week when the Getty announced it would return a terracotta head of Hades to Sicily. It will be reunited with the statue’s body, which was found at the archaeological site of Morgantina — the same source of the Getty’s looted statue of Aphrodite, which was returned in 2010.

These returns are a reminder of the Getty’s crooked collecting practices, but they also offer some reason for hope. Each return has contributed to important new insights about archaeological sites that were despoiled by looters. The process of joint investigation and return has helped re-create some of the lost context — something Lord Colin Renfrew once described as “Post-disjunctive forensic re-contextualisation.”

Expect to see more if it in the year ahead. As noted in Saturday’s story, a large part of the Getty’s study collection was acquired in bulk donations in the 1970s and 1980s via the looting and tax fraud scheme we describe in Chapter 2 of Chasing Aprhodite. Records show that much of it passed through the smuggling networks of Medici, Hecht, Symes and Becchina, suggesting it will likely end up back in Italy sooner or later.  

The ambers are the latest tip to surface of a very large iceberg. As David Gill noted in November, “the scale of the problem for the Getty is massive.”

Latchford’s Footprints: Suspect Khmer Art at the Kimbell and the Met

We’re continuing to trace suspect Cambodian antiquities linked to Douglas Latchford, the man at the center of the on-going federal looting probe that we’ve detailed in previous posts here. Last week we wrote about suspect Khmer antiquities at the Denver Art Museum. Here are our latest finds:

The Kimbell Art Museum

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 5.54.33 PM

In 1988, the Kimbell Art Museum purchased an important 7th century Khmer sculpture from Latchford.

At the time of purchase, the statue had no documented ownership history. The only record the Kimbell obtained about its origins was a signed guarantee from Latchford claiming the statue had been in his possession in Thailand since 1968 and had legally been shipped to the UK in 1987, a museum spokeswoman said.

Latchford has made similar claims about contested Khmer statues at Sotheby’s and the Norton Simon Museum that are now the focus on a federal lawsuit. Federal investigators have alleged in court filings that Latchford purchased those statues after they were looted in the early 1970s and smuggled to Thailand, a claim Latchford denies. (See our previous coverage of the case here.)

The statue represents Harihara, a Hindu deity that combined the destructive force of Shiva and the creative power of Vishnu. The statue’s style suggests the piece came from the pre-Angkor ruins of Prasat Andet, in central Cambodia. The Kimbell has no evidence of legal export from Cambodian, a museum spokeswoman confirmed.

Cult Statue of a Goddess (Aphrodite)Acquiring an object based exclusively on a dealer’s warranty — rather than an actual documented ownership history that proves it was not looted — was a common tactic in the 1980s, particularly for pieces that were likely looted. As we described in Chasing Aphrodite, the J. Paul Getty Museum passed a new acquisition policy for antiquities in 1987 that called for a dealer warranty in place of an inquiry into an object’s origins. The practice allowed the Getty to continue acquiring objects it knew or suspected had been looted — including an $18 million statue of Aphrodite — while providing a modicum of legal and public relations cover if the statue were later questioned. But the policy failed: The Getty returned the Aphrodite to Italy in 2010 after our investigation in the LA Times made clear the dealer warranty was a thin cover for the truth — the statue had been looted from an archaeological site in central Sicily.

Kimbell1The Kimbell believes the Harihara is the only object in its collection with ties to Latchford, but can’t be certain, a museum spokeswoman said. It is not the only suspect piece of ancient art to surface at the museum. In February, we wrote about the Kimbell’s 5th century BC Greek cup by the Douris painter. After we noted the cup’s ownership history had been traced to Elie Borowski, a dealer who has been linked to the illicit trade in Classical antiquities, the Kimbell announced it would publish the cup on a registry of objects maintained by the Association of Art Museum Directors. The cup was never listed in the registry — likely because it was acquired prior to 2008, when the directors group began requiring suspect antiquities to be posted. (This leaves the question: where should suspect antiquities acquired before 2008 be posted publicly to encourage further provenance research? Museums should be publishing the complete known provenance of all their antiquities, but don’t. We’ve proposed our own answer.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

met.hariharaWhile researching the Kimbell’s Harihara, we noticed that The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased a similar Harihara, also linked to Prasat Andet, in 1977. We’ve asked the Met for the provenance of the statue, as none is listed on their website.

The Met also has several pieces from Latchford. The New York Times has previously noted that Cambodia will ask the museum to return its two prominently displayed Standing Attendants, which also came through Latchford from Koh Ker. As Paul Barford has noted, the knees of those statues bear clear signs of having been hacked from a base by looters. (The Met’s high resolution photos and zoom tool are quite useful here.) Screen Shot 2012-12-23 at 10.50.29 PM

David Gill has also noted that the statues came to the museum in fragments from different sources acquired over several years and were reassembled at the Met. Martin Lerner, the Met’s former Asian Art curator, noted the happy coincidence in the catalog: “It is particularly gratifying that the monumental bodies join up with heads already in the collection.” This appears similar to a pattern we’ve seen in objects passed through smuggling networks that dealt in Classical antiquities, the so-called “fragments game” identified by Italian investigators and noted by Gill here.

Gill has also helpfully identified several other Latchford donations at the Met:

1983_551_232391-1A 10th century Khmer Head of Buddha acquired in 1983 as a gift from Latchford. (1983.551)

A 12th century Bodhisattva from Nepal acquired in 1989 as a gift from Spink & Son Ltd. and Douglas A. J. Latchford.  (1989.237.1)

A bronze 9th century Bodhisattva Maitreya from Thailand acquired in 1989 as a gift from Spink & Son Ltd. and Douglas A. J. Latchford. (1989.237.2)

A 2nd century Ghandaran plaque from Pakistan acquired as  gift of Spink & Son Ltd. and Douglas A. J. Latchford in 1989. (1989.237.3)

DT5214The gifts suggest several things: Latchford was a generous donor to the Met over several years, and dealt not just in Khmer art but also material from South Asia. It would be worth perusing the Met’s 1994 catalog of Asian Art for other examples of material from South East Asia. For example, given the history of looting at Koh Ker, we were interested in how this gilt bronze statue of a king from Kor Ker (left) ended up in the collection Walter Annenberg before being acquired by the Met in 1988.

We’ll continue looking for Latchford objects in other museums. If you’ve got any tips, drop us at line at ChasingAphrodite@gmail.com

The Guardian and the Goddess: Looted Statues Reveal Workings of Illicit Trade

The Getty’s Aphrodite

The Contested Temple Guardian

What does a 10th century Khmer temple warrior have in common with a Greek cult goddess from the 5th Century B.C.?

Quite a bit, it turns out. Both were objects of veneration whose remarkable craftsmanship represented the apex of their respective cultures’ artistic achievement. Both massive limestone statues were looted and purposely broken  to make them easier to smuggle — telltale scars that decades later would bear witness to a violent and illicit origin. And both reveal a strikingly similar story about the ugly inner workings of the trade in ancient art.

We told the story of the Getty’s goddess in Chasing Aphrodite. The story of the Khmer temple guardian is being told today in legal filings by Sotheby’s and the US Attorney’s office, which is suing for the return of the statue on behalf of Cambodia in a federal court in Manhattan. (We’ve written previously about the case here here and here.) Both parties agree the statue was removed at some point from an ancient temple complex at Koh Ker, where the statue’s feet remain to this day. The key question — unanswered in the government’s earlier filings — is when.

The Norton Simon’s Bhima

This month the U.S. Attorney’s office amended its original complaint with damaging new details that apparently came to light through pre-trial discovery of Sotheby’s internal correspondence. The filing, which we’ve embedded below, is worth reading in full. Among other things, it reveals how little the art world has changed since the 1980s, when the Getty bought its cult goddess amid clear signs the statute had been recently looted and then sought to cover up those illicit origins.

Here are some highlights:

Date of looting: The federal government is now stating that the Sotheby’s statue, representing Duryodhana, and its companion at the Norton Simon Museum, representing Bhima, were looted from a temple complex in Koh Ker “in or around 1972.” This addresses Sotheby’s earlier contention that the statue might have been removed sometime prior to the 1920s.

Intentional Damage by Looters: Like the Getty’s Aphrodite, the Koh Ker statues were intentionally dismembered to make them easier to smuggle:

“In the case of monumental statues like the [Sotheby's warrior] the heads would sometimes be forcibly removed and transported first, with the torso following later, due to the difficulty of physically transporting the large torsos.”

In September 2010, this detail was noted by an expert hired by Sotheby’s to prepare a condition report on the statue.

“[The Scientist's] theory is that the sculpture was either forcibly broken for ease of transport from the find site and then put back together later, or that the head and the torso did not belong together.”

The feet of the two ancient sandstone statues were left behind by looters at a temple in Koh Ker, Cambodia.

The Scientist proposed a testing plan to determine which was the case. Instead of accepting that plan, Sotheby’s fired the expert, the complaint alleges. Readers of Chasing Aphrodite will recall that similar questions were raised about the head of the Aphrodite and the fresh breaks on the statue’s body (p. 93 – 94.) Luis Monreal, the head of the Getty Conservation Institute, proposed tests on soil and pollen found in the folds of the statue Aphrodite to determine its origin. The Getty Museum instead opted for ignorance.

Market Path: The amended complaint specifies that after they were stolen from Koh Ker by “an organized looting network,” the statues at Sotheby’s and the Norton Simon were smuggled to Bangkok and delivered to a Thai dealer, who sold them to a “well known collector.” The New York Times has identified that dealer as Douglas A. J. Latchford. (Latchford co-authored a book on Khmer art with Emma Bunker, the expert cited in previous filings as saying in emails to Sotheby’s that the statue had been ‘definitely stolen.’) Latchford allegedly conspired with the London auction house Spink to obtain false export permits for the statues and they were transported it to London in 1971 or 1972, the amended complaint states. The Duryodhana was sold to a Belgian businessman in 1975, and his widow consigned it for sale by Sotheby’s in 2010.

Sotheby’s Deceit: The complaint alleges Sotheby’s knowingly misled potential buyers, Cambodian officials and U.S. investigators about the statue’s ownership history, claiming it had been seen in the UK in the late 1960s — well before the 1970 UNESCO convention. In fact, the government alleges, Sotheby’s knew the statue had been with Latchford in SE Asia until the early 1970s. To support their claim, the complaint cites emails between Sotheby’s and Latchford, who is described as “the original seller of the sculpture back in 1975.” One of those internal emails reveals Sotheby’s concerns about how the statue’s provenance will affect its sale:

“The most important question is the provenance. Can [the Collector] tell us if he acquired this sculpture before 1970? That’s the standard [an art advisor to a prospective buyer] is applying. It’s what his client wants.”

“Sotheby’s inaccurate representations dating the [statue's] appearance in the United Kingdom to the late 1960’s, rather than after 1972, therefore eliminated a significant obstacle to the selling the [statue,]” the complaint states.

Indeed, Latchford’s name was omitted from the object’s stated ownership history.

In a statement to the New York Times, Sotheby’s denied the government’s claims, saying the U.S. attorney’s office was trying “to tar Sotheby’s with a hodgepodge of other allegations designed to create the misimpression that Sotheby’s acted deceptively in selling the statue…That is simply not true.”

Looters of the Gods: The Getty’s Golden Wreath is Featured in Documentary on Museums and the Illicit Antiquities Trade

The Funerary Wreath

As we were prowling the alleys of Rome on Monday discussing our plans for WikiLoot, a prize-winning documentary film was airing on Italian national television about the role of American museums in the illicit antiquities trade.

“Looters of the Gods” is a 2010 DocArt production by Italian director Adolfo Conti that focuses on the Getty Museum and its acquisition of a gold funerary wreath in 1993. As we revealed in our 2005 articles in the LA Times, Marion True was first offered the golden wreath in a Swiss bank vault by two men claiming to represent Swiss collectors.  She concluded the men were impostors and had done “tremendous damage to a great object.” “I hope you will find a possible buyer for it,” True wrote to an intermediary in the deal, “but I am afraid that in our case it is something that is too dangerous for us to be involved with.”

Four months later, True and her bosses at the Getty changed their minds and agreed to acquire the wreath for $1.15 million, sending their payment to a bank account in the name of the impostors, who investigators later determined to be Greek smugglers. The funerary wreath had been recently looted from the royal Macedonian tombs of Northern Greece, possible from a relative of Alexander the Great.

Nikolas Zirganos with members of the Greek art sqaud, celebrating the return of the golden funerary wreath.

The documentary film follows the investigation of our friend Nikolas Zirganos, the Greek investigative reporter who we teamed up with to crack the case of the funerary wreath. His intrepid reporting pieced together the criminal investigation by Greek and German authorities that ultimately led to True’s criminal indictment by Greece. The time limit on the charges expired before she could go to trial, but in December 2006, the Getty agreed to return the wreath to Greece. The film also features Italian prosecutor Paolo Ferri and his investigation of the Getty and other American museums in the illicit antiquities trade.

Here’s a preview of “Looters of the Gods”:

Artifacts and Fictions in Baltimore: Roger Atwood on the Walters’ Pre-Colombian Collection

Today we’re publishing a guest post from Roger Atwood, author of “Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers and the Looting of the Ancient World.”   We reached out to Roger for his thoughts when we heard about an exhibition of suspect pre-Colombian material at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Atwood has written extensively about looting in Latin America, and took a recent trip to the Walters to see the collection. Here is what he found.

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has mounted a show of ancient artifacts from Latin America that belong, or once belonged, to the collector John Bourne.  According to the show’s catalogue, Bourne has already given some of the pieces to the museum while others have been promised, a long, gradual donation that maximizes the donor’s tax deduction. Aside from a few likely fakes, whose presence the Walters candidly admits, the objects all date from before the arrival of Europeans in 1492.

Collector John Bourne, circa 1947

The collection has a long and checkered history. Bourne originally intended to give it, or at least part of it, to the Museum of New Mexico’s Palace of the Governors unit in Santa Fe, which, in fact, displayed it for several years after 1997. The collection brought the Palace of the Governors some problems, to put it mildly. Four objects in the collection were seized by the FBI in 1998 and held for nearly two years, pending probes into allegations that the pieces were looted and smuggled out of Peru. The investigation ultimately fizzled, leading to no charges and the return of the pieces. But the Museum of New Mexico got some nasty publicity from that case, and one can only assume the Walters and its lawyers were fully cognizant of the risks of a repeat of it before accepting this dubious gift. I tell the story of the Bourne case in detail in my 2004 book Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World, based on interviews and documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act.

A couple of weeks ago I took a train to the handsome city of Baltimore and saw the Bourne collection in its new home. It’s a revealing show with some lovely artifacts, including some I don’t remember seeing in Santa Fe. The painted Nasca stirrup bottles (right), masterpieces of design and economy dating from about 500 CE, alone were worth the trip.

Yet I came away thinking that, perhaps without realizing it, the organizers have given an object lesson in the dangers of collecting antiquities that have no record of archaeological excavation. What I wrote in Stealing History – that “not a single piece on display” in the Bourne collection “gives a specific provenance, archaeological history or other sign it emerged from any place but a looter’s pit” – remains true but needs some amending.

First, there are the fakes. To its credit, the Walters is completely up front about the fact that some pieces in the Bourne collection are probably not what they claim to be. “[T]he atypical imagery of these objects calls into question their authenticity,” says the wall label next to a pair of Maya eccentric flints. It adds, helpfully, that tests are inconclusive “because modern replicas are made using the same kinds of tools and techniques as well as the same sources of flint” as the real ones. So, in this case, we’re learning more about technique for making fakes than about Maya flints.

Another sculpture looks like a bad pastiche of old and new, or, as the wall panel says, a “modern assembly of a variety of ancient parts.” Meant to look Moche, the piece shows a wooden, crouching warrior of ungainly proportions, with a clamshell perched on its head like a fez and a backflap on its lower back that seems to have been made for a much smaller object. “Together, the C-14 [radiocarbon dating] and iconographic data suggest that the piece – in its current state – postdates Moche culture by at least 700 years,” says the show’s catalogue. The operative phrase there is “at least,” for the piece has a funny, cinematic kind of look, like a prop from “The Curse of the Andes”.

What do fakes have to do with the problem of looting? Fakes and unprovenanced, authentic antiquities often turn up together in collections because neither was found through the transparent process of archaeological excavation. They flock together.  Collectors might think their connoisseurship protects them from fakes, but they get hoodwinked all the time. This is not a sign of denseness or gullibility, necessarily; it just comes with the territory if you’re in the business of acquiring undocumented antiquities. If the Getty, with all its experts and budget, could buy a dubious piece like the Kouros, then what hope is there for a single collector such as John Bourne, no matter what the credentials of the people advising him?

The Walters is more coy on the implications of all this. Has the collector gained a tax benefit for the donation of what are quite possibly, if the Walters’ analysis is correct, worthless fakes?  Why is it even showing them? The show constantly refers to authentication and laboratory analysis on the pieces; indeed, it’s one of the main themes of the exhibit.  One piece, a Zapotec pottery figure actually has a copy of its thermoluminescence analysis report right on the wall, indicating the piece dates from 450 to 800 CE. Wall texts and the catalogue go on about CT scans and minute studies of chemical compositions.

I spoke on the phone with the director of the Walters, Gary Vikan, who said that the museum decided to go ahead and show what its conservators believed to be fakes because “there is a value in being candid and open about our own research.” He added, “our business is to gather and share knowledge, not to vindicate” a collector’s decisions. Two conservators worked full-time for two-and-a-half years analyzing the pieces, he said.

To the viewer, all this research could signal that the Walters has doubts about the larger integrity of the collection. But it also suggests the museum is trying to compensate for the lack of any archaeological information about the pieces by running them through gauntlets of laboratory tests. It’s as if the museum is trying to scratch its way to some information – any information – about pieces that are so patently lacking any hard archaeological data.

And that leads me to the second problem associated with undocumented artifacts that this exhibit so richly demonstrates: the lack of information. For all the museum’s months of laboratory work, we know strikingly little about where these pieces came from, in what context they were found, and what function or meaning they had. This is because they were, presumably, all purchased from the cast of looters, dealers and assorted hoodlums that make up the supply end of the Latin American antiquities market. Whatever information those sellers claim to have on the origin of the artifacts they sell is usually conjecture or lies.

An earthenware crocodile effigy claimed to be from Costa  Rica is said to date from 500 to 1350 CE, an absurdly wide spread that stratigraphic data or radiocarbon materials found in proper excavation could narrow down to decades. A Mayan jadeite pendant (left) dates from “250 to 450 CE” and could come from Guatemala, Belize, Mexico or Honduras, says the catalogue. In other words, from two centuries and any one of hundreds of sites over four countries.   It’s a nice piece, but how helpful is that? True, it is difficult for a private collector to buy archaeologically excavated material, since it rarely comes on the market. But a museum of the Walters’ caliber could certainly arrange loans of properly excavated pieces if wants to show pre-Columbian antiquities.

The show takes pains to stress that Bourne purchased many artifacts on trips to Latin American hinterlands starting in the 1940s, before most current rules on removing and selling cultural property were in effect. The catalogue describes Hiram Bingham-style adventures, Bourne cutting through forest to reach the lost city of Bonampak and finding artifacts in situ.  These accounts are entertaining and I don’t doubt their authenticity, but other facts make you wonder if he had other sources. Bourne himself told the FBI in 1998 that he bought merchandise from the late Ben Johnson, a notorious Los Angeles dealer in high-end pillage whose dealings were exposed in the Sipán trial of 1989.

What little information we’re given on the origin of the Bourne pieces amounts to a roll call of the most pitilessly looted parts of Latin America: the north coast of Peru, the Petén lowlands of Guatemala, rural Veracruz.  Commercial looters erased incalculable amounts of archaeological data and a valuable economic resource to gather prizes for middlemen and collectors. It’s a story of exploitation and greed that is still rarely acknowledged  by big collecting museums.

A clear example of that destructive cycle – collectors buy loot, looters destroy sites to get more loot to sell, over and over – was the pillage at Sipán in northern Peru in 1987. Before the Getty’s Aphrodite, before the Marion True trial, the case of Sipán showed everyone the power of the antiquities trade to consume heritage.  That case led to the 1990 emergency ban on the import of a long list of types of Peruvian antiquities, arguably the most important step by the federal government to tackle the illicit trade up to that time, and, later, a bilateral agreement between Peru and the United States imposing broad import restrictions that remains in effect today. (By way of disclosure, I should say that I spoke in favor of a five-year renewal of that agreement before the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee in 2007.)

The Bourne collection (now the Walters collection) includes a piece widely attributed to Sipán, a golden belt rattle (left) [Note: An earlier version of this post had an incorrect image. The mistake was ours, not Atwood's.]  It wasn’t on display when I visited Baltimore but it appears in the catalogue, which calls the piece “Moche style, North Coast, Peru.” The Sipán tomb was looted by the Bernal brothers in February 1987. Its fabulous artifacts spread quickly through the elite antiquities racket before police fenced off the site and allowed archaeologists to excavate it. They found two more, undisturbed tombs that have enriched our understanding of pre-Columbian society.

The word “style” after Moche is a wink-wink that the Walters is not sure of the piece’s authenticity, as Vikan pointed out to me.  I spoke with one of the museum’s conservators, Jessica Arista, who said the surface of the belt rattle showed marks from metal tools that did not exist in ancient Peru. “There are a lot of modern polishing marks,” she said. Also, said Arista, the metal itself looked too fresh to be ancient and a corrosive pigment seems to have been applied to it, possibly with the intention of making it look older.  A sample from the piece was detached and sent to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for analysis, she said. The piece was found to be 72 percent gold, 13 percent silver and 10 percent copper, figures similar to those found in authentic pieces, she said. (The catalogue gave slightly different numbers: 86.6 percent gold, five percent silver and 8.4 percent copper.) But the interior of the metal lacked the leaching and compositional variation that you would expect from a truly ancient piece, she said. Also, the microscopically thin gilding that you would see on the surface seems to be missing.

Still, the information is not conclusive, said Arista. The museum would need detailed comparisons with authentic Sipán pieces to give a more definitive answer on the piece’s authenticity. The Walters has not made contact with the Sipán museum in Lambayeque, Peru to arrange such a comparison, she said.

I mentioned to her that many Sipán pieces, including the backflap seized by the FBI in Philadelphia in 1997, had been soaked and scrubbed with Brillo pads while in the hands of looters and smugglers. This, I suggested, could account for the modern tool marks and the metal’s shiny appearance (which I’d also noticed in Santa Fe.) Perhaps, she said, but the metal’s inner composition, not just the surface, raises red flags about the piece’s authenticity.

The belt rattle was one of four from the Bourne collection seized by the FBI in 1998. (Another, a golden monkey head looted from a nearby site called La Mina around 1988, was restituted to Peru last year, with the cooperation of the Palace of the Governors. A pair of Moche earflares, seen at right, also seized by the FBI remain on display at the Walters. ) While the artifacts were held by the FBI, the Peruvian archaeologist who excavated Sipán, Walter Alva, went to Santa Fe and examined the belt ornament. If he had any doubts about its authenticity, he never raised them with me or the FBI.  Alva doubted the authenticity of other Peruvian pieces in the Bourne group, but not that one.  In Stealing History, I quote Christopher Donnan of UCLA, an expert on Moche iconography, as saying he also believed it an ancient Sipán artifact. I’ve never heard an authority on Moche archaeology say anything different.

So if the Sipán belt rattle turns out to be a fake – well, there are some very good forgers out there, and kudos to the Walters’ conservation team for exposing it.

But if it’s not, then the Walters will have some explaining to do. Its presence at the Walters would make a mockery of the museum’s policy (stated by Vikan here at minute 18) of not acquiring pieces that do not have a clear chain of ownership from before the UNESCO agreement of 1970.  Vikan says in the catalogue that the museum will “promptly and openly respond to any claims for repatriation … from possible source countries.”  Indeed, in a sign of transparency, the Walters has posted the collection – including the now-suspect Sipán belt rattle – on the American Association of Museum Directors’ Object Registry of antiquities acquired since 2008 that lack clear provenance dating back to 1970.

But why wait until source countries make repatriation claims? You wonder what other controversies over title might lurk behind the Bourne collection. This would be a good opportunity for a major American museum to recognize proactively a source country’s title to dubious objects, rather than make Peru or Guatemala jump through hoops — or wait for the storm as the Met did with the Euphronios krater, today recognized as property of the government of Italy.  Museums badly need to get the provenance problem past them and institute policies they can live by, permanently and consistently.  At its heart, the question is about more than ownership.  It’s about accountability, a subject on which the Walters exhibit demonstrates how far museums have come. It also shows how far they have to go.

ROGER ATWOOD investigated the illicit antiquities trade in 2002-03 with a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation. His website is http://rogeratwood.com/

The Getty’s Bronze? Italian Court Upholds Order to Seize a Getty Masterpiece

UPDATE: Law professor Derek Fincham has commented on Italy’s case: “Using a domestic court to seek the seizure of an illegally exported object from another country has not been attempted before. But Italy has been at the forefront of repatriation strategies. This novel approach could lead to a new legal tool for nations of origin to pursue, if it can convince the Attorney General and a U.S. District Court to enforce this seizure order. The Getty appealed the earlier ruling, and they did so for a reason, this case could set a precedent which would open up museums to seizure suits in the nation of origin.” We’d be interested to hear more legal analysis of this issue.

UPDATE: David Gill notes a comment by the Italian prosecutor saying that the ruling leaves the Getty “little room for maneuver.”

The Getty had a significant setback in the legal case over one of its most important antiquities — the bronze statue of a victorious athlete known as the Getty Bronze.

Here’s Jason’s story in the LA Times. We’ve posted the judge’s complete ruling below.

An Italian court has upheld an order for the seizure of a masterpiece of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s antiquities collection, finding that the bronze statue of a victorious athlete was illegally exported from Italy before the museum purchased it for $4 million in 1976.

The ruling Thursday by a regional magistrate in Pesaro will likely prolong the legal battle over the statue, a signature piece of the Getty’s embattled antiquities collection whose return Italian authorities have sought for years.

“This was the news we were waiting for,” said Gian Mario Spacca, president of the Marche region where the statue was hauled ashore in 1964, in an interview with Italian reporters. “Now we will resume contacts made with the Getty Museum to build a positive working relationship.”

Spacca visited the Getty last year hoping to negotiate an agreement to share the statue. But the Getty has made clear it will fight in court to keep the piece and is expected to appeal the ruling to Italy’s highest court.

“We’ve not yet seen the ruling and won’t comment until we do so,” said Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig.

The long battle over the bronze athlete — one of the few complete Greek bronzes to have survived and believed by some to have been made by Alexander the Great’s personal sculptor Lysippus — is a lingering reminder of the controversy that has surrounded the Getty’s collection of ancient art.

Since 2005, the Getty has voluntarily returned 49 antiquities in its collection, acknowledging they were the product of illegal excavations and had been smuggled out of their country of origin. Hundreds of other objects were returned by other American dealers, collectors and museums. In the wake of those returns, several American museums struck cooperative deals with Italy and Greece that allow for long-term loans of ancient art.

But such agreements have not shielded American museums from further claims that ancient art in their display cases are the product of a black market responsible for the destruction of archaeological sites around the world. In March, Turkish officials revealed they were seeking the return of dozens of allegedly looted antiquities from the Getty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Cleveland Museum of Art and Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks.

Most such repatriation claims have been settled without legal action. The dispute over the Getty’s bronze ended up in Italian court thanks to its complicated legal status — an accidental discovery in international waters off Italy’s Adriatic coast.

The statue was most likely lost at sea after being plundered by Roman soldiers in Greece around the time of Christ. (The government of Greece has never asked that the statue be returned there.)

The Getty Bronze, before restoration

In 1964, Italian fishermen found the statue snagged in their nets. They hauled it ashore in the small port town of Fano, buried it in a cabbage field and then hid it in a priest’s bathtub rather than declare it to customs officials, as required under Italian law.

Three brothers and the priest were convicted of trafficking in stolen goods, but an appeals court threw out their convictions in 1970, citing insufficient evidence. At the time, the statue was still missing, and its value was unknown.

In the early 1970s, the statue resurfaced in London, where millionaire oilman J. Paul Getty first became enamored of it.

Getty himself never authorized the purchase of the statue because he had concerns about its legal status, records show. In 1974, Italian officials tried to seize the statue in Germany, where it was being restored, but authorities there would not honor the request.

It was only after Getty’s death in 1976 that his namesake museum purchased the statue, ignoring the legal conditions its founder had placed on the acquisition, according to documents related to the case. The statue was one of the museum’s first acquisitions and was dubbed the “Getty Bronze.”

The bronze was one of dozens of ancient objects demanded by Italy during a lengthy fight with the Getty in recent years over its antiquities collection, much of which was acquired from middlemen who trafficked in objects looted from Italian tombs and ruins.

Talks broke down when the Getty refused to include the bronze on a list of objects it was willing to return. The impasse was broken only when a new criminal case about the bronze was filed in Italian court in 2007, taking it off the negotiating table.

That case has wound through the Italian legal system ever since. In February 2010, a judge ordered the statue’s return, citing the Getty’s “grave negligence” when acquiring a statue. The Getty appealed that ruling to Italy’s highest court, which sent the case back to the judge in Pesaro, not far from the port where the statue was first hauled ashore. The Getty has argued that the seizure order is invalid because no underlying crime has been proved.

If the high court ultimately upholds the seizure order, Italy will still have to convince U.S. authorities to enforce the order and seize the statue from the Getty Villa, where it is on display today in its own humidity-controlled room.

Read the full story of the Getty Bronze here.

Here’s the complete text of the May 3rd ruling:

The Getty List: 10 Objects at the J. Paul Getty Museum that Turkey Says Were Looted

Among the dozens of allegedly looted antiquities that the government of Turkey is asking American museums to return are ten objects at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Statue of a Muse, 200 AD. From Cremna, Turkey. Purchased in 1994 for $550,000 from Varya and Hans Cohn, Los Angeles. The Cohn’s acquired the object from Elie Borowsky (Basel) in ’68. (JPGM 94.AA.22)

The Getty declined to provide a list of the objects in question, as did the Met, the Cleveland Museum and Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks. We obtained a list from Turkish authorities and asked the Getty to provide the collecting history for those objects.

Unlike those other museums, the Getty is obligated by its 2006 acquisition policy to provide the public with provenance information about objects in the collection. Thanks to that policy, we now know something about how the contested objects came to the Getty.

The most prominent are four marble Muses now on display in the Getty Villa’s Basilica Room. All four appear to come from Cremna, Turkey and were first acquired by antiquities dealer Elie Borowski sometime before 1968, the Getty records show.

Borowski, who died in 2003, had ties to the illicit antiquities trade. His name appears in Robert Hecht’s memoir as a client of convicted antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici; it also appears on a handwritten organization chart of the illicit trade seized by Italian authorities in 2001. Former Getty antiquities curator Marion True told Italian authorities that Borowski had also been a client of Gianfranco Becchina, the Sicilian antiquities dealer (also named on the org chart) who is on trial in Italy.

Statue of a Muse, 200 AD. From Asia Minor. Purchased for $10,137 from Elie Borowsky in ’71; Borowsky already owned in 1968 (JPGM 71.AA.461)

Statue of a Muse, 200 AD, from Cremna, Turkey. Purchased for $9,185 in 1968 from Sotheby’s London, November 26, 1968. lot no. 173. (JPGM 68.AA.21)

Statue of a Muse, 200 AD, from Cremna, Turkey. Purchased in 1968 for $13,122 at Sotheby’s London, November 26, 1968. lot no. 173. (JPGM 68.AA.22)


Several other Getty objects sought by Turkey came through another dealer connected to the illicit trade: Nicolas Koutoulakis, now deceased owner of the Paris gallery Segredakis. Koutoulaksi also appears in the org chart and last September, the Getty returned to Greece fragments of a grave stone it had acquired from Koutoulakis after scholars concluded they adjoined an object now in a Greek museum.

Portrait of a Man. (73.AB.8) Purchased in 1973 for  $125,326  from Nicolas Koutoulakis

Bronze bust. (71.AB.458) Purchased in 1971 for $90,000 from Nicolas Koutoulakis.

Bronze foot from “Bubon, Turkey, Asia” (72.AB.103) acquired from Nicolas Koutoulakis. (See the Cleveland bronze from Bubon here.)

Bronze bed (82.AC.94) purchased for $150,000 from Nicolas Koutoulakis; Koutoulakis purchased from Gilette’s estate; Joseph Gilette of Lausanne, ca 1936.

The final two Getty objects come from a private dealer and an auction house:

Roman Eagle (72.AB.151) purchased in 1972 for $200,000 from French & Company.

Bronze bust of Lucius Veres  (73.AB.100) purchased in 1973 for $37,701 from Spink & Son, London.

When asked for comment about Turkey’s request, Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig said, “We are in dialogue with officials from the Turkish Ministry of Culture regarding some objects in our collection. We expect those discussions to continue and while they do, we will not be getting into specifics.”

Scoop: Turkey asks Getty, Met, Cleveland and Dumbarton Oaks to Return Dozens of Antiquities

In Saturday’s Los Angeles Times, Jason reports on Turkey’s bid to repatriate dozens of allegedly looted antiquities in American museums.

The requests include 10 objects at the J. Paul Getty Museum; 18 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; 21 objects at the Cleveland Musuem of Art; and the Sion Treasure at Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks.

Below we’ve provided the complete article. In the coming days, we’ll be providing additional details on the objects sought at each of the museums.

Turkey asks U.S. museums for return of 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.

By Jason Felch, Los Angeles Times

8:48 PM PDT, March 30, 2012The 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 not trying to start a fight,” said Murat Suslu, Turkey’s director general for cultural heritage and museums. “We are trying to develop … cooperation and we hope these museums will also understand our point of view.”

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.

American museums’ antiquities collections have been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years as evidence emerged of their ties to an illicit trade in artifacts found in archaeological sites around the world.

Confronted with that evidence, the Getty, the Met, the Cleveland, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Princeton University Art Museum 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.

None of the museums facing requests from Turkey would release a list of the contested objects in their collections, but The Times obtained a partial list from Turkish officials of what the country is asking for. Judging from publicly available records, most of the objects were acquired by the museums since the 1960s and have little or no documented ownership history before that, suggesting they could have come from illicit excavations.

Statue of a Muse. From Cremna, Turkey, circa 200 AD. (JPGM 94.AA.22)

The 10 Getty objects sought by Turkey were acquired from dealers, auction houses or collectors for more than $1 million between 1968 and 1994 and include four marble muses now on display in the Getty Villa’s Basilica gallery. According to ownership histories provided by the Getty in accordance with its reformed antiquities policy, several originated with Elie Borowski or Nicolas Koutoulakis, two antiquities dealers known to have ties to the illicit trade.

The Getty’s talks with Turkey began in the 1990s, government officials said, and gained steam under the directorship of interim museum director David Bomford, who left the Getty in February.

“We expect those discussions to continue and while they do, we will not be getting into specifics,” said Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig.

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.

A Hittite gold pendant of a goddess with a child, circa 1400 BCE from Central Anatolia. (MMA 1989.281.12)

Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the Met, initially denied the museum had received a request for specific objects. He later acknowledged in a statement that Turkey had requested information about the 18 objects in September, adding that the museum is “in the process of providing” that information. Turkish officials say the Met’s only response has been to write a letter to the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

At Dumbarton Oaks inWashington, D.C., ancient silver plates and other decorative objects known as the Sion Treasure are among the items Turkey is seeking to recover. The treasure was reportedly found in the early 1960s in an ancient burial mound in Kumluca, Turkey. It was acquired by the museum in 1966 from a private collector who bought them that same year from George Zakos, an antiquities dealer with documented ties to the illicit trade.

Paten with Cross, from the Sion Treasure. (BZ.1963.36.3)

Turkey has been asking for the return of the treasure since 1968, hoping to reunite the objects with the rest of the treasure, which is in a museum in Antalya, on Turkey’s southwest coast.

Twenty-one objects are being sought from the Cleveland Museum, which Turkish officials say has not responded to their inquiries. A museum spokeswoman declined to comment or release a list of contested objects.

Turkey has long sought the return of objects taken illegally from its borders, with occasional success.

Most famously, the country’s government fought a six-year legal battle with the Met for the return of the Lydian Hoard, a collection of goods looted from a burial mound in western Turkey. (It, too, had passed through the hands of Zakos.) The Met agreed to return the objects in 1993 after evidence emerged that museum officials had been aware of the material’s illicit origins and sought to hide it. To the chagrin of Turkish authorities, soon after its return a key piece of the treasure was stolen from the local museum to which it was returned.

CMA 1942.204

A similar battle played out between Turkey and the Boston MFA over the Roman statue Weary Herakles. Turkey requested the statue’s return in the 1990s after finding its bottom half in an excavation in Perge. The MFA had purchased the top half in 1981 jointly with New York collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White. The MFA’s piece has been known to fit the bottom half in Turkey since 1992, but the museum only returned it last September as part of a broader cultural cooperation agreement.

In hopes of avoiding such 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.

“It’s part of a broader shift in the government saying, ‘culture matters to us,'” said Christina Luke, a lecturer in archaeology at Boston University. While working in Turkey over the last decade, Luke has seen Turkey make major investments in regional cultural sites, efforts to educate children about the value of their heritage and attempts to clarify and strengthen the country’s cultural policies.

“Turkey is offended because of having insincere responses to her claims,” said Turkish official Suslu. “Turkey has been fighting against illicit trafficking of cultural objects since the Late Ottoman Period. Many ways were tried during the past years but they were not sufficient.”

jason.felch@latimes.com

The Dark Side of Aphrodite: The Getty’s New Aphrodite Show Features Collection of Famous Pederast

Starting today, the Getty Villa is hosting a remarkable exhibit of ancient art, the first ever dedicated to the goddess of love and carnal desire.

“Aphrodite and the Gods of Love” features 150 antiquities centered around Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. The show was organized by the Boston Museum of Fine Art, where it has been on display since October. It features nine stunning loans from Italy — a byproduct of collaboration deals struck in the wake of revelations that the Boston MFA, the Getty and other American museums had been purchasing looted antiquities.

But there is a darker side to this exhibit, one that until now has avoided mention.

Roughly half of the objects in the show come from the collection of Edward Perry Warren (1860-1928,) a Boston collector who the show’s organizer, MFA antiquities curator Christine Kondoleon, describes as “philanthropic gentleman scholar.”

Omitted from that account is the fact that Warren was also a renowned advocate of pederasty — sexual relationships between men and boys. Indeed, this was the source of his passion for collecting erotic ancient art — Warren hoped to revive the ancient tradition of sex between men and boys.

More than 4,000 pieces of art from his collection are now in the Boston MFA’s collection. They include sexually explicit objects that are rarely on display, including the sculpture of Priapos, the child of Aphrodite and Dionysos, displaying his genitals. Warren is also the source of the Warren Cup at the British Museum, which depicts scenes of may-boy love. (Some suggest the cup is a modern forgery, created to fulfill Warren’s desire for homoerotic antiquities.)

Warren’s defense of man-boy love culminated in his three-volume opus, “A Defense of Uranian Love.” It is considered “the premier paederastic apologia in the language,” and was republished in 2009. Here’s how it’s described on Amazon.com:

Edward Perry Warren’s three-volume A Defence of Uranian Love, written under his pseudonym Arthur Lyon Raile and privately printed in 1928-1930…is the clearest elucidation of the motives that lay behind his acquisition of Graeco-Roman antiquities for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and other prominent collections. Warren’s acquisition practices converted those antiquities into a “paederastic evangel,” as he himself declares, and his Defence is intimately woven into this lifelong, evangelistic mission.

“My verses and my prose,” writes Warren, “advocate a morality, but it is not the current morality in certain matters.” This is understatement at its most playful, for Warren’s Defence is a detailed map to a Utopia where “Grecian grandeur” is restored, and the “Christian sublime,” all but banished; where masculine virtues topple the feminine that have mistakenly led to democracy, sexual purity, and feminism; where aristocracy, nobleness, and male supremacy establish a civilisation in which Nietzsche would have found himself at home; and where paederasty, in the form familiar to the ancient Spartans, could and needs must flourish. For, according to Warren, “Love” (in this case, Boy-love) “can revive the old Hellenic day.” It is this revival – this veritable “Renaissance of Paederasty”-that Warren’s elaborate apologia aims to begin, by reminding Western culture of what it has lost or only forgotten: a sacral Boy-love and its accompanying traditions.

Mark Miner, who translated the Greek and Latin passages in the re-released volume and brought it to our attention, explains: “Although the MFA is very grateful for Warren’s generosity, his sexuality remains unmentionable, even though his magnum opus, A Defense of Uranian Love, has now (2009) been reprinted.  Warren, to put  it simply, was quite open about being a boy-lover, and his motivations for collecting Classical art and leaving it to Boston were paederastic. Paederastic on the highest cultural level, to be sure, but undeniably paederastic.”

“Warren had a specific plan for fostering the development of classical (hard, masculine, pagan) values on American soil by deploying as much art and literature as he could lay his hands on,” Miner told us. “That plan has lain dormant for more than 100 years– ‘an acorn in the the forest’ — but is beginning to bear fruit now. I am VERY curious to see if the publicity now being generated for the MFA & Warren results in any greater understanding of his ‘paederastic evangel,’ or if a Boston silence will continue to prevail, even when Warren’s favorite objects are exposed to the West Coast’s sea-breezes.”