On the eve of Aphrodite’s official return home, co-authors Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino gave a presentation at a Sicilian university tracing the odyssey of the ancient statue from illicit excavation to controversial debut at the J. Paul Getty Museum and its symbolic role in the recent scandal that rattled the American art establishment.
“Felcholino,” as we were once dubbed by an arts blogger, were guests of Kore University in Enna, about 30 kilometers from when the Getty’s Aphrodite was dug up nearly 30 years ago. More than 150 students, faculty and local public officials attended the May 16 event, which served as the official debut for the book in Europe.
We recounted oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s “addiction” to ancient art and how his eponymous museum inherited both his money and compulsion. Its $18 million purchased of the cult statue signaled the museum’s foray into an art market awash in looted artifacts.
The Getty’s voracious purchase of dodgy material led to the 2005 criminal indictment of its antiquities curator by a Roman court, triggering a scandal that revealed to what extent American museums had lied about patronizing the black market.
The presentation was made a day before the Fifth Century BC statue was officially inaugurated in its own room of the nearby Aidone museum. The event was covered by local and national Italian media, including one of Italy’s largest television networks.
The most popular question: Did they ever feel their lives were in danger from the Mafia?
“Even those we talked to, those considered ‘dangerous people,’ were gracious in the finest Italian tradition,” said Ralph.
Jason added: “We never had any direct threats but then again sometimes your life can be threatened and you won’t know about it.”
Afterward, we were treated to a sneak peekof the statue in its new home and a tour of the Morgantina dig site, form where many now believe the goddess was looted.