Books and Articles to Check Out May 2011

1.  LOS ANGELES, CA Kevin Roderick  Getty's history of looted antiquities goes way back ..  May 2 2011
In their forthcoming book "Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum," Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino will detail the story of the looted Aphrodite statue that the Getty returned to Sicily in March. A piece adapted from the book in this weekend's L.A. Times Magazine goes further back to tell the story of some pretty ballsy scams they write were perpetrated by Jiri Frel, the museum’s antiquities curator in the 1970s and '80s. The scam involved inflated valuations of art acquired by the Getty, forged appraisals and tax fraud.
In late April 1984, Williams, Walsh and Bevan called Frel into Williams’ office and put him on paid leave pending further investigation. Not long after, Frel went home, packed a bag and caught a flight for Europe—leaving behind his position at the Getty and his wife, Faya, and two sons. He continued to receive his regular salary for the next two years. Museum staff was told Frel was on sabbatical in Paris, and that was the last most of them ever heard of him. The true story of Frel’s ignominious departure was kept very quiet. Bevan’s final suggestion was that all of the documents “relating to Frel’s corruption” be gathered and removed from the building so they couldn’t be subpoenaed. With that, the cover-up appeared complete.
Felch is a Times investigative reporter. Frammolino used to be and now is a media consultant in Bangladesh. The book is due out May 24.


2. New York (New York Times. It was the third police raid on the institute, and at the end of it the investigators carried away armloads of art, including Degas drawings, a bronze sculpture by Rembrandt Bugatti and an Impressionist painting of a Normandy cottage by Berthe Morisot. All had been reported missing or stolen, some by Jewish families whose property was looted by the Nazis, and others by heirs who said their treasures had vanished during the settlement of their family estates.
The seizure of about 30 works has put an uncomfortable focus on the Wildenstein family, a discreet dynasty of French Jewish art dealers stretching back five generations whose name has long been one of the most prestigious in the international art world.
At the center of the current wave of troubles is Guy Wildenstein, 65, the president of Wildenstein & Company, an operation with spaces in New York, Tokyo and Paris. The family has faced controversies in the past, and lawsuits too, but never of the number or magnitude of those on the docket now. Mr. Wildenstein was summoned to Paris from New York to face questioning this week by French antifraud investigators who discovered the artworks while investigating money-laundering and tax evasion alleged in a criminal lawsuit against him.
Mr. Wildenstein, who holds dual French and American citizenship, is enmeshed in at least a half-dozen lawsuits; some, provoked by the raid, are being brought by heirs who claim the artwork was stolen from their families. Also seeking answers is the Académie des Beaux-Arts, a prestigious French cultural society that has filed a legal complaint seeking an inquiry about a missing painting; Mr. Wildenstein’s father, Daniel, and grandfather Georges were elected members.
Mr. Wildenstein has declined to speak publicly about the inquiry or the suits. His newly hired spokesman in Paris, Matthias Leridon, said by telephone on Friday that Mr. Wildenstein “will not answer by using the media.” “Let’s be calm and quiet and wait for the questions coming from the judges, and after he will express himself,” Mr. Leridon said, noting that Mr. Wildenstein has been called to answer questions at this point as a witness and not as a suspect.  See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/20/arts/design/wildenstein-art-gallery-is-beset-by-lawsuits.html?_r=1

3. Who Owns Antiquity - James Cuno
"Whether antiquities should be returned to the countries where they were found is one of the most urgent and controversial issues in the art world today, and it has pitted museums, private collectors, and dealers against source countries, archaeologists, and academics. Maintaining that the acquisition of undocumented antiquities by museums encourages the looting of archaeological sites, countries such as Italy, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and China have claimed ancient artifacts as state property, called for their return from museums around the world, and passed laws against their future export. But in Who Owns Antiquity?, one of the world's leading museum directors vigorously challenges this nationalistic position, arguing that it is damaging and often disingenuous. "Antiquities," James Cuno argues, "are the cultural property of all humankind," "evidence of the world's ancient past and not that of a particular modern nation. They comprise antiquity, and antiquity knows no borders."
Cuno argues that nationalistic retention and reclamation policies impede common access to this common heritage and encourage a dubious and dangerous politicization of antiquities--and of culture itself. Antiquities need to be protected from looting but also from nationalistic identity politics. To do this, Cuno calls for measures to broaden rather than restrict international access to antiquities. He advocates restoration of the system under which source countries would share newly discovered artifacts in exchange for archaeological help, and he argues that museums should again be allowed reasonable ways to acquire undocumented antiquities. Cuno explains how partage broadened access to our ancient heritage and helped create national museums in Cairo, Baghdad, and Kabul. The first extended defense of the side of museums in the struggle over antiquities, Who Owns Antiquity? is sure to be as important as it is controversial.
Reviews:
"A condemnation of cultural property laws that restrict the international trade in antiquities, the book doubles as a celebration of the world's great border-crossing encyclopedic museums."--Jori Finkel, New York Times
"Who Owns Antiquity? is an impassioned argument for what Cuno calls the 'cosmopolitan aspirations' of encyclopedic museums. By this he means not only collecting and showing art from every place and era, but also, and more crucially, the promotion of an essential kind of cultural pluralism. . . . Whatever one makes of Cuno's thesis, it brings into focus some urgent questions--for museums and for archaeology--that have yet to be given much attention."--Hugh Eakin, New York Review of Books
"Who Owns Antiquity? by Art Institute of Chicago director James Cuno deals with one of the most sensitive questions in today's art world: Should antiquities be returned to their country of origin? [T]his book provides a lot of worthwhile background."--Wall Street Journal
"It would be a mistake to see this deeply felt and carefully reasoned argument as self-serving. The crux of his argument is that modern nation-states have at best a tenuous connection with the ancient cultures in question, and their interests are political rather than scientific...Cuno advocates instead a universal, humanistic approach to the world's shared cultural treasures...Cuno's pleas for a more expansive approach to cultural artifacts must be taken seriously."--Publishers Weekly
"[A]n illuminating...book."--Edward Rothstein, New York Times
"The author's message is that stewardship, not ownership, is what matters. Trade in antiquities should be dictated not by politics, but by the demands of conservation, knowledge, and access. The argument presented here is thought-provoking. Cuno may be over-optimistic. But you can't help feeling that he is right."--Financial Times" (princeton.edu)