Where Do Antiquities Belong?

10 Sep

From Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

A variety of Bronze Age earrings from Penn’s “Trojan Gold.” (Courtesy of Penn Museum)

Blake Gopnik looks at how two American museums dealt with objects in their collections originally obtained under questionable circumstances. One, the Cleveland Museum of Art, decided the benefit of displaying a historical piece of art to the masses outweighed any ethical questions about its origins. The other, the University of Pennsylvania, worked out an arrangement to return 24 gold objects to Turkey, the country from where they believe the works had been originally looted:

There’s [a] downside to repatriations like the one Penn has announced. They play into the notion that the countries in today’s U.N. have a unique claim to every object ever made within their modern borders, as part of their trademark “cultural heritage.” [My emphasis]

[Cleveland Museum of Art Director David] Franklin points out that with his head of Drusus [Minor, a portrait discussed in the article as having a questionable paper trail], “you have an object where the marble seems to be Turkish and the artist was probably Roman, working in Algeria … The whole concept of ownership by a country goes against the way art was made.” Does the Drusus head really belong to Turkey, where it was born and the Roman empire ended its days, or to Algeria, where Drusus would have been worshipped, or maybe even to the Italians of modern Rome? Or maybe it belongs just as much to some little girl in Cleveland, who has read about the Romans from the time of Christ, and wants to see what one of them looked like and what kind of artworks they would have treasured. Franklin points out that, uniquely in a museum like his, she can compare that marble head to a long history of Christian art that either rejected a Roman model or tried to match it.

“They play into the notion that the countries in today’s U.N. have a unique claim to every object ever made within their modern borders, as part of their trademark “cultural heritage.””  Of course, the ludicrous idea that culture, past or present, corresponds with political borders could only be brought to you by the stupidity of the nation-state ideological model.

Read Gopnik’s article.

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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