Sunday, August 14, 2011

Emory University's museum refuses to disclose information on Joseph Lewis Egyptian antiquities

CultureGrrl just posted about yet more drama in the saga over Joseph Lewis, the collector who was indicated along with three other men in smuggling and selling/buying antiquities. Lee Rosenbaum has been investigating the various museums who have accepted pieces from Lewis, particularly the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts , both of which accepted loaned pieces. However, Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum has nineteen objects in their permanent collection that were donated by Lewis. Most of them are on view in their Egyptian galleries. When pressed for more information about these objects and what course of action the museum would be taking considering the investigation underway, the museum's spokesperson refused to provide any more information. This refusal to provide information on the museum's permanent collection directly defies both the Association of Art Museum Directors' stance on museum transparency and the museum's own collecting guidelines.

This situation is particularly grave considering it IS a university museum. We have all come to expect (but not condone) this from big institutions like the MFA and the Met. But we should be particularly ruthless/bitchy in addressing the ethics of the illicit antiquities trade when we find it university museums as well, considering their even greater responsibility to use these objects for education (as opposed to the cop out of simple aesthetic appreciation favored by bigger museums.) I get the feeling that a lot of university/college museums often feel a sense of false security when it comes to antiquities; when I visited the Williams College Museum of Art with my archaeology class last term, we had a docent talk to us about their Assyrian reliefs from the Palace at Nimrud. Someone asked what the museum would do if Iraq asked for the pieces back. The lady hemmed and hawed. Our professor asked us what we think should happen, and I was like, "WELL, it'd be great if the museum just acknowledged that this is part of Iraq's patrimony and Iraq allowed an extended/permanent loan..." But the general feeling in the room was that of course Iraq wouldn't be asking for these pieces of wall back; they can barely manage what's still in the ground, let alone some slabs of wall in a far away New England college museum.

University museums should not feel safe from these issues. Just because they haven't suffered the press coverage and investigations that have targeted bigger public museums doesn't mean that day isn't coming. I hope the students and faculty at Emory University and the members of the Carlos Museum demand honesty, transparency, and ethical behavior from their museum this fall.

1 comment:

  1. There are three disputed Greek items in the same collection: here.