Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Complicated Matters: Repatriation and International Affairs

Here’s a great article from Monday’s LA Times about James Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust.

I’ve been following the repatriation conversation peripherally for several years with mixed feelings – usually bought up after seeing that the Getty had returned an artifact.

This article does an excellent job of framing the issue, and helped me clarify my opinion. I’m on Cuno’s side: keep what was acquired legally, return what was acquired illegally. And I have a few thoughts about the gray areas.

There’s no doubt that this is an enormous, very complicated issue that’s being addressed by folks far smarter than I. Nonetheless, I very strongly do not believe that all antiquities should be returned to their country of origin. Should the Met return the Egyptian temple? No. It’s there because it was saved from destruction, and in the last 40 years has been a source of education, inspiration, and most importantly – cultural awareness for millions. Should a Klimt stolen from a family during WWII be returned to that family’s descendants? Definitely.

The other issue that the LAT article mentions is the concept of Empire. For millennia, the rule has been “to the victor go the spoils.” I do not believe that we should participate in revisionist history. I’d love to see a cutoff date established (1900?) and if an object was legally acquired (based on the laws at the time), then it should not be subject to repatriation.

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One comment on “Complicated Matters: Repatriation and International Affairs

  1. hgenetos
    November 7, 2014

    Disclaimer: I respect your view and Cuno’s but I professionally speaking here say no way!

    I respect your argument of legal acquisition, but I’m sorry the laws in place during colonization are just crap! They are barbaric and they are to take the most advantage of the colonized worlds. They are deliberately structured to screw over the colonized and leave them with nothing. To say we respect the laws that were in place at the time is almost like using the Bible to justify everything today. We cannot use it to justify every act as we are already in violation of most of its tenants today. We are approaching these items taken during colonization with a very Kipling, Western approach. The items should be returned to the country if they are capable of handling and protecting them. The only legal issue that should be in play for items taken during colonization should be if the country is capable and not because we conquered and therefore got to write the laws in our favor so we could keep these things forever.

    Sorry. Just mildly grumpy about this.

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