Many believe that its appetite for new acquisitions has inflated prices and helped to spawn a get-rich-quick culture in the once decorous world of art and antiquities.
Even John Walsh, the museum's former director, has said that in much of the art world, the Getty team is regarded as the "barbarians at the gates". Nothing of a barbarous nature could be ascribed to the erudite Ms True. A Harvard graduate, she joined the Getty in and quickly established herself as a powerful force in the fast-growing field of antiquities. Aware of the museum's image problem, she has spoken sternly of the need to buy responsibly. In , at Ms True's urging, the Getty adopted what has been described as the most conservative acquisitions policy of any major American museum.
As Ms True put it herself: As recently as , she told a conference of museum directors: This hard-won reputation for probity is now on the line. Earlier this year the Los Angeles Times obtained internal memos which, among other things, suggested that an internal review by the museum's lawyers had found that more than half of the antiquities identified by the Getty as "masterpieces" were obtained from suppliers under investigation.
Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Born in nineteen fifty-four and brought up on a literary diet The Aphrodite Conspiracy - Kindle edition by Michael J Lawrence . Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Mathew Palmer's world is about to be shot to pieces – literally. The thirtysomething, free and single entrepreneur has sold up in the UK, purchased a forty foot.
In one document from Mr Hecht to Ms True, he writes that an ancient Etruscan urn that the Getty was interested in acquiring had been listed as stolen by the Italian police. The Getty bought it anyway. In a recent interview, Mr Hecht denied that any of his letters implied that any objects were stolen. Asked if he ever sold looted art, he said: I will believe it's looted when I see the documents that prove it's looted.
The Getty memos provide a telling illustration of the close relationship between dubious dealers and the big museums.
They reveal that in Ms True visited a dealer who was selling an unusually well-preserved statue of Aphrodite, probably dating from BC. True was impressed, later telling the Getty's acquisitions committee that the work could become "the greatest single piece of ancient art in our collection". The dealer told the Getty that the statue came from an unnamed collector in Switzerland, but offered no proof of its provenance. Despite a fierce debate within the museum, during which Harold Williams, the then director of the Getty Trust, declared: The documents reveal that the two top men at the Getty, Mr Walsh and Mr Williams, discussed the ethics of the museum's buying policies.
In one, Mr Williams described a regular supplier of art to the Getty, a British dealer, as "a fence". A brief note following a meeting between Mr Walsh and Mr Williams sets out what was seen as the museum's primary difficulty: We knowingly deal with liars by accepting their warranties. Both men have confirmed that the documents are authentic, but said that their remarks were strictly about drawing up a new acquisitions policy, not about the Aphrodite specifically.
What if we receive a stolen object?
What if it turns out one of our dealers, say someone like [name of the British dealer deleted], turns out to be a fence? Neither he nor any of us had information that any work we were considering buying was stolen. The Getty has said that it cannot comment further on issues raised by "privileged and confidential information" from the Getty's files without jeopardising Ms True's right to a fair trial.
The dealer told the Getty that the statue came from an unnamed collector in Switzerland, but offered no proof of its provenance. What if it turns out one of our dealers, say someone like [name of the British dealer deleted], turns out to be a fence? Getty curator quits in loan row. The Italians claim to have identified at least 42 Getty acquisitions that can be traced to looted archaeological sites. Getty died in , an unhappy man.
On the charges of conspiring to traffic in stolen goods, Ms True is currently saying nothing beyond asserting, through her Los Angeles lawyer Harry Trang, that she is innocent. Puzzlingly, the memoranda have not been passed to the Italian authorities. The vast profits to be made from looted antiquities have turned the business, during the past decade or so, into one comparable in scale to the drugs trade. Its popularity among criminals has been further boosted by the extremely low risk of being caught and the relatively minor penalties imposed on offenders.
Anyone caught with a recently discovered Sumerian stone tablet, the legal owner of which died 2, years ago, is not going to earn the kind of jail term that a heroin smuggler might expect. In effect, the marketplace is a villain's paradise. National police forces tend to view trafficking as a victimless crime, and on a global basis less than 10 per cent of stolen art is ever recovered. While Italy and Greece are the top target countries in Europe, the richest plunder is currently being gathered in the Middle East - home to several of the world's earliest civilisations, and a vast treasure house of uncatalogued and mostly ill-secured art.
The region's instability makes the protection of archaeological sites almost impossible.
As van Rijn says: He'll laugh at you, and I don't blame him. The freelance scavengers, however, are only the bottom layer of a highly sophisticated pyramid. At the middle level are developed criminal syndicates that smuggle the goods from their countries of origin and, at the top, ruthless and brilliant marketeers. The British antiquities dealer named in the internal Getty documents was, at the height of his wealth and power, virtually in control of the market in high-end antiquities, supplying thousands of pieces a year to major museums and private collectors.
The core of the case against Ms True is that she consorted with dealers to acquire art that she could reasonably assume to be stolen. The Italians claim to have identified at least 42 Getty acquisitions that can be traced to looted archaeological sites. The issue of "cultural patrimony" has become the single biggest topic in the anguished world of antiquities. Left with nothing but his life and deported as a suspect, he returns to the UK to track down the source of his humiliation. It should be stocked at all airport bookshops as the ideal holiday read.
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