Thursday, February 23, 2012

Princeton and transparency

Source: MiBAC
W. Barksdale Maynard has presented an important report on the recent return of antiquities to Italy ("Art museum returns more ancient artworks to Italy", Princeton Alumni Weekly March 7, 2012). It is claimed that the museum initiated the return ("The University said the art museum undertook an internal analysis of items in its collections and then approached Italian authorities") and an agreement was signed in June 2011. This does not explain the report in the New York Times published in June 2010.

One matter of concern is that no definitive list of the publications has been issued by Princeton. Maynard's report notes:
Princeton declined to release any information relating to their acquisition or to provide identifying information that would allow the provenance to be tracked, citing a confidentiality clause in the agreement.
However it is possible to reconstruct the list using Princeton's own publication of its acquisitions.

My own concern about Princeton's lack of transparency is quoted:
Princeton values its integrity, but the silence of its museum, with its unwillingness to release details of the objects with their collecting histories, would seem to suggest that there is a deliberate lack of transparency ... This is in marked contrast to the Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, which have published online pieces associated with Almagià so that there can be proper public scrutiny.
There is a response from James Steward, the director at Princeton:
very few museums, if any, have in fact a policy of ‘complete transparency’ relative to acquisitions. Indeed, past agreements with donors, gallerists, and others may preclude such transparency. We continue to value these relationships, just as we do the public trust that is placed in our museum, and we seek to acquit ourselves of that trust while honoring the privacy of the individuals with whom we work.
However we note that Steward maintains that Princeton “is profoundly committed to honoring the integrity of cultural property and to stamping out illicit trade of all kinds in works of art, and now has among the most rigorous acquisitions and loan policies in the museum industry.”

I am glad to read this.

I presume that Steward will now release details of any outstanding acquisitions where the collecting histories have been questioned. These include a Tyrrhenian amphora and a Villanovan hut. And what about the silver plaque acquired by Princeton?

And will he explain who recommended the acquisition of the pieces returned to Italy? And what was the nature of the rigorous acquisition policy that allowed them to pass into the possession of Princeton?


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