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Subject: Ethics

Ethics

From: Hans-Christoph von Imhoff <xoph>
Date: Tuesday, August 5, 2003
New contributions with old arguments to the topic of what to expose,
object aesthetics versus object context and history, collectors and
museums. The following is a brief excerpt from the NY Times.

    August 2, 2003
    Ancient Art at Met Raises Old Ethical Questions
    By Martin Gottlieb and Barry Meier
    Copyright 2003 The New York Times
    <URL:http://nytimes.com/>

    Almost lost in the sumptuous display of Mesopotamian antiquities
    in the "Art of the First Cities" exhibition now at the
    Metropolitan Museum is a small limestone fragment, triangular in
    shape and delicately carved.

    The piece shows Naram-Sin, a king of the ancient Akkadian
    empire, seated beside Ishtar, goddess of love, fertility and
    war. In the show's catalog it is described as an "extraordinary"
    example of the era's art.

    It also has another distinction. In terms of its archaeological
    pedigree, it might as well have fallen out of the sky.

    Until about four years ago, when a scholar spotted it in the
    Upper East Side home of a prominent collector, the Naram-Sin
    limestone was essentially unknown. No record of its excavation
    or history of ownership has emerged. In antiquities circles,
    that empty space amounts to a warning label: this piece may be
    the fruit of plunder.

    The "First Cities" show opened in May, on the heels of the
    ransacking of the Iraq Museum and as pretty much everyone in the
    archaeological community was vowing to stanch the trade in
    stolen antiquities. But as the story of the Naram-Sin limestone
    shows, the everyday world of buying, selling and exhibiting is
    often a lot more ambiguous than that. The marketplace is full of
    objects with mysterious pasts--a lot of them indeed looted--and
    it's often anything but clear which ones are legitimate and
    which are not.

    How to handle such orphan objects--is it ethical to buy them, to
    show them, even to write scholarly articles about them?--is one
    of the central, and most divisive, issues in the hothouse world
    of museums, collectors and archaeologists. But the debate has
    become increasingly public and pointed with the recent events in
    Iraq.

H.C. von Imhoff


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