Tuesday, August 14, 2012
A recent New York Times article chronicled how the Cleveland Museum of Art has assumed one of the most staunchly pro-collecting positions in long-running debate over antiquities of questionable provenance.
The most thought-provoking quote in the piece comes from Jenifer Neils, an art history professor at Case Western. Neils says, “Buying poorly documented objects from disreputable dealers is akin to looting an archaeological site and destroying the historical record. While such objects may be aesthetically beautiful, museumgoers are robbed forever of their cultural context.”
I agree that their are complex legal and moral questions swirling around the international antiquities market, but Neils goes too far. If you're really concerned about the historical record, it seems like we should be encouraging museums to buy things from private collectors, even if the record-keeping is less than perfect. Moreover, the notion that we need to view art in it's "cultural context" seems really troubling. Does that mean we need to view all Picassos in the region of France where Picasso painted (Or do we have to view them in Spain where Picasso was born)?
(HT: Brian Frye)