Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Brand New Glamorous (Empty?) Galleries

I have to agree with Phillipe de Montebello and say there's nothing this art season I'm looking forward to as much as the opening of the Metropolitan Museum’s new Greek and Roman galleries. There's not likely to be another presentation of such grandeur and art historical importance in my lifetime. And what can I say? I love, love, love the sensation I get while strolling through works that still thrill, let alone still survive, after millennia of mankind have come and gone, lived and died. That sense of lasting, of passing on evidence of who those ancients were and what they believed and seeing the connections right up to our present, is at the heart of what attracts me most about art: that potentially infinite connection. Anyway, that's enough panting on my part. Here's what you need to know:

The spectacular redesign and reinstallation of the Museum's superb collection of classical art is nearing completion. On April 20, 2007, the New Greek and Roman Galleries, which include the dramatic Leon Levy and Shelby White Court, will be unveiled, concluding a 15-year project and returning thousands of works from the Museum's permanent collection to public view.

The new galleries will house objects created between about 900 B.C. and the early fourth century A.D. Works on view will trace the evolution of Greek art in the Hellenistic period and the arts of southern Italy and Etruria, culminating in the rich and varied world of the Roman Empire. First-floor galleries will be dedicated to Hellenistic and Roman art, and the wholly redesigned mezzanine level—which overlooks the stunning new court from two sides—will include galleries for Etruscan art as well as the Greek and Roman study collection. Together, the astonishing assembly of works on display—some never before seen by the public—will bring to life the aesthetic and philosophical roots of Western civilization.
I intend to be there as early as I can get in. Not only am I excited about this 21st century look back at how the West was preserved. I'm more than a little anxious about how long any of those treasures will be housed in New York. Again, in today's New York Times, we learn that another prized piece in the collection is being demanded back by the Europeans, and it's a big one:

A mountain village in Umbria is caught up in a tug of war with the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the 2,600-year-old Etruscan chariot that is a highlight of the museum’s new Greek and Roman galleries.

A local farmer stumbled upon the bronze chariot, considered one of the finest pieces of Etruscan art in the world, in 1902 as he was clearing land. By the next year it was in the possession of the Met. But the residents of Monteleone, population 680, say the chariot was illegally sold and should never have left the country.

“I’m very sorry for the Met because they’ve done a great job in making the most of the chariot,” said Mayor Nando Durastanti, who saw the chariot, which has been out of sight for years while being restored, this month during a private tour of the new Met galleries, which are to open April 20. “It’s clear they care a lot about it, but it’s ours. It’s part of our identity.”

Bronze chariot inlaid with ivory, 2nd quarter of the 6th century B.C.; Archaic
Rogers Fund, 1903 (03.23.1) from
Metropolitan Museum website.

I've babbled on before about this topic and had folks accuse me of not caring about the rights of rightful owners, etc. etc. as if the "rightful owner" is defined by geography alone. I mean, in this case the farmer who found it sold it outright. It was on his land and there were no laws on the books claiming it for Italy at the time. In fact, the Italian government isn't even backing this particular case:

Because the events in question took place so long ago, “the preconditions that have guided other negotiations don’t exist in this case,” said Maurizio Fiorilli, a state lawyer who heads the Ministry of Culture commission that has been negotiating with American museums and collectors for the restitution of antiquities. Mr. Fiorilli noted that the case predated a 1909 law on Italy’s cultural heritage and the 1970 United Nations convention on cultural property that addresses looting.
But still, there are moral considerations to be weighed, and the village demanding the Met return the piece (that even they confess has been exquisitely restored) has convinced a New Jersey mayor to aid them in their quest, so it's not an open-and-shut case by any means.

Perhaps it's time for the Met to sit down with the Italians/Greeks and discuss a final arrangement. One that both sides agree will resolve, once and for all, how each and every piece currently in the Met's collection is viewed with regard to ownership. It will be a lengthy negotiation, no doubt, but doing it wholesale and under the authority of the Italian and Greek governments will hopefully prevent hundreds of hillside villages from deciding down the road that they too now must have back some expertly restored artifact that one of their own sold for scrap 100 years ago. The final decision should be fair to our European allies (and should unquestionably include returning anything acquired illegally), but at least the result would be binding and permit the Met to carry on doing what it does so brilliantly without these constant distractions.

Labels: greek and roman galleries, metropolitan museum


Blogger Mary Ann said...

I think it is really interesting to consider what would likely happen if the Met gave the chariot back. What would this little village do with it? Lets say they build a museum to house it and other far less remarkable remnants of their local past. Tucked away in an obscure museum in an obscure place, who would make a pilgrimage to see it? Wouldn't it eventually be forgotten? Is the fate the villagers want for their identity? Doesn't the location of an artifact (be it the Louvre, British Muesum, or the Metropolitan Museum) give it importance, and when it comes to securing identity and legacy and history, aren't they doing a better job than the village would?

4/05/2007 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

That chariot is *unbelievable.*
I'm with you, Mr. W. -- ancient art has the capacity to absolutely slay me.

This is what museums are best at IMHO.

4/05/2007 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

Instead of returning work, I agree that Museums should rent it. Win win situation.

Interesting article on a news website about feminism and art:

4/05/2007 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger hlowe said...

I share your enthusiasm of the "infinite connection."
Once I saw a miniature persian lachrymatory from 400 A.D. and I swear I could see the salt from the tears in that small florescent bottle.

4/05/2007 11:44:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Will there be a traveling exhibtion area? It would be a great place to show the stuff from the Getty, enroute back to Greece and Italy.

4/05/2007 01:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is Nancy Baker hoarding her collection in some private museum? Perhaps now the Met will have room for it.

4/05/2007 08:22:00 PM  
Blogger Regina said...

i fully agree. it's a shame that the chariot can't be in the geographical area where it was once used, but the fact of the matter is, the farmer sold it, and the town probably does not have the resources to care for it even if they could purchase it! however, if they did, it would be great for them to get it back.

4/12/2007 02:03:00 PM  

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