Archives - Fine Art: Page 10
Author: paul carson (Wed Dec 20, 2006 12:24 pm)
Title: fine arts
By ANTHEE CARASSAVA
ATHENS, Dec. 11 — Resolving a decade-long dispute, the Greek government and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles announced Monday that the Getty had agreed to hand over an ancient gold funerary wreath and a marble statue that were illegally excavated and removed from Greece.
The Greek culture minister, Georgios A. Voulgarakis, standing under an image of the gold wreath.
The decision was hailed here as a major triumph against antiquities smuggling, the capstone of a recent campaign by Greece — with significant help from Italy — to put public pressure on some of the world’s top museums and private collectors.
“This is a glorious moment,” Culture Minister Georgios A. Voulgarakis said at a news conference in Athens. “It shows that serious work can produce serious results.”
In a telephone interview from London, where he arrived on Monday, Michael Brand, the Getty Museum’s director, said, “Both sides wanted to get it right.”
“There was a disturbing element regarding its provenance,” he said. “But we needed to feel absolutely sure about returning it to the right place.”
The pivotal factor leading to the pact, Mr. Voulgarakis said, was a dossier of evidence presented to the Getty’s lawyers in October indicating that the statue and wreath were illegally spirited out of Greece before the museum bought them in 1993 for about $4.4 million.
In recent days Greek cultural officials have cited testimony by tomb raiders, money transfers and a photographic paper trail that they said detailed how the fourth-century B.C. wreath and sixth-century B.C. kore, or statue of a woman, were dug up and transported to middlemen before they were sold to the Getty.
The wreath and statue were among five ancient works that Getty trustees agreed to purchase on the recommendation of Marion True, who was then the museum’s antiquities curator. (Ms. True is now on trial in a separate case in Italy on charges of conspiring to acquire illegally excavated artifacts. She maintains she is innocent.)
At the news conference Mr. Voulgarakis praised Nikolas Zirganos, an investigative journalist, for his help in the inquiry. After the news conference Mr. Zirganos said much of the new evidence poured in over the summer from Italy, which has waged its own battle to win back artifacts from the Getty.
But he said he himself led Greek investigators over the summer to a German citizen of Greek origin who acted as a middleman in the sale of the wreath, unearthed in the early 1990’s and believed to have been executed by the craftsman who forged the royal wreath of Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.
“The middleman testified before Greek authorities, producing picture-perfect images of the wreath at the site of the tomb that it was dug up from” in northern Greece, he said.
Investigators also interviewed the two tomb robbers, he said.
The middleman, whom Mr. Zirganos did not identify, tried first to sell the wreath to Gianfranco Becchina, a well-known Sicilian antiquities dealer. Mr. Becchina declined to buy the object, but Italian investigators found Polaroid photos of it in raids of his studio and home that they relayed to the Greek investigators, Mr. Zirganos said.
Mr. Zirganos said the middleman had testified that he also approached Ms. True about buying the wreath for the Getty. She referred the middleman to Christoph Leon, a Munich antiquities collector from whom the Getty eventually purchased it, Mr. Zirganos said, citing the man’s testimony.
“With such evidence in hand,” he added, Greece’s case “became too powerful to challenge.”
Reached by telephone on Monday, Ms. True’s lawyer in Los Angeles, Harry Stang, said, “There’s no truth to the notion that she referred anyone to this dealer.”
He added that in recommending the purchase of the wreath to the Getty’s board, “she complied entirely with the existing protocols” at the museum, “which provided that if an item was determined to have been looted, it would be returned to the source country.”
He said that Getty officials had confirmed to him “that decisions to return objects do not reflect a judgment of culpability on Dr. True’s part.”
To step up the pressure on the Getty, the Greek legal authorities opened an investigation of Ms. True and four other people involving the wreath acquisition in November. All face summonses to testify before an Athens prosecutor.
Last spring police raided a villa owned by Ms. True on Paros, a Greek island, and removed more than a dozen antiquities that officials said had not been registered with the authorities as required by Greek law.
Through her lawyers Ms. True has said the artifacts were in the villa when she purchased it and that she had informed local officials of their presence. It is unclear how the return of the wreath and kore will affect the Greek investigation of Ms. True: whether the Getty’s decision will appease the Greek government, for example, or simply strengthen the prosecutors’ resolve.
Mr. Brand said “there was no set agreement” related to Ms. True and declined to comment further.
Mr. Voulgarakis said the two matters were unrelated. “What the judiciary does is independent of our work to reclaim stolen treasures,” he said.
Neither Mr. Leon nor the seller of the kore, the London-based dealer Robin Symes, have been charged with any crime in Greece.
But Greek and Italian investigators have been closely examining Ms. True’s relationship to Mr. Symes, who sold millions of dollars of antiquities to the Getty during her tenure as antiquities curator. (She resigned last year amid accusations that she failed to disclose details about a loan she received for the purchase of her Greek villa.)
Italian investigators have shared a photograph of a youthful Ms. True with Christos Michaelides, Mr. Symes’s companion, on the island of Paros, where both Mr. Symes and Ms. True own vacation homes.
Paolo Ferri, the prosecutor leading Italy’s investigation into the antiquities trade, said last month that because of “new documentation,” Mr. Symes’s position would “soon be clarified.”
At the news conference Mr. Voulgarakis insisted that Greece had promised the Getty “nothing in return” for the wreath or kore.
But a statement issued by the two sides said they would soon sign a formal accord on the two artifacts that would provide for cultural collaboration between the Getty and Greece.
Mr. Brand said the resolution of the dispute could open the way for long-term loans from Greece and joint exhibition projects.
In pursuing the antiquities issue on both the legal and diplomatic fronts, both Italy and Greece seem to have found a successful formula.
In July the Getty returned two other objects that Greece had sought: a large stele, or grave marker, acquired in 1993, and a small marble relief from the island of Thassos bought by the museum’s founder, the oil magnate J. Paul Getty, in 1955.
The museum’s negotiations with Italy have stalled, but the Getty has pledged unilaterally to return 26 artifacts sought by its government.
“The whole field of antiquities has museums around the world debating about provenance,” Mr. Brand said. “There are many objects that have perfectly good provenance.” Asked to elaborate, he declined.
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