Saturday, July 28, 2007

Clearasil and the Getty troubles

In the Wim Wenders movie Der Stand Der Dinge there is a character played by Paul Getty. If my memory serves me right, in one scene on the beach he is talking with these kids.
All his conversation revolves around how when he was 13 his parents were going through this ugly divorce. But his main preoccupation was his atrocious acne that made him unable to attract girls. Luckily Clearasil was introduced during the same era. But unfortunately he got a severe allergy to Clearasil and looked so repulsive no one wanted to talk to him. And he goes on: "What else happened when I was 13? Oh yes! I had cancer too"!

In a way the current Italian (and Greek) governments troubles with the Getty are akin to becoming Clearasil-obsessed in the face of cancer. Yes, having artifacts of questionable provenance in a collection is objectionable. Arguing that "everyone was doing it" doesn't make it more acceptable in any way.
But throwing ethics arguments in the face of the Getty won't solve the Italian antiques looting problems.
If we want to throw ethics in then maybe the Italian government should remember that many of the Greek objects found on its soil were looted by Roman troops. OK it happened 2000 years ago, but does history legitimates ownership status? If yes, then maybe a status of limitation should have also been granted to the Getty, the Met and the Cleveland museums in the name of Realpolitik.

Why not making a deal with cash-rich US institutions to co-organize and co-fund research and excavations on Italian soil? I believe the Egyptian government has been doing this for a long time now, sharing archeological finds of importance with foreigns museums on a prorated share of funding. Yes this didn't solve the smaller artifacts endemic looting that feeds the tourist industry, but at least major archeological sites and finds are escaping the worse.