May 30, 2011

La Dea di Aidone

An Aerial View of Morgantina
Jason Felch reports from Aidone, Italy on the goddess formerly known as the "Getty Aphrodite" returned to Italy:

Since the Getty's controversial purchase of the statue in 1988 for $18 million, painstaking investigations by police, curators, academics, journalists, attorneys and private investigators have pieced together the statue's journey from an illicit excavation in Morgantina in the late 1970s to the Getty Museum. 
The Getty returned the goddess to Italy this spring, and a new exhibition showing the statue and other repatriated antiquities from a private American collector and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was inaugurated here last week. 
The goddess' new home is a 17th century Capuchin monastery that now serves as the archaeological museum in Aidone, a hilltop village of about 6,000 residents. The cozy museum, which holds up to 150 visitors at a time, contains the most important objects discovered in the nearby ruins of Morgantina.

Someone wrote to me this morning and said that we could offer an apt byline for this story by calling it 'what comes around goes around'. That may be right, and the law leaves it up to Italy to decide where and how this object should be displayed. One hopes that the original looters will come forward in the coming months to reveal where they unearthed the object in the late 1970's.

One also wonders whether such attention have been lavished on the statue had the statue remained at the Aidone museum after it was unearthed by archaeologists? Do we need to reconfigure how the public thinks about antiquities, encouraging them to visit them much nearer their original context? Does it matter how many will appreciate and can enjoy repatriated works if they are where they 'belong'? How important is viewing the goddess in her context, even if far fewer people may seek her out?

In much the same way works of art like Munch's The Scream, or even the Mona Lisa became widely known after their theft it seems likely that more visitors will visit the small Aidone museum; and one hopes help buttress the local economy in a more lasting way which will forge connections encouraging the locals to act as good stewards to other objects and information Morgantina may hold. The Getty certainly will not be acquiring any recently looted antiquities from Morgantina any time soon and one doubts very much of that $18 million purchase price made its way to the actual looters—those profits seemingly went to the dealers closer to the Getty.

  1. Jason Felch, “Goddess statue: Once a Getty prize, Italy’s goddess statue remains a mystery,” L.A. Times, May 29, 2011, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-ca-culture-exchange-20110529,0,6748034.story.
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