L.A.'s Getty Museum announced today it's returning 40 ancient art objects the Italian government alleged were illegally looted from that country. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports the agreement wraps up foreign governments' claims that the Getty owned artifacts art thieves had smuggled out of their countries.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: One of the pieces the Getty will be giving back is a 2400-year-old statue of the goddess Aphrodite.
The larger-than-life sculpture, says Getty Museum Director Michael Brand, is a signature piece in the recently remodeled Getty Villa in Malibu. He's sad to see it go.
Michael Brand: That object has been singled out in the agreement, and the Italians have promised to offer us in return an object of similar significance.
Guzman-Lopez: In return, Italy will allow Aphrodite to stay in place for three years. Italian officials also pledged short-term and long-term loans of other significant ancient artifacts. The Getty and Italy plan to collaborate on future research and publications.
The agreement follows a year and a half of negotiations. It brings to a close the contentious back-and-forth between the Los Angeles-based museum and the governments of Italy and Greece. Cultural officials in those countries had claimed the Getty illegally possessed dozens of ancient artifacts.
Last year, the Getty returned 26 items to Italy, and this year it returned a handful to Greece. The agreement with Italy closes all antiquities claims by both countries. The Getty did not admit to breaking any laws.
Patty Gerstenblith, an art law expert at DePaul University, says that before a 1970 international agreement, dealers often sold ancient artifacts with few questions asked.
Patty Gerstenblith: It was really during the 1960s, with the very great growth in the art market and the looting of archeological sites to satisfy the demand in the market, that people began to raise questions.
Guzman-Lopez: Italian officials claim the Getty continued to buy looted antiquities into the 1990s. The museum's former antiquities curator, Marion True, is on trial now in Rome. Getty director Michael Brand says he hopes the new agreement will clear True's reputation.
Brand: She has been scape-goated and I hope that there will be some consideration, compassion shown for someone who is a major scholar in this field, has made a major contribution to the study of ancient Greek and Roman culture, and a major contribution to the Getty.
Guzman-Lopez: No one's guaranteeing absolution for Marion True. But law professor Gerstenblith says the Getty's new guidelines for obtaining art moves it close to forgiveness.
Gerstenblith: I believe that more art-acquiring museums need to follow the example that the Getty has set, both of restitution and also renew acquisitions policies that will protect it from acquiring these kinds of artifacts in the future.
Guzman-Lopez: Purchasing art isn't a problem for the Getty. Its namesake, the late oil tycoon Jean Paul Getty, left the institution enough money to make it the richest arts organization in the world.