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ART MUSEUM ASSOCIATION RULES BOLSTERED FOR ACQUISITION OF ANCIENT ART FOR NORTH AMERICAN ART MUSEUM COLLECTIONS

Posted in Art Recovery/Theft

In recent years, the Association of Art Museum Directors ("AAMD") announced the implementation of its landmark 2008 guidelines with respect to the addition of ancient art to North American art museum collections.  The impetus for the AAMD guidelines arose from numerous complaints from Greece, Italy, and other ancient regions, in which museums had for quite some time turned a "blind eye" to evidence that certain pieces in their collections had been in fact looted from various archeological sites.

This article discusses the recent additions to the AAMD’s 2008 guidelines, including the requirement of "a public explanation on the AAMD’s website if a museum decides to acquire a piece despite gaps in its ownership record go back to the fall of 1970."  The date November 17, 1970 is of particular significance in the legitimate antiquities market as it has become a "standard dividing line", the date when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization adopted a convention focused on stopping looted art and artifacts in the global trade.
 
Regarding the AAMD 2008 guidelines, an Object Registry was set up on the AAMD website in which member institutions are expected to post information and photographs of any newly acquired antiquities for which the ownership record since 1970 is not clear or otherwise complete.  The objective of the Object Registry is to enable nations of origin or other parties with potential claims and/or information to obtain knowledge of a particular work’s present location and come forward to present new evidence.
 
Further, under the guidelines, if a museum "establishes another party’s right to ownership," through new evidence it comes across, the museum is expected to volunteer such evidence, and to repatriate the work at issue "if the case warrants."
 
Among the hardest hit by the AAMD’s effort to repatriate looted antiquities has been the Getty Museum of Los Angeles in which the museum returned nearly 50 pieces to Italy and Greece since 2007.  The Getty exhibits its ancient art collection at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, California.  This past summer, the Getty initiated an "internal effort to determine the ownership history of everything in its 45,000-piece antiquities collection and publish the results." 
 
It should be noted that the AAMD codes and guidelines have no legal effect, but the association can effectively exclude member museums in violation of them.