Turkey's restitution dispute with the Met challenges the 'universal museum'

08 Oct 2012 9:54 AM | Anonymous

Turkey's restitution dispute with the Met challenges the 'universal museum'

Jason Farago
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 7 October 2012 09.00 EDT )

Turkey is flexing its cultural, as well as its economic and military muscles. But objects of art outlive the ambitions of nation states

Visitors look at ancient artifacts during a press preview of new galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photograph: Emmanual Dunande/AFP

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, like most institutions of its size in the US and Europe, has seen its fair share of lawsuits and controversies surrounding its collection. It returned nearly two dozen antiquities to Italy in 2006, as well as work acquired via Nazi looting.

But now the Met is facing a very different kind of restitution battle. The Turkish government is insisting it is the rightful owner of 18 objects from the collection of Norbert Schimmel, a Met trustee and one of the last century's most astute collectors of Mediterranean antiquities.

Unlike the Italian claim, and unlike in the cases of Holocaust victims' families, the proof here is scant to nonexistent. What's more, both the US and Turkey are signatories to a Unesco convention stating that if a cultural object left the country in which it was produced before the year 1970, then it's free to circulate. That cutoff date puts almost all the Met's antiquities in the clear.


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