Book review: 'Chasing Aphrodite' by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino

22 May 2011 8:28 AM | Anonymous

Book review: 'Chasing Aphrodite' by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino
The Getty's risky business of buying looted antiquities gets a thorough examination in 'Chasing Aphrodite.
     
By Wendy Smith   Special to the Los Angeles Times
 
May 22, 2011
Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum

Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 375 pp., $28

What on earth were they thinking? That's the question that comes repeatedly to mind while reading this scathing account of the Getty Museum's ethically dubious activities in the antiquities market over the course of more than a quarter-century. Expanding on their Los Angeles Times series, which made them finalists for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino show Getty staff members time and again engaging in transactions so obviously risky (as well as wrong) that you wonder how they could have imagined they wouldn't get caught.

The answer lies in the context the authors provide about the slow but irreversible shift in attitudes about antiquities collecting that rendered once-acceptable behavior morally indefensible and criminally liable. What makes the story so fascinating is that in the late 1980s and '90s the Getty was seen as a leader in the quest to create a more responsible antiquities acquisition policy. "We as an institution would not want to be buying art against the wishes of the country of origin," declared the museum's antiquities curator, Marion True, in 1989. "We also as a matter of policy contact the countries … and make inquiries if we think that is appropriate."

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/books/la-ca-wendy-smiith-20110522,0,1138376.story

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