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12 mars 2013 2 12 /03 /mars /2013 14:24

J'ai reçu le message suivant, très documenté, de Kwame Opoku, qui relaie activement les informations concernant l'attitude des grands musées d'art, concernant les demandes de restitution de divers pays, qui souhaitent pouvoir récupérer les trésors de leur patrimoine qui ont été exportés à la suite de vols ou de fouilles clandestines. Le débat n'est pas prêt d'être clos, mais il est bon de suivre l'évolution des mentalités. Ici il s'agit de quelque chose de spectaculaire, car c'est intervenu lors du World Economic Forum de Davos, cette année.




We have just read Lee Rosenbaum’s (1) comments on James Cuno’s participation in the World Eonomic Forum, Davos, as well as Cuno’s report of his own performance at the Swiss holiday resort of the rich and powerful. (2). Lee Rosenbaum underlined in her comments “Cuno’s catchwords that seem calculated to make cultural-heritage activists see red”:
“We discussed the fate of encyclopedic museums and the pressure put on them by nation-states calling for the repatriation of what they define as their cultural patrimony. While acknowledging that national governments have the right to restrict trade in their self-defined cultural heritage, we noted that in doing so they were denying their citizens—or subjects—access to cultural objects from different parts of the world, perpetuating dangerous stereotypes of foreign peoples and foreign cultures, and working against the promise of encyclopedic museums to promote the understanding of and respect for difference in the world“.
We are seeing more than red on reading these provocative and mendacious statements.
Over the last few months, we had gained the impression that Cuno was finally listening to the several voices in the world of culture that had sharply criticised the views he expressed in previous writings. We were personally relieved that we may no longer need to examine views and ideas that most educated people, outside certain arrogant circles in the West, would immediately recognize for what they are: half-concocted ideas and self-serving visions calculated to serve the interests of certain dominant classes that one thought had given up old-fashioned imperialism with the end of the colonial époque. Cuno reminds us with his Davos statement that we may have been mistaken.
Although relieved by the new moderate posture of Cuno, we were sceptical that he had undergone radical transformation. His public relations image seemed to be improving as far as those of us outside the Western world were concerned. We had written “…his style is changing since he became CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. He no more attacks directly. His language is moderate and he even shakes hands with cultural personnel who come to collect their looted artefacts. His public relations image has undoubtedly improved.” (3)
What Cuno produced at Davos is vintage Cuno and the membership of the panel he is said to have led there was composed of persons who shared his ideas even if they do not all express themselves in the same provocative language. The panel was composed of Julien Anfruns, director-general, International Council of Museums; Thomas Campbell, director, Metropolitan Museum; Neil MacGregor, director, British Museum; Hermann Parzinger, president, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz; Mikhail Piotrovsky, general director, State Hermitage Museum. This panel which Lee Rosenbaum described as “an all-star cast” is made up of persons who are known for holding similar views as Cuno.
It is noticeable that not a single member came from Africa, Latin America or Asia in a panel discussing universal museums. The panel seems to be a mini-Bizot Group or a Super-Bizot Group, recalling the notorious Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums (DIVUM) that was issued in 2002. (4) The museums represented by the panel were all signatories to that infamous document except the British Museum which did not sign although it was the instigator and fervent promoter of the project. The Bloomsbury museum had sought support against the political pressure of Athens regarding the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles. This time, Turkey must have been the subject of concern because of the increasing pressure it has brought on British and American museums to return looted/stolen Turkish cultural artefacts. (5)
The timing of Cuno’s statement should be noted. It comes at about the same time as the AAMD was preparing new rules of acquisition of antiquities which ostensibly should improve American practice in this matter(6). Shortly before this, an American art critic had written a reactionary article in the Los Angeles Times criticising American museums for readily returning cultural artefacts to their countries of origin. The article was condemned on all sides (7). The article was based on unsupported belief that American museums have given in readily to repatriation requests by foreign governments.
Cuno’s own J.Paul Getty Museum has recently announced its intention of examining the legality and legitimacy of 45,000 of its acquisitions. (8)
Cuno once again presented at Davos the so-called “universal museum” or “encyclopaedic museum” as a promise of good tidings for the world, as a solution to our problems when in fact this museum with gargantuan appetite, was the beneficiary of colonial robbery and violence in depriving the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America of their cultural artefacts.
It is against all historical evidence and knowledge to affirm, in connection with efforts of nation States to restrict the depletion of national cultural resources, that they “were denying their citizens—or subjects—access to cultural objects from different parts of the world, perpetuating dangerous stereotypes of foreign peoples and foreign cultures, and working against the promise of encyclopedic museums to promote the understanding of and respect for difference in the world.”
Did Cuno tell his audience that the majority of the so-called “encyclopaedic museums” were in the Western world?
Did Cuno tell his audience that many encyclopedic museums, including his own, J.Paul Getty Museum, The Metropolitan Museum, The Princeton University Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Museum pf Fine Arts, Boston, and other leading American museums have been obliged to return looted/stolen artefacts to Italy, Peru and Turkey?
Did Cuno inform his audience that the United Nations and UNESCO are in favour of the return of looted/stolen artefacts to their country of origin?
Did he inform his listeners that the recent resolution AS/67/80 of the United Nations on restitution passed unanimously, had been sponsored by 98 Member States including United States of America? (9)
Did Cuno inform the audience that the reputation of US museums is at its lowest ebb and that since the various recent scandals, there is a perception in the US public that the major museums are havens of iniquities?
What becomes clear from reading Cuno’s own report of his performance at Davos is that not much seems to have been learnt from the experience of the discredited Declaration on the Value and Importance of the Universal Museums issued in 2002 by the rich and powerful museums. It served only to awaken the world and especially Africa, Asia and Latin America to the insensitivity and selfishness of the rich museums. Members of the same group of museum directors tried to impress participants at Davos with the importance and value of their holding on to looted/stolen artefacts from others. What a pity they missed a great opportunity to speak for museums in general.
It is sad that at a time when those interested in culture should be working together to preserve our cultural heritage, museum directors from rich and powerful nation States should be conducting intellectual guerrilla warfare by serving the world, especially the rich and powerful, with discredited ideas that contributed to bringing us to the present situation in the museum world.
“The true and lasting damage to American institutions over this past decade has not been legal fees or lost antiquities. It has been the growing public perception that they are engaged in an illegal activity that, at its heart, is a deep betrayal of their public mission” (10)
Kwame Opoku, 3 February, 2013. < k.opoku@sil.at >

1. Antiquities Antics in Davos: Whatever Happened to “Kinder, Gentler” James Cuno? February 1, 2013 by CultureGrrl http://www.arts journal.com
2. James Cuno, “The Arts on the World Economic Stage—Notes from Davos”http://blogs.getty.edu/iris
See also http://www.weforum.org/videos/insights-objects-culture
3. K. Opoku, “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project.” http://www.modernghana.com
4. Tom Flynn, The Universal Museum A valid model for the 21st century? 2010.
5. K. Opoku, “Turkish Decision to stop Artefacts Loans to Museums Holding Contested Turkish Artefacts: An Example for Other States?” http://www.modernghana.com
6.Strengthened Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art issued by AAMD (1/30/2013)
7. Hugh Eakin, “The Great Giveback” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/sunday-review/the-great-giveback.html?pagewante
Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues: Telling it Like it Isn't 
 CultureGrrl | Antiquities Antics: Hugh Eakin's Astonishing Anti ...
8. Jason Felch, "Getty Museum review targets its antiquities collection” http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/
9. The latest General Assembly resolution, A/RES/67/80, titled “Return or restitution of cultural property to the country of origin“, was adopted unanimously on 12 December, 2012. The resolution had been co-sponsored by 98 Member States including Canada, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and the United States of America.
10. Chasing Aphrodite Decoding Eakin: Behind ‘Extortion’ Claim, Fear the Floodgates Have Opened

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