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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bogus story: Cleveland Museum of Art not returning works to Italy

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2008 at 5:31 AM

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Countries are demanding works be returned -- whether they have proof they were stolen or not.
Last Friday, officials at the Cleveland Museum of Art were shocked to see numerous wire stories reporting that they had agreed to give back 16 artworks to the Italian government. The problem with the article: The story is completely false. As Scene reported in March, the Italian cultural ministry is on a mission to retrieve hundreds of works it believes were stolen from Italy. For years, most American museums simply laughed at requests like these. But they were forced to rethink their stance a few years ago when evidence surfaced that Robert Hecht, one of America’s most prodigious art dealers, had been selling pieces looted from Italy… Museums, long seen as sacred, honest temples, were suddenly being viewed as callous predators. As the Italian government launched a public campaign to get their works back, American museums began caving to the requests. In the past three years, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York agreed to give back 21 works. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles said it would return 40 pieces. The Princeton University Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the University of Virginia Art Museum all returned works as well. Then last year, the Italians turned their attention to the Cleveland Museum. Up until Friday, it seemed like museum officials would not go the way of America’s larger museums. David Bennett, the head of Cleveland’s Roman art collection, told Scene that all of the pieces in their exhibit had been vigorously researched before acquisition. The museum would not just bend to Italy’s demand without irrefutable proof, he said. And despite Friday’s report, museum officials insist this is still the case. “While the Cleveland Museum of Art has held discussions with Italian officials over the past year with respect to works in our collection, no agreement has been reached, nor has the Museum agreed to transfer any objects to Italy,” writes spokesman James Kopniske. Indeed, Francesco Rutelli, a lawyer representing Italy’s cultural ministry, recently admitted that there was firm. He continued to insist, however, that a deal is near. "There are no obstacles from our point of view," the lawyer told the Associated Press. -- Rebecca Meiser

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