Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki:
A blossomed myrtle wreath (350-300 B.C)
This is perhaps the most famous example of a case of illegal antiquities’ trade. This wreath was found in a clandestine excavation and it found its way to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It was brought back to Greece in 2007 after an agreement between the Getty museum and the Ministry of Culture of Greece.
There was a documentary about the acquisition of this wreath and as I remember it, the artifact was in a pitiful state due to the fact that it was the product of an illegal excavation in which it was retrieved with little care about what state it would be sold in. The wreath however today is at an amazing state, due to a remarkable restoration.
I think it is important to highlight the fact that world famous museums with extensive collections have been more or less engaging in illegal acquisition of antiquities unrestrained by any sort of moral obligation to protect what they profess to admire- and monetize. One might think that with today’s restrictions and augmented sensitivity towards such subjects we would see the decline of such a mindset.
Yet, once again private interests, promote themselves as the protectors of the global cultural heritage and infiltrate public institutions as benevolent financers and investors. A while ago I presented the vacant spots of artifacts in museums, which are currently in the temporary exhibition "Heaven and Earth", Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections that is taking place currenty at the Getty Villa- no doubt this exchange was part of the aforementioned negotiations between the Ministry of Culture and the Getty institutions.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with such exchanges. They are actually a form of positive cultural exchange. However, let’s take a moment to notice the title of this exhibition. "Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections". "Greek Collections"
Obviously the collections are greek, but to a Greek person that means that they are also public. These collections are the property of the public sector. They come from public museums, they have been acquired by public efforts, they were retrieved and restored by public workers, who have been trained in public institutions, and anything relating to them has been financed by tax money from Greek and other European citizens.
But is this the idea that a US citizen would get when confronted with this ominous "Greek Collections". Because as far as I am aware the collections of say greek artifacts in foreign museums were all private to begin with. And a lot of the newer acquisitions of greek artifacts by foreign museums will still come from private collections. So doesn’t this “Greek Collections” give to some the idea that some rich Greek people amassed the artifacts that US citizens will crowd to admire?
You might think that’s too far-fetched, but there have been private institutions connected to names such as Niarchos, Onasis and Latsis which facilitate- at a small degree- the financing and organizing of such cultural expeditions like the aforementioned exhibition. Not only is it a great publicity stunt for them, but through these acts of cultural charity they gain financial privileges within archaeological sites and museums, when their actual sensitivity for them is at the very least opportunistic.
However, and this is where the fraud is, their financial contributions in relation to their gains not only is founded on the appropriation of public efforts, but also pale by far to the investment of the public sector, which by actions of organizations linked to them is constantly defamed and devalued.