The Witchhunt Continues (with a legitimate twist)

Posted on October 27, 2008


I take no issue with challenging museums to make their artifact sources transparent and to provide proper documentation of provenance, but I’ve never been much for witchhunts.  When I first started reading “Ethical Questions Haunt Museums’ Acquisitions of Artifacts” that’s exactly what I thought was going on.  But the author veered and started discussing Sharon Waxman’s new book Loot, which I referenced in an earlier post, “The Dirty Antics at the Getty (oh, dirty indeed!)“.  The author, Steve Paul, states:

Waxman makes one strong point about what museums should do now, in addition to upping their ethics policies. They should tell the full story of antiquities on display. It’s not enough to illuminate the historical context of sculptures or carvings. Museum-goers, who wander through collections in constant dialogue across cultures, borders and generations, deserve to know how the pieces got there.

I think this is a fabulous argument, one that would take museum artifacts out of the vacuum.  Years ago I wrote on the sacredness of gallery space, and I can see why the museums might not prefer this approach.  It could also dilute the exoticism of the items.  Nonetheless, it is a legitimate suggestion.  I had no intention of reading Loot, but now that I know it’s not just a history of archaeological injustices, I’ll keep an eye out for it.  Would love to hear back if anyone has read it.

Read the full article “Ethical Questions Haunt Museums’ Acquisitions of Artifacts” on the Kansas City Star.