It was a turbulent year in cultural policy, marked in many ways by unrest in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere. But even elsewhere, funding shortfalls, and austerity have put pressure on our cultural institutions, with too many deaccessions and museum closings to mention.
Yale and Peru finally finalized an agreement to send objects removed from Peru long ago by Hiram Bingham, and were able to conclude what both sides claim is a mutually beneficial deal. The Menil also announced it would return, as agreed, frescoes to Cyprus. Montrose will be without a very fine set of Byzantine Frescoes.
Italy was in the news a great deal as well, assisting in the protection of sites in conflict areas in the Middle East, receiving repatriated objects, most notably la dea di Aidone, even as calls for more returns were made.
The Smithsonian decided to postpone and later cancel an exhibition of objects from a looted underwater site in Indonesia, despite the fact that the site was excavated with an archaeologist present, and the site was published. Odyssey Marine also suffered a colossal setback in its efforts to salvage valuables from underwater archaeology sites.
Oh, and the Mona Lisa was stolen 100 years ago. In my brief forward to Noah Charney’s re-examination of the theft, I argued the World’s Most Famous Painting is almost certainly the Mona Lisa. Few would dispute its claim to the title, though many have personal favorites they would place higher (I certainly do). As such, the painting cannot help but be left open to claims that it may be overrated, perhaps even unworthy of its esteem. Nearly everyone knows when shown an image of the work that it is the Mona Lisa. Why then did this simple portrait of a smiling woman become so ubiquitous. Did its theft in 1911 help it reach these lofty heights? Would the world have come to appreciate its charms all on its own? The story of its theft is the story of an overrated painting that might have been better left stolen. But nevertheless it marks the beginning of the modern era of art theft, one of the first really high profile thefts.
Bonne Anée! and thanks as always for reading.