Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Guest Post: Trouble for the "Victorious Youth"

Today I'm pleased to feature a guest post by Pamelia Brown. Pamelia writes for Associate Degree [dot] com, and has a written a couple of entries there that might be of particular interest to people who read this blog.

For today's post, Pamelia is writing about the Getty Museum's "Victorious Youth," a sculpture which has seen a lot of news coverage this past month:

Victorious Youth, 300-100 BCE, Getty Museum

For a work of art whose creator isn't identified, the Victorious Youth gets a lot of press.

The Greek bronze statue was discovered in international fishing waters by Italian fishermen in 1964. However, instead of revealing the discovery to the Italian government, or even returning it to Greece, the men who discovered it hid it and sold it, leading to the statue eventually being smuggled out of the country and sold at auction. J. Paul Getty, the billionaire oilman, made plans in 1972 to buy the statue despite protests from the Italian government. He died in 1976, and the Getty Museum bought the statue the next year, after the seller's Italian attorneys made assurances that the sale was legal. That was just the beginning of the trouble.

Earlier this month, an Italian judge ordered that the Victorious Youth be seized from the museum and returned to Italy. It's a follow-up to a 2007 agreement in which the Getty, acknowledging that many of its pieces were likely acquired illegally, announced it would return 40 of its pieces to the Italian government, though not the statue. It's not clear how effective the order could be enforced here, but it does open the door for further negotiations with the Getty Museum. While the museum did issue a statement saying the order was "flawed both procedurally and substantively," the following week saw the Getty announce a renewed partnership with Italy by working with Sicily on object conservation, and that decision also stemmed from the 2007 agreement.

I think it's a shame that a sculpture has been reduced to a prize being quarreled over by an angry government and a museum that's probably resorted to off-the-book practices to acquire art. It makes me wonder how many times we let art be swallowed by a different story. Perhaps some kind of share or trade could be worked out, where the statue spent part of its time in the Getty Villa in Malibu and the rest of the area in Italy. I know it's not a perfect solution, but it's surely better than courtroom showdowns.

This guest post is contributed by Pamelia Brown, who writes on the topics of associates degree. She welcomes your comments at her email Id pamelia.brown@gmail.com .