Saturday January 10, 2009, 6:30PM – 9:00PM
Marriott Downtown Hotel Grand Ballroom, Salon G, 1201 Market Street
A ripple of anticipation moved through the large crowd filling the ballroom of the downtown Marriott. This gala reception and awards ceremony was being held to honor Professor Colin Renfrew for his outstanding efforts in the fight against the illicit trafficking of antiquities for profit. Midst loud applause and popping flashbulbs, Professor Renfrew received a hero’s welcome as well as the prestigious Beacon Award presented to him by SAFE president, Cindy Ho, and Richard Leventhal of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, which co-sponsored the event.
A hush fell over the room, as this world renown archeologist began his timely and revealing talk, “Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: the 1970 Rule as a Turning Point (or How the Metropolitan Museum lags behind the Getty).”
Because of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, provenance of antiquities should reach back to at least that date. “Many great museums,” says Renfrew, “including the Metropolitan, have chosen to overlook this ruling.” A fairly recent example is that of the Euphronious krater at the heart of a three decade tug-of-war between the Met and the Italian government. During Montebello’s 30 year tenure as Director of the Met, many antiquities with questionable provenance were acquired. Some purchased by the museum itself, and some were gifts, most notably of Met trustee Shelby White, a wealthy private collector. Professor Renfrew urges the Met’s new Director, Thomas P. Campbell, to set new standards in antiquities acquisitions, as well as to question the origin of gifts from its patrons. This is one instance when it is important to look a gift horse in the mouth. The Met, as one of the world’s most prestigious museums, exerts great influence when it comes to setting good practices. “I have every confidence that the Met will step up and do its best to be an inspiration to other museums in this regard.”
Renfrew praised The Getty Museum “for showing good will both in the adoption of its own impressive version of the original UNESCO guidelines and its willingness to return known looted antiquities, well over 40 pieces, back to their countries of origin. Museums and individuals alike must be held accountable for under writing the illicit antiquities trade and the theft of cultural identity.”
Icing on the cake for this memorable evening, was the raffling off of prizes, which included a private lunch with Professor Renfrew for three lucky people. At the conclusion of the lecture, attendees sipped wine and purchased copies of Professor Renfrew’s book, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership, which the Award winner signed for them. Guests seemed reluctant for the event to end, staying on to chat with Professor Renfrew and each other about the challenges that lie ahead.