I read this very interesting article in the Sunday arts section of The New York Times this morning. It is basically a “Where are they now?” report on a few of the more interesting art and antiquities repatriation cases to be resolved in the recent past. I’m glad to see that people are taking an interest in the complexities of repatriation. It is always a tricky issue and rarely clear-cut, which is why I’m fascinated by it.
I find it most noteworthy that the article highlights the fact that some objects are not particularly visible, well-displayed, or much cared for once they return to their countries of origin. Of course, an object’s rightful owner is entitled to do with it pretty much whatever they want. You don’t have to keep your house clean or freshly painted to have clear title to it, and you shouldn’t have to build an elaborate shrine to an object to get it back if it was stolen from you. However, I’ve noticed that a lot of the popular conversation about repatriation tends to focus on the sentimental aspects of cultural heritage, and I think it’s good for people who primarily address this issue emotionally to read such articles about what sometimes happens once the inevitable nationalist rhetoric is finished.
I would be very interested to know what my readers think about this article and about repatriation in general. I’ve developed something of an international readership, and I have a feeling that this issue looks very different from various cultural and national vantage points. I’m a big fan of keeping emotion and logic in strict balance, but I recognize that if objects important to me were threatened, I might feel quite differently.
Bonus: While looking up the link to the online version of the article, I also found this great piece (in the science rather than arts section, which is why I missed it in print) about the Art Institute of Chicago’s scientific testing of a Renoir.