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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

TURKEY TURNS UP THE HEAT ON FOREIGN MUSEUMS



Turkey turns up the heat on foreign museums
The list of antiquities demanded gets longer as more exhibitions are hit by the loans boycott

By Martin Bailey. Museums, Issue 236, June 2012
Published online: 13 June 2012

Turkey is set on a collision course with many of the world’s leading museums, by refusing exhibition loans because of antiquities claims. European museums that are being targeted include the Louvre, Berlin’s Pergamonmuseum, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. In America, claims are being lodged against New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Cleveland Museum of Art and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC. Turkey’s tough new approach was first reported by The Art Newspaper (March 2012, p1, p10; April, p6).

Among the exhibitions that have been hit is a British Museum project on the Uluburun ship, the world’s oldest recovered wreck. Dating from the 14th century BC, it was discovered (with its cosmopolitan cargo) in 1982, six miles off the south-west Turkish coast. It was put on display 12 years ago at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. The British Museum was discussing an exhibition, along with reciprocal loans to Turkey, but this has had to be dropped because of Turkey’s claim for the Samsat stele.

Refusing loan requests to museums that reject Turkish antiquities claims represents a new policy for prime minister Recep Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003 leading a centre-right government. Although his administration is pro-Western and keen on joining the European Union, repatriation of antiquities strikes a nationalist appeal with the electorate.

The Turkish government has been encouraged by the success of Italy in making antiquities claims against several American museums in recent years. More importantly, it has been buoyed up by three successful restitutions of its own last year. In February 2011 the Serbian government returned 1,485 coins and 379 small antiquities, which had been seized at its border in 2004. Two restitutions were also made by major museums. In July Berlin’s Pergamonmuseum returned the Bogazkoy Sphinx, dating from around 1600BC and found at the Hittite capital of Hattusa in 1915. It had been taken to Germany for restoration in 1917, but was not returned. Last year pressure for restitution was intensified by the Turkish authorities, who withdrew permits for German archaeologists to work on Turkish sites. This led to a decision to return the sphinx, which is now with its twin in the Bogazkoy Museum.

Two months later Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts returned the top half of the second-century AD Roman sculpture of the Weary Herakles. In 1990, scholars had noted that it matched the bottom half of a statue that had been excavated in Perge a decade earlier and was at the Antalya Museum. The Boston museum eventually decided to voluntarily relinquish its half, acquired in 1981 (although initially jointly purchased with collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White, full ownership passed to the museum in 2004).


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