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June 04, 2008

New Policies on Antiquities

The Association of Art Museum Directors, the group that represents most major museums in the United States, is finally coming around to adopt the accepted international guidelines for acquiring antiquities. As my former colleague Randy Kennedy reports in today's Times, the group will announce today its new policy recommending that museums not acquire objects that have no known provenance after 1970, or without proof that the object was outside its country of origin before that date. (And yes, it is often difficult to pinpoint a country of origin.) That year, 1970, is the date of a UNESCO convention governing acquisitions, its attempt -- now dating back some 40 years -- to stem the tide of illegal antiquities smuggling. In the absence of clear international laws on the issue, the UNESCO convention has served as the benchmark for institutions and collectors internationally. But many American museums have been slow to sign on. The Getty recently adopted this policy, but other major museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of New York, still have not. The fact that the old school AAMD has come around to this is a sign of the times, and an indication of the reigning fear among museum directors that they will continue to be targetted by foreign lawsuits and pressure campaigns.