December 2008

December 06, 2008

Taking a Break to prepare The Wrap News; Check back in January

Dear Readers,

This blog will go semi-silent for the next several weeks, while we prepare the launch of The Wrap News at www.thewrapnews.com, a new news and information platform covering entertainment and media. The Wrap will feature original and aggregated content. We have already launched a daily email newsletter, called First Take, read by entertainment industry insiders. You can sign up to receive it at thewrapnews.com.

The Wrap is scheduled for a January launch. This blog, Waxword, will become part of that new enterprise.

I will be using this blog for announcements, and reserve the right to weigh in if there's major news, such as - save us, please -- another strike.

December 04, 2008

Stolen antiquities returned from NY to Egypt

The latest returns to Egypt, this time from our own government:

12/3/2008, 2:09 p.m. EST
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Dozens of ancient artifacts stolen by a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot were returned to the Egyptian government on Wednesday during a ceremony in Manhattan.

Officials said the items, including several small urns on display at the ceremony, came from the Ma'adi archaeological site outside Cairo and date to 3,600 B.C. or earlier.

"When (the military officer) stole these items from Egypt, he robbed a nation of part of its history," said Peter J. Smith, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's New York office. "The repatriation of the Ma'adi artifacts reunites the people of Egypt with an important piece of their cultural heritage."

December 01, 2008

Letters in Response to the Op-Ed

Dear Ms. Waxman –
I read with great interest your article in today’s New York Times but I suggest that there is an aspect of artifact ownership which you have neglected to consider and that is the caretaker and protective responsibility that goes with such ownership. There is a responsibility to preserve for future generations these artifacts which I dare to suggest did not then nor perhaps even now does not exist within some of these home countries. Some of these treasured artifacts would not exist today if they had been left in situ rather than ‘looted’.
My wife and I had the pleasure of being in the Uffizi Gallery one balmy summer day a few years ago. Our pleasure turned to astonishment when the guard in the gallery walked around the room and threw open the windows to the moist pollution laden Florentine air. This is not the best conditions under which to preserve antiquities. (This is the same questions that family courts grapple with concerning the placement of children back to their parents from foster care.)
Take Care,
Robert Koffsky

as a history buff,I will be securing a copy of your book soon.
Ihave loved the background history of the many objects d` art at the Met, one of my favorite places to go, along with Chicago Art Institute.You write on great topics,and this is but one dear to me heart, as well as the recent tomes on art looted by Soviets and  Nazis[ think the mystery of the Amber Room].
Write on,never stop. Timothy Abbott


Dear Ms. Waxman:
I read your important op-ed piece in today’s NYT.
I am curious about the Elgin Marbles, however.  Fifty-two years ago, I took a course on Greek art and archeology at Washington University taught by George Mylonas, the Greek-born excavator of Mycenae and Eleusis. He stated that had Lord Elgin not taken the marbles they would have been ground up for plaster as had already been happening to other of the Parthenon’s sculture.  Years later, in 1980, while taking my family around the Akropolis, I bought a guidebook that blamed Lord Elgin for stealing these antiquities.  However, if the Greek archeologist (whose credentials in 1980 earned him the position of being in charge of the restoration of the Akropoolis) was correct, in absconding with the sculptures, Lord Elgin rescued them. Alternatively, if he had hadn’t taken then, they would not be in existence for anyone to see.   How this bears on the question of who should “own” them and have them on display in another issue, but the facts of the case should be clear, and it should not be used as a cause celebre to illustrate the outright thievery of antiquities that takes place on a regular basis around the Mediterranean world, including Iraq thanks to the sloppy administration of Mr. Bush’s war.
George Nickelsburg
Professor emeritus, The University of Iowa


I thought this was a great column till the very end when you said that the treasures might be better preserved, etc., in the world’s great museums.  Turkey has one of the best natural history museums I’ve ever visited in the city of Antalya on the Mediterranean coast.  There are two tombs there depicting the labors of Herakles, the second one incomplete because some of the panels were looted.  Turkey is a center of European tourism with a very classy tourist industry and ubiquitous, knowledgeable English speaking guides.  I doubt they tacitly believe their antiquities are safer in New York or London.  As for being “more widely adored,” I expect they’d just as soon attract the visitors themselves.

Kathleen Orange


Congratulations on your superb article on the appropriated treasure of the Met.
And what of the quantities of stolen Jewish documents and cultural treasures hidden in the underground caves of the Vatican?These items are there because of murder and plunder.
This patrimony belongs in Israeli and Jewish museums and institutions. Surely this must be investigated and resolved.

Your admirer,

Winston J. Lung Kulok

NYT Op-ed: Thoughts for Tom Campbell at the Met

Oped graphic 

I have an op-ed in today's New York Times that talks about the imminent arrival of Thomas Campbell as the head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on January 1. I write: 

"Mr. Campbell, who will take over one month from today, is a 46-year-old curator from the Met’s department of European sculpture and decorative arts, and he has a unique opportunity to shift the tone of an enduring and increasingly hostile debate in the world of art and museums: Who should own the treasures of antiquity?"

The piece goes on to talk about the "culture of distrust" that currently exists between source countries and the great museums of the West, and how the Met has an opportunity to change this with the changing of the guard.

"By publicly embracing the 1970 [UNESCO] protocol, Mr. Campbell would be breaking with the policies of his predecessor, Mr. de Montebello, who believes that orphaned antiquities should be rescued by museums, not ignored by them.

Mr. Campbell could also undertake a project more fundamental, and more profound. The Metropolitan needs to come clean about its past of appropriation of ancient art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And it needs to tell a much fuller story about its more recent role in purchasing looted and smuggled antiquities.

"The Met’s galleries and Web site are mysteriously devoid of recent facts about the provenance of many artifacts. Most visitors have no idea how the treasures on display in the Greek and Roman rooms, the Egyptian antiquities department, or the Byzantine, African, Asian and Oceanic collections came to be housed in the museum.

"Who among them knows that Louis Palma di Cesnola, the Italian-born collector and Civil War veteran who was the first director of the museum, appropriated a huge number of antiquities for more than a decade? As the American consul in Cyprus in the 1860s, Cesnola kept 100 diggers busy in Larnaca; his house became a kind of museum. Cesnola smuggled out no fewer than 35,573 artifacts — passing them off as the property of the Russian consul — for which the Met paid $60,000."

 I welcome comments, and have already received a half-dozen emails from readers with passionate views on this topic. Please post them here, or at the Facebook page for Loot, which can be reached via this site.