Greece opens controversial exhibition of American collectible art

Published in :

Athens (AFP) – One of Athens’ most prestigious private museums opened Thursday an exhibition of Bronze Age artifacts from an American collection whose provenance has sparked controversy among experts.

Entitled “Homecoming” and on view at the Museum of Cycladic Art until October 31, 2023, the exhibition features fifteen of the 161 antiquities, “of unique archaeological value” from the Bronze Age, which were part of the billionaire’s collection. American and philanthropist Leonard Stern.

The return of these objects is part of an agreement negotiated by the Greek Ministry of Culture and approved by Parliament in September.

It envisions that the entire collection will be displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Met) until 2033, and then every five years fifteen art objects will return to Athens in exchange for loans of Greek antiquities to the museum.

But this agreement has been criticized, in particular by the main opposition party, Syriza, which considers that the Stern collection has been illegally exported, and considered as the “laundering” of the fruits of antiquities smuggling.

For the Association of Greek Archaeologists, Stern is a “proven beneficiary of contraband archaeological finds” and the deal sets a bad precedent by allowing wealthy collectors to avoid justice.

According to the association, the billionaire once owned a Bronze Age marble idol from Sardinia, later seized in 2018 from the collection of billionaire Michael Steinhardt for trafficking in illegal objects.

The photo released by the Greek Ministry of Culture on November 3, 2022 shows an exhibition of Bronze Age artifacts from an American collection, at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. BROCHURE Greek Ministry of Culture/AFP

In the face of this criticism, the government stated that if the case had gone to court, it would have been unlikely that Greece would have received even a fraction of the proceeds, as it was generally extremely difficult to conclusively prove an illegal provenance.

The Greek Ministry of Culture strives to conclude agreements for the repatriation of antiquities without resorting to legal proceedings. Its main objective is the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece, which have been kept in the British Museum in London since the 19th century.

Leave a Comment