UPDATE: Sicily Withdraws Loan of Antiquities from Cleveland Museum of Art

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Mozia Charioteer, 470-460 BC, part of the “Sicily: Art and Invention between Greece and Rome” exhibit canceled at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Under substantial pressure from Sicily, the Cleveland Museum of Art has canceled their show “Sicily: Art and Invention between Greece and Rome.”  The develop has left many in the museum world wringing their hands.

Never before has a country withdrawn a blockbuster exhibition.

As the Center for Art Law reported last month in the article “Money, Money, Money, Not So Funny in Sicily,” Sicily argued that the loan of their major antiquities decreased cultural tourism, a major source of income in cash-strapped country.  Margiarita Sgarlata, head of cultural policy in Sicily, told The New York Times that Sicily never agreed to the exhibition.  She stated: “How would an American tourist react to, trusting his Frommer’s travel guide, has gone out of his way to visit the island of Mozia to admire this work of art in its original setting, only to discover that the statue is in Toyko or St. Petersburg?”

Sgarlata did not put out a press release and has been unavailable for comment.  But  David Franklin, Director of the Cleveland Museum has been very vocal, understanding the weight of the situation.

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David Franklin, Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art since 2010.

Franklin expressed that Sicily’s decision may create a precedent which would allow “cultural rich” countries to charge high loan fees, causing a major blow to academic study and making it impossible for non-profit art museums to afford blockbuster exhibitions. In fact, Franklin speculates that in the future international loans will only be possible at for-profit museums, a model that “will push intellectual justification for the loans to the side” in exchange for glamorous sell-out shows.

He said: “It’s very disappointing.  These things don’t happen very often in the art world. This is unprecedented for me and I think unprecedented for all of us…. This was a deep surprise and goes contrary to the way exhibitions travel in the world today.  But of course it’s a wake-up call to all of us to rethink how we do international exhibits.”

While Sicily remains silent, Franklin speculates that this may mark the end to “elegant” museum business.

Sources: “Sicily Cancels a Major Exhibition of Ancient Treasures at the Cleveland Museum of Art,” The Plain Dealer;  “Sicily: Art and Invention,” Getty Villa Exhibitions; “Sicilian Protest Imperils Exhibition,” The New York Times.

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