James Cuno at the Getty

Museums are treasure chests full of artifacts with questionable histories. Who is the rightful owner of these precious objects – the museums that have acted as their custodians, or the cultures that produced them? Museums walk a delicate line between sharing cultures and exploiting them.

The Getty Museum is in a particularly precarious position. In 2001, the Getty museum’s former antiquities curator, Marion True, was charged with trafficking in looted art. As a result of the long legal battle, the Getty began returning some of its coveted treasures and adopted a strict acquisitions policy. The LA Times reports that “the Getty has emerged as a leader in efforts to curb the looting that has fueled the market in ancient art.”

James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and author of “Who Owns Antiquity?“, has been an outspoken critic of such efforts. Cuno believes that culture is universal, and not national, and he encourages trade in antiquities.

So what were the board members of the J. Paul Getty Trust thinking when they appointed James Cuno as President and Chief Executive? ArtInfo describes the choice as “clueless,” because “no serious and credible candidate will now want the job of Getty Museum director.”

The New York Times suggests that the board decided that Cuno would be the best choice for “an institution that not only collects and exhibits art but also plays many other roles in the international art world.” Cuno reportedly sees things the same way, describing the Getty as “more like a university than a museum.”

Cuno has also said that he accepts the Getty’s new, strict acquisition policy. The LA Times asks, Will James Cuno Change the Getty, or will the Getty Change James Cuno?

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