Whether antiquities should be returned to the countries where they were found is one of the most urgent and controversial issues in the art world today, and it has pitted museums, private collectors, and dealers against source countries, archaeologists, and academics. Maintaining that the acquisition of undocumented antiquities by museums encourages the looting of archaeological sites, countries such as Italy, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and China have claimed ancient artifacts as state property, called for their return from museums around the world, and passed laws against their future export. But in Who Owns Antiquity?, one of the world's leading museum directors vigorously challenges this nationalistic position, arguing that it is damaging and often disingenuous. "Antiquities," James Cuno argues, "are the cultural property of all humankind," "evidence of the world's ancient past and not that of a particular modern nation. They comprise antiquity, and antiquity knows no borders."
Cuno argues that nationalistic retention and reclamation policies impede common access to this common heritage and encourage a dubious and dangerous politicization of antiquities--and of culture itself. Antiquities need to be protected from looting but also from nationalistic identity politics. To do this, Cuno calls for measures to broaden rather than restrict international access to antiquities. He advocates restoration of the system under which source countries would share newly discovered artifacts in exchange for archaeological help, and he argues that museums should again be allowed reasonable ways to acquire undocumented antiquities. Cuno explains how partage broadened access to our ancient heritage and helped create national museums in Cairo, Baghdad, and Kabul. The first extended defense of the side of museums in the struggle over antiquities, Who Owns Antiquity? is sure to be as important as it is controversial.
James Cuno is president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago and former director of the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Harvard University Art Museums. He has written widely on museums and cultural policy. His books include Whose Muse?: Art Museums and the Public's Trust (Princeton).
"A condemnation of cultural property laws that restrict the international trade in antiquities, the book doubles as a celebration of the world's great border-crossing encyclopedic museums."--Jori Finkel, New York Times
"Who Owns Antiquity? is an impassioned argument for what Cuno calls the 'cosmopolitan aspirations' of encyclopedic museums. By this he means not only collecting and showing art from every place and era, but also, and more crucially, the promotion of an essential kind of cultural pluralism. . . . Whatever one makes of Cuno's thesis, it brings into focus some urgent questions--for museums and for archaeology--that have yet to be given much attention."--Hugh Eakin, New York Review of Books
"Who Owns Antiquity? by Art Institute of Chicago director James Cuno deals with one of the most sensitive questions in today's art world: Should antiquities be returned to their country of origin? [T]his book provides a lot of worthwhile background."--Wall Street Journal
"It would be a mistake to see this deeply felt and carefully reasoned argument as self-serving. The crux of his argument is that modern nation-states have at best a tenuous connection with the ancient cultures in question, and their interests are political rather than scientific...Cuno advocates instead a universal, humanistic approach to the world's shared cultural treasures...Cuno's pleas for a more expansive approach to cultural artifacts must be taken seriously."--Publishers Weekly
"[A]n illuminating...book."--Edward Rothstein, New York Times
"The author's message is that stewardship, not ownership, is what matters. Trade in antiquities should be dictated not by politics, but by the demands of conservation, knowledge, and access. The argument presented here is thought-provoking. Cuno may be over-optimistic. But you can't help feeling that he is right."--Financial Times
Table of Contents:
Introduction: The Crux of the Matter 1
CHAPTER ONE: Political Matters 21
CHAPTER TWO: More Political Matters 44
CHAPTER THREE: The Turkish Question 67
CHAPTER FOUR: The Chinese Question 88
CHAPTER FIVE: Identity Matters 121
Select Bibliography 207
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by James Cuno: