Malcolm Bell makes a very incisive critique of the recently published expose’, Chasing Aphrodite. The book, written by LATimes journalist Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, investigates the Getty Villa and it’s acquisition policy under Marion True. Bell, an archaeologist and professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and co-director at the American dig in Morgantina, straddles the patrimony debate, representing archaeologists and museums. His review does not touch on the quality of Felch and Frammolino’s reporting but primarily takes umbrage with their portrayal of True’s actions, motivations and probity in the acquisition of looted objects. I am looking forward to reading ‘Chasing Aphrodite’ but am certainly predisposed to sympathize with True after hearing many positive personal anecdotes from colleagues and reading this review.
Context is essential to understanding an object and museums have created policies in the last decade to ensure they collect objects with good provenance. As a classicist I sometimes wonder if this will be the death knell of a period, once the foundation of a museum’s collection, whose centrality has been waning in past decades. Museums were established as repositories of culture, designed to scientifically catalogue humankind through the objects it produces. At the turn of the century when museum building was at it’s apex, Greek and Rome were conceived as the foundation of western civilization. As views have changes, museums have adapted, and classical collections have been sidelined with smaller galleries and fewer curators.