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Loan no More, Turkey Improvises on the Russian Play Book

Earlier this month, The Art Newspaper reported that Turkey is refusing to lend objects to the leading American and British museums because these museums hold disputed objects in their collections. Turkish Ministry of Culture banned loans to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (the Met) and the British Museum in London.

This week, the Met is opening a new show, “Byzantium and Islam,”scheduled to run from March 14th through July 8th, 2012. Turkey has a long Islamic tradition and Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city formerly known as Constantinople is situated on the footprint of the ancient Byzantium. However, none of the loaned works for the show are coming from the Turkish museums. Instead the Met is borrowing artifacts from Athens. The same picture emerges from the British Museum’s efforts to organize “Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam,” in light of the loan ban.

The strategy is sound, before discussing loans for exhibitions, the Turkish government wants to sort out issues over claimed and heretofore un-restituted antiquities that were acquired by museums under questionable circumstances. Thus, it appears that while possession is but nine-tenth of the law, refusing to return disputed objects does not always satisfy the mission of an educational institution, such as the V&A or the Museum of Fine Arts. In the long run, museums are better off resolving title issues in order to present best possible exhibitions to the public.