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Money, Money, Money, Not So Funny in Sicily

Mozia Charioteer, 470-460 BC, now on display
at the J. Getty Museum

Sicilian are crying foul to the J. Paul Getty and Cleveland Museum exhibition “Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome.”  The pieces in question are the Mozia Charioteer and a gold libation bowl.  Sicily claims that the exhibition is depriving the region thousands of tourist dollars.

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?”

Ironically, the exhibition was intended to smooth relations between American museums and the Italian government. Several pieces in the exhibition were just recently repatriated to Sicily and Italy from American institutions, including the Getty and Metropolitan Museum of Art.  A February 2010 memorandum of understanding returned cultural objects to Sicily and Italy in exchange for future exhibition collaborations.

Sicilian gold libation bowl, one of the
cornerstones to the Getty exhibition

Ms. Sgarlata noted that the memorandum expired in February and that no official contract was signed for the exhibition at the Getty.  The wall label on the Mozia Charioteer reads: “By permission of the Regione Siciliana, Assessorato die Beni Culturali e dell’Identita Siciliana.  Dipartimento die Beni Culturali e dell’Identia Sicilliana.”  But, according to Sgarlata, Sicily never provided that permission.  Timothy Potts, director of the Getty, said that it is not unusual that exhibitions proceed without a formal contract.

Sgarlata argues: “I believe that these imbalanced exchanges [with American museums] have run their course.  We are open to exchanges, if duly considered, and especially if they respect the concept of authentic reciprocity.”  She said that in the future Sicily will charge “significant” loan fees and place heavy travel restrictions on their ancient art.

The Getty is pursuing negotiations.

Sources: “Sicily: Art and Invention,” Getty Villa Exhibitions; “Sicilian Protest Imperils Exhibition,” The New York Times.