LA's Getty Museum to return 26 looted artworks

The J. Paul Getty Museum announced it would return 26 ancient artworks that Italy contended had been looted or smuggled from the country. The museum did not indicate when it would return the objects, saying Tuesday it was awaiting instructions from Italian culture ministry officials. It also denied knowingly buying any illegally obtained objects. In exchange for the items, Italy's Ministry of Culture agreed to provide long-term loans of other objects, museum director Michael Brand said. But negotiations over Italy's demands for other Getty antiquities broke down this month, and Italian officials threatened to cut cultural ties with the Los Angeles museum. "While we continue to hope that the Italian government will honor its commitment to work collaboratively with the Getty in the future, as it agreed to do in October, the Getty's transfer of objects is not conditioned on any such arrangement," Brand said in a statement. "Quite simply, we believe that transferring these objects to Italy is the right thing to do, whether or not we now receive anything in return." A call to the Italian consulate in Los Angeles seeking comment was not immediately returned. In Rome, Minister of Culture Francesco Rutelli could not immediately be reached for comment late Tuesday night. Culture minister spokesman Michele Ansaldi did not immediately return a message seeking comment left on his cell phone. The museum previously returned three works, but the fate of dozens of others, including a prized statue of Aphrodite, remained unresolved despite months of talks. The museum will continue to look into the origins of the statue, and "if this research suggests that the statue should be returned to Italy, the Getty is prepared to transfer title," the museum said. The research was expected to be completed within a year. Dismayed by the deadlock in negotiations, Giuseppe Proietti, a senior Italian cultural official, told the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview that he would suggest the government "take cultural sanctions against the Getty, suspending all cultural cooperation." That could include working with Italian institutions on research, cultural studies, excavations, exhibits or artwork loans. Getty officials said they still hoped for an agreement. "We are prepared to resume talks focused on building a productive long-term relationship at a moment's notice," Brand said. The Getty said a sticking point in reviving the negotiations was a demand that the museum return another statue often called the Getty Bronze, or "Statue of a Victorious Athlete," a Greek work believed to date from around 300 B.C. Brand said he met with Rutelli in Rome on Nov. 17 and told him that the bronze would not be returned. The museum believes the bronze was found in international waters in 1964, and Italian courts have ruled there is no evidence it belonged to Italy, Brand said. The museum has clashed with Italian and Greek officials over allegations that former antiquities curator Marion True knowingly received dozens of archaeological treasures between 1986 and the late 1990s that were stolen from private collections or dug up illicitly. True and American art dealer Robert Hecht are on trial in Rome, accused of trafficking in stolen artifacts. They deny wrongdoing and the Getty trust continues to pay for True's defense. Also on Tuesday, an Athens prosecutor filed criminal charges against "persons unknown" for illegal excavation, smuggling and receiving stolen goods, in connection with an ancient golden wreath owned by the Getty museum that was allegedly looted in Greece.