Monday, March 21, 2011

New Art at the Met

As part of the renovation of their Islamic gallery, the Metropolitan brought in a team or Moroccan artisans to install mosaics in the traditional style. You can see a slide show of their work here.


Katya said...

Have you read Peter Watson's "The Medici Conspiracy" (yet)? I've been wondering--or at least been wanting to hear your reaction.

John said...

Not the book, but I have read an article by him or about his work and I am familiar with the outlines.

I am ambivalent because I do not accept that archaeological artifacts should belong to the modern government that happens to control their resting places. Why should the government of Turkey control the remains of Greek sites that happen to be in modern Turkey? Why should Saudi Arabia control pagan Roman temples that happen to be within modern Saudi Arabia? I also agree with Anthony Appiah that the distribution of archaeological treasures around the world helps to promote cosmopolitan thinking and love of the past, so it is a good thing for the world that art objects from Greece, Italy, and Egypt are spread across the globe. My own interest in history and archaeology was greatly spurred by the American museums I was able to visit in my childhood; if all those objects were back where they came from, as some nationalists want, I would never have had those experiences.

So I am not the least bit shocked by the antiquities trade. Since national governments insist on claiming that they own all these objects and must keep them, crime is the only way these objects can spread out and be appreciated by the people who love them.

That being said, nation states are the only meaningful authorities we have, and if anybody is to keep tomb robbers from trashing our heritage, it must be national authorities. I also feel contempt for people so determined to own pieces of the past that they support the trashing of archaeological sites to get them.

So I feel no rage, only disgust, because so far as I can see nobody involved really cares very much about the past as an object of study, or distributing the findings of archaeology where they will be seen by the most people and do the most good.

Katya said...

I think I'd recommend the book to you. There is a great scene/moment when a young, Greek, socially well connected artist, is shown a gold Macedonian wreath in a cake box "One of the most beautiful things I had ever seen" by a couple of smugglers looking to make a connection--the book is worth reading if just for the moments like that.

I don't take Watson as necessarily being on the side of modern governments owning all the artifacts. I think he's on the side of looters not secretly taking backhoes to Etuscan tombs.

But that's just my take! < g >