Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Our Treasures Abroad, USA: Ohio Museum's Sale of Antiquities from Egypt Draws Criticism

AP: Ohio's Toledo Museum of Art is selling 68 antiquities from its collection, a move drawing criticism from a nationally known archaeologist and Egyptian officials.

About half the items are from Egypt, The Blade newspaper reported. Others come from Cyprus, Greece and Italy. They're being sold at a New York auction on Tuesday and an online sale closing the same day.

"It's just, for me, puzzling and distressing to see this shortsighted decision," said Joan Connelly, a renowned art expert and Toledo native. "As an archaeologist I'm just astounded any museum would sell off items with good provenance, which can be held forever." According to the newspaper, the Egyptian government indicated in news coverage in that country that it's seeking to stop the sales.

Brian Kennedy, the museum's director, said its board approved selling the items that didn't meet the quality of the current collection. The museum conducted a two-year review of its collection before the sale was approved.

The process is called deaccession, which the Toledo Museum of Art similarly used in whittling down its modern contemporary collection in 2002, its Old Masters collection in 2006 and its Asian art collection in 2008.

Many of the objects either haven't been put on display in decades or appeared only sporadically. The items at auction include Egyptian pottery and shabtis, or funeral figurines. Also for sale online is a first or second century Roman bronze strigil, which is a curved blade used to scrape sweat and dirt off the skin following a bath or exercise.

Kennedy said the museum acquired most of the artifacts directly from their countries of origin during the 1910s and 1920s. Connelly said international cultural heritage laws have made it impossible for museums to acquire such antiquities these days. The items are unlikely to be replaced once the museum discards them.

Kennedy expects the sale to generate about $500,000, which can be used on other acquisitions. Connelly remembers the antiques from childhood visits to the museum and said she felt absolutely sick when first learning of the auction. She called the sale "a great loss to Toledo."

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