Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum, Jason Felch & Ralph Frammolino
Chasing Aphrodite is not just about the “Aphrodite” statue that proved a flashpoint for the Getty Museum after it became clear it was most likely looted from a site near Morgantina. It is, as the subtitle says, about the looted antiquities, the changing attitudes toward that, and the long legal cases that forced American institutions and collectors to change their acquisition policies and return looted art. In some ways, it’s a biography of Marion True, a curator at the Getty who was instrumental in the acquisition of many of the looted antiquities, while also becoming a strong voice for restoration and refusal to purchase such items.
I found it surprisingly suspenseful — if that’s the right word. I wanted to find out what ended up happening; I didn’t remember enough about the events described (many of which hit the news when I was a teen) to remember how things worked out exactly, though it was obvious that the Getty were running their collective neck into a noose. The narrative is fairly dispassionate but nonetheless makes it deeply obvious that what the Getty were doing was wrong, suspect even under their own lax policies.
As a note, the book isn’t pro-repatriation per se. It seems fairly ambivalent about other repatriation requests, like the Elgin Marbles, striking a note that seems to call some of that type of request “unreasonable”, at the end. It casts Marion True as a fairly sympathetic figure in many ways, despite her deep culpability. She was at least as deeply implicated as other figures at the Getty, and a little honesty and self-examination might have helped her weather the storm.
Still, really fascinating.