Letters to the editor

The Fleischman Collection was NOT a front

In your April issue you published an article whose title announced in bold letters that the Fleischman Collection was claimed to be “just a ‘front’” for the Getty. According to an unsubstantiated assertion by the prosecutor in Rome, Paolo Ferri, at a hearing held on 20 February, the antiquities collection formed by Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman of New York was a false façade used by the Getty Museum to acquire antiquities illicitly removed from their country of origin—more specifically, from Italy.

The first question I have to such a claim is why the Getty would have needed such a façade? At the time (which I can vouch for since I worked there), the Getty acquired actively, and bought from all the same dealers that the Fleischmans and many other museums and collectors had used—including Robert Hecht, Robin Symes, Freida Tchachos, Giacomo Medici and others. The Getty staff had no reason to believe that they were in any way involved with criminal activities. What need or indeed what mechanism would there have been to acquire through another source? Everything bought or accepted as a gift was vetted by in-house lawyers, senior staff and by the board of trustees before approval, so how could such an arrangement function?

At least three museums in addition to the Getty had hoped to acquire part or all of the Fleischman Collection. When the collection was offered to the Getty as part gift/part purchase in 1996, there was no reason to consider the objects suspect. The Getty Museum had sent photos of the collection to the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) to be sure that there were no claims that any of the objects were stolen prior to the exhibition held at the museum in 1994-95 in Los Angeles and at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1995. The catalogue of the collection was widely distributed in hopes of uncovering any possible claims or complaints of illicit exportation. The response to the inquiry IFAR presented no information and no claims were raised by the exhibition. If claims had been raised and proved valid, the objects would have been returned immediately.

All of the documents for the acquisition of the Fleischman Collection were reviewed by the legal experts at the Getty Trust who also drafted the contracts for the gift/purchase. If there had been a plot to “cleanse” the Fleischman objects, it would have been discovered immediately by the legal team and the Getty Trust Officers. But in fact, there has never been any evidence presented of such a plot, nor has anyone ever produced any information or evidence that would suggest “laundering” or “cleansing” of the collection. This specious plot theory is further contradicted by the fact that the Getty acquired objects during all these years from the same sources.

Finally, the article states that Barbara Fleischman sold nine pieces to me in 1991. This is a complete distortion of the facts. As curator, I could only recommend to the director, president and board possible acquisitions, whether of individual objects or collections, for consideration. I had no authority to make any acquisitions. Nor did Mrs Fleischman act unilaterally. Her husband, Lawrence, and she together agreed in 1992 to sell the Getty Museum nine objects. Later in 1996, they sold approximately 20 objects from the collection to the Getty and donated some 280 others.

Your article repeats utterly false accusations without analysis or providing an opportunity for a response. Doing so is unfair not only to me, but to two collectors who were dedicated for decades to the support and strengthening of museums not only in America but in England and Italy as well. Together, they founded the American Friends of the Vatican Museum and raised the funds to acquire for the Vatican half of the Guglielmi Collection. They also organised the Karyatids, a group of supporters devoted to the Greek and Roman collections at the British Museum. Personally, they endowed the cleaning and restoration of the Bassai frieze, the reinstallation of the Minoan and Mycenaean collections, and the two educational galleries that complement the display of the Parthenon sculptures in the Duveen Gallery.

It is profoundly disturbing that The Art Newspaper should exhibit so little care in checking the accuracy of the accusations it chooses to publish. They do not constitute evidence, and were taken out of context from a politically motivated trial which, in spite of two-and-a-half years’ duration, has not yet given the defence an opportunity to be heard.

Marion True

Curator of antiquities

Getty Museum 1986-2005

Prosecution evidence

The article published in the April issue of The Art Newspaper “The Fleischmann (sic) Collection was just a front” contained many errors and garbled the proceedings of the antiquities hearings dragging on in Rome. The story on page seven, with its screaming headline, listed spurious allegations as fact, and described statements from a cross-examination of Ms Fleischmann (sic), presumably Barbara Fleischman, who has never been asked to testify, nor was she in Rome for any hearing. Also, The Art Newspaper never bothered to request a response before publishing a very distorted report. The image of my mother, in cahoots with Dr Marion True, conspiring to muddy the waters of provenance, would suggest a hilarious screenplay if this trial were not so vicious in tactics and destructive in effect. For those more interested in fact than sensational headlines, the endgame of the Ferri prosecution has been obvious from the very start. Every imaginable technique, short of waterboarding, has been exploited to concoct evidence, to fabricate conspiracy and ultimately to prove guilt where there is none. Even after years of abusive attacks on the part of the prosecutors, the defence has not been given the opportunity to present its case or introduce witnesses, nor has any credible evidence had the benefit of legitimate jurisprudence. But total indifference to justice has never restrained this politically motivated Italian prosecution and, I fear, they will continue the process interminably until their stratagem is finally achieved. The tainted reputation of Dr Marion True, an outstanding and ethical curator, is merely collateral damage.

With rare exception, the media has been an enthusiastic enabler on behalf of a nefarious prosecution, which has employed any means whatsoever to achieve its ends. Few eyebrows have been raised by the world press about misleading and false information pertaining to this story. The media, with great relish, has fed on a banquet of half-baked theories from ambitious “consultants” such as Ms Rizzo, manipulative press releases spun by the prosecutor, and contrived theatrics in court. As a longtime reader of The Art Newspaper, I was deeply disturbed by your distorted coverage of the February hearings, and surprised that your highly respected publication has not lived up to its reputation for responsible and accurate reporting.

Martha J Fleischman

President of Kennedy Galleries, Inc

New York

We have followed the ongoing case brought by Italy against Marion True and Robert Hecht from the beginning because it has important implications for museums with antiquities collections around the world. Our reporter, Federico Castelli Gattinara, has attended these hearings from the start. It is the nature of Italian court cases to be very drawn out and the prosecution is still presenting its evidence. When the defence team takes the stand, we will report in equal detail its rebuttals to the allegations made to date. If the case should be dropped because of a statute of limitations, then we will offer the defence the opportunity to respond to these allegations in The Art Newspaper. We apologise for misspelling the name Fleischman in the last issue.—Ed.

Shameless rape

of the Middle East

I was deeply disturbed by several comments made by panelists during an informal roundtable discussion [moderated by this newspaper’s editor-at-large, Georgina Adam] I attended last month at the XVA/AVE Gallery in Dubai. Organised in conjunction with the Creek Art Fair, a satellite event of Art Dubai, the discussion was on collecting and investing in Middle Eastern Art and featured four panelists: Tamara Corm, international specialist at Phillips de Pury; Philip Hoffman, chief executive at The Fine Art Fund; Gilles Rollet, chief executive of Mirabaud Middle East, and Francis Outred, a senior director in the

contemporary department at Sotheby’s in London.

It was the most shameless display of the current strategies of exploitation and colonisation offered by the very culprits themselves. First, as they sat in the courtyard of the XVA/AVE Gallery, they claimed that there weren’t any galleries in the Middle East to speak of except The Third Line. I found this comment to be rude, insulting and ungrateful. Then they proceeded to talk about the artist Farhad Moshiri [see interview p49] as if they had not only suffered the delivery pains associated with his birth, but had also raised him to be a “blue chip asset”.

I’ve been a dealer and active member of the art scene in Iran for the past 40 years. I gave Moshiri his first show, introduced him to my family, provided a space for him to work and purchased works from all of his early shows. He is just one of many artists whom I have supported and nurtured. Now these auction houses and art funds are exploiting him and I’m expected to be grateful when they make an international display of their crime.

Although the complicated situation in the Middle East prevents us from having a cohesive, gallery/artist structure like that in the West, our existing system needs to be nurtured and encouraged. Doing this increases the opportunity for change and opens the door for more artists like Moshiri to be discovered and shown.

There isn’t a quick and easy master plan for understanding people. Trying to simplify and globalise a solution for an entire region is a lazy, corporate way out and one that the panelists spent a pretentious, painful hour doing. Give credit where credit is due. It was the galleries and local art patrons who did all of the laborious, grassroots work when it needed to be done and they’re the ones still doing it. Where were all of these panelists when we needed them?

I was especially offended by the continuous reference made by two of the speakers to their Middle Eastern heritage, as if that makes them authorities.

The lack of hands-on participation in the long-term nurturing process can only lead to corporate drivel. There was an Iranian artist in the audience who is living and dying for her art. When I later asked what it felt like to be reduced to pounds, shillings and pence, she just smiled wearily. I suppose I could do the same but I would rather be outraged.

Fereydoun Ave

Artist and co-owner of XVA/AVE

Gallery Dubai

No disrespect

I appreciate the review by Judith Bumpus (April 2008) of my film “Tim Marlow on...‘From Russia’ at the Royal Academy”. Thus I hope you won’t mind if I offer a response to the criticism that in our film we never allowed the art to be seen without Tim in front of it? It is simply not true. In the film, we showed 29 paintings, 11 of which are shown completely clear. The remaining are largely seen as Tim walked through Rooms three and four of the Academy and making an overall narrative point. If you re-watch the film there are dozens of such shots with no presenter in sight. Yes, the film is busy, but there were hundreds of works of art to choose from and we felt restricted even having shown as many as 29. But disrespectful to the art? Not at all.

Phil Grabsky

Director, Seventh Art Productions, Brighton

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