A plan to send the Nimrud gold on a world tour is being considered in Baghdad. The Warka Vase, which was looted and then recovered, may also be included in this travelling exhibition. The show could go to eight American venues, as well as to museums in Europe and Japan, and it might start its tour as early as next spring. The proposal, which is backed by the US National Geographic Society, is likely to prove highly controversial in Iraq.
The National Geographic Society played a key role in helping to recover the Nimrud gold after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The treasure had long been stored in the vaults of the central bank. These were flooded during the recent fighting. In June the society provided pumps to dry out the basement. The Nimrud gold was discovered intact, having suffered relatively little damage.
A spokesperson from the National Geographic told The Art Newspaper that “discussions are still under way, but there is nothing definite yet.”
The proposal was backed by Pietro Cordone, until recently senior advisor for culture to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. He has now been succeeded by Mario Bondoli-Osio (former president of Italy’s Interministerial Commission for the Recovery of Art), who took over last month. In September, Mufid al-Jazairi, a Communist, was appointed Minister of Culture in Iraq’s first post-war cabinet. Both Mr al-Jazairi and Mr Bondoli-Osio are currently studying the proposal for a touring show.
The exhibition would bring in much needed funds for Baghdad’s National Museum and Iraq’s archaeological sites. Since the looted museum is still closed to the public, there is currently nowhere suitable to display its treasures. However, the hope is that the museum will reopen next year; if the Nimrud gold show goes ahead, the exhibits would probably be outside Iraq for years.
Sending the Nimrud gold to the US, whose armed forces are now occupying Iraq, would undoubtedly disturb many Iraqis. Parallels are being drawn with the controversial US decision to show Germany’s greatest paintings in America in 1948, although the circumstances are different.
British Museum Keeper John Curtis, who has been deeply involved in assisting colleagues in Iraq, is worried about the proposed show. “The priority should be to sort out the difficulties in the Baghdad museum,” he told The Art Newspaper. Much needs to be done now to rehabilitate the looted museum. Dr Curtis confirmed that no one has approached the British Museum as a possible venue for the Nimrud show.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'To the victor go the spoils?'