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Antiquities dealer Shelby White included in US Cultural Property Advisory Committee: A fox among doves?

Anger at appointment of collector who imports the very objects the committee tries to keep out

New York

The naming of an antiquities collector to a governmental committee that oversees the trade in those objects has infuriated American archaeologists.

On 9 August, President Bill Clinton appointed Shelby White to the eleven-member Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), which considers requests for import controls from countries where archaeological objects are excavated and shipped to the US in violation of local laws. The Committee can recommend that imports from certain regions be restricted. Such restrictions have been imposed for antiquities from Mali, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, and Cyprus.

Ms White and her husband, the financier Leon Levy, are active collectors, museum and university patrons, and sponsors of the publication of archaeological field work. Her detractors say that Ms White has bought the very objects that the Committee should try to keep out of the country, citing half of a Herakles torso which fits another half in the Antalya Museum in Turkey.

The sponsor of Ms White’s appointment, US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, argued that her presence on the Committee helps meet the goal of providing strong debate over the import of cultural property into the US.

Ms White says the opposition to her is an attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where she is a trustee). Letters endorsing her were sent to President Clinton by the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art (who is also president of the Association of Art Museum Directors), academics (from institutions she and her husband have funded) and others.

Senator Moynihan has supported Hilary Clinton’s efforts for election to succeed him as senator from New York State. Ms White’s appointment has been interpreted as Bill Clinton’s thanks for that favour. Senator Moynihan has been a battering ram in Washington for Wall Street and for the financial executives who collect art and serve as museum trustees.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'A fox among doves?'