What’s Yours Is Mine

Roger Bland

  • Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage by James Cuno
    Princeton, 228 pp, £14.95, June 2008, ISBN 978 0 691 13712 4

James Cuno is currently the director of the Art Institute of Chicago. He used to be the director of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London; before that he was the director of the Harvard University Art Museums. He should be well qualified to write about the role of museums in the antiquities market. His book, essentially, has one argument: that what Cuno characterises as the ‘nationalist retentionist’ policies adopted by many countries and international organisations such as Unesco, which vest ownership of antiquities in the state where they are discovered and limit their export, are damaging because they make it more difficult to establish ‘encyclopedic’ museums – such as the Art Institute of Chicago – whose collections comprise objects from many cultures. Such museums are, Cuno argues, a force for good because they promote an awareness of different cultures.

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