Despite the formal objections of two governments, Cyprus and Egypt, and an open letter of complaint from classical archaeologist and MacArthur Foundation Genius scholar and Toledo native, Joan Breton Connelly, Christie’s in New York and the Toledo Museum of Art have gone forward with their auction of 68 deaccessioned artworks from the museum's antiquities collection.
Shaaban Abdel Gawad Supervisor-General of Egypt's Antiquities Repatriation Department at the antiquities ministry had earlier contacted the directors of UNESCO and the International Council of Museums, as well as Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who tried to work through the Egyptian embassy in the United States to persuade the museum to withdraw the Egyptian artefacts and return them to their country of origin. The National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation led by Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany also met to discuss the proposed sale and to consider possible methods of postponing the sale or requesting that the objects be relinquished to Egypt.
Leonidas Pantelides, ambassador of Cyprus to the United States, voiced his own, somewhat softer objection on Monday, October 24, asking that the sale be postponed or that the museum reconsider keeping the items.
In a letter of rebuttal to the public outcry, and in the most part to Dr. Connelly's rebuke of the sale, the Toledo Museum of Art issued a formal reply which is posted in its entirety on the museum's website. In explaining its rationale for going forward with the antiquities auction the museum stated:
"Quality has always been the outstanding attribute of our collection, and the objects being sold are not of the quality of our permanent display collection; have been on display rarely; have not been sought out by scholars; or have not been published in recent decades. In short, these objects were not working to fulfill our mission."
The rebuttal quotes from the AAMD - The Association of Art Museum Directors wherein the North American-based association states:
“Deaccessioning is a legitimate part of the formation and care of collections and, if practiced, should be done in order to refine and improve the quality and appropriateness of the collection, the better to serve the museum’s mission.”
The Toledo Museum of Art's statement further justified their decision to sell antiquities from their collection drawing from the collections ethics guidelines of the AAM - the American Alliance of Museums.
In simple terms, the museum's letter spelled out that their decision to sell artifacts was not taken willy-nilly and in their eyes falls safely inside the AAMD code of ethics which provides that sales proceeds may not be used “for purposes other than acquisitions of works of art for the collection.”
But the museum's decision, and the consequences of their decision, underscore the slippery slope museums can legally walk on, staying inside the perceived ethical boundaries of specific association guidelines in order to raise funds for new acquisitions, while still being allowed to divest themselves of no longer wanted art.
Lot 16 a Cypriot limestone head of a male votary, formally part of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot antiquities which sold for USD$ 68,750.
And Lot 6 an An Egyptian limestone fragment from the Early 26th Dynasty which sold for USD$162,500
The auction netted the Ohio art museum $640,000 on Tuesday.
The sale of the remaining 45 deaccessioned artworks will continue through Christie’s web-based online auction site which concludes, Wednesday, October 26, 2016.