While various American antiquities dealers, curators and collectors are "subjects of interest" of Italian and Greek prosecutors who, in the last year, particularly, have opened the floodgates for the return of their countries' cultural patrimony - the question is: Why not the media?
For instance, there is no finer example of promotion and protection afforded the antiquities trade than New York Times reporter Rita Reif's June 1988 plug for art dealer Bob Hecht in the story titled, "Archaic Smiles Have Persisted for 2,000 Years". Hecht is on trial in Rome for trafficking in ancient art --charged with being one of the capos, if not the mastermind of an international conspiracy.
But the media's entanglement starts much higher up than Reif. It begins with the NYT Sulzberger publishing family and includes its stable of art critics who have for decades serviced Hecht and other dealers selling antiquities without provenience (site from which artifact is plundered or excavated) with their unquestioning reviews of exhibitions and objects.
Arthur Sulzberger, Sr. (Punch), while publisher of the paper and as a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Acquisition Committee, even voted to purchase Italy's priceless Sarpedon Euphronios vase from Hecht -- which, after 34 years, finally bears the legend "the Republic of Italy" and awaits its 2008 ticket home. Punchy Sulzberger has been a member of the Met's Acquisitions Committee for more than 34 years and chaired the committee for a time.
No one has been more vocal in pointing out the connection between the Times and the antiquities trade than Met Ancient Near East expert, Oscar White Muscarella, one of the heroes of the 1974 book by John L. Hess, Grand Acquisitors , as well as Peter Watson's recent Medici Conspiracy (Muscarella's "scholarship, his attention to detail, his sheer resoluteness, has a certain magnificence").
Muscarella now says this regarding the collusion of the NYT with the traffickers of plundered ancient art:
"Rita Reif is only one of the New York Timespimps covering up her bosses' plundering. Reif innocently betrayed her consciously corrupt behavior when she went berserk a few years ago after discovering that art stolen from her family in Austria decades ago had recently surfaced. She was furious that anyone would steal from her family. She demanded justice, demanded with a fervor that art stolen from her family -- now belonging to her -- be returned immediately! Indeed, Reif's behavior over the years manifests loud and clear that defending and covering up her employers' corrupt actions -- the plundering and destruction of sites and cultures all over the world -- is fine, correct, honorable behavior by a United States citizen. Just don't mess with her property.
It was New York Timesreporters John Canaday and Grace Glueck, however, who first set the pace for this behavior: Never, ever, ever mention the word PLUNDER when writing -- always a glorious, excited review about either the Met's own plundered ancient art or such looted material on loan from a very rich collector or another plundering museum. The proof of collusion is all there in the Times reviews written through the years, particularly by Rita Reif and Holland Cotter; also Michael Kimmelman ( NY Times, December 12, 2005, Arts , pp. 1, 4). Not one has written a word about the real origin of the objects they gush over, how the museum and collectors acquired them, or even hinted that the objects are stolen. Nothing of the dark journey of the loot to the United States. That the Met's Director and Trustees, including Chairman Arthur A. Houghton and Punchy Sulzberger, purchased such objects from dealers in plundered art is the terrible truth not fit for printing in the New York Times."
Now with Bob Hecht in the hot seat, the Reif NYT "Smiles" article stands out as particularly egregious, almost as an unpaid ad for Hecht's 1988 Atlantis Antiquities gallery show in Manhattan: "Greek and Etruscan Art of the Archaic Period". Reif even went so far as to give prices of the artifacts then for sale. Many, if not most, of the pieces were without provenience, winding up later on the block at Sotheby's and in Hecht's own auction.