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Arts and Entertainment

Cleveland Museum of Art offers Sicily a deal it can't refuse
A dispute over fees on artworks is resolved and the new exhibition opens next month.

Mark Urycki
One of the prized objects from Sicily is this gold bowl used in ancient religious ceremonies. It's decorated with beechnuts, acorns, and bees. Phiale Mesomphalos (Offering Dish), 325–275 bc. Sikeliote (Sicilian Greek). Gold; 3.7 x 22.8 cm.
Courtesy of The Antiquarium di Himera. By permission of the Regione Siciliana, Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana. Dipartimento dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.
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In The Region:
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s big fall exhibition is back on track.

Last month, the museum canceled the show called “Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome” because officials in Sicily demanded it pay user fees. Museum officials refused and that set off a series of negotiations that included diplomatic officials in Washington and Rome.
LISTEN: David Franklin discusses the deal

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The Cleveland Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum in California struck a deal years ago with art officials in Sicily to create a show featuring Greek and Roman art dating back to the 5th century B.C.

The show with some 150 works was on display at the Getty Villa in Malibu and CMA Director David Franklin thought it would be coming to Cleveland this September.

“However, for political and economic reasons, Sicily passed a law last June that any art object that leaves the island is subject to a loan fee and this was not part of our original understanding.”

Franklin balked and eventually canceled the show July 11 rather than pay what would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Franklin says filing a legal challenge was not considered because Cleveland had no real contract.

“The art world really works very much on ethics and gentlemen’s agreements in these cases.”

An alternative deal
What Franklin agreed to do was loan the Cleveland museum's prized Caravaggio painting, “The Crucifixion of St. Andrew” -- one of his personal favorites.   

“Our Caravaggio, this great baroque painter who had worked in Sicily, so they were very excited to learn of that. That’s what really broke the ice.”

The Caravggio is being restored now so it will be something special when it returns to Italy.

“We’re very flattered that we’ll be able to bring an exhibition back to Sicily, and I think this will start a beautiful friendship.”  

Political pressure
The case drew attention from around the world. Officials in Washington and Rome were pressuring the largely independent Sicilian officials to lend the art but they refused.

“It’s the art world, but it does become very much about diplomacy," says Franklin. "A lot of people are involved; a lot’s at stake here. But in the end it was the Caravaggio that broke the deadlock so art prevailed.”    

While Franklin almost had a disaster on his hands, he is sympathetic to countries like Italy, Greece, Egypt and Spain for the difficult straits their economies are in.

And he acknolwedges the international attention this dispute has received may not hurt at the box office.

“See the exhibition that was not supposed to be here and see what the fuss was about,” Franklin suggests.

The ancient Greek and Roman art is now being packed up in California.  The exhibition opens in Cleveland September 29.

Listener Comments:

Caravaggio's power continues through the ages ... in the end, he prevailed! What a wonderful win-win for all. Congratulations to the Cleveland Museum, who is willing to part with this beauty.

Posted by: Karen (Winter Park, FL) on August 23, 2013 3:08AM
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