Egypt wants sanctions against museum for selling antiquities
Area schools urged to end field trips there
The Egyptian government is seeking sanctions against the Toledo Museum of Art for its decision to sell dozens of antiquities from its country, including asking local school districts not to include the museum in its educational field trip schedules for students.
Former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities and archaeologist Zahi Hawass confirmed Friday that the National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation has assigned him the task of imposing sanctions on the museum. He said he will send a letter to the International Committee of Museums asking that the museum be removed from its list based on its decision to sell the artifacts.
He said that he will also send letters to all of the Toledo area's school districts asking officials to reconsider allowing students to visit the museum for educational purposes.
"No one can believe that a museum will sell its artifacts at all; a museum is responsible to protect the artifacts and show [them] to the public," Mr. Hawass wrote in a response to The Blade. "I am going to write to school district[s] not to let the children visit a museum that has no ethics.
"Toledo museum is becoming a place to sell antiquities and not to educate the citizens," he wrote.
Online and live auctions at Christie's this week generated almost $970,000 for the museum's new acquisitions fund. The museum defended its position as one that is practiced by private U.S. institutions across the country as a way to responsibly manage and care for collections.
Museum director Brian Kennedy did not return calls seeking comment. Candice Harrison, communications director for the museum, referred a Blade reporter to recent statements by Mr. Kennedy that state the museum completed the deaccessioning process under compliance with not only the International Committee of Museums, but the Association of Art Museum Directors, and the American Alliance of Museums.
"Everything we have done has followed every organization's rules on deaccessioning," Ms. Harrison said.
The sales raised the ire of both the Egyptian and Cyprus governments. The Cyprus government did not ask that artifacts from its country be returned, but rather that the museum consider keeping them and displaying them for public view.
In his biography, Mr. Hawass lists himself as the former Egyptian minister of antiquities and director of excavations at Giza, Saqqara, Bahariya Oasis, and the Valley of the Kings. He received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and has written several books on the preservation of Egypt's heritage.
Mr. Hawass was unseated from his position as minister of antiquities during the regime of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and the 2011 Egyptian protests. He was subsequently investigated for corruption but was later exonerated.
Toledo museum officials said that under a two-year process of review of its antiquities collection by an art committee, it was determined that most of the 68 antiquities chosen to be auctioned off had not appeared in museum literature or been studied by scholars, were not up to collection standards, or were duplicates of other pieces in the collection.
The museum has more than 1,500 antiquities in its collection.
Calls to the Egyptian Embassy in Washington were not returned. Officials from ICOM and UNESCO were not available for comment. Christine Anagnos, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors, was also unavailable.
The International Committee of Museums, created in 1946, sets design, management, and collection standards for museums worldwide and has established a code of ethics that each member "is committed to respecting," according to its website.
In the code of ethics policy, it states: "The removal of an object or specimen from a museum collection must only be undertaken with a full understanding of the significance of the item, its character (whether renewable or nonrenewable), legal standing, and any loss of public trust that might result from such action."
The items sold include artifacts from Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy, and included Egyptian pottery, bowls, jars, cups, bronze cats, a bronze falcon, several Egyptian shabtis, or funeral figurines, and a limestone model of Ptolemy I. Mr. Kennedy said most were acquired in the early 20th century from their countries of origin, and that the items were required to have strong provenance information in order to be deaccessioned.
Brian Murphy, deputy superintendent for Toledo Public Schools, said most of the students in its 41 elementary schools and six high schools use the museum as an education tool. If a letter is received from Mr. Hawass, he said, school officials will go through the proper channels to review and consider the contents of the letter but will continue to use the museum in the meantime.
"The Toledo Museum of Art is an international, acclaimed resource for the district, and almost all of our schools use it to reinforce its curriculum and to supplement its curriculum," Mr. Murphy said. "We send a lot of kids there."
The Toledo museum has deaccessioned pieces from its collection in the past: from its modern contemporary collection in 2002, its Old Masters collection in 2006, and its Asian art collection in 2008.
To see information on the antiquities sold, go to www.christies.com.
The Toledo museum has housed large Egyptian pieces in the past. In 1963 it showcased the "Treasures of Tutankhamen," which included golden marvels and delicate carving of treasures from one of the most famous of all Egyptian pharaohs. In 2001 it showcased "Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from the British Museum," which Toledo was the first of multiple venues across the country to showcase various Egyptian antiquities.
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