Sunday, January 15, 2017

Getty to Show Torlonia Antiquities?


The New York Post is reporting that antiquities dealer Phoenix Ancient Art is suing the Getty Museum for $77 million over an Italian government deal involving the long-unseen Torlonia collection of Roman art. Says the Post,

"The Torlonias were reluctant to cave to the Italian government’s efforts to make the art public, until recently, according to a lawsuit.
"Swiss-based Phoenix Ancient Art and its New York agent, Electrum, says it spent five years painstakingly cataloging 620 Torlonia artifacts worth up to $550 million, just a portion of the larger collection.
"Phoenix invested years building relationships with the aristocratic family and the Italian government to pave the way for a once-in-a-lifetime sale of the works. It quietly lined up the famed J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles as a potential buyer.
"But museum director Timothy Potts pulled a double-cross, Phoenix claims in a $77 million lawsuit against the Getty, dealing directly with Torlonia and cutting Phoenix out of the deal."

Background: It was widely reported last March that the Torlonia family had come to an agreement with the Italian government to show the collection in Rome, tour it to American and European museums, and ultimately house it in a Roman museum. The initial exhibition, of about 60 to 90 pieces from a collection of over 2000, is to be curated by Salvatore Settis, formerly director of the Getty Research Institute. It wouldn't be surprising if the Getty Museum were a venue.

What would be surprising is if the Italian government is allowing some Torlonia works to be sold to the Getty, as the Post story asserts. It reports that Phoenix "claims it helped smooth over the frayed relationship between the Getty and the Italian government." That's a eyebrow-raiser itself, as Phoenix, run by Lebanese-born brothers Ali and Hicham Aboutaam, has been accused of violating patrimony laws

Another twist is that Italy's billionaire prime minister Silvio Berlusconi tried to buy the Torlonia collection a while back, to donate it to the state. Nothing came of that. 

Not in doubt is that the Torlonia trove is legendary and hasn't been seen by the public since the family closed its private museum in the 1960s. (At top, a bust of the Emperor Galba. Below a photo of the Torlonia private museum.)

UPDATE. Here is the legal filing, via Courthouse News. The filing does not give much detail about the alleged deal, this being deemed Phoenix's "intellectual property" and "proprietary information and trade secrets." It appears the original idea was for the Getty to buy Torlonia works to establish a museum in Rome. This presumably would be permitted under Italian law. The deal evolved and Phoenix says it was cut out of the negotiations. The agreement announced in March 2016 involved "two large foreign museums," one of them the Getty, according to the complaint. There has been no public announcement of the Getty's or any foreign museum's involvement.

UPDATE (2). See Getty comment on the lawsuit.

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