Boondoggle

One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Museums Have Never Stolen…Ever

The tagline in an ad for Washington’s International Spy Museum that I heard on NPR this morning goes something like this:

The only museum where the exhibits aren’t donated…they’re stolen.

Really?  I’m no expert on cultural patrimony, but I seem to recall some instances (a small matter involving Macchu Picchu and Yale University, for instance) in which certain artifacts remain in, shall we say, a permanent status of “on loan.”

Suggesting that the Spy Museum’s exhibits are “stolen” is a silly enough gimmick (the entire museum, based on my impressions from the gift shop, at least — the only part that, like nearly all of Washington’s museums, is free — seems based around gimmicks and romanticized stereotypes of the spy), but implying that those of other museums are all donated risks distorting the impressions of the museum-going public.  I’m willing to accept that many museums are still dealing with their checkered histories of uprooting pieces from their original homes without compensation, and that curators don’t go around “stealing” exhibits nowadays, but it’s best to at least acknowledge that some of these exhibits, unlike those in the Spy Museum, could legitimately be called stolen.

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September 21, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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