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New York’s Met Museum to Probe Looted Artifacts

the Met museum New York
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, known as the Met, begins a probe into the origins of certain artifacts in its collection. Credit: Hugo Schneider / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

The New York’s Met museum recently announced its plan to investigate the origin and history of “several hundred or more” looted artifacts in its collection. There is a possibility that these objects may have been unlawfully taken from their home countries.

If it is determined that these items were indeed stolen, the museum has committed to returning them to their rightful owners. In response to ongoing efforts by Manhattan prosecutors to return valuable artifacts worth millions of dollars to various countries, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has taken a significant step.

Hiring of additional researchers

The museum’s director, Max Hollein, announced in a letter to the staff, which was published on the institution’s website, that they will be hiring additional researchers specialized in studying the origins and history of artworks, also known as “provenance.”

This initiative aims to carefully examine a portion of the museum’s extensive collection, which comprises around 1.5 million artworks.

He wrote, “We will broaden, expedite, and intensify our research into all works that came to the museum from art dealers who have been under investigation.”

More details about the questionable artworks

According to Max Hollein, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a majority of the questionable artworks were obtained between 1970 and 1990. During that time, there was a lack of readily accessible information and less attention given to investigating the origins and history of these particular pieces.

The Met Museum of Art has been mentioned in legal proceedings concerning stolen artworks recently. On May 9th, the Manhattan district attorney facilitated the return of two valuable 7th-century stone carvings to China.

These artworks, worth $3.5 million, were illegally taken out of the country in the early 1990s. The authorities had confiscated these artifacts earlier this year from the Met, where they had been housed since 1998.

Among a collection of 89 antiquities originating from 10 different countries, the aforementioned stone carvings were included. These antiquities were purchased by Shelby White, a private art collector in New York and also a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Successful facilitation of the return of antiquities

Since January 2022, the district attorney’s office has successfully facilitated the return of over 950 antiquities to 19 countries. The total value of these returned artifacts exceeds $165 million.

“The Met has a longstanding history in the rigorous review of our collection and, when appropriate, the return of art,” said Hollein, citing returns to Greece, Italy, Egypt, Nepal, Nigeria, Türkiye, and India.

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