In the category 'these things are so very complicated but they make my heart hurt none the less', a moral dilemma. Joan Connelly, a renowned art expert, nationally known archaeologist, professor, and winner of the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, has strongly criticized the Toledo Museum of Art’s auction of nearly 70 antiquities originally from Greece and other countries. She sees the sale as a great loss to the museum and Toledo (a city in Ohio, USA) while the museum views the objects as inferior and it will use the money generated to aquire new and better objects. What side are you on?

[Among the items being sold on the online auction,
which ends Tuesday, is an Apulian red-figured kantharos]

The Blade reports: Ms. Connelly, a Toledo native and professor of classics and art history at New York University, said she felt sick to her stomach when she learned of the sale. Viewing items such as these antiquities at the Toledo Museum of Art is what inspired her to become an archaeologist, she said.

“It’s just, for me, puzzling and distressing to see this shortsighted decision. As an archaeologist I’m just astounded any museum would sell off items with good provenance, which can be held forever. I think they’re all a great loss to Toledo.”

Even if the museum has other very similar items to those being put up for sale, she said that multiples are always more powerful in teaching about the ancient experience. Modern international cultural heritage laws make it impossible to acquire such antiquities, meaning the Toledo museum is unlikely to ever be able to replace the objects if leaders would choose to do so.

About half of the 68 items for sale are from Egypt and the rest are from Cyprus, Greece, and Italy. The museum’s offerings include:
- pieces of Egyptian pottery, bowls, jars, and cups, along with an alabaster jar lid in the form of the Egyptian god Hapi, bronze cats, a bronze falcon, and a limestone model of Ptolemy I as well as several Egyptian shabtis, or funeral figurines
- a Roman bronze strigil, which is a curved blade used to scrape the skin to get rid of sweat and dirt after a bath or exercise, from the first or second century
- an Apulian red-figured kantharos.

The sale is not only being decried by Ms. Connelly, who knows the antiquities well, but also by officials of the government of Egypt, who have called for the auction to be stopped. Shaaban Abdel Gawad, of the ministry’s antiquities repatriation department, told the news organization that the Egyptian government had contacted UNESCO and the International Committee of Museums, asking that they work with the Egyptian embassy in the United States to halt the auctions and have the items returned to their countries of origin.

Toledo museum director Brian Kennedy said the sale is expected to generate about $500,000, which can be used to acquire new works of art. Mr. Kennedy said the objects were chosen by the Toledo Museum of Art’s art committee during a review of the antiquities collection that took about two years. The museum’s board approved the list of objects for sale, he said. The process is called deaccession. The Toledo museum used a similar process to choose items to sell from its modern contemporary collection in 2002, its Old Masters collection in 2006, and its Asian art collection in 2008. Once the items are selected for deaccession, the museum prefers to sell them at public auction because that method is the most transparent, he said. Mr. Kennedy:

“We have hundreds and hundreds of antiquities. These were determined to be not up to the quality of our current collection.”

Many of the objects have not been on display for decades, or only have been periodically on display, said Candace Harrison, the museum’s communication director. The objects have not generally appeared in museum literature and scholars have not asked to study them, she said. Most of the items for sale have been with the museum since the early 20th century, toledoMr. Kennedy said. Many were acquired directly from their countries of origin in the 1910s and 1920s, with some coming to Toledo as late as 1972.

Some of the objects have been available in an online sale that began October 19 and closes on the 26th. The rest was sold at an auction of antiquities at Christie’s in New York City on Tuesday. A catalog of the items can be seen online at

I have such conflicted feelings about this. I understand the need to gather funds and aquire new items to keep the collection current. these items have not been displayed for many years and are, basically, gathering dust. Still, privatizing these items will fairly automatically mean losing sight of them--and possibily losing them to accident or malice. I would like to see these items preserved by proper (govermental) organisations--in their countryies of origin where possible. Of course, it's once more a money thing...