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FROM THIS EPISODE

Cultural Treasures Lost and Gained

One can always find the latest news and gossip of the art world on the inside pages of newspapers. But in recent months, with the scandals surrounding the legal status of a number of Greek and Roman antiquities at major American museums---including the Getty and the Metropolitan---these stories have regularly hit the front page. After more than thirty years of staunch refusal to consider the requests of the Italian authorities, the Met abruptly changed its policy and has agreed to return some treasures back to Italy, acknowledging that these items were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country. The most famous among these objects is a large 6th century BC Athenian ceramic vessel, painted by Euphronious, the most celebrated of the ancient Greek vase painters. It remains to be seen if the Getty, in a similar fashion, will settle its own ongoing disputes with the Italians.

Last week another long-simmering legal battle abruptly came to an end, when Austrian authorities accepted the arbitration court ruling that the five paintings by Gustav Klimt, the most famous Viennese painter at the turn of the last century, must be removed from the walls of the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna and returned to one Maria Altmann of Beverly Hills, the niece of the previous owner. These famous paintings, valued at $300 million, were considered to be an Austrian national treasure, and could actually have remained in Austria, but the government was unable to raise the necessary funds to buy them back. As we speak, the paintings are being packed up to be shipped to Southern California. In previous statements, Maria Altmann has expressed her desire to see these Gustav Klimt paintings continue to be available for public viewing, instead of disappearing into private collections. If the Getty Museum doesn't rise to the occasion and acquire at least one, if not all of these world-class treasures, they will squander a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strengthen and expand their collection.

Last week, in a surprising and welcomed development, LACMA named Michael Govan as its new director. A well-known and respected figure in the contemporary art scene, Michael Govan distinguished himself as the visionary leader of New York's Dia Art Foundation, and, prior to that, he held his own as deputy director to the one and only Thomas Krens at the Guggenheim. Govan is the latest high-profile New Yorker to switch coasts. Only a few months ago, Gary Garrels, head of the Department of Drawings at the Museum of Modern Art, said goodbye to New York and moved to L.A. to become the senior curator at UCLA's Hammer Museum. If you add to that list the name of Hammer Director Ann Philbin, previously the head of the prestigious Drawing Center in New York, you might notice the beginning of a cultural trend, a sort of brain drain from the New York art scene. And to further emphasize the ascendance of L.A. on the international cultural arena, come March, the Pompidou Center in Paris will open a huge exhibition---a survey of art made in L.A. between 1955 and 1985. With luck on my side, I'll be joining a large group of Angelinos traveling to Paris for the opening of this exhibition. Maybe then I'll succeed in finding out why the French curators chose 1985 as the cut off date for their show. I don't think that particular year represents any sort of watershed in Los Angeles' cultural history, but I'll leave it to our French friends to come up with an elegant and, hopefully, persuasive answer.

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