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Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum

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Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum Cover

ISBN13: 9780151015016
ISBN10: 0151015015
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In recent years, several of America’s leading art museums have voluntarily given up their finest pieces of classical art to the governments of Italy and Greece. The monetary value is estimated at over half a billion dollars. Why would they be moved to such unheard-of generosity? 

The answer lies at the Getty, one of the world’s richest and most troubled museums, and scandalous revelations that it had been buying looted antiquities for decades. Drawing on a trove of confidential museum records and frank interviews, Felch and Frammolino give us a fly-on-the-wall account of the inner workings of a world-class museum and tell the story of the Getty’s dealings in the illegal antiquities trade. The outlandish characters and bad behavior could come straight from the pages of a thriller—the wealthy recluse founder, the cagey Italian art investigator, the playboy curator, the narcissist CEO—but their chilling effects on the rest of the art world have been all too real, as the authors show in novelistic detail. 

Fast-paced and compelling, Chasing Aphrodite exposes the layer of dirt beneath the polished façade of the museum business.

Review:

"In an authoritative account, two reporters who led a Los Angeles Times investigation, reveal the details of the Getty Museum's illicit purchases, from smugglers and fences, of looted Greek and Roman antiquities. In 2005, the Italians indicted former Getty curator Marion True for trafficking in looted antiquities, and by 2007, after protracted negotiations, the Getty agreed to return 40 of 46 artifacts demanded by the Italian government; Italy in turn agreed to loan the Getty comparable objects. One of the major pieces lost by the Getty was an Aphrodite statue purchased by True to put the Getty on the map. But still eluding the Italians is the Getty Bronze, a statue of an athlete hauled out of international waters in 1964 by Italian fishermen; it was the prized acquisition of the Getty's first antiquities curator, Jiri Frel, who brought thousands more looted antiquities into the museum through a tax-fraud scheme. The authors offer an excellent recap of the museum's misdeeds, brimming with tasty details of the scandal that motivated several of America's leading art museums to voluntarily return to Italy and Greece some 100 classical antiquities worth more than half a billion dollars. 8 pages of b&w photos. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWxyz LLC)

Review:

"Chasing Aphrodite is a brilliantly told, richly detailed, and vitally important account of how one of America's top cultural institutions spent millions buying treasures stolen from ancient graves and then spent millions more trying to deny it. In the hands of Felch and Frammolino, the story gathers a riveting momentum as the Getty moves from one ethical smashup to another. The authors present an astonishing array of evidence, yet they are scrupulously balanced and keenly sensitive to the nuances of the cultural-property debate. Even if you think you know the story of the Getty, read this book. You won't know whether to laugh or to cry, but you will be enthralled." Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World

Review:

"Chasing Aphrodite is an epic story that, from the first page, grabs you by the lapels and won’t let go. Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino have penetrated the inner sanctum of one of the world's most powerful museums, exposing how its caretakers 'blinded by greed, arrogance and self-deception' eagerly tapped international networks of criminals in pursuit of the next great masterpiece. It is a breathtaking tale that I guarantee will keep you reading late into the night." Kurt Eichenwald, author of Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story

Review:

"A thrilling, well-researched book that offers readers a glimpse into the back-room dealings of a world-class museum--and the illegal trade of looted antiquities. Chasing Aphrodite should not be missed. " Ulrich Boser, author of The Gardner Heist : The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft

Review:

"America's great art museums are the last sacred cows of our culture. It takes a special sort of intrepid investigator backed by a courageous organization to uncover the secrets and lies of these quasi-public institutions and the private agendas of their wealthy and influential patrons. Chasing Aphrodite is the result of one such rare convergence. A scary, true tale of the blinding allure of great art and the power of the wealth that covets it, it is also an inspiring example of the only greater power: the truth." Michael Gross, author of Rogues Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum

Book News Annotation:

By far the richest museum in the country, the J. Paul Getty Museum had a policy of acquiring classical antiquities of uncertain provenance that dated back to the 1970s. As is detailed in this enthralling book, the Getty's blind-eye policy caught up with them in 2000, when Italy began a criminal investigation against the museum, and specifically against acquisitions carried out by curator Marion True. The collecting policies and stories of other prominent U.S. museums also play a part in the tale, giving a behind-the-scenes look at practices rarely revealed to the public. Felch and Frammolino, both journalists with the Los Angeles Times, were finalists for a 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Journalism for their reporting on the story at the time; they have substantially filled it out in this book, in part through extensive interviews, and a full treatment of the disreputable behavior of the Getty's leaders. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Synopsis:

Two investigative reporters for the Los Angeles Times explore the looted antiquities scandal at the Getty Museum.

About the Author

The investigation into the Getty led by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, reporters for the Los Angeles Times, sparked an international controversy, prompted the departure of several senior museum staff members, and was named as a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Eileen Keymel, January 5, 2012 (view all comments by Eileen Keymel)
If you enjoy reading intrigues, this non-fiction tale chronicling: illegal digs, smuggling, and fabricated provenances reads like an adventurous mystery novel with a "who done it twist" that the world's richest museum, The Getty Museum (intstead of the butler)did it. The authors effectively capture the competitivenesss of the era and provide excellent insight into the characters, some of which are pretty unsavory. When everything comes crashing down into a scandal and litigation, the reader knows who is who among the multitude of characters and why they were driven to do what they did whether it be greed or pure corruption. The book keeps its fast paced momentum throughout; a quick and easy read. After reading this book, one will never regard museums quite the same and wonder what tales their antiquities could tell about their acquisition.
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Tammy Dotts, June 3, 2011 (view all comments by Tammy Dotts)
The surprisingly hard-to-put-down Chasing Aphrodite traces how the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles built its impressive collection of classic artifacts along with its impressive reputation, only to see it crack in the wake of accusations of participating in an antiquities black market.

From the beginning of the book, Felch and Frammolino make it clear this is not a dry look at museums. “The museum world’s dirty little secret came to light amid revelations about pedophile priests in the Catholic Church and widespread steroid use in Major League Baseball,” they write. Two scandals most of their readers would have been hard pressed not to notice in the news. News about the Getty and other museums may have not garnered attention among people outside the art world at first, but placed into context with two other scandals, the Getty scandal acquires a new relevancy for most people.

As Chasing Aphrodite follows various pieces of art from discovery and looting through to public unveilings at museum galas, the authors introduce a plethora of characters. Equal attention is given to ordinary fisherman who pull a bronze figure from the ocean to billionaire J. Paul Getty himself and on to the museum personnel and Italian police investigators. The characters are real people, and readers walk away with a sense of the conflicting ambitions of each.

Even passages about the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and changing international law about importing and acquisitioning antiquities that could, in other works, be skipped over to get back to the “good parts,” keep the reader’s interest.

The Aphrodite statue serves as the touchstone throughout the book. The statue is believed to have been looted from Sicily, and experts now question whether it depicts the goddess of love or, through the convoluted family ties of Greek and Roman mythology, her cousin Persephone. Spoiler alert for those who didn’t follow the original articles or ensuing publicity: the statue is now at the Aidone Archaeological Museum in Sicily.

Time and again, Felch and Frammolino return to the Aphrodite statue, using her journey to follow the trail of black and grey market dealers and the surprisingly high propensity for some museum officials to forge documents of origin and even personally smuggle artifacts into the United States.

The Italian investigation into the key players undoubtedly took a long time (the book covers years) and was likely repetitive and involved more paper shuffling than action. It’s to Chasing Aphrodite’s credit that the investigation seems lively. Scenes where the key investigators discover photographs and artifacts in a warehouse seem lifted from a movie. A brief mention that two investigators develop a personal relationship heightens the life imitating art atmosphere that permeates the book.

For someone not working in a museum, the descriptions of internal politics and power don’t seem real. Flaws that stand out in fiction as clichés �" hubris, narcissism, greed �" are real human traits. The jockeying for power at the Getty and need to improve the collection seem to bring out the best and worst of the people involved. Arguments for acquiring questionable artifacts may start off well-intentioned but are overwhelmed by the mounting arguments against. Even then, some museum officials persist in clinging to their old ways more fiercely than before while presenting a public front of protecting the countries of origin. Unlike fiction, villains of the piece aren’t as black and white. The authors make it easy to understand how the collecting process began and why it continued for so long.

Inevitably though, the Getty and other museums had to change their policies. As an Italian archaeological director writes to True, “Do you have any idea how many archaeological sites have been plundered so that a single object can reach the market? How much scientific evidence we have lost? How many other objects have been destroyed? Acquiring from the market is a crime against science and against the cultural and historic patrimony of another country.”
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780151015016
Subtitle:
The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum
Author:
Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino
Author:
Felch, Jason
Author:
Frammolino, Ralph
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Subject:
ART043000
Subject:
Business Aspects
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20110524
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum Used Hardcover
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Product details 384 pages Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - English 9780151015016 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In an authoritative account, two reporters who led a Los Angeles Times investigation, reveal the details of the Getty Museum's illicit purchases, from smugglers and fences, of looted Greek and Roman antiquities. In 2005, the Italians indicted former Getty curator Marion True for trafficking in looted antiquities, and by 2007, after protracted negotiations, the Getty agreed to return 40 of 46 artifacts demanded by the Italian government; Italy in turn agreed to loan the Getty comparable objects. One of the major pieces lost by the Getty was an Aphrodite statue purchased by True to put the Getty on the map. But still eluding the Italians is the Getty Bronze, a statue of an athlete hauled out of international waters in 1964 by Italian fishermen; it was the prized acquisition of the Getty's first antiquities curator, Jiri Frel, who brought thousands more looted antiquities into the museum through a tax-fraud scheme. The authors offer an excellent recap of the museum's misdeeds, brimming with tasty details of the scandal that motivated several of America's leading art museums to voluntarily return to Italy and Greece some 100 classical antiquities worth more than half a billion dollars. 8 pages of b&w photos. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWxyz LLC)
"Review" by , "Chasing Aphrodite is a brilliantly told, richly detailed, and vitally important account of how one of America's top cultural institutions spent millions buying treasures stolen from ancient graves and then spent millions more trying to deny it. In the hands of Felch and Frammolino, the story gathers a riveting momentum as the Getty moves from one ethical smashup to another. The authors present an astonishing array of evidence, yet they are scrupulously balanced and keenly sensitive to the nuances of the cultural-property debate. Even if you think you know the story of the Getty, read this book. You won't know whether to laugh or to cry, but you will be enthralled." Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World
"Review" by , "Chasing Aphrodite is an epic story that, from the first page, grabs you by the lapels and won’t let go. Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino have penetrated the inner sanctum of one of the world's most powerful museums, exposing how its caretakers 'blinded by greed, arrogance and self-deception' eagerly tapped international networks of criminals in pursuit of the next great masterpiece. It is a breathtaking tale that I guarantee will keep you reading late into the night."
"Review" by , "A thrilling, well-researched book that offers readers a glimpse into the back-room dealings of a world-class museum--and the illegal trade of looted antiquities. Chasing Aphrodite should not be missed. "
"Review" by , "America's great art museums are the last sacred cows of our culture. It takes a special sort of intrepid investigator backed by a courageous organization to uncover the secrets and lies of these quasi-public institutions and the private agendas of their wealthy and influential patrons. Chasing Aphrodite is the result of one such rare convergence. A scary, true tale of the blinding allure of great art and the power of the wealth that covets it, it is also an inspiring example of the only greater power: the truth." Michael Gross, author of Rogues Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum
"Synopsis" by ,
Two investigative reporters for the Los Angeles Times explore the looted antiquities scandal at the Getty Museum.
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