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Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museumby Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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)
"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
"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
"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
"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)
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.
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