Those California Museum Raids — The Trouble Moves East

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It appears that it wasn’t just California museums gaining from the work of Robert Olson, the alleged smuggler of Asian and Native American art who got five of them into hot water recently. In this morning’s Los Angeles Times, Jason Felch is reporting that it appears Olson also did significant business with Barry McLean, a major collector of Asian Art and trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, whose collection is currently touring a number of smaller museums. (I wonder what Jim Cuno thinks about this?)

This interesting sidelight from Felch’s story:

[MacLean’s collection] was exhibited recently at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and was scheduled to go on display at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum on Feb. 9. When contacted Monday about the allegations, the Dartmouth museum said it had consulted with MacLean and canceled the exhibit.

The revelations about MacLean’s collection are likely to raise new questions about museums’ willingness to exhibit private antiquities collections.

“We did not vet every piece in the show,” said Stephen Little, director of the Honolulu museum and the former curator of Asian art at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he first met MacLean.

“We have since made a conscious decision not to show private collections anymore,” Little said.

Actually, I think that the days of touring shows of private antiquities collections are numbered, unless the provenance of every piece can be verified. That’s a task that only the very largest museums have the staff to attempt — and not many of those have the stomach for it right now.

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