Classical KUSC



Last call to view the wonders of Sicily at the Getty Villa—and in America

Posted By: Tim Greiving · 8/2/2013 3:15:00 PM

If you want to gaze on the wonders of the ancient Mediterranean world currently on display at the Getty Villa (discussed by Getty director Timothy Potts on this week’s Arts Alive), you should move fast. The exhibit only lasts through Monday, August 19th.

You may also want to plan a quick trip to Pacific Palisades if you happen to live in Cleveland, Ohio, because the exhibit—“Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome”—is no longer moving on to the Cleveland Museum of Art as originally planned. Last week the decision was made to bypass Cleveland stay and return the artifacts back to Sicily. Why?  Because Italy misses its prime, tourism-luring treasures.

After years of negotiations, and in return for world-class, meticulous conservation and restoration on some of the featured art objects by the Getty, Sicily had briefly relaxed its traditionally firm grip on several of its greatest treasures, working out a joint arrangement with the Getty and Cleveland Museum of Art (the museums were to split the cost). But last month Sicily arts officials abruptly changed their terms and conditions and asked for a much higher price (reportedly an additional $700,000) to keep the exhibit’s artifacts in the US for the Cleveland show, which was supposed to begin in September and run through the fall.

“How would an American tourist react who, trusting his Frommer's travel guide, who has gone out of his way to visit the island of Mozia to admire this work of art [the charioteer] in its original setting, only to discover that the statue is in Tokyo or St. Petersburg?” wrote Sicily’s culture minister Mariarita Sgarlata in an email to The New York Times.

Among the more than 100 ancient treasures in the exhibit is the aforementioned charioteer, which LA Times art critic Christopher Knight considers the “knockout work.”


Statue of a Youth (the Mozia Charioteer)

“You don't need full limbs to see what a beaming, gallant showoff the unknown artist has created,” Knight wrote. “The figure stands with his body slightly twisting in space, as if turning to wave. Like any victor acknowledging the applauding throng from the podium, it's a gesture you've seen on such figures as Ryan Lochte at London's Olympics and the latest starlet negotiating the Oscars or Emmys red carpet. His weight is carried on the pivoting left leg, jaunty hip thrust out to receive his hand and grinning head turned slightly to the side. … The bodily naturalism of its complex pose pulls a viewer all the way around the figure for a 360-degree view. That's one reason why it is regarded among the finest ancient Greek sculptures in the round to have survived.”

The exhibit contains 85 sculptures and an assortment of painted vases, gold ritual vessels, architectural decorations, object fragments, and gold and silver coins with meticulous cast-relief sculpting—all dating back to the 500–200 BC era.



With Cleveland out of the deal, the Getty has to foot the whole tab for the highly expensive exhibition, including at least an extra, unbudgeted $300,000. Sure, it’s the world’s richest museum. But no one likes those sorts of surprises. “This will unfortunately take funds away from future Getty collaborations with Sicily,” said a Getty spokesperson, “limiting or even preventing the kinds of joint research, conservation and exhibitions that were anticipated in our 2010 Agreement. This will be an unfortunate loss to scholarship and to the presentation of Sicily’s extraordinary archaeological  heritage.”  All the more reason to visit the Getty Villa now and support them in this unprecedented exhibit. Given the distinctly icy tone of U.S. museum officials in response to Sicily’s sculptural switcheroo, these treasures aren’t returning to America any time soon.

For more information and a complete list of the artifacts in “Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome,” visit

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