The AC Digs Into: Chasing Aphrodite
May 9, 2018
Chasing Aphrodite (2011) by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino recounts the intimate relationship between the J. Paul Getty Museum and the world of the trade in illicit antiquities since the 1970s. Through a retelling of these case studies, Felch and Frammolino expose how prevalent and pervasive this illicit trade had been throughout much of the latter half of the twentieth century. Though much of the book is focused on the internal operations at the Getty Museum, there is no shying away from the reality that many other institutions across North America were also operating under the same premises at the time, essentially turning a blind eye to antiquities that had suspicious provenance or no provenance at all.
Felch and Frammolino’s decision to focus primarily on the Getty Museum and its inner workings points toward the elite narrative of antiquity trading. Sitting at the upper end of monetary capability, the Getty could acquire whatever it desired in its collection. Beyond that, the various corruption scandals that rocked the institution paint the Getty as willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to acquire their targets. Felch and Frammolino illustrate that this mindset was not entirely out of pure greed for the pieces themselves, but rather that the Getty, along with many other institutions, was heavily invested in creating the most prestigious exhibits possible for their visitors, and the market of looted antiquities provided them with the means to do so quickly and efficiently, despite its illegality.
While Chasing Aphrodite tackles a complicated story, that may challenge readers who are new to this field, the book does a great job of introducing the world of the illicit trade of antiquities. Felch and Frammolino illustrate nuances with much detail, noting that not all preventative measures were truly enforceable for a long time and that a divide among curators and archaeologists helped to solidify the black market for antiquities.
Chasing Aphrodite is an informative introduction into the world of trafficked antiquities and the measures being taken to prevent it, as the historical background provides the reader with applicable knowledge for how the antiquities trade is shaping up in the present day. Felch and Frammolino do an excellent job presenting this issue for how complex it truly is, however, the overall narrative, with all of its intersecting issues, was easy to trace from start to finish. Chasing Aphrodite, using the case study of the Getty Museum, is a relevant work for anyone that wants to understand more about trafficked antiquities or the art world.
This is a guest post by our intern Nathan Tietz. Nathan is currently a student at American University, earning a degree in International Studies. If you’re interested in interning with the Antiquities Coalition, please email email@example.com.