Saturday, March 05, 2011

The curious case of the St Louis Art Museum

Safe Corner

In a highly unusual legal maneuver by a U.S. museum seeking to retain recent acquisition, the St. Louis Museum of Art (SLAM) filed a complaint in federal district court on February 15, 2011 asking for a declaratory judgment to prevent federal authorities from seizing a 19th Dynasty Egyptian mask popularly known as Ka-Nefer-Nefer. Attorney Ricardo St. Hilaire has posted a helpful summary of SLAM’s complaint and legal arguments, in which he points out important ownership information that is missing from SLAM's complaint. According to St. Hilaire, "the museum essentially argues that the US government cannot legally take the mask because the statute of limitations has run out and because there is no reason to believe that the mask is Egyptian property or that it was illegally stolen or smuggled into the United States." Looting Matters also discusses the complaint and questions whether SLAM is adhering to the American Association of Museum Directors' Code of Ethics, which says “A museum director should not knowingly acquire or allow to be recommended for acquisition any object that has been stolen, removed in contravention of treaties or international conventions to which the United States is a signatory, or illegally imported in the United States.”

Here are some known facts about the controversy.

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