August 16, 2012

Q&A with Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch

Editor-in-Chief Noah Charney features "Q&A with Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.


Ralph Frammolino, along with Jason Felch, is the co-winner of the 2012 Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship. The award was granted both for Frammolino and Felch’s outstanding journalistic work, and the book that resulted from it, Chasing Aphrodite, about the Getty antiquities scandal and Marion True. To learn more about the award winners, please see the awards section in this issue. Ralph responded to some questions on his own behalf, and on behalf of Jason Felch.

Noah Charney: What is the origin of your interest in the protection of antiquities?
Ralph Frammolino: Prior to Chasing Aphrodite, I was among the blissfully ignorant art-loving masses who regarded museums with a sort of hushed awe while delighting in their inspiring displays of ancient pieces. I accepted without question the good intention of curators, academics and museum officials, never giving a thought to the back story of how they obtained their trove of Greek and Roman pieces (my favorites). Then, as an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, I had the rare opportunity to examine this world through a different prism. Jason and others at the paper had just finished an investigation into the finances of the Getty Trust, the richest art institution in the world. The editors at the LA Times teamed me up with Jason to look at problems with the antiquities collection, a move that happened about the time a Roman court indicted Getty antiquities curator Marion True for trafficking in looted artifacts. What we found was shocking, the equivalent of steroids in baseball and pedophile priests in the Catholic Church. The museum world had its own dirty little secret – that it was feasting on the fruits of an illegal trade – and justifying it through sham acquisition policies, temporized denials and archly worded statements about serving posterity. To me, the protection of antiquities became a proxy for cultural colonialism. While I would like to think that the Getty scandal marked a change, I’m no longer sure. In my mind, the Getty’s selection of James Cuno as CEO and Timothy Potts as Museum Director – two openly avowed collecting hawks – marks a giant step backward from the enlightened, culturally sensitive stance the Getty adopted after it was caught with looted masterpieces. Now Cuno and Potts say they want to start to aggressively acquire Middle Eastern antiquities – coincidentally as war, terrorism and regime change have triggered wholesale looting of such artifacts, which will no doubt start bobbing up through the market in the coming years.
You may read this interview in The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing through ARCA's website.

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