Getty Art Museum Curator Accused of Conspiracy to Receive Stolen Goods

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A senior curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has been indicted in Italy on criminal charges related to the acquisition of several items in the museum's collection. Marion True, curator for antiquities, denies the charges. Michele Norris talks to Suzanne Muchnic of the Los Angeles Times about the case.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

It's a case with implications for museums around the world. A senior curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has been indicted on criminal charges in Rome for illegally acquiring precious antiquities. Among the items: a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. The curator, Marion True, is accused of, among other things, conspiring to receive stolen goods. She denies the charges. Suzanne Muchnic is covering the story for the Los Angeles Times. She says the full indictment has not been made public, but the basics of the case are known.

Ms. SUZANNE MUCHNIC (Los Angeles Times): Marion is accused of criminal conspiracy to receive stolen goods and of the illicit receipt of archaeological items. In addition, it is alleged that she has, in effect, laundered goods that were purchased by a private collection and then sold to the Getty in what was essentially paper transactions that created documentation for them.

NORRIS: Suzanne, we noted that Marion True has denied the charges. Has she issued a statement? And how has the Getty responded to this?

Ms. MUCHNIC: Marion True has not issued a statement. She is said to be traveling out of the country for the next month and not available for comment. The Getty has issued a short statement in her defense.

NORRIS: And what do they say?

Ms. MUCHNIC: In essence, they have said that they are very disappointed that the Italians are following through with this indictment, and that they have cooperated fully; they have provided thousands of pages of documents in the process of investigation; that they believe that Marion True will be fully exonerated. And they hope that her reputation will suffer no more harm from this.

NORRIS: Tell us a little bit about Marion True, her role not just at the Getty but her reputation in the art world.

Ms. MUCHNIC: She's been at the Getty--she's a Harvard educated scholar. She's been at the Getty for 23 years. In my experience, she is an elegant lady and a consummate professional, and she certainly has had a very high-profile position and has often been in a position of speaking publicly and arguing for transparency in these kinds of cases.

The Getty, I have to say, is a young and a rich institution, and so it is often in the firing line, and has been particularly in the area of antiquities, which is an area that's fraught with so many problems. And any institution that deals, you know, in this area has similar problems. But Marion's career has been spent in this very difficult field. And it does mean that throughout her career at the Getty, there have been certain objects that have been revealed to be either fakes or copies. There have been a few of those. There have been some situations in which the Getty has actually returned objects to the countries of origin when they have received what they believed was a valid claim.

NORRIS: So these criminal charges that have been filed against the Getty curator, Marion True, what are the implications for other museums?

Ms. MUCHNIC: Well, I think it must be very scary, very worrisome for other museums. There are so many museums who do have collections of antiquities, and I'm sure all of them, it's probably safe to say, have objects in their collections about which questions could be raised. And if the curators are then held responsible, that certainly does cast an even more ominous pall on the field.

NORRIS: Suzanne, thank you very much.

Ms. MUCHNIC: Thank you.

NORRIS: Suzanne Muchnic covers art for the Los Angeles Times.

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