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Getty accord lands rarity

March 24, 2009|Diane Haithman

The J. Paul Getty Museum and the National Archaeological Museum of Florence, Italy, have entered into a long-term cultural collaboration that will bring one of the latter's most important masterpieces and other significant works to Southern California, officials of both institutions announced Monday.

As the first element of the partnership, the Getty Villa in Malibu will present an exhibition centered on the Etruscan bronze "The Chimaera of Arezzo" from July 16 through Feb. 8. The Getty also plans an exhibition of ancient bronzes, including Greek, Roman and Etruscan works, and a show devoted solely to Etruscan art.

In an interview Monday, J. Paul Getty Museum director Michael Brand hailed the collaboration as the "silver lining" of the Getty's involvement in a highly publicized controversy over looted antiquities that have been discovered in recent years in the collections of major museums worldwide.

That embarrassment resulted in the Getty returning 39 objects, including sculpture, vases and urns, to Italy; the museum also returned objects to Greece. For the Getty, the situation was further complicated by allegations that the museum's former antiquities curator, Marion True, had illegally trafficked in looted art. (Her trial in Rome is ongoing, after almost four years.)

One of the signature works in the Getty's antiquities collection, the marble and limestone Aphrodite, will remain on display at the Getty Villa until December 2010, after which it also will be returned to Italy. Italian officials said that sculpture had been looted from Sicily before being acquired by the Getty.

"One of my goals in settling the previous issue with those objects that they claimed in their [Italy's] antiquities collections," said Brand, "was to get beyond that confrontation and get back to a point, as we had in the past, of being colleagues. . . . By putting the other issue behind us, and those particular objects behind us, we have opened up this new door."

As yet, the Getty is not sending any of its own objects to the Florence museum as part of the exchange. Brand said the Getty was also in discussions with other Italian museums, so future exchanges with Italy may not be limited to antiquities.

Brand added that negotiations for the agreement with the museum, known in Italian as the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze, began in 2006, while the antiquities controversy was being resolved; the agreement was signed in 2007.

While the controversy raged, Italy had threatened a cultural embargo that would have cut off the Getty from its long association with Italian museums.

The new collaboration is not the first between the Getty and Italy since the Getty agreed to return artworks to that country. In 2008, the museum presented the most complex exhibition of Bernini busts ever displayed outside Italy.

Ruth Weisberg, dean of the USC Roski School of Fine Arts, said the new collaboration "represents a healing" between Italy and the Getty. Weisberg called "The Chimaera of Arezzo" "fabulous . . . a unique survival of a large-scale piece. It will be a wonderful thing for all of us to experience."

The large-scale sculpture of a three-headed monster consisting of a lion, a fire-breathing goat and a serpent is from 400 to 375 BC. It will be displayed along with related works from other museums and the Getty's collection.

"It's an extraordinary mythical creature, and it is one of the great Etruscan bronzes," said the Getty's Brand. "We know where it was excavated, and it has an extraordinary history." He added that the exhibition provides an introduction to a celebrated museum that is less well known to U.S. museum-goers than Florence's Uffizi Gallery.

The news of the venture comes on the heels of revelations of major financial problems at the Getty, with the world's wealthiest arts institution planning to slash its budget nearly 25% in the upcoming fiscal year.

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diane.haithman@latimes.com

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