New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which of late has been hit with allegations that it routinely failed to perform due diligence before acquiring works and artifacts, has announced that it is putting together a team of researchers dedicated to that purpose. The museum will assemble a four-person squad—a provenance research manager and three provenance researchers—to review its collection and examine policies currently in place with the goal of returning any ill-gotten objects. The move is expected to inform the actions of art and historical institutions across the United States.
“As a pre-eminent voice in the global art community, it is incumbent upon the Met to engage more intensively and proactively in examining certain areas of our collection,” museum director Max Hollein told staffers in a letter obtained by the New York Times. Hollein additionally noted that “the emergence of new and additional information, along with the changing climate on cultural property, demands that we dedicate additional resources to this work.”
Other measures taken by the museum include the assembly of an eighteen-person committee, made up of curators, conservators, and other staffers, which will investigate the institution’s legal and public policies and practices surrounding collecting. According to Hollein, the Met will also “convene thought leaders, advocates and opinion makers in the area of cultural property.”
The museum’s actions come in the wake, most recently, of a ProPublica report suggesting that a large number of objects in its collection of Native American art are attended by incomplete or insufficient ownership histories and may be either stolen or fake. An earlier joint report by the he International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and British nonprofit Finance Uncovered revealed that the Met’s holdings include more than a thousand artifacts that can be tied to traffickers. Cambodia since 2022 has been in contact with the Met and the federal government seeking the return of a number of improperly obtained objects in the museum’s collection; that same year saw the seizure and repatriation by the Manhattan DA’s office of twenty-seven artifacts held by the Met that were deemed to have been stolen from their respective homes in Egypt, Greece, and Italy.