The Cleveland Museum of Art rarely publishes catalogs that try to stir broad public debate on politics, law, cultural identity and global diplomacy.
With the release of a new catalog today, however, the museum is wading directly into the international controversy over collecting ancient works of art whose ownership histories, or provenances, remain partially or entirely unknown.
The book, “Praxiteles: The Cleveland Apollo,” authored by the museum’s curator of Greek and Roman art, Michael Bennett, accompanies a new exhibition opening Sunday that focuses on a controversial ancient bronze statue of Apollo purchased by the museum in 2004.
Using scientific evidence and art-historical analysis, Bennett builds the most forceful case yet that the life-size bronze is an ancient Greek original, not a later Roman copy, and that it is likely the work of Praxiteles, one of the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece.
The book is also an impassioned critique of international laws aimed at halting trade in looted antiquities.
Bennett states that such laws – while correctly focused on halting illegal activity - have also had the effect of casting stigma on “orphaned” works such as the museum’s Apollo, whose time and place of excavation and recent history can’t be proven beyond doubt.