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Art/ Collecting Practices/ Archaeological Materials Ancient Art and Cultural Property

Archaeological Materials Ancient Art and Cultural Property

The Met is committed to the responsible collecting of ancient art, archaeological materials, and other cultural property, including works of art from once-colonized areas, and goes to great lengths to ensure that all objects entering the collection meet its strict collecting policies. These standards include observing all legal requirements as well as following the ethical guidelines set forth by the Association of Art Museum Directors, which recognize the significance of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Details of this policy are posted on the Museum’s website here

There is a wide array of works in the Museum’s collection that fall into these categories; some are of particular focus and, in some cases, involve unique policies and procedures. For example, the collecting and display of Native American objects is governed by the Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and The Met is committed to and fully engaged in the NAGPRA process. The Museum is dedicated to maintaining open dialogue with all Native American Nations, source community leaders, and individual members in order to build respectful partnerships regarding the appropriate care and exhibition of Native American and Indigenous items currently in our collections. Under the guidance of American Wing curator Patricia Marroquin Norby (Purépecha), the Museum drafted a new Native American Arts Initiative in spring 2022 that includes creating an advisory committee and hiring a full-time staff position that will collaboratively focus on NAGPRA responsibilities and further prioritize the building of ongoing partnerships as well as the strengthening of community collaborations. This work is ongoing.

The ownership of Benin bronzes is a topic of great importance and complexity and has been the subject of many discussions here at the Museum as well as with experts and colleagues around the world. The Met’s website offers much context—all of the objects and their ownership histories are posted online—including the article The Legacy of Benin Court Art: From Tragedy to Resilience, which shares the history of Benin and the legacy of works of art from the region. The Met is also participating in the Digital Benin project, an online archive of items originating from the Kingdom of Benin.

In 2021, The Met and Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments signed a Memorandum of Understanding formalizing a shared commitment to future exchanges of expertise and art, including loans of Benin material from The Met for the opening of the museum planned for Benin City and other branches of Nigeria’s national museums as well as loans from Nigeria to The Met for the reopening of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing in 2025. Earlier that year, The Met initiated the return of three works of art to the Nigerian National Collections: two 16th-century brass plaques created at the Court of Benin, and a brass head produced in Ife around the 14th century. The Met initiated the returns after collaborative research conducted in partnership with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) and other colleagues led to the joint determination that the works should be transferred to Nigeria.