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AAM Should Ensure Ethical Standards for American Museums

New York, Nov. 11 – The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) called on the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) to clarify whether it would review member museums’ handling of cases concerning art looted by the Nazi regime.

WJRO Chair of Operations Gideon Taylor wrote yesterday to Ford W. Bell, AAM president, and Burt Logan, chair of its Accreditation Commission, after Bell was reported in The Oklahoman and the Associated Press to have said the group’s Accreditation Commission does not review ethical or compliance concerns of member museums while ongoing litigation occurs.

Taylor wrote in the letter that the comment is “totally contrary to a commitment to resolve claims regarding art confiscated during the Nazi era.”

“That legal steps have been taken by a claimant does not excuse the American museum community from ensuring, through vigorous review, that the principles laid down in the AAM Code of Ethics are indeed being applied by American museums,” Taylor added.

WJRO, together with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, has previously urged the AAM Accreditation Commission to enforce the American Alliance of Museums Code of Ethics by reviewing museums that have received accreditation but nonetheless have engaged in behavior that may not be in accord with AAM standards.

WJRO also called for AAM to consider appropriate remedies and sanctions, up to and including removal of an offending museum’s accredited status.

Noting that the AAM commission has previously removed accreditation from museums for other violations of AAM’s standards and ethics, Taylor wrote, “The American public expects no less when it comes to claims relating to objects confiscated during the Holocaust.”

The AAM “Standards Regarding the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era” (AAM Guidelines), which are part of the Code of Ethics, were issued in 2001 and resulted from an agreement with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.

The AAM Guidelines state, “When appropriate and reasonably practical, museums should seek methods other than litigation (such as mediation) to resolve claims that an object was unlawfully appropriated during the Nazi era without subsequent restitution. … The Alliance acknowledges that in order to achieve an equitable and appropriate resolution of claims, museums may elect to waive certain available defenses.”

Bell’s statement was made in the context of an article about the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art of the University of Oklahoma’s handling of a lawsuit about a Camille Pissarro painting that the museum acknowledges was looted from the claimant’s family during the Nazi occupation of France. According to news reports, the museum is relying on a technical defense in refusing to return the painting.

WJRO has no involvement in the lawsuit and, as a matter of policy, does not involve itself in individual art cases.

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