Title: Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum
Author: Jason Felch & Ralph Frammolino
Release Date: May 24, 2011
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino take the reader into the complex and morally dubious world of looted antiquities. They examine the scandal that surrounded the Getty Museum, which had a huge endowment in order to acquire art and, like most other American museums, their greed that outweighed their judgment.
The art and antiquities world is a difficult and scary place, one I first learned about in The Lost Chalice by Vernon Silver. This book is almost an extension of that one, which discussed the looted Euphronios krater at the Met. Chasing Aphrodite confronts the much larger issue of a series of antiquities acquired by the Getty museum, and the resulting scandal that stemmed from buying looted art. The Aphrodite mentioned in the title was a one-of-a-kind statue of the Greek goddess which, along with the famed Getty Bronze, was the center of an Italian investigation into looted antiquities.
Looting is a serious issue in Greece, Rome, and other areas with ancient art. Looters destroy tombs and raid archaeological sites, destroying any history that might be gleaned from discovering objects in the state they were left in. American curators had a general policy of not looking too closely at provenance in order to acquire the best objects for their museum; after all, if they didn’t buy a piece of art just because it was possibly looted, then someone else would. This vicious cycle funded the looters, making this horrible practice incredibly lucrative.
Felch and Frammolino, two L.A. Times writers, tackle the Getty’s story from an investigative standpoint. They tell the story in an engaging way and hone in on the key players in the debacle, giving the book a personal quality. The overarching story, describing the ruthlessness and greed of officials at the Getty, is really appalling, yet completely mesmerizing. The authors actually led the investigation into the Getty when the story was breaking, so they know what they are talking about. The book is clear, concise, and compulsively readable.
Chasing Aphrodite was a fascinating look into the art world. Felch and Frammolino are both talented writers; while The Lost Chalice was a bit dry, this book was easy to read and completely engaging. The story is easy to follow, and it reads like fiction because the story is so incredible. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the art world, or fans of a good juicy scandal.