Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum
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Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  433 ratings  ·  92 reviews
In recent years, several of America’s leading art museums have voluntarily given up their finest pieces of classical art to the governments of Italy and Greece. The monetary value is estimated at over half a billion dollars. Why would they be moved to such unheard-of generosity?

The answer lies at the Getty, one of the world’s richest and most troubled museums, and scandalo...more
Hardcover, 375 pages
Published May 24th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2011)
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Lance Charnes
May 27, 2013 Lance Charnes rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Fans of true crime, corporate skulduggery, or smart people behaving badly
We think of museums as quiet places run by brainy, arty people in tweed coats or sensible shoes, talking in MFA-speak. We don’t think of them as hotbeds of sex, betrayal, fraud, money-laundering, fencing stolen objects, political turmoil and intrigue. But as Chasing Aphrodite shows, a major American museum could be the setting for a fine soap opera, or Law & Order franchise.

Chasing Aphrodite focuses on Los Angeles’ Getty Museum and Trust, the richest museum in the world, and thirty years of...more
Greenjasminetea
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Antiquities fascinated me. Old stuff. Really, really old stuff fascinated me.

Then when I was 15, I went on a dig as a volunteer for a day and I gave up the dream. When I learned of how the British Museum acquired much of its antiquities collection, I lost some interest in the fascination.

As I read 'Chasing Aphrodite', I could understand how something like it happened. The focus is on the scandal at the J. Paul Getty Museum but it really could be...more
Michelle
This is an excellent book. The tale within of the downfall of the Getty Museum in California that was seduced by the illicit antiquities trade is an eye-opening tale to lay-persons such as myself who naively believed all antiquities in museums were there by honorable and sanctioned means. The book is well-written and engaging. My only complaint about the book is its ending. While former Getty curator Marion True was left to twist in the wind when the Italian government began prosecuting her for...more
Ann
THis is one of those books that makes your jaw drop open after a few pages and remain there for the remainder of the book. It is a testimony to this book's attention-grabbing power that I read half of it during a nighttime transatlantic flight - hardly ideal reading circumstances.

The book describes in detail how museums, especially the Getty Museum in LA, bought antique Roman and Greek art under that type of "don't ask don't tell policy". That is, the curators acquiring the art assumed that, if...more
Claire Scott
The final third of this book stressed me out so much that I was certain any minor rule-breaking I've done at work was going to come back and haunt me.

The story was fascinating, detailed, and engagingly written. What most struck me, though, was the incestuous tightness of the elite world of CSU and UC presidents, museum trustees, board members, major corporation heads, etc. Those revelations (to me, anyway) bothered me even more than the moral questions that came up around looted antiquities.
Bhan13
Written in the typically plain style of most books written by journalists (in my experience that means some repetition and not quite enough technical bits), it's thorough, I would only wish for more photos. (I almost always want more than a book includes but this is about artwork after all.) It's thought-provoking about the ethics of collecting and what belongs to whom but remains neutral.
Kimber
I'd actually give this 4 3/4 stars if I could, because I only liked it a teeny bit less than I liked Sharon Waxman's Loot.

Really good, really informative and you could tell that the writer did a lot of research. I almost wish that there was a cast of characters at the beginning, because there are so many people involved that it can be a little confusing, especially when it comes to the Italian investigators and ever-revolving door at the Getty. Usually I have no trouble with that, but this time...more
Nichole Schelling
"Chasing Aphrodite" tells the tale of the (in)famous Getty Museum and their dangerous policy of curating looted and illegally exported ancient artifacts from the 1960s until the early 2000s. Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino recreate these accounts through careful research of interviews, newspaper articles, transaction documents, and court depositions. While the main focus of the book is on the career of ex-curator Marion True, Felch and Frammolino also delve into the worlds of the Metropolitan M...more
Jen
As a native southern Californian, I grew up going to the Getty Villa. The art works are old friends. To learn the truth behind HOW they came to be at the museum has forced me to face some uncomfortable facts. Looks like I'll be making more trips to Italy if I want to see my "friends"... This book was well-researched, fast-paced and really engrossing. It answered many questions as to why certain art simply disappeared from the cases, why there was such silence, why the question of provenance was...more
Rhonda Stanton
One of the best books I've ever read - a total page turner.
Bob Carroll
I've been on an archaeological ethics kick lately. I just finished this book, "Chasing Aphrodite." Before that I read "Who Owns Antiquity?" by James Cuno, President and director of The Art Institute of Chicago. And before that, I read "Finders Keepers" by Craig Childs, a naturalist and desert environmentalist. They offer a point-counterpoint analysis of the complex issue of just what should we do with archaeological finds? Do they belong in a museum for all to see, an archaeologist's laboratory...more
Amanda Ferrell
I saw the Elgin Marbles when I was in the British Museum and felt a little guilty about it, since I had read about the continuing discussions between Greece and the Museum about rightful ownership. This book exposes the relationship between looters and museums and the black market middle men. It touches on the history of rich people, like Lord Elgin, carting off treasures from other countries, but is focused on the illegal trade in antiquities for private collectors and museums, and in particula...more
Andrea
This book focuses on the infighting and shady dealing of the Getty Museum in looted antiquities, mainly from Greece and Italy. But it also exposes the problem museums and private collectors generally create by supporting what, at least until recently, was a very poorly regulated area. Because museums and other collectors would pay almost any amount for the right statues, pottery etc. a huge market created an incentive to loot tombs, archaelogical sites, anyplace the material could be dug up. Thu...more
Mhd
Wow! This is a great book. And, for non-fiction, it's quite a page-turner, too! If all non-fiction books were this well written and about investigation, I wouldn't need to read mysteries.

However, the subtitle is a bit misleading. It makes it sound as though there was a time when no one knew there were looted artifacts in the museum. The subtitle should be more like "The Hunt for Honesty" or "The Hunt for Someone Willing to go Public" or "Scandals in the Art and in the Boardroom at the World's R...more
Tammy Dotts
The surprisingly hard-to-put-down Chasing Aphrodite traces how the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles built its impressive collection of classic artifacts along with its impressive reputation, only to see it crack in the wake of accusations of participating in an antiquities black market.

Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino build the book from their initial articles in the Los Angeles Times. The reports were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Journalism after the articles exposed the...more
Steven Buechler
A must read for anybody who visits museums. It shatters the belief that museums are noble places of study and learning.

-page 5-6
"For the Age of Piracy to tryly end, it took an international scandal of remarkable proportions. At the center of that scandal was the upstart J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. No institutio struggled with the morality of buying looted antiquities more deeply than the Getty. And in the end, none paid a higher price.
Over four decades, the Getty chased many illicit mas...more
Juliana
Jul 05, 2011 Juliana rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: art
I read this book in anticipation of visiting the Getty Museum. I had a plane ride from Seattle to Southern California and I found this online at the Kindle store.

Before reading this I never really thought too much about how museum's obtain their collections. I mean I did realize that over the centuries this or that country had plundered another country's art--I had seen the Egyptian obelisks all over Europe. But I never really tho0ught about what goes on behind the scenes at American museums.

App...more
Jim O'Donnell
Any interest in a story that involves tax-evasion, Swiss bank accounts, imaginary archaeologists, the mafia, bribery, money-laundering, art thieves, reclusive billionaires, ethically challenged CEOs, obsessed police investigators, and the world’s most incredible archaeological treasures?

Pulitzer Prize finalists Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino offer up just that in Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum

This is the story of the Getty. Truth is stranger th...more
Katrina
Richly detailed and incredibly well written, Chasing Aphrodite is at once a white collar AND black market crime novel, a guide to ancient art, and a peek into the willfully blind and shortsighted day to day operations of the board of trustees, directors, and CEO of the second wealthiest endowment in the world. The resplendant works of sculpture and pottery form a background of timeless witness to the decade upon decade of human desire to posess them, and human ineptitude and weakness in protecti...more
Jim
A solid, readable account of acquisitional greed and hubris by the top antiguities museums, especially the Getty, and the effort by investigators to stem the tide of looted artworks. Like drug addicts, many wealthy American museums turned a blind eye to provenance and abetted in the dirty dealings of lotters, middlemen and curators. An amazing amount of wealthy shenanigans to avoid paying taxes involved as well (one wonders just how much better off the US treasury would be if all loopholes were...more
Lynda
A well written journalistic styled book, Chasing Aphrodite does much to examine key US museums recent acquisition practices and sheds some not too pretty light on key institutions that should be above reproach.

If you do not know much about how ancient artifacts acquire value and are looted and trafficked this book is a good primer and a veritable who's who of the major players over the last thirty years.

As far as the Getty and the Italian prosecutions, much has been written and discussed, but...more
Sherri aka SDMomChef

I actually would rate this 4 1/2 stars. I love to visit art museums, but my interest is primarily with paintings. However, the topic of this book intrigued me: museums being involved with acquisitions of looted antiquities. I naively assumed that venerable art institutions would only purchase art, including antiquities, with established provenance.

This book focuses primarily on the Getty Museum's antiquities department from the time of its establishment through 2007. It was an eye opening read f...more
CatBookMom
A feature article in the Sunday supplements of the Los Angeles Times led me to find and read this book. I found it fascinating and surprisingly difficult to put down; it reads like a big-heist thriller, somewhat akin to *Ocean's Eleven*. The lack of ethics among the purveyors and curators of antiquities is shocking, but so is the dollar value of the job benefits that the various museum and foundation directors and department heads received - private plane travel, luxurious housing, nearly-consta...more
Mary
Felch's book relates the story of the founding of the J. Paul Getty Museum.More imporatantly, it tells the story of how the Getty and other museums came into possession of many of the ancient, rare, and beautiful artifacts that they exhibit. In many cases, these objects were purchased from a party who bought them from individuals who loot ancient graves and dig in the countryside of nations like Italy, Sicily, and Turkey.

While this practice had been going on for years, in the 1970's and 1980's t...more
Leslee
A little known fact about this friendly neighborhood goodreads reviewer, I actually have a Classical Studies minor and originally thought that I might turn it into a major until I came to my senses and realized that I would be pouring money into a bottomless sinkhole if I was going to go for an english lit and classical studies double major, hahaha. I hate bugs too much to become the next Indiana Jones!

This book was interesting and the author did a good job in creating memorable characters for w...more
Katia
This book reads like a fast-paced suspense novel with unexpected twists and turns. The almost unbelievable part is the sordid truth it brings to light. I have always loved visiting museums, especially the antiquities exhibits, but this was a huge eye-opener to me in regards to where the priceless artifacts on display actually come from. I'll never be able to walk through the Met or any other institution without wondering whether the pieces I'm looking at were looted and purchased illegally by th...more
Doug
Never knew the art world was such shady business. The authors did a good job making a compelling story (I can see this book being incredibly boring in less capable hands) while touching on the nature of property and culture heritage. Are all antiquities excavated from Italy the property of the Italian government merely because of some law against the sale of antiquities passed under the fascist dictator Mussolini, or do they have some as-yet undefined right to own their history? Is humanity, or...more
Amberlynne
First of all, if you love museums, especially museums in the U.S., do not read this book! It will only depress you. Most of this has been in the news at some point but I apparently never paid attention to it? It's fascinating, in a gross way, to get an inside view of the way museum curators built collections with looted items and justified it as being for the greater good. Their egotism that somehow their museums are the rightful places for the great art of other countries is just so gross to re...more
Shaunee
Fascinating picture of what happens in the rarified atmosphere of the most prestigious art museums in the world or what did happen (?). Theft seems to have very little meaning to many art museum curators, collectors, and administrators. If I had any thoughts about where all these antiquities came from, Jason Felch, has disabused me of them. I now know they were ripped from ancient ruins and shipped to whatever buyer could fence them to the next highest bidder. I now sit and wonder if anything ha...more
Amanda
So this book is an interesting read. I think that it has unfortunately been sensationalized by people unfamiliar with the museum world but it does bring up some fascinating topics of discussion about looting art and what a museum should or shouldn't purchase. There are many areas of gray and shaded lines in this debate and I don't think it will ever be one that is solved. A good read it was much faster paced and interesting in the first half, the second half fell a little flat as it became more...more
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  • Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft
  • The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities--From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums
  • Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists
  • The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece
  • Making the Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece
  • Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art
  • The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds, and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures
  • Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World
  • Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art
  • The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War
  • Old Masters, New World: America's Raid on Europe's Great Pictures
  • I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Forger
  • The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art
  • Bernini: His Life and His Rome
  • Rogues' Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Gardner Heist

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