The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, dismissed a curator after issues were raised over the provenance of Greek antiquities in an exhibition.
The show, titled “From Chaos to Order,” had traveled from Florida to South Carolina, with a second stop scheduled for the Denver Art Museum. Michael Bennett, the former St. Petersburg curator who organized the exhibition of Greek artifacts from the Geometric period (approximately 900 BCE to 700 BCE), said in a statement to the New York Times, which first reported the news, that the museum “felt it had something new to say about Greek art.”
But the show didn’t end up going on view at the Denver Art Museum, where staff had raised concerns about 57 artifacts that they said lacked sufficient provenances. Each object was on loan from the businessman and collector Sol Rabin, and while none have been reported to have been looted, others were linked to sellers accused of participating in antiquities smuggling schemes.
Earlier this year, the Denver Art Museum surrendered four artifacts to Cambodia following a public appeal from the Cambodian government for their return. Museum director Christoph Heinrich urged the MFA to resolve the provenance issues with their show before continuing the tour.
“I am sure you are familiar with how the changing legal and ethical standards and perceptions of collecting and displaying antiquities are front and center for many world culture museums today, including ours,” Heinrich wrote in a letter to officials at the MFA, as quoted by the Times. He said staging the show could further harm the museum’s reputation, adding that it had “experienced recent negative press for a small number of our legacy collections and associations with red flag dealers.”
Two months after that letter was sent, Bennett was put on leave at the MFA, then dismissed a month. It’s still not entirely clear why he was let go, and the museum did not respond to a request for comment.
Bennett told the Times that he was not given a good reason for his firing, but was told that his leave was related to “the issue of reaccreditation to a museum association, without further elaboration.”