How Museums Handle Cultural Artifacts

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Credit…Jonathan Knowles

To the Editor:

Re “Accountability for Museums’ Plunder, at Last,” by Erin Thompson (Opinion guest essay, Feb. 5):

Some might cringe at Ms. Thompson’s suggestion that museums that return stolen artifacts could replace them with replicas.

Frankly, my recent museum visits to big-name shows have left me more irritated than awed by being in the presence of revered “originals.”

First, the virtual queue tickets, then the snaking lines and then the crush — straining to see over the heads of other acolytes, some of whom cannot resist giving curatorial mini-lectures to their companions as they block your view entirely. And all those iPhones snapping away, held high to capture every precious moment.

So much of seeing hyped-up museum exhibits today seems to be about telling people you saw them, not learning from them.

Aside from doing the right thing by returning plundered goods to their original owners, Ms. Thompson’s suggestions of how best to honor ritual artifacts, by placing replicas in meaningful cultural and historical contexts, might just lower the hype and remind us to see, in quieter and richer ways, what she defines as a museum’s goal: “to educate us about other ways of being in the world.”

Cathy Bernard
New York

To the Editor:

Erin Thompson’s essay may leave readers with the impression that the Rubin Museum of Art’s decision to close our galleries and move to a decentralized museum model stems from issues relating to repatriation. Her assessment is wrong.

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