The reality is, the presence of the Moon Museum in outer space has yet to be confirmed by subsequent lunar missions. It may even sound like something ripped from the pages of a pulp science fiction novel, or from the annals of conspiracy theories, rather than art-historical fact. But if we are to believe the telegram Myers received two days before the Apollo 12 launch, “‘YOUR ON’ A.O.K. ALL SYSTEMS GO,” signed “JOHN F,” our planet’s nearest satellite may also be the most distant museum in our universe.
Though NASA never technically rejected the Moon Museum, they didn’t exactly approve it either. Myers was unable to get the agency to officially commit to his project, so instead he devised a Plan B. After contacting the non-profit organization Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), which strove to connect engineers and artists for projects involving new technologies, he made contact with scientist Fred Waldhauer of Bell Laboratories, himself a founding member of E.A.T. Using techniques typically employed to create telephone circuits, scientists at Bell etched the six artists’ drawings onto an iridium-plated ceramic chip the size of a postage stamp. Waldhauer then convinced an engineer at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation who was working on the lunar lander to attach the chip to its leg, hiding it within the layers of gold insulation blankets wrapped around the spacecraft.
The Italian and other governments are becoming far more aggressive in seeking the repatriation of looted antiquities. Italy in particular waged a long legal battle against Getty curator of antiquities, Marion True, for acquiring illicitly exported pieces, although the case finally exhausted the statute of limitations. And in recent years numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries. These include the famed Etruscan Euphronios krater (wine bowl) dating from 515 BC and which was bought by the Met in 1972 for $1.2m. It turned out that this had also been handled by Medici, and the museum gave it back to Italy in 2006. Just this month, the Getty said it was returning a 12th-century Byzantine illuminated New Testament to the Greek Dionysiou monastery – from which it had disappeared more than 50 years ago.
Bonhams and Christie’s were also forced to pull smaller objects from their March sales this year, after they were alleged to have passed through the hands of two notorious antiquities smugglers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. Both had been convicted of trafficking in looted objects, for which Medici was sentenced to 10 years in prison and paid a 10m euro fine – the largest ever imposed for such a crime by Italian prosecutors. Polaroid photos of an immense cache of objects in his Swiss warehouse apparently identified a second or first century BC jug offered for £4,000-£6,000 ($6,700-$10,000) at Christie’s, and a third century pottery pyxis (cosmetic pot) offered for £3,000-£5,000 ($5,000-$8,400) at Bonhams. Earlier this year, the US government seized a $4m (£2.4m) ancient Roman statue in a New York warehouse – it too had passed through Becchina’s hands.