How on Earth was Myers able to smuggle a work of art to outer space? After five of his fellow artist friends signed on to the project, Myers began by reaching out to NASA, hoping they would be as excited about the prospect of bringing art to the moon as he was. “They told me a lot of people wanted to send mementos to the moon, and that if I had some big names behind me, I might have a chance,” he said in a New York Times article recounting the story, published on November 22, 1969, two days after the Apollo 12 crew began its return trip to Earth. “I then called a guy in NASA’s public relations division in Houston, who seemed optimistic. So we proceeded on the assumption that we could work through regular channels.”
Regardless of how a museum shares information about provenance, the most important goal is to be as forthcoming and accurate as possible. To that end, documenting an object’s provenance may involve not just tracing its history of ownership (what do we know?), but also recording the sources of that information (how do we know it?), and noting the differences between verified and unverified data. Information about provenance can come from verbal statements, circumstantial evidence, or attestations provided by a seller or donor that have not been (and often cannot be) corroborated. Museum records should reflect these uncertainties and any vague or hypothetical statements.
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.