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McGill Library 2012 F.R. Scott lecture - A Fine Balance: When Art and Law Meet


Arts Building Moyse Hall, 853 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 0G5, CA

Glenn D. Lowry
Director, Museum of Modern Art, New York City

The Friends of the McGill Library are hosting Glenn D. Lowry, Director of The Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, for a lecture examining several recent cases involving claims for restitution of works of art and the many social, political, and legal issues involved in determining their outcome.


Since the earliest civilizations, art has played an integral role in the development of society.  Throughout history, art has been produced and accumulated as a way to understand, influence and provoke.  The history of art, on the other hand, has been plagued with theft, deceit and violence.  Under Napoleon, French armies hauled the Pharonic structures of Egypt to Paris, while the English were transporting Greece’s Elgin Marbles to London.  During World War II homes were plundered and looted; in the cold war of Vietnam, Cambodian sculptures were being airlifted, and even as recent as the war in Iraq, archaeological sites were pillaged and artifacts have disappeared.

Changing attitudes, globalization, and the spread of both international law and civil lawsuits have emboldened aggrieved nations and individuals to demand the return of cultural property seized by enemy forces or through persecution decades or even centuries ago. Over the past two decades, the world of museums has become politically charged: Does a country that produced cultural property have the right to it, the heirs of the individuals who previously owned the works, or museums and their visitors from around the world who are given the opportunity to appreciate these items that illuminate our shared human history.

Claims for restitution often have a legal and moral aspect, so what is the law’s role in the current judicial paradigm.  Are responsible, legal, ethical solutions to disputes possible?

About the speaker

Glenn D. Lowry has been the Director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) since 1995. Mr. Lowry, an Islamic art specialist with a doctorate from Harvard, engineered one of the most ambitious expansions in museum history, an $858 million renovation, completed in 2004, that nearly doubled MoMA’s size.   Mr. Lowry moved to New York City after his successful tenure at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, ON.  He is regarded as a deft administrator and world-class fund-raiser who reshaped a huge, unwieldy institution at a crossroads in its history. 

This lecture is presented as part of the annual Friends of McGill Library F.R. Scott lecture in partnership with Heenan Blaikie Law Firm.  F.R. Scott was a poet, constitutional lawyer, and politician.  He completed his schooling in Québec in 1919, taught for one year, and then went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1920. Scott returned to Montréal in 1923 and entered the Law School at McGill University in 1924.  In 1928 he joined the Law Faculty at McGill University and served as the dean from 1961 to 1964.  He died in 1985.

Limited seating. Please RSVP at rsvp [dot] libraries [at] mcgill [dot] ca or 514.398.4681