Cambodia Presses Other Museums

Tom Mashberg reports that Cambodia now has requested objects from others, including:

  • Denver Art Museum
  • Cleveland Museum of Art
  • The Norton Simon,
  • And of course Sotheby’s which is challenging a federal forfeiture
New York’s Metropolitan Museum announced it would return two other statues. It seems to have encouraged the Cambodians and their advocates to look for other similar material. And that precedent set by the Met may compel these other institutions to return objects. From the NYT piece:

The Met’s two statues represent brothers of Bhima who knelt in attendance during the fight. The Met’s statues were acquired in four pieces from donors 1987 to 1992. Those statues, plus the one from Sotheby’s, are known to have gone through a London art dealer, Spink & Son, in the early 1970s. Cambodian officials say the broken pedestals of all those sculptures were left in the ground by the looters. Norton Simon, who died in 1993, bought the Bhima in 1976 from a Madison Avenue Asian art dealer and gave it to the museum in 1980. “In more than three decades, the foundation’s ownership of the sculpture has never been questioned,” the museum said in a statement. The Sotheby’s statue was shipped to New York in 2010 to be sold at auction by its Belgian owner, Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa. Her husband, who has since died, acquired it in 1975 and Sotheby’s estimated its value to be $2 million to $3 million. Experts on antiquities trafficking say teams of bandits used ox carts to trundle their trophies along jungle trails and into Thailand, 15 miles north, during Cambodia’s war years. In their case against Sotheby’s, lawyers for the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York say the statue was one of many shipped illicitly from Bangkok to the United States and Europe after 1970. Sotheby’s says the statue was legally purchased in good faith from a reputable London auction house in 1975 and it “denies knowledge that the Duryodhana statue was stolen.” Cambodia’s secretary of state, Chan Tani, said the looting of Koh Ker is especially crushing because its style of statuary exists nowhere else. “They are part of our soul as a nation,” he said, “and they were brutally stolen.”

One aspect I find really intriguing is how Cambodia has seemingly eschewed the Italian approach of offering long term loans and continuing to have a relationship with these institutions. Not sure why that may be, I’d be interested in hearing some ideas below in the comments.

Mashberg, Tom. “Cambodia Presses U.S. Museums to Return Antiquities.” The New York Times, May 15, 2013, sec. Arts / Art & Design. 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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