Sotheby’s knowingly tried to sell stolen Asian art?

22 08 2012

Via NY Times: Prosecutors File Arguments in Effort to Return Cambodian Statue, 8/21/12

Federal prosecutors seeking to repatriate a 10th century statue to Cambodia filed court papers Monday accusing Sotheby’s of knowing the sculpture “was an important piece of cultural property that had been stolen” from a remote temple complex when the auction house put the massive sandstone artifact up for sale in March 2011.

A 2011 Sotheby’s catalog sA 2011 Sotheby’s catalog shows a thousand-year-old statue believed to be from the Koh Ker temple in Cambodia. (New York Times)

A 2011 Sotheby’s catalog shows a thousand-year-old statue believed to be from the Koh Ker temple in Cambodia. (New York Times)

Despite testimony from multiple experts declaring it stolen property, Sotheby’s continues to argue for the right to sell the Cambodian temple statue for as much as $3 million on behalf of its Belgian “owner,” shamelessly arguing that “that no one has provided proof the item was stolen.”

As if the temple monks had a yard sale, but failed to keep receipts?

No, the lack of provenance of this statue is in keeping with what researchers found of the Asian antiquities collected by Norton Simon (Pasadena), Walter C. Mead (Denver), Sherman Lee (Cleveland), Avery Brundage (Asian Art Museum), John D. Rockefeller III (Asia Society NY), and others.

But since those collections were formed before international heritage laws went into effect, they are apparently immune from this kind of scrutiny and repatriation effort.




One response

24 10 2012

Update: Story on NPR
Cambodia Vs. Sotheby’s In A Battle Over Antiquities
by Anthony Kuhn, 10/24/12

The governments of Cambodia and the United States are locked in a legal battle with the auction house Sotheby’s over a thousand-year-old statue. The two governments say the statue was looted from a temple of the ancient Khmer empire. Sotheby’s says this can’t be proved, and a court in New York will decide on the matter soon.

The case could affect how collectors and museums acquire artifacts, and how governments recover lost national treasures…

“We must not stay silent. We must reclaim the statues by any and all legal means,” says Cambodian archaeologist Phin Samnang. “If we don’t take action, it means we do not love our antiquities which have been looted and taken overseas.”

Sotheby’s declined to be interviewed for this report, but provided documents arguing that Cambodia has no physical evidence of exactly when over the past 1,000 years the statue was looted (but regardless of when it occurred, there is no dispute over the plain fact that it was looted).

Anne LeMaistre is the Phnom Penh-based representative for the U.N.’s cultural organization, UNESCO, and adviser to the Cambodian government on the Koh Ker statues. “There is evidence that all this looting occurred at the end of the ’60s,” she says. “The Duryodhana [statue] was looted from Cambodia because this site was looted at the same time, and several pieces were found on the art market at the same time, for the first time.”

The two statues, of Duryodhana and Bhima, appeared on the international art market in the mid-1970s.

The Cambodian government has now asked for the return of the matching Bhima statue, which is in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif…

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