Friday, December 13, 2013

Sotheby's to return statue to Cambodia

Over a year ago LM discussed the Khmer statue that was being offered by Sotheby's. It appears that the collecting history for the piece was not as straightforward as it first seemed. My view was Sotheby's would wish to distance the auction-house from any notion of wrong-doing given the damaging impact of the Medici Conspiracy. It has now been announced that Sotheby's will be returning the disputed statue to Cambodia (Tom Mashbery and Ralph Blumenthal, "Disputed Statue to Be Returned to Cambodia", New York Times December 12, 2013).
The accord ends a long bare-knuckled court battle over the Khmer treasure, a 10th-century statue valued at more than $2 million. The Belgian woman who had consigned it for sale in 2011 will receive no compensation for the statue from Cambodia, and Sotheby’s has expressed a willingness to pick up the cost of shipping the 500-pound sandstone antiquity to that country within the next 90 days. 
At the same time, lawyers from the United States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan who had been pursuing the statue on Cambodia’s behalf agreed to withdraw allegations that the auction house and the consignor knew of the statue’s disputed provenance before importing it for sale. 
The accord said the consignor, Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, who had long owned the statue, and Sotheby’s had “voluntarily determined, in the interests of promoting cooperation and collaboration with respect to cultural heritage,” that it should be returned.
This seems to confirm my hunch that Sotheby's would want to be seen to be a positive contributor to the debate about international cultural property.

The NYT statement includes a very significant pronouncement that will cause consternation among those selling selling cultural property in North America:
In a statement, the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, said, “Today’s settlement reunites a priceless artifact with its rightful owners, the people of Cambodia.”  
 “The United States is not a market for antiquities stolen from other nations,” he added, “and we will continue to track down and return any that are brought here illegally.”
The news comes on the back of the decision back in May 2013 that New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art would be returning two other Khmer statues. It seems that Cambodia will now press for the return of a statue in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

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