Met Museum Returning Cambodian Statues

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is returning two of their most prized statues after learning these were stolen and smuggled out of Cambodia.

These 10th century Khmer statues, known as Kneeling Attendants, have been guarding the entrance to the Met’s Southeast Asian exhibit since 1994. The museum began accepting the donated fragments in 1987 and continued through 1992. The donations came from a British collector in Bangkok, Douglas Latchford, who is under federal investigation.

The Met’s decision to return the statues was made Friday after several months of meetings between the museum and Cambodian officials. Photos showing pieces of the statues left in Cambodia, and statements from people who had seen the evidence, provided support for Cambodia’s claims.

Thomas P. Campbell, the museum’s director, said that the additional information “has led the museum to consider facts that were not known at the time of acquisition.”

This decision is being praised by Americans and Cambodians for the professionalism and for exemplifying sensitivity to another country’s claim. It also reflects stricter regulations for museums not to display items from foreign countries without detailed paperwork.

Officials from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization have been investigating stolen antiquities from several Southeast Asian countries, Cambodia being one of them. The Khmer statues had been looted from the ancient temple complex of Koh Ker.

UNESCO has uncovered evidence pointing to other museums that currently have objects donated to them that were obtained illegally. Items exported by Douglas Latchford have been linked to the Denver Museum of Art, the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

A lawsuit was filed in Manhattan’s federal court by U. S. officials against Sotheby’s on behalf of the Cambodian government. The suit alleges that, in 2010, the auction house had been told by an expert that a 10th century warrior statue to be auctioned was “certainly stolen.” Latchford is accused of knowing the statue was stolen but exported it to the British auction house of Spink and Son.

A civil lawsuit was filed in April 2012 by the U.S. attorney’s office for the return of the statue to Cambodia.
Sotheby’s issued a statement Friday saying that “… When the court ultimately addresses these questions, we expect to prevail on each.”

The Met opened in 1870 but has been at it’s current location of 82nd Street and Fifth Avenue since 1880.

Written by: Cynthia Collins, Guardian Correspondent

Source: Tom Mashberg and Ralph Blumenthal, “The Met Plans to Return Statues to Cambodia,” New York Times, May 3, 2013
Source: Jason Felch, “Metropolitan Museum says it will return Cambodian Statues,” LA Times, May 3, 2013

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