Thursday, 12 April 2012

Even Though... I Think We Can Get Away With This

The New York Times has identified the expert who was initially consulted by Sotheby's about the Koh Ker statue they had agreed to sell as Emma Cadwalader Bunker. She is quoted in the Government's complaint as saying in an email to Sotheby's:
"I have been doing a little catchup research on Koh Ker (the site from this the statue was reputedly stolen), and do not think you should sell the Dvarapala at public auction. The Cambodians in Pnom Penh now have clear evidence that it was definitely stolen from Prasat Chen at Koh Ker, as the feet are still in situ [...] it’s pretty clear where they came from. I think it would be hugely unwise to offer the Dvarapala publicly, and I would not really feel comfortable writing it up under the circumstances.
She then had a change of heart, in another email informing Sotheby's that the Cambodians may not complain complain after all:
"I think [...] that legally and ethically you can happily sell the piece."
So it is stolen, yes, but in the world of Southeast Asian art, "ethical" to sell it after all (I suppose in the spirit of "they can't touch you for it"?). Weird idea of ethics these people have. The Goverment's complaint also references a January 20, 2011 Sotheby's internal email, which says in part:
"You no doubt know that we will be selling a sculpture in our New York Asian sales that is known to have come from a specific site in Cambodia and or which we only have provenance from 1975... While questions may be raised about this, we feel we can defend our decision to sell it..."
Brazen it out, eh? Defy the critics. Bravo.

Vignette: Emma Cadwalader Bunker


Cultural Property Observer said...

Despite your claims otherwise, apparently not everyone who has been supportive of repatriation is supportive of the government's action in this or the SLAM case:

So what's wrong with Sotheby's fighting such a stale claim as that made here?

Paul Barford said...

I cannot imagine why you would expect me to form my opinions on the basis of "what other people think". I am not a coiney.

Let Sotheby's fight, but don't be surprised if people comment on what they see. We are all CULTURAL PROPERTY OBSERVERS, we all participate in culture, we all participate in determining what happens to it.

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