Thursday, 12 December 2013

"Sotheby's" Koh Ker Duryodhana Returning to Cambodia

The long-running saga of the Duryodhana statue from the Prasat Chen temple site at Koh Ker in northern Cambodia is coming to an end. The temple, some 75 miles from Angkor Wat, had been extensively looted in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1970s it is alleged that this statue, part of a group of sculptures depicting an episode from a Hindu epic, was broken from its feet and pedestal and smuggled abroad in pieces. The piece was put on auction in New York in 2011 but was withdrawn from sale at the last minute:
An ancient statue of a Hindu warrior, pulled from auction two years ago because of assertions that it had been looted from a temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia, will be returned to that country under an agreement signed on Thursday by Sotheby’s, its client and federal officials.   Sotheby’s will ship a 10th-century sandstone statue of a Hindu warrior back to Cambodia as part of a court settlement.  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. Andrew Gully, a spokesman for Sotheby’s, said the auction house was gladdened that “the agreement confirms that Sotheby’s and its client acted properly at all times.”  [...] The settlement, filed in United States District Court in Manhattan, declared that all sides agreed that additional litigation “would be burdensome and would require resolution of disputed factual issues and issues of U.S., Cambodian, French Colonial, and other law.”
It is worth stressing that once again, no compensation is being paid to the owner who tired of the item and wanted to flog it off, nor the auction house. They are losing money by agreeing to this settlement. This once again underlines the importance of collectors ascertaining the collecting history of anything they buy, and ascertaining the seller's title to the object.This would mean that "resolution of factual issues" would be much easier, as the responsible collector would actually have copies of documentation to hand to set their minds and hearts to rest and prove their claim.

Tom Mashberg and Ralph Blumental, 'Disputed Statue to Be Returned to Cambodia', New York Times December 12, 2013

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