Thursday 26 April 2012

US Lawyer backs the Khmer Rouge?

The op-ed piece by Tess Davis ('Cambodias looted treasures', New York Times April 27, 2012) discussing the trade in portableised art looted from Cambodian temples and other monuments has atrtracted the attention of a lawyer working on behalf of dugup antiquity dealers. He asks  (April 26th 2012) Could the Khmer Rouge Pass Good Title? :
Tess Davis' recent opinion piece for the LA Times begs the question whether the Khmer Rouge could have passed along good title to the Khmer Statue that the US Government now maintains is stolen. However despicable the Khmer Rouge were, they were internationally recognized as the legitimate government of Cambodia around the time the statue was thought to have disappeared, and held Cambodia's UN seat in a coalition government until the early 1990's with Western support. Under the circumstances, should the US Government really take sides in this dispute between Sotheby's and the successor Cambodian government?
So a bit like the Nazis then, but the US is supporting efforts to get 'Holocaust art' returned to the heirs of previous owners (though paradoxically, US galleries are also full of art seized by the Bolsheviks in a similar situation just over two decades earlier).


Dorothy King said...

I think it does make a good point - if countries sell their items (and China did until ... 2006? when I was in NY crates were arriving with official seals and paperwork), then why shouldn't collectors legally buy them?

Personally, I'd be reluctant to buy items coming out of a regime I did not support, eg Taliban Afghanistan, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, but this is just my point of view and not the law.

What is interesting is that Shelby White, a collector some have criticised, has been funding the cataloguing of material in Cambodia, by Cambodian museums, since at least 2006.

(the late 2006 date was my last proper visit to NY, which I'm using as an aide-memoire)

Paul Barford said...

Well, if the two works of art in question came with official government paperwork, let the owners show it and the legal issues are fairly clear. If however - in these particular circumstances - they have no such paperwork, then it rather raises questions how they left the country, whether officially, or unofficially, certainly one cannot simply assume they left by official channels without any supporting evidence whatsoever. I would rather say the owners of such material ought to take a lot of care over keeping the paperwork intact.

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