Monday 7 May 2012

Sale of Cambodian Antiquities with Shaky or Non-Existent Provenance

Nord on Art has an article on: 'Upcoming sale of Cambodian Antiquities with Shaky or Non-Existent Provenance' April 25, 2012. The auction however is coming up now, so it seems worth drawing attention to it.
The May sales of Asian art and antiquities at Galerie Koller in Zurich include a selection of Cambodian antiquities that have shaky or non-existent provenance (i.e., history of ownership). Given the ongoing tussle over the disposition of a possibly looted Khmer statue currently with Sotheby’s, why would an auction house offer up works for which there is no clear provenance? On pages 188-193 of the auction catalogue there are several items, including a beautiful bust (Lot 522, above) that should have the auction house and potential buyers very concerned. Five lots have no provenance whatsoever, four have the nebulous provenance “Swiss private collection” (the Swiss Freeport system has too often been abused as a method for laundering the provenance of antiquities), and two are listed as having been purchased in the mid to late 1980s, before Cambodia’s 1993 law nationalizing its cultural heritage, but well after the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was adopted in November 1970. [...] The International Council of Museums (ICOM) Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk warns specifically about the types of work Koller is offering.
To be fair, there could be good, clear title to all of these items that includes documented provenance demonstrating their original export from Cambodia was legally done.
Since most of these works don’t have anything near that (at least not published in the catalogue), potential buyers should avoid them.
He then pictures and describes a few, and yes, I think one would have to be rather careless and irresponsible to buy them on the basis of the information offered by the seller.

UPDATE 10th may 2012:
I note that Mr Nord has added this to his original post:
UPDATE – The online auction catalogue for this sale has the same result for all of the lots in this article: “Unsold / no responsibility is taken for the correctness of this information.” It’s unclear whether these lots failed to sell or if they were withdrawn from sale.

1 comment:

Dorothy King said...

I think collectors are getting savvy to the fact that Cambodia is the new Afghanistan ...? ie another country where a lot of material went missing and onto the art market under a despotic regime. Collectors are now getting hurt in terms of their bank balances because they are discovering that they have to return items which can be shown to have been stolen, and much of the Gandharan art is well photographed in old journals, in photo collections archaeologists have etc. A lot of the older archaeologists I've been chatting to went to Afghanistan and Cambodia either to dig or with UNESCO, and the photos they took out there make great proof that some of the items on the market were stolen.

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