Wednesday 12 December 2012

Private Collections and the Heritage of Cambodia

The text about the Latchford collection (Tom Mashberg, 'Claims of Looting Shadow Expert in Khmer Art', New York Times December 12, 2012) contains some information about the disquiet that the activities of private collectors like this arouse, and some typical examples of the justifications they offer:
Some skepticism, though, had arisen toward Mr. Latchford long before American officials became involved. Anne LeMaistre, who directs the field office in Phnom Penh for Unesco, an agency that promotes cultural heritage, said that although Mr. Latchford had donated artifacts, she was bothered that his books featured so many lavish photos of Khmer masterworks that are owned privately by anonymous collectors. One of the books, she said, is pretty much “the inventory of the missing cultural patrimony of Cambodia.” She and others fault him for not telling Cambodia where the items are. Mr. Latchford said it would “not be appropriate” to reveal the names of anonymous collectors. Asked about the propriety of owning or knowing the whereabouts of so many extraordinary Khmer relics, Mr. Latchford said the items were in better hands than if they were somehow returned en masse to Cambodia. “What is the monetary cost to Cambodia?” he asked. “Who is going to pay for repatriation? Where will it wind up? Rotting in some storage house? Who will pay for the conservation?” 
Who is going to pay for taking the stuff back? Ideally the people who paid to have it taken out of the country, unless they can show that the original transfer of ownership was licit in every sense of the word.  I wonder why if these objects have allegedly been "saved" by being placd in a "good home" they will need any conservation? Have not the current owners looked after those needs of the object in their temporarry custodianship already?

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