Wednesday 12 December 2012

The Bangkok Sculpture Collector in NYT

New York Times has an interesting profile of Douglas Latchford, the collector of Khmer art at the currently at the centre of the Sotheby's Koh Ker statue dispute. 
For decades Douglas A. J. Latchford, an 81-year-old British art collector, has built a reputation as one of the world’s great experts in Khmer antiquities, one whose generous return of treasures to Cambodia garnered him knighthood there in 2008. But last month Mr. Latchford, who lives here in an apartment brimming with Asian artifacts, was depicted less chivalrously in a civil complaint filed by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. [...] For Mr. Latchford,[...]  the case has brought unwelcome attention to a long career in the tangled world of antiquities collecting, where the tenets of private property, cultural preservation and national patrimony often clash. “If the French and other Western collectors had not preserved this art, what would be the understanding of Khmer culture today?” he asked in an interview. Mr. Latchford, well known here [ie Bangkok - PMB] as a bodybuilding impresario who runs national competitions, has spent more than 55 years amassing one of the world’s finest collections of Cambodian antiquities, many of which once decorated his second home in London. He has donated many others to institutions, including the National Museum in Phnom Penh and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Experts cite his three books on Khmer treasures, written with the scholar Emma C. Bunker, as crucial reference works. “His gifts are very important because these artifacts teach the Cambodian people about their history,” said Hab Touch, the Cambodian government director-general of the Department General of Cultural Affairs. “We hope his generosity will set a good example for others.” 
These gifts presumably involve the collector-philanthropist moving stuff off the Thai dodgy antiquities market back to Cambodia. How many dodgy antiquity dealers and smugglers went to jail because of Mr Latchford's intervention?

The NYT text is less of a profile of the man himself than a reworking of the story of his involvement with the Sotheby's Koh Ker statue, not mentioning the Norton Simon one, the two 'attendants' in the NY Metropolitan Museum or a Skanda figure in his own collection.  There is clearly an interesting story here untold.

 Tom Mashberg, 'Claims of Looting Shadow Expert in Khmer Art', New York Times December 12, 2012

Photo: Douglas A. J. Latchford in 2009 (NYT)


Unknown said...

Mr Barford,

you mention above

"These gifts presumably involve moving stuff off the Thai didgy antiquities market back to Cambodia. How many dodgy antiquity dealers and smugglers went to jail because of Mr. Latchford's intervention?"

I have met Mr. Latchford and I find your negative inferences to be without justification.

Mr Latchford is a collector, there have been other great collectors in the past (examples include Eumophopalas,Stocklet, Lord Sainsbury,John D Rockefeller, Avery Brundage etc) - these people should be thanked for having
helped save and preserve Cambodian art.

Your comments about : the "didgy" antique market in Thailand, what makes this dodgy? Why should Thai antiquity dealers go to jail ?

Consider the Bamiyan Buddha destroyed by the Taliban, was this to be commended ?

There are few people to-day who were around in the time of the Khmer Rouge, when the border into Thailand was virtually closed
from the early '70's to 1979.
Would it have been preferable for these statues to have been left to be destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, or preserved as they have been. You will recall that the Khmer Rouge used the temple and statues s as target practice

You should thank the collectors who have helped preserve this art.

Mr Latchford's direct contact with the Cambodian officials has brought no adverse criticism. The only criticism has come from those not aware of the full facts.

The P P Museum and the Ministry of Culture are indebted to Mr Latchford forhis financial assistance,
and his many priceless donations.

"The NYT text is less of a profile of the man himself than a reworking of the story of his involvement with the Sotheby's Koh Ker statue, not mentioning the Norton Simon one or the Skanda figure in his collection from Koh Ker. There is clearly an interesting story here untold"

:The man himself is a gentle person with a true love of Cambodian and Asian art .
I am not sure if you really know his involvement with the Sotheby Koh Ker statue. Stories have circulated but Mr Latchford has set the record straight as published by the New York Times.
The US Government has tried to create 'a trail of mud' from circumstantial, incomplete and in places incorrect evidence - whereas Sotheby's response has focussed on the facts.

The understanding on the Norton Simon piece as reported, is that the Thai dealer purchased it and sold it to a N Y dealer Mr Willie Wolff who sold it to Pasadena, Latchford was in no way associated with this piece or the Sotheby's piece

The Government has suggested that Koh Ker style statues have only been found at Koh Ker. One important Koh Ker style piece, a seated Brahma, now in the Musee Guimet was found in 1925 in Battenbong, some 120 km West of Koh Ker. This would show that the figure had been moved from Koh Ker sometime between 10th Century and 1925 when it was found.

Similarly, the two guardian figures in question could have left Koh Ker at any time after conception .

Keith Wilmott

Paul Barford said...

I am really not sure I follow you...

"your negative inferences to be without justification" what "negative inferences"?

I think nobody would be needing to repatriate to Cambodia items which have left Cambodia legally - ie the Cambodians themselves state that they do not need/want to retain them. Thus it seems to me a reasonable inference that any objects going back are those the Cambodians have NOT alreeady vetted leaving the country. Is that not a reasonable inference (and if not, why not)?

I ask how many people involved in the process of illegal removal of artefacts from Cambodia have ended up in jail as a result of the actions of this philanthropist? There is no point just repatriating and repatriating if the same criminals looting and smuggling are free to carry on their activities, time and time again. Is there?

So it is a perfectly valid question, if you are lauding the results, how many crooked dealers, smugglers and looters have ended up in jail as a result of these repatriations? [if you look at this blog, and a few others you will see that some of us consider this to be a key question, let's not paper over the cracks of a sick system, but dismantle the criminal networks, to leave a clean market].

"Why should Thai antiquity dealers go to jail ?"

If they are dealing in stolen and smmuggled artefacts kbnocked off from ancient sites, whether at home or abroad - well, you tell me why you think they should NOT go to jail. I think they should.

Let us see the further developments in the Kapoor case, I suspect that has not yet finished producing revelations, including a Thai connection if I am not mistaken.

Are you a Thai antiquity dealer? How do you "know" Mr Latchford?

Paul Barford said...

"The [US] Government has suggested that Koh Ker style statues have only been found at Koh Ker. One important Koh Ker style piece...." Bla bla.

This is immaterial, the FEET of both of the standing figures are still in situ where the statues were snapped off. Or do you want to claim that the statues were snapped off somewhere else and the pedestals were taken to Koh Ker and buried?

In what way would you consider that makes the "surfacing" of these two items on the UK and US markets any the more licit?

Unknown said...

Mr Barford,

I am an attorney, close to the Sotheby’s case, and with experience in similar cases, a collector of contemporary art and more recently a student of Khmer art. I was fortunate to have been been originally introduced to Mr Latchford in 2006 and I have met him several times; I have experienced his generosity – particularly to his local Thai community in Bangkok and also to many others. My concern here is only to ensure that the facts are presented fairly and accurately.

Mr Latchford did not ‘need’ to ‘repatriate’ any pieces. He DONATED to Cambodia pieces which had been in his collection for decades, and which had been acquired from legitimate dealers all over the World. This was purely out of generosity. In particular, he did not purchase any of those donated pieces from the ‘dodgy’ Thai dealers you refer to , and he did not buy them (originally) with the specific intent of returning them to Cambodia. Hence the connection between Mr Latchford and those ‘dodgy’ Thai dealers that you make is hard to see.

Whilst the US Government make this connection in their attempt to ‘fling mud’ at Sothebys, the New York Times article makes it clear that whilst Mr Latchford was interested in the Koh Ker piece , Spinks only had it ‘on reserve’ for him and it was never in his ownership. Mr Latchford has confirmed the Spinks records confirm this.

As for your ‘reasonable inference that any objects going back are those the Cambodians have not already vetted’–I refer you to my comments in the original posting above – pieces may have passed out of Cambodia at any time between 10th Century and Mr Latchford’s donation and there may well not have been any vetting.

Khmer art has left Cambodia since the French first occupied Cambodia in the 19th Century, even before then: Are you aware of the two Bayon Bronzes currently held in Burmese Mandalay? These pieces were knocked off their pedestals by Thai raiders in the 14-16th century, carried to Thailand where they were held at Ayudha . In the 17th Century they were captured by Burmese raiders and moved to Mandalay, where they stand today. Fragments were found at the Bayon. Perhaps the Koh Ker pieces were subjected to something similar? They could have been held by anyone, anywhere in South East Asia, until such time as interest for such pieces began to increase and the second hand market developed, and subsequently resurfaced with Thai ‘dodgy’ dealers? This is a perfectly reasonable and legitimate theory, why should yours (or the US Government’s) be any more accurate? The judge will decide.

Academics agree that the Brahma currently in the Guimet was moved at some point in time from Koh Ker to Battanbang in parts, - subsequently removed by the French in 1925. Parts of that Brahma figure remain at Koh Ker. There is no evidence that the Sothebys Guardian figure was not subjected to a similar move.

Your negative inference is that “There is clearly an interesting story here untold” which, whilst is innocent on a ‘stand-alone’ basis, is negative when combined with the preceding sentences.

Would you agree that, for the cultural world, it was in fact very lucky that pieces left Cambodia before they could have been subjected to destruction by the Khmer Rouge and occupying countries, as many were so destroyed?

I hope you can see from the above, particularly the explanation as to the donations made by Mr Latchford, why your suggestion that ‘dodgy’ Thai dealers should be jailed because of Mr Latchford’s donations is a ‘NON SEQUITOR’. I am not aware of any Thai dealers who have gone to jail , and I suspect neither is Mr Latchford, but why should he be so aware?

You may be correct about Thai dealers, you may not be, but this is not connected with Mr Latchford. You seem very well informed about Thai dealers. Have you lived in Thailand?

Mr Barford, would you agree that the facts may well be quite different than those that you have assumed in your blog above?

Keith J Wilmott

Unknown said...

I trust you will do the honorable thing and post the comments in full. If you do not, this will be a shame. So far, the debate has been fair. I hope you will continue in the same vein. Not posting the comment is a shame and damaging to the integrity of the discussion: You have raised some fair points, but it will only be fair to let those whom are the subject your inferences, have their say.


Unknown said...

I trust you will do the honourable thing and publish the comment in full. The debate so far has been fair. You make some fair comments, but there are more facts of which you are unaware, and it would only be fair for you to permit both sides of the story to be heard - would it not?


Paul Barford said...

Yes Mr Wilmott, I am going to post it, but am currently cooking dinner, and as I explain in the "posting comments" section here, I prefer to have the answer written when I post the comment to avoid what will now happen, which is your original comment and my reply to it will be separated by other posts. Patience, please.

Please be aware that I cannot edit either your comments nor - after they are posted - my reply.

Paul Barford said...

Hmm, Right, well I am glad to learn you are not another Keith Wilmott I read about.

I do indeed think there is an untold story here. Perhaps more than one.

First of all let it be noted that you are objecting to/quibbling with a post, the bulk of which is a long quote from the NYT article. You are therefore taking issue with the few lines I added in comment.

I must admit your manic insistence that I should admit that “it ain’t necessarily so” here is quite – well, intriguing.

I cannot help wondering whether whether your concern is as an acquaintance of Douglas Latchford and to what degree it is somehow in the interests of Sotheby's that you write.

As for where a collector in Bangkok buys ancient southeastern Asian sculptures, I can only go on what I read – but then if other articles are presenting false and misleading information, then I suggest you take issue with their author, not me.

I certainly recall reading in several places that DL's honours in Cambodia were precisely because he’d been instrumental in getting looted (or should that be “looted”?) artefacts back. There was a NYT article I quoted back in June in which it is written "has been knighted by the Cambodian government for returning 14th-century Khmer cultural treasures", which in other contexts usually means one thing. Why shhould it not here?

I recall a lengthy Bangkok Post article talking about objects in DL's collection coming "from the ground" (stated outright just like that) and writing about the local dealers that supplied the early purchases. As I say, why not take it up with the authors of those pieces if they are misleading people?

Paul Barford said...

[part two of three]

“Perhaps the Koh Ker pieces were subjected to something similar?” (i.e., being shunted about from site to site in antiquity before being exported).

...and perhaps they were taken away by aliens in a flying saucer, yes, perhaps. Nobody can prove they were NOT, can they?

If your “perfectly reasonable theory” is applied, why were the heads of four of the figures separated, by whom and to what aim? Why if the “guardians" in antiquity were moved to another site, were the feet left behind? How did they stand in their new location, snapped off at the ankles, propped up against the wall?

I'd also look carefully at the NYT photo of the feet in situ. I can see piled onto one of the pedestals what I take to be the fragments broken off the ankles of the figures. Now if the statues had been snapped off in antiquity and the pedestals buried and then dug up again, those fragments would be in the soil removed in the latter operation. The fact that they are now piled up together indicates to me that the pedestal was dug up, and THEN the fragments were created and left lying on the new surface. The stratigraphical relationship (forensic evidence if you like) would tend to conflict with your "reasonable theory" that the breakages are very old ones, but would fit perfectly with the notion that the violence was done to these objects more recently. I bet if you sent a fact-finding party there with sieves, they'd find the missing bits broken off the neck and head of both figures there. that would clinch it.

But in any case what is being discussed is how they left the source country (wherever your so-called “reasonable theory” places their location), and end up in Spink’s in the early 1970s? THAT is the issue.

Mr Latchford’s early involvement in the “Sotheby’s”/“Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa” statue is far from clear to me, as the emails published by Sotheby’s themselves, and the conflicting account given by Latchford himself in an early NYT interview indicate.

“Mr Barford, would you agree that the facts may well be quite different than those that you have assumed in your blog above?“

Yes, I agree, they may well be, or equally they might not – but that’s the point of discussing these things, to try and get at that untold story.

It is also what lies behind the notion that there should be much greater transparency and accountability in the antiquities trade and among responsible collectors.

Paul Barford said...

[part three]

where are the joins in the Battanbang Brahma if it was as you claim dismantled into “parts”? Why does the Museum say it is in Koh Ker “style” rather than saying it is “from Koh Ker” if "Academics agree" it was taken from there as you say? How big is it?

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