Thursday, 9 May 2013

Behind the "Met's" Decision on the Koh Ker Statues

CultureGrrl has a post on her blog about the decision of the Metropolitan Museum to "repatriate" the two Koh Ker “Kneeling Attendant” statues it has had on public display for almost 20 years. Like most US commentators she suggests that this "has set a gold standard" for the behaviour of museums,  going far beyond the postulates of the Association of Art Museum Directors (which refer to future acquisitions, rather than dodgy antiquities already in the collections of US museums).  She points out however the lack of transparency on behalf of the museum about the reasoning behind the decision citing the mention in the Met's announcement of "new documentary research that was not available to the Museum when the objects were acquired". She had a chat with the Met’s senior vice president for external affairs, Harold Holzer, who also was rather coy about the details, mentioning though "new research, not only from UNESCO" (eh?) "but also, quite frankly, from previous reports in the press". So the newspapers contained this new information that the met ha not known about at the time of the acquisition? CultureGrrl suggested that the met share "information and decision-making process with other institutions that own Cambodian antiquities from the same region, sharing similar provenances".
Collegial discussion about these issues and how best to resolve them (without triggering prolonged legal battles and possible federal seizure) would help advance the field towards amicable, proactive resolutions of these skirmishes in the cultural-property wars.
One of these cases is of course the prolonged battle Sotheby's are conducting over Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa's Koh Ker statue (Rick St Hilaire:"Claimants Deny Knowledge," Affirmative Defenses Raised in Sotheby's Cambodian Sculpture Case ', May 2013. "Claimants deny knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations set forth in ... the Verified Complaint" it says. But is it not the case that if they popped along to the Metropolitan Museum and talked to the current holders of some statues taken from just a few metres away from the same temple, and most probably at the same time, it would most likely be pretty easy for Sotheby's to get that knowledge and information if they wanted it?  But the question is, whether Sotheby's actually need such information to uphold its reputation? Is Sotheby's interested in amicable, proactive resolutions of the problems caused by this particular segment of the "art" market? Let it be seen whether or not that is so.

CultureGrrl: 'Campbell/Cambodia: Metropolitan Museum’s Principled Repatriation of Looted Khmer Statues', May 8, 2013

Vignette: Behind the decision, just take a look at the knees and then talk about "saving art"....

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