Saturday, 11 May 2013

"Sotheby’s Claims Ignorance"

Although last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announced that it would repatriate two statues from the Koh Ker temple complex after receiving evidence they had been looted, the foreign press is somewhat scathingly noting that not everyone can see the implications (Abby Seiff, 'Sotheby’s claims ignorance', The Phnom Penh Post, May 10th 2013):
Sotheby's auction house, which has been locked in a dispute for a year over a multi-million-dollar Angkorian statue, has denied knowledge of the statue’s suspicious provenance and asked for the case to be dropped and attorneys’ fees repaid. In a 16-page document filed with a US district court on Monday and obtained yesterday, the New York-based auctioneer shoots down claims made by US government lawyers late last year that Sotheby’s was aware the statue was likely stolen and provided “inaccurate provenance information to potential buyers, the Kingdom of Cambodia, United States law enforcement, and others”. “Claimants deny knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations set forth,” the filing states more than 20 times in response to each government allegation. 
The auctioneer reportedly denies having heard of “whether Koh Ker suffered serious damage or widespread looting" during the time period when the sandstone statue of the mythic Hindu warrior, known as the Duryodhana in the distinctive style "surfaced" on the market. It is apparently suggested that when they agreed to sell the statue from a Belgian owner, that there was no knowledge of any such looting of Koh Ker, that it was not “widely publicized” or “well known to the international market”. The statue stood at its Koh Ker temple complex site for nearly a millennium before it was pulled from its base about 1972 and smuggled to Thailand, from where it reached European markets. Frankly, since looting is by its nature a clandestine activity, I'd say the onus on Sotheby's is to check how something enters the market, and not rely on hearsay or publicity whether or not a particular site has been looted.  Is that not logical? Why should a variant logic apply to anything involving the antiquities trade? 

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