Wednesday 11 June 2014

One US Museum will Return 500 Thai Antiquities

Readers will probably remember the federal raids in January 2008 on several US museums (the Bowers, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the Mingei International Museum in San Diego and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) following a five-year undercover operation. As a result of the raids, federal agents seized hundreds of allegedly looted antiquities. Now, six years later, the Art Newspaper is reporting:
The Bowers Museum, in Santa Ana, California, will return to Thailand 542 ancient vases, bowls, axes and other artefacts that were allegedly looted from one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. The returns are the result of a non-prosecution agreement between the museum and the Los Angeles US Attorney’s office [...] In exchange for the returns to Thailand, government prosecutors agreed not to criminally charge anyone at the Bowers, the museum’s lawyer says. “The Bowers Museum is pleased to have resolved this matter without any finding that the museum violated any law,” Manuel Abascal says. “The Bowers stopped collecting archaeological items years ago, and has instead focused on bringing important archaeological items from foreign museums to the US for exhibition, such as the Terracotta Warriors.”
The agreement marks the first antiquities to be returned in the long-running case. The Art Newspaper for some reason depicts this as a 'Victory for Thailand in US ' (Jason Felch, the Art Newspaper  Issue 258, June 2014, 10 June 2014), a position totally inexplicable unless one sees this as some kind of neo-colonialist competition, with 'victors' and 'losers'. In fact we have all lost an enormous amount due to the looting, smuggling and dodgy American dealings with these artefacts.

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