Wednesday, 28 October 2020

California Museum Dragging Feet over Thai Artefacts Acquired without Paperwork in 1960s

Khao Lon lintel
A museum in California is, for some reason, displaying two ripped-off Thai sculptures. They were spotted accidentally by the Thai consulate general in Los Angeles who saw the lintels on display when he visited the museum in 2016. Now, four years later, the U.S. government is demanding the museum gives up any claims to these objects and sends them back, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Tuesday (Associated Press, 'Lawsuit demands California museum forfeit Thai artifacts', Washington Post Oct. 28, 2020. ).
The lawsuit says the items illegally made their way to a private collector in the United States and were donated to the city- and county-owned collection of the Asian Art Museum [...]. The museum said one lintel is from Nong Hong Temple and dates to 1000-1080 AD. The other is from Khao Lon Temple and dates to 975-1025 AD. The museum says one item was bought by noted collector Avery Brundage and the other by the museum, with Brundage as a go-between, in the 1960s from sellers in London and Paris.
Nong Hon lintel
The museum said that its own study found no evidence that the lintels were looted but also didn’t turn up any copies of required export documents required under Thai law, which raises questions about what they were playing at having them in the museum collection for more than half a century before this lawsuit. They seem to have been taking their time after finding a big enough box:
"The lawsuit is surprising because the museum had been negotiating with both the Department of Homeland Security and Thai officials since 2017, said Robert Mintz, the museum’s deputy director. The lengthy process of permanently removing the items from the museum’s collection had been expected to be completed this spring but now ”the lintels won’t go anywhere until the legal process is complete,” he said. “We’re surprised by this filing and we’re disappointed that it seems to throw up a roadblock to what seemed like positive and developing negotiations.” he added.
If somebody's stolen car was found in their car park in 2016 and they were told that getting the paperwork together for them to give it back was going to take the museum "a lengthy period", I suggest that a court case would be in order four years later. This case was noted here in an older post, odd to see it is still dragging on: Thailand is seeking the return of Illicit items from museums in the United States, PACHI  Saturday, 4 August 2018.

As for: "museum said that its own study found no evidence that the lintels were looted but also didn’t turn up any copies of required export documents required under Thai law", either they are being disingenuous or are just not very bright Trump voters.  Looting and smuggling are two different activities, export licencing refers to the latter activity. And yes, the absence of any export licencing is evidence that this thing is not suitable to add to any responsible collection. 

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