Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Khmer statue developments

The New York Times has an update on the story relating to the Khmer statue that was being offered by Sotheby's (Tom Mashberg and Ralph Blumenthal, "Sotheby’s Accused of Deceit in Sale of Khmer Statue", New York Times November 13, 2012). The suggestion is that there has been "collusion" between the vendor and the auction house to provide an inappropriate collecting history.
Prosecutors say that in 2010, when the statue was being imported into the United States, the owner submitted an inaccurate affidavit to American customs officials, at Sotheby’s request, stating the statue was “not cultural property” belonging to a religious site.
There is a suggestion that the collecting history for the piece had been fabricated:
Prosecutors also say Sotheby’s tried to mislead potential buyers and the Cambodian and United States governments by concocting a tale that the sculpture had been seen by a “scholar” in London in the 1960s, four years before its actual theft.
As the NYT points out, this could be an attempt to place the statue in circulation prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. All that needs to happens is for authenticated documentation to be presented to demonstrate that the sculpture was indeed in London in the 1960s. NYT draws attention to a Sotheyb's email:
The evidence collected by the government includes an e-mail from a Sotheby’s official to the Khmer scholar, Emma C. Bunker, that in part reads, “If I can push the provenance back to 1970, then U.S. museums can participate in the auction without any hindrance.”
Sotheby's have, I believe, been making an effort to address the issue of recently surfaced antiquities, not least in the light of the Medici Conspiracy. I hope that the position that they are adopting over the Khmer statue will not be changing perceptions.

Finally, one little plea! Please could we start using "collecting history" instead of that redundant term provenance?

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